IT HAPPENED TO ME: I'm Raising a Vegan Child
So I am writing in my office Fine it’s a small cluttered desk in my bedroom) and my eight-year-old son Noah is saying goodnight to his father on the phone. Suddenly I hear a bloodcurdling scream fill the silent air. In my panicked mind I immediately think a scorpion bit him. Or he saw a burglar with a big sharp knife. Or maybe the walls collapsed and are crumbling all around him.
I jump up like a mom on a mission, trip over a remote control car, and breathlessly scream like a crazy woman, “WHAT HAPPENED??” Tears are streaming down his adorable face but there is no scorpion or burglar. The walls are still intact. I lean against one of them in relief. Noah screeches in horror through heaving sobs, “Daddy is at Swiss Chalet eating chicken!!”
Yeah that sucks; for the chicken and for my sweet sensitive vegan boy. Swiss Chalet is to Canadians what Kentucky Fried Chicken is to Americans. (Incidentally, chickens are the most abused and mistreated creatures on our planet).
I dry Noah’s saltwater tears with my sleeve and remind him it’s important to be tolerant of other people’s decisions to eat animals or not. Noah replies, exasperated, like I don’t understand him at all, “I know people eat animals. But it’s different when it’s my daddy! He’s eating the dead chickens and he won’t stop! I begged him not to!”
It’s true; Noah really is tolerant and respectful of his friends that eat animals next to him daily in school. Ham and cheese on rye, pepperoni on pizza or cream cheese on a bagel -- it’s around him everywhere and he usually takes it in stride, like I taught him. But when it comes to his father Noah so desperately wants to change him. I feel like saying, trust me kid, he won’t change, I tried when we dated! But instead I give Noah a hug and bring out some chocolate to nourish his soul.
I became a single mom just months after Noah’s birth and I had no idea what I was doing with regards to sleep routines or breastfeeding; all I knew for sure was my son would be raised vegetarian. At the mommy groups, other toddlers ate pureed turkey from a jar while my guy nibbled on fresh squash and quinoa. Let me tell you, this was not the norm back then (Is it now?) and I was grilled constantly by other moms.
The most popular question (often in the form of an accusation) still remains, “Where do you get your protein?” (Beans, semolina pasta, assorted veggies, lentils, seeds, nuts, tofu, even whole wheat bread!) Second most popular question/accusation; “What about calcium?” To which I smile sweetly and respond, “broccoli, soybeans, almonds, kale, enriched and fortified orange juice, rice or soymilk”. Phew.
I empowered myself with books and websites since I knew if anything were to go awry with Noah’s health his diet would be the first to blame (And subsequently, me). Eight years later Noah is super healthy and never once been on antibiotics. Can I credit his excellent health to a meat and dairy-free diet? Hard to prove, but I can speculate with all the recent studies being released, including one from Harvard last year and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics. Harvard pediatrician David Ludwig suggests through studies and research that drinking milk is not really as good for our bones as we think and declares dairy is not part of a healthy diet. The Huffington Post ran a story last summer about his study.
Shortly after Noah’s fifth birthday I told him basic non-graphic facts about dairy and eggs after reading "The Kind Diet" by Alicia Silverstone. I didn’t show him factory-farming photos; I will leave that for you to research if you want. I simply explained to Noah that if given the opportunity to choose, the dairy cows and chickens would pick life over death and freedom over cages.
Noah had a lot of questions but immediately made the connection on his own that the milk in the cheese and ice-cream we ate is from the mamma cow and meant for her babies, not us. He sadly told me, “I don’t want to take the baby cow milk, there will be none left for them.” We talked about the eggs we ate three times a week; scrambled, poached or in the muffins I bake. We talked about Noah’s favorite treat, chocolate, and at the time I thought all chocolate was made with milk (Thank goodness I was wrong!).
I recall his eyes growing wide and his expression serious, “So my Smarties are made with the milk for the baby cows?” I thought he was too young to take a stand against the dairy industry. I was very wrong. That was the start of Noah’s switch from vegetarian to vegan. I signed us up for PETA’s 30-day vegan challenge` to get us started. But on the 31st day Noah said to me, “I decided it’s not just for 30 days, it’s forever.”
Veganism for Noah and I goes way beyond a plant-based diet. We do our best to live a compassionate, humane and cruelty-free lifestyle. So aside from not eating meat, fish, dairy, eggs and many other “hidden” gross ingredients like gelatin, it means we try not to participate in anything that contributes to animal’s exploitation and oppression. Instead of the zoo where wild animals are kept in captivity in unnatural tiny caged environments we visit rescued animals at local sanctuaries, read animal books, and watch humane documentaries.
Rather than attend marine parks like SeaWorld we stand outside protesting for Tilikum’s release (Watch "Blackfish") and spread awareness that dolphins really don’t like jumping through burning hoops of fire. I believe veganism is the umbrella that includes protecting our environment, oceans, planet, children and all those less fortunate than us. If kids are given the tools and information for change, they can help transform our beautiful world for the better.
People used to express their confusion and say, “But he’s just a kid! How can he make such a decision?!” However, rather than telling Noah he is too young to make his own decisions, I empower him to make them, as long as no one gets hurt. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is a worldwide legal document with 54 articles outlining children’s rights; regardless of who they are, where they live, what religion they practice, what culture they come from and whether they are a boy or a girl. Article 13 states that children have the right to find out things and share what they think with others. Article 12 states that children have the right to give their opinions and for adults to listen and take them seriously. All too often adults oppress children’s views and feelings rather than listening to them. I encourage Noah to speak up, even when it’s difficult and he’s the only one doing it.
Is it possible that if more parents empowered their children to live a compassionate and kind life our world would be a better place? What if we support the kids that are trying to make a difference rather than criticizing them? After all, the hard part is not finding food alternatives, attending birthday parties or dining at restaurants. That is just a challenge. The hard part is dealing with the people that don’t believe in our choices and feel the need to let us know. Living a vegan lifestyle is easy when it comes from a place of compassion. Therefore, I continue on my journey as a single mom raising my vegan boy. I am not scared of the criticism or the accusations -- I am scared of what will happen to our world if more people don’t change their lifestyle to one of kindness and compassion.
So there we are sitting on the bedroom floor eating chocolate. Noah eventually stops crying about his father eating chicken at Swiss Chalet, but he has not accepted it. I explain to Noah that he can’t control his dad’s food choices any more than his dad can control what he eats –- even though he is “just a kid.”