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!"
Melissa Gates, Director of Programs at Catskill Animal Sanctuary shares her recent experience teaching kids, and tells us about the wonderful Camp Kindness vegan summer camp! It's a one-week long day camp run by trained humane educators that gives kids the opportunity to interact with farm animals, while inspiring them to make kind, compassionate choices for all. Check out this one-of-a-kind camp, and register your kids-- they will love it!
Guest Post by Melissa Gates, Director of Programs at Catskill Animal Sanctuary
Ten Girl Scouts, ranging in age from nine to eleven years old, playfully traipsed after me in their sparkling new designer galoshes as I led them from Catskill Animal Sanctuary’s Welcome Hut around into the sloping potbellied pig field for their Volunteer Day.
“Are we going to scoop…pooooop?” asked one girl, her voice rising upward like a slide whistle accompanied by a face contorted into unspeakable crescendos.
“It would be very nice of us,” said I, raising a pitchfork to my side and motioning for the girls to circle around, “as these little loves depend upon CAS to provide them with proper affection, food, water and shelter. Part of that entails scooping up their poop every day.”
The potbellied pigs eyed the group of girls, snouts to the air and tails wagging, perhaps wondering if the day would bring treats or belly rubs or even better…both. This porcine crew knows the group volunteer gig pretty well. The shy pigs wander off to private corners, where they know we will respect their privacy. Suspicious pigs stand at a distance, smelling and rooting and planning and waiting. The extroverts wander over and introduce themselves with little nudges of their wet, sensitive noses against willing hands, legs and giggles. Shy Girl, who is, as her name implies, normally a quite timid resident at CAS, has days where she will waddle over to check out groups. Chopper, who eagerly falls over sideways at the mere suggestion of a hand heading toward his belly, can have shy days, too. Pigs, just like people and all other animals, have their moods. Today wasn’t one of those days for our friendly guy, Ozzie. He sauntered over, tail flailing a mile a minute with a clear look of warmth upon his face as his nose wiggled and pointed, smelling from girl to girl, likely anticipating his healthy dose of love and affection for the day, but not before…
One pointed finger became two then five then ten until a pitchy horror of shrieking girl chorus erupted,“EeeEEEEeeeeEEEw! He’s pooping NOW!”
At times like these, teaching moments choose us; those of us brave enough not to shy away from the challenge of poop discussions with little girls sporting designer galoshes in pink and yellow polka dots know what we must do. For those of us who make the conscious decision not to dilute the poop topic but rather to embrace the opportunity for heightened compassion, these moments are precious...even when faced with little girl squeals.
“Everybody poops, right?” I asked, looking around from surprised to disgusted to embarrassed faces. “This is Ozzie. He and other pigs are actually quite courteous when they go to the bathroom,” I continued. “When given the amount of space they need, pigs use one area for their bathroom breaks, another area for eating and yet another area for sleeping! What do you think would happen if our pig friends didn’t poop?”
“We wouldn’t have to pick it up!” exclaimed one child, affirming my theory that there really is at least one silly kid in every group.
“Hmmm. True,” I answered.“But how do you feel when you don’t go to the bathroom when you need to go?”
“Bad. My tummy aches and I feel bad if I hold it too long,” said another.
“Right; and we wouldn’t want our pig friends to feel that way, would we?” All the girls’ heads nodded no, emphatically. “Plus, what can most people do that pigs and other animals can’t, to our knowledge?”
“Excuse themselves to go to the bathroom!” hollered one girl, hand waving over her head.
“That is a very astute point.” I replied. “There is something else humans can do that not many other animals can. What do you think that might be?” Hands shot up. I lifted a brow and extended an inviting hand to one girl who looked as though she might burst if she kept her answer in any longer.
“Ask their moms to drive cars to other bathrooms!” she sang out. Kids come out with the darndest things.
“Also a very good point,” I said. “So when you decide to excuse yourself or when you decideto ask your mom for help, rather than going to the bathroom on the floor, what is it you’re doing?”
“Deciding!” came a shout from one girl, who had really listened as I hung on the word decide.
“Exactly!” I encouraged,“Humans have the gift of intellect, which helps us make good decisions and come to correct conclusions about what is true or real and about how to solve problems. Other animals are smart and can learn human words and signs, and are very often effective at initiating communication and interaction with people. Animals have family units and friends; they think, feel love, suffer pain, and communicate with one another the same as we do...but in their own languages. They do not have the same level of advanced intellect that humans have, though, so in a human-powered world, this often puts animals in danger of being hurt, like if they were left out in fields full of their own poop, which would distress them and could also make them physically sick. This is one of the many kind ways in which people can take care of animals. We pick up their poop in the same way that we take care of our baby brothers’ and sisters’ poop when we help change their diapers.”
“Hey, why don’t pigs wear diapers?” asked the one quota-filling silly girl, with a practiced look of sincerity. I walked right into that one.
The girls and I talked a little more about what it means to allow animals the dignity of their nature, to allow pigs to poop in their latrine area, to allow chickens to flap their wings, to allow cows to live free from milk machines, to allow the planet to live free from pollution, and to allow people the right to live free from wrongful discrimination.
It wasn’t long before the girls were ambitiously scooping poop and satisfying Ozzie’s loving need for affection. They understood the good they were doing to help our pig friends, and with this newfound understanding and context of the help they were providing, the girls were happy to open their hearts to a stinky but necessary chore in order to lend a hand. The fires of compassion grew stronger in the girls’ hearts that day as their perspectives and experiences widened to include animals.
I got to thinking, this really is the foundation for Catskill Animal Sanctuary’s Camp Kindness program, our vegan summer day camp for kids. At Camp Kindness, we offer kids opportunities for deciding to live with greater compassion. We provide facts about the impacts of animal-based agriculture on animals, people and the planet and we empower kids to think critically about
this wonderful world we share. Telling a child that he or she should be kind to animals is a nice start; teaching kids that they each have the power to lead lives based upon deciding to be nice to animals is a world-changing paradigm shifter.
At Camp Kindness, trained Humane Educators work closely with the small camp groups to empower each child to think freely, carefully and independently, and to arrive at their own conclusions and truths, as guided by the spirit of compassion for all.
The age-appropriate lesson plans are mapped out well in advance of the four one-week long camp sessions, but each is molded like clay as it unfolds to meet the shifting needs of the individual kids and to positively reflect the group dynamic in order to bring out the best in each child.
Kids are encouraged to think critically about food production issues, animal rights, the environment and their own health at Camp Kindness. One-on-one interaction with our animal friends is a key aspect of camp, enabling kids to learn about animal behavior and personalities as well as animal care.
Kids leave camp understanding that every animal is a unique individual, which helps those who do not otherwise have an opportunity to mingle with traditionally farmed animals. Everyone leaves feeling supported and knowing that they are not alone; that feeling compassion for animals is indeed a wonderful and inspiring thing.
At Camp Kindness, kids are presented with facts and asked to think creatively and compassionately, and they leave with plenty of tools from which to choose, from vegan cooking skills and recipes to journaling for expressing feelings to growing their own food and gaining experience with animals and getting to know the personalities of a few critters. Camp Kindness helps to reinforce what compassionate parents teach their children every day; that all animals are thinking, breathing, feeling beings worthy of our love and respect; that we may each positively impact the world by deciding to make compassionate choices; that being kind to one another, to animals and to the planet feels good!
I left CAS at the end of this Girl Scout Volunteer Day feeling a strong sense of hope for the future and really looking forward to this year’s Camp Kindness sessions. If we can encourage little girls in glittering galoshes to set aside their dislike of poop in order to lend a hand to pigs in need, we can do just about anything, including making the world a more compassionate place...one child at a time.
To learn more about Camp Kindness or register your child for a session, click here:
To learn more about other CAS programming this season, including the weekend-long Vegan Parenting Workshop in July, click here.
Melissa Gates has directed two statewide animal rights organizations and is currently serving as the Director of Programs at the Catskill Animal Sanctuary in Saugerties, New York. She is a longtime vegan and community organizer for animals, people, and the planet, with nearly two decades of experience in the field. When not engrossed in her work, Melissa can often be seen out & about advocating for justice, hiking, exploring New York's live music scene or snuggling up by her fireplace with some great jazz, a good book & feline friends Eden-Shade, Mama Shed, Sumo Monster, Cito Mosquito Fernandez Jones & Levon Whitey Gates.
Attention parents....and educators! Michelle Carr from PETA gives us some tips and ideas for getting kids involved in helping animals. Order free materials and get started right away!
Guest post by Michelle Carr from PETA
Kids have the desire and the power to create an animal-friendly world. However, the mistreatment of animals, from factory farms to the circus, makes it challenging for them to understand the importance of compassion. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has an entire website dedicated to kids
, and it's packed full of animal-friendly games, contests, and ways to help animals. You can also sign up for the PETA Kids E-News
so that we can send you tips and suggestions on how to incorporate activism into your child's everyday life.
Kids naturally don't want to see animals get hurt, but how can kids get active for animals? The best way to help animals is simply to stop eating them! From chicken-free nuggets
to soy grilled cheese
, there are so many vegan options out there that kids will never miss eating animals! Need some more ideas? There are a ton of resources for cruelty-free eating that you can find here
. Yum!A FEW IDEAS FOR GETTING KIDS INVOLVED IN HELPING ANIMALS
1) If you live with an animal companion, take your dog out for a long walk with your child and show him or her how to respect Fido by giving him the care and attention that he deserves.
2) Passing out leaflets also helps animals. You can make your own
or order some
3) Set up an information table outside your local mall or library with your child, and hand out leaflets about cruelty to animals. This fun activity will provide you with the opportunity to bond with your child while standing up for an important cause!
4) Join a local protest against the circus or some other animal issue that kids are interested in.
ORDER The Kids' Guide to Helping Animals
Are you or anyone you know an educator? PETA has a humane-education division, TeachKind
, which is a great resource for teachers, administrators, and librarians who want to help teach children respect for all animals. TeachKind offers free lesson plans
as well as free materials
such as books, DVDs, posters, coloring pages, stickers to K-12 and college educators that will help put empathy and compassion for animals in the classroom.
Teaching children respect for all animals will create a kinder world, and with these two great resources, PETA Kids
, you can help animals live happy lives.
If you are a parent or educator, please visit our website and order materials so we can help you get your kids involved in helping animals!
Michelle Carr is a graduate of the University of Maryland with a Bachelors degree in Sociology/Social Psychology. Michelle currently works for PETA and is the founder of No Animals Harmed (http://noanimalsharmed.com/), a blog dedicated to compassionate living. Michelle resides in Los Angeles, with her rescued companion dog, Callie.