I wrote a post for Girlie Girl Army that I wanted to re-share on my website. It’s a piece for parents who are raising vegan kids. I hope it will give you the courage and pride to raise a child according to principles of integrity and compassion. Here it is!
"Teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar is as valuable to the child as it is to the caterpillar." -- Bradley Miller
ORIGINAL ON Girlie Girl Army:"When I tell people that I’m raising my child vegan, I sometimes feel as though I have to defend and explain my decision. My decision is passive, I'm just leaving out certain foods from her diet. But parents who are feeding their kids meat, dairy, and eggs are actively adding in foods. So shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t they have to defend their decision to purchase that hot dog that came from a pig who never stepped foot on grass or saw the sky (except from the slot in the truck on her way to the slaughterhouse) and whose mother was forced to live in a tiny metal crate amid her own urine and feces, where she was unable to even turn around or take a step forward or backward for weeks on end?
Why don’t parents who are feeding their kids meat and other products taken from animals have to defend their decision? They’re giving their kids cow’s milk, which is exactly that … cow’s milk! Isn’t that a little strange? It’s meant to fatten up calves. Humans are the only species that drinks another species’ milk, and we’re the only species that drinks any milk past infancy. Casino mogul Steve Wynn said it best: “It’s liquid cholesterol!”
What exactly is it that people are concerned that my child will be missing out on … high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, and obesity? It surely can’t be protein, calcium, or iron because there are tons of healthy plant-based sources (spinach, nuts, whole grains, vegetables, beans, and fortified juices, cereals, pasta, etc.) that don’t have the added fat and cholesterol, not to mention the hormones and antibiotics.
The sad truth is, in this society, any behavior or child-rearing decision that goes against the norm is often seen as wrong or irresponsible. Even weird. And that’s a shame because it often prevents people (in this case, parents) from doing the right thing. Unfortunately, society’s backlash is a strong deterrent, and so is the desire to adhere to the status quo.
NYC Veggie Parade, 2012
Despite the many studies indicating that vegan diets are not only appropriate for children, but may in fact be healthier (for example, the American Dietetic Association—the nation’s largest group of nutrition professionals—stated, “Well-planned vegan diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes”), parents are still opting to add animal products to their children’s diet, mainly as a result of tradition and being constantly bombarded with messages from the dairy and meat industries. Years of slogans like “Milk does the body good” and “You need meat for protein” have been drilled into our heads by multi-billion dollar industries pushing their products. If milk does the body so “good” then why is it that the countries that consume the most milk are also the countries with the highest rates of osteoporosis- and vice versa. And the more animal protein that a population consumes, the higher the prevalence of osteoporosis. There is a big protein myth out there, but the fact is Americans eat about 400% more protein than necessary, and even vegetarians eat more than they need.
It would be unethical for me to feed my child meat, dairy, or eggs based on what I know about how animals are raised for food. You can look the other way or deny that it’s as bad as they say, but the truth is, the majority of meat/dairy and eggs sold in this country (>95%) come from animals who have been raised in appalling conditions in overcrowded, filthy warehouses, where they are crammed into small cages and crates and denied basic necessities, including fresh air, sunshine, grass, and companionship. Simply put, I don’t believe that animals should be treated like this, so I’m choosing to leave cruel animal products out of my child’s diet. I’m teaching her that if she wants to help end animal suffering and also not knowingly contribute to major environmental problems including climate change, water and air pollution, deforestation, and soil erosion she has to be a part of the solution, and that means not supporting it (with dollars). This is what it really means to live according to your values.
Catskill Animal Sanctuary
People raise their children according to their own set of morals and values. Just like a Buddhist wouldn’t raise her child Catholic and an environmentalist wouldn’t raise his child to be wasteful, I wouldn’t serve my child chicken fingers or ice cream. Children are little extensions of ourselves (at least until they’re old enough to make their own decisions). In our society, we typically do not allow children to make the decision to participate in anything that is morally questionable until they are of age. Since I consider the way that animals are raised for food in this country to be morally abhorrent, I therefore would not impose animal products upon my child and would not allow her to make that decision until she is old enough to think critically and understand the consequences.
So instead of focusing on what a vegan child is not getting (fat-laden, cholesterol-filled slabs of meat as well as milk, cheese, and eggs from miserable animals who’ve been raised in terrible conditions), let’s focus on what they are getting (a healthy balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds). And my daughter is getting a whole lot more than that including a moral compass based on compassion, justice, courage, and integrity. So if you’re raising a vegan child like I am, stop being on the defensive, and start embracing it! Be proud that you are living with intention and consciously choosing compassion over cruelty!"
I recently spoke on the Raising Vegan Kids panel at The Seed: A Vegan Experience in NYC. It was exciting to be part of such an important event-- and to be able to connect with other parents raising vegan kids. If you missed the panel, here are a few highlights from my presentation...
I was very excited to be asked to be part of the ‘Raising Vegan Kids’ panel along with Nora Kramer, Michelle Schwegmann, and Chloe Jo Davis at The Seed: A Vegan Experience in NYC. I’ve gone to many vegan and animal rights conferences and events, but there is hardly ever a mention on the topic of raising vegan kids. And now that I have my very own vegan kid, it's relevant to me. I think because more and more adults are becoming vegan, and those adults are having kids, it makes complete sense that the subject of raising veg kids is also becoming more popular, and worthy of discussion. Thank you to The Seed for hosting a whole panel dedicated to the subject of raising vegan kids... definitely a big step in the right direction towards a better world for animals (and the health of our kids, and planet too).
Here are a few topics I discussed in my presentation:
Embracing veganism is the most effective step a family can take to fight animal suffering. If you have a vegan family, be proud that while you are not necessarily taking the easy road, you most definitely are taking the high road. Encourage your family to be proud and courageous in your family’s decision. We obviously know that a vegan diet is the best decision you can make for the well-being of animals, and according to many studies, (including by the United Nations) it's also the best decision you can make for the environment. It's also the best decision you can make for the health of your child. Despite countless messages being drilled into our heads about how we need meat and dairy to survive and thrive, there is now overwhelming evidence by many top physicians and organizations that say the contrary. In fact, countless studies show that if we leave meat and dairy off our plates, we have a better chance of avoiding many types of cancers, heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes other debilitating and fatal diseases and illnesses. So when it comes to the animals' well-being, the environment, and our children's health, the facts and science are overwhelmingly on our side. So be confident in your decision to raise compassionate, healthy vegan kids.
Nora Kramer, Michelle Schwegmann, Chloe Jo Davis, Robyn Moore
Laying the Foundation Early to Raise a Compassionate, Healthy Child:
Research shows that what a woman eats during pregnancy may shape food preferences later in life. In the womb, the baby gulps down several ounces of amniotic fluid a day and this fluid is flavored by the foods and beverages the mother has eaten (things like vanilla, carrot, garlic, anise, mint, etc.). So researchers tested this by giving women garlic capsules or sugar capsules and then took a sample of their amniotic fluid and asked volunteers to smell the samples. The people could easily pick out the samples from the women who ate garlic. This shows that babies in the womb can also taste it since taste is primarily based on smell. So what you eat in pregnancy can result in preferences for certain foods for a lifetime. In other words, if you eat broccoli while you're pregnant, there's a much better chance your baby will like broccoli.
Research also shows that the foods our children eat in the first 10 years of their lives has a critical and profound effect on their lifelong health, so it’s important to introduce as many different foods as possible. Be consistent- it can take up to 15 times exposure to a food before a child accepts/likes a food. Don't give up!
Here are a few tips to help develop healthy eating patterns in children:
Be a good role model- you can’t snack on Oreos and potato chips and expect your child to eat carrots and celery. Let your child see you eating healthy foods.
Cook and bake with your kids- kids are more apt to try something that they’ve helped make You can start at a young age. My daughter helps me by mixing and pouring ingredients, mashing up tofu in her hands for tofu scramble, ripping kale, and adding fruits to the blender for green smoothies.
Bring kids grocery shopping- let them pick out foods that they already like and also challenge them to find new foods that they want to try. Adults should do this too!
Grow vegetables in your backyard or windowsill, or go to a farm to see vegetables growing in the ground or go to a farm where you can pick-your-own fruits and veggies in season.
Remove the competition- just as you remove meat and dairy from your households, also remove the junk and processed foods. If kids are hungry and there isn't any junk food around, they'll be forced to grab something healthy to eat.
Order a Today I Ate A Rainbow Kit!- which encourages kids to eat at least 5 servings of fruits/veggies a day, including one from each color of the rainbow. They can track it on a refrigerator chart with magnets. It's fun and interactive.
Social Side: Kids don't want to feel left out or different; they want to fit in with their peers. So it's our job as parents to help them with this. There are also ways for kids to gain a better understanding and appreciation for why their family is choosing a vegan diet. Here are a few suggestions:
Visit a farm sanctuary- so kids can get up close and personal with rescued animals. These sanctuaries are very successful in creating a powerful, long-lasting connection to animals. Kids are less likely to want to eat animals after meeting them! Since most vegans don’t visit zoos, this can be a good replacement for that.
Make holidays and events extra special- you can come up with new family traditions, but try to also include some classic traditions that other kids will also be doing- just do it with a vegan twist. Nowadays almost everything can be "veganized." For example, you can make a vegan gingerbread house, color wooden or paper mache eggs instead of dying real eggs, snack on vegan jelly beans, and make vegan candy corn for Halloween.
Read kids books that affirm vegan values- where animals are respected and shown in a positive light, rather than being used by humans in exploitative situations such as in zoos, circuses, and horse-drawn carriages. Try to skip the books that show kids eating hot dogs, drinking milk, eating ice cream, fishing, etc. VEGBOOKS is the best online resource for finding veg-friendly books. Also, besides kids books, read books about brave people throughout history who were once viewed as being different and in the minority such as those who worked for the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, and civil rights but were later viewed as heroes, who despite challenges, spoke up for what was right.
Find a vegetarian/vegan parenting group in your community, and if there isn’t one, start your own. It’s really important for kids to be around other veg kids, and it’s also a great resource for veg parents to get together with other like-minded parents to exchange advice, ideas/tips, recipes, etc. If you live in the NYC area, please join the NYC Vegetarian and Vegan Families Meetup.
Show your kids the power of activism. If they feel strongly about a specific animal or issue, encourage them to join a protest, write a letter to a newspaper, have a vegan bake sale, hand out literature, or create an art project. They’ll most likely have fun doing this, and it will teach them to be a voice for the voiceless.
Remember there are opportunities for teaching kindness and empathy all around us- here in NYC every time I step outside I come across pigeons, squirrels, and bugs such as spiders, ants and flies. Teach them to respect these not so cute and cuddly creatures as well. Encourage your kids to stop and watch their behaviors. Instill curiosity and reverence. Model kindness by teaching them to never intentionally step on creatures/animals, chase them, or hit them.
Dealing with Playdates, Sleepovers and School Functions
The first thing you want to do is make sure that your relative or child’s friend’s parents know that your child is VEGAN. Next, make sure they know what a VEGAN is, and exactly what foods they can’t eat. Nowadays, many kids are allergic to specific foods (e.g. dairy, peanuts), and there are more and more vegetarians and vegans so different diets shouldn’t be unfamiliar to them.
For events such as sleepovers, birthday parties, school functions, pizza parties, and cookouts, the number one most important thing you can do is find out ahead of time what they’ll be serving and supply your child with a vegan substitute, if possible. This will require a little more time and effort on your part, but it’s worth it to make your child feel part of the group.
Create a LIST- for grandparents, aunts/uncles, friends, babysitters, daycares. This is actually something that my Mom recommended. This can be especially helpful for grandparents who have other grandkids too-- so that they can buy snacks that all the kids can eat, because it’s inevitable that kids will want to share or have what the other one is having. On the list you can also include some non-obvious vegan ingredients to look out for when shopping that people may not know- such as whey, casein, honey, gelatin, etc. Click here for list.
Recommended Resources for Raising Vegan Kids
Despite living in a society permeated by mac & cheese, chicken nuggets, hot dogs and milk... it's getting easier and easier to raise vegan kids because there are so many resources available, online and in books. You can google almost any subject about vegan parenting and you'll get back tons of answers.
Take advantage of social media to create a virtual support community. Ask questions, get advice and share some of your own tips and ideas with other vegetarian/vegan parents. Follow on Twitter & Pinterest and LIKE on Facebook any and all pages related to vegan kids/vegan parenting. You will be exposed to wonderful articles, recipes, ideas, and inspiration.
Raising Vegan Children in a Non-Vegan World by Erin Pavlina of Vegfamily.com
Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times by Zoe Weil (makes a great baby shower gift!)
50 Awesome Ways Kids Can Help Animals by Ingrid Newkirk of PETA
Vegan Lunch Box: 130 Amazing, Animal-Free Lunches Kids and Grown-Ups Will Love! by Jennifer McCann
Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero.
Healthy Eating for Life for Children by Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Vegan Eating for Kids by M.S.J. Dana Villamagna and M.D., M.Sc. Andrew VillamagnaVegan Pregnancy Survival Guide by Sayward RebhalSkinny Bitch Bun in the Oven by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin
Happy, Healthy, Vegan Kids by Tracie DeMotteThat’s Why We Don’t eat Animals and Vegan is Love by Ruby Roth
My message to vegan parents: Your decision to raise vegan kids means that you will often be challenging the status quo and swimming against the current, but don't let that deter you. Never apologize for choosing a lifestyle based on compassion and integrity. Deep in your heart you know you're doing the right thing for the animals, the planet and your children, so be proud and confident in your decision. Feel empowed. Live with a clean conscience knowing that you and your family are living according to your deepest values. Make veganism fun! Make vegan pancakes on the weekend, have vegan pizza parties, and make vegan ice cream sundaes!
In this post, Kathy Stevens, director and founder of Catskill Animal Sanctuary (CAS) tells us why it's so important for kids to meet farm animals. She encourages families to come visit the cows, pigs, horses, chickens, rabbits, turkeys and goats living at the sanctuary. If you are raising your kids vegetarian or vegan, visiting CAS is a must. Starting in March they will have accomodations on site, so you can stay right at the sanctuary!
Guest post by Kathy Stevens, founder and director of Catskill Animal Sanctuary
It’s seven in the morning. Kathy Keefe, Catskill Animal Sanctuary
’s (CAS) farm manager, is stacking dishes on a cart inside the
main barn’s spacious feed room. The pig dishes are piled and overflowing with broccoli, apples, tomatoes, beans, and pumpkin; the horse dishes are each different from the other, depending on the nutritional needs of the Sanctuary’s resident equines, and the same is true for the chicken dishes. Heavy broiler chickens who struggle under industry-induced obesity get a low-calorie diet, while others get calorie-dense sunflower seeds and cracked corn mixed in with their grain-based diet. All the chickens get leafy greens, too, and even the broilers get to snack on an occasional grape or banana slice. One dish gets glucosamine, another an iron supplement, electrolytes in a third and Omega 3’s in a fourth. That’s
the level of individual care the animals at Catskill Animal Sanctuary receive.
The notion that whether human or hen, we are all
individuals and should be treated as such permeates every aspect of CAS, and I believe it’s the main reason families flock to us.
When you bring your kids to CAS, for instance, you’ll find that there’s no such thing as a “standard tour” at our 110-acre farm animal sanctuary. Instead, your family is apt to be greeted in the parking lot by a member of the Underfoot Family-- a pig or chicken, turkey or goat who, for one reason or another, is happier roaming freely than living among members of his/her species. So be forewarned, a human may well walk out to greet you, but so might Rambo
the sheep, Mike
the rooster,or Arthur
Next, you’ll find that your tour guide will want to know the names of your children, how old they are, and whether they’ve ever kissed a pig or napped with a cow. There’s no “script” at CAS, so I can’t promise that these will be the exact questions; but what I can
promise is this: that from the moment you arrive, your child will be actively included in the experience of visiting Catskill Animal Sanctuary. In fact, when tour groups are filled with families with young children, they often don’t move too far and definitely
don’t move too fast. Why? Because kids need to sit on the ground, eye to eye, with Ethel
the turkey. Because kids need to walk slowly into the rabbit enclosure and sit quietly (“Pretend to be a rock,” we say) as the shy creatures inch closer, perhaps sniffing a knee, before hopping away. And because kids need to lie on their bellies, heads in their hands, watching the pigs
do what pigs do: root, flop down in the pond on a hot day, press their cool wet snouts through the fence to say hello. When you’re raising vegetarian/vegan kids, or moving along that path, visiting places where food animals are happy and right there, in your face, reinforces all that you’re doing at home.
When children have had the chance to be kissed by a cow,
choosing a different meal simply affirms their innate kindness and deepens their bond with our animal friends.
We recently received an e-mail from a proud mom. Her son Henry
, now ten years old, has attended our children’s day camp, Camp Kindness
, for two summers in a row, and has since become a passionate and committed vegan. Henry and his family were recently out at dinner with family friends, and Henry was questioned by the grown-ups about his diet. According to his mom, after very eloquently listing several animal, health, and environmental reasons for his decision, Henry looked at the grown-ups and said, “So I think that the question shouldn’t be about why I’m vegetarian…the question should be about why you aren’t.”
Camp Kindness vegan bake sale
Come share the love. Catskill Animal Sanctuary
in Saugerties, NY is open for tours
Saturdays and Sundays April through October. The Homestead
, our four-room inn, will be open year-round, seven days a week, beginning in March so you can plan your trip and stay right at the farm! Camp Kindness
, which holds week-long sessions in July and August, will begin registering children in April. We hope to see you soon!Note from Editor
: My husband and I visited CAS a few years before our daughter, Charlotte was born, and can attest to the fact that it is truly a beautiful haven for rescued farm animals. The animals who live there receive so much love and attention. We can't wait to bring Charlotte this summer! The sanctuary is located within 1/2hr of the historic town of Woodstock. So make a family vacation out of it; visit the sanctuary (sleep on site), go hiking, go tubing down the Esopus River, take a train ride on the Catskill Mountain Railroad, shop, and eat at one of the many vegetarian restaurants in the area.
Kathy Stevens is the Founder and Director of CAS. Kathy moved to Boston for graduate school, and after a decade of teaching high school English, she was asked to head a charter school. Instead, one year later, she opened Catskill Animal Sanctuary, one of the country's leading havens for farm animals and a center for raising public awareness of their sentience and their suffering. She is the author of two critically and popularly-acclaimed books, "Where the Blind Horse Sings" and "Animal Camp", a regular blogger on farm animal issues for the Huffington Post, and a frequent contributor to books and articles on farm animals, vegan living, and related issues.