Jonathan Safran Foer wrote in his new book, Eating Animals that we should rethink our traditions surrounding food. To honor the Thanksgiving holiday, for example, Foer urged his readers to focus on harvest foods that reflect what we understand to be “good food” food whose“ingredients, setting, and consuming are expressions of the best of us.” And after following Foer into slaughterhouses and factory farms, most readers would join him in concluding that “good food” is more likely to be plant-based than animal in origin.
Until Foer’s ideas about how to honor our traditions and the values that we hold are widely shared, however, many vegans have a hard time finding comfort in a culture that celebrates the confinement, slaughter, and consumption of animals. The flesh and secretions of animals are standard fare on any menu. Jokes about Tofurkys abound. And here in Washington, D.C., we have a lame tradition of pardoning a single turkey at the White House as if it’s the turkeys who’ve done something wrong.
Imagine then what it’s like for vegan kids. Many have never consumed an animal themselves, and even on the best of days, the kids and adults in the school cafeteria don’t look kindly on meatless deli slices and soy yogurt. Teachers expect them to know the likes of Ronald McDonald and Chuck E. Cheese. And then there’s the blatant untruth portrayed in the vast majority of children’s books that depict farmed animals. A sunny day on Old MacDonald’s Farm somehow supplants the concentrated animal feeding operations that pervade contemporary animal agriculture, with nary a mention of overcrowding, debeaking, prophylactic antibiotics, the “disposal” of male chicks and calves, or manure lagoons.
That’s why I believe it’s so important to celebrate vegan books for kids or those (like Sweet Chili Doritos) that are “accidentally vegan.” Kids deserve to see themselves and their values depicted in the literature they read. And as our culture shifts subtly to embrace improved animal welfare standards, environmental preservation, and the incorporation of locally grown fruits and
vegetables into every meal, all children benefit from “vegan” kids books, by which I mean books that support vegetarian and vegan values, including animal welfare or rights, environmental protection, and healthy food choices.
Among my favorite vegan books are That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals by Ruby Roth, Garlic-Onion-Beet-Spinach-Mango-Carrot-Grapefruit Juice by Nathalie VanBalen, To Market, To Market by Anne Miranda, and the familiar Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss.
These books aren’t just good books in a literary sense– they’re also good books. Books that encourage children to rethink their assumptions, to see animals for who they really are, and to stand up for the defenseless. The kind of books that will help prepare children to be leaders in one of the most important social justice issues of our time– the rights and welfare of nonhuman animals.
While discerning parents and teachers can certainly find these books, and others like them, they still represent a tiny, tiny minority of the books that are marketed to children. In fact, I’d be willing to bet there are ten or twenty times more “happy farm” books on your library shelves than vegan-oriented kids books.
Just as we vote with our dollars when we buy food, so too can we send a powerful message to booksellers, publishers, and authors when we buy books for our children. Next time you plan to go to the book store, bring a list of veg-friendly titles along
and ask for them. Ask your librarian to purchase some of your favorite titles for the library shelves. Host a veg-story time at a local cafeé. And when the grandparents ask what your child needs at the holidays or her birthday, have a few titles handy.
Together, we can raise children who value life, the connections between humans and other animals, and the need to protect the earth and all its inhabitants –and perhaps we can even spread messages of kindness and compassion beyond our families into our communities.
A vegan, mom, and avid reader, Jessica Almy lives in Washington, DC with her husband, their six-year-old daughter, and their cat Cassie. She is the creator of Vegbooks, a site that reviews kids books and movies from a vegetarian perspective.