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!"
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.