ABOVE PHOTO: With our friends - Esther The Wonder Pig and dog Shelby
"If you don't encourage children to eat dogs, why encourage them to eat pigs?"
My son Noah and I live a vegan lifestyle. That's different from following a vegan diet -- although both are great! In fact, whatever you do that helps the environment, animals, humans or the earth is pretty awesome. For us, veganism extends past the plant-based food on our plate.
Last year I wrote an article for xoJane about Noah choosing to become vegan on his own when he was five years old. I shared his passionate decision to switch from being vegetarian to vegan when he learned the truth about the dairy and egg industries.
He didn't want to eat animals or contribute to their suffering. Noah continues to be my inspiration to stick with the diet part of veganism even if it's challenging. We recently celebrated our four-year vegan anniversary! We do our best to be kind and compassionate to all creatures, both human and non-human. We don't participate in activities that exploit or oppress another species like the zoo, circus or marine parks. We don't wear fur, leather, or wool. But still the most common questions I receive surrounding veganism are food based. So although ethical veganism is all encompassing, this article is about food choices. Here are a few things I have learned from raising a child that does not eat meat, fish, dairy, eggs or anything containing animal ingredients.
Photo: Rescued calf at Wishing Well Sanctuary
1. It's easy and economical to make humane food choices
If someone says it's more expensive to eat vegan food they are mistaken. I am a single mom living on a writer's budget -- needless to say there is no extra money flying around! The cost of eating animal flesh is on the rise and the cost of local produce is considerably cheaper. Yes, the government subsidizes our school's milk program, but we drink water instead -- it's free! I buy grains like rice, lentils and quinoa in bulk. I shop at small family owned fruit and veggie stores for fresh produce, it's more economical than large grocery stores. I choose food in season whenever possible. Simple unprocessed foods like potatoes, pasta, oatmeal, lentils and beans are inexpensive yet have nutrients and calories that children's bodies need.
2. Yes, my son eats healthy plant based food, thank you for asking
I have done my research. Ten years of it actually, since I first started reading about the topic during pregnancy. I have spent a zillion hours learning about protein, calcium, and B12, yet some people try and find something I am doing "wrong." You will never hear me criticizing parents that feed their kids animal flesh or cow milk. So shouldn't it work both ways? Years ago, to be on the safe side, I consulted with my son's pediatrician and even went to see a kid's nutritionist. When we met I was delighted to share my menu choices, we even exchanged recipes! I make a variety of different proteins and calcium-enriched foods daily. In fact, if I knew twenty years ago what I know now about how unhealthy dairy is I would have stopped eating all those grilled cheese sandwiches in my twenties. Study after study suggests milk is not healthy for human consumption and not good for our bones after all, as reported in the Washington Post last year.
3. You can travel and still eat a plant-based diet
I am often told "I can't eat vegan food it's so hard!" or "I don't know how you do it!" I know everyone means well, but honestly, when something comes from a place of passion it's not hard. When Noah and I travel we never go hungry. Even in a small fishing village in Prince Edward Island last summer we ate delicious vegan food and found plenty of restaurants with healthy plant based options. We always find farmers markets, salad bars, accommodating restaurants -- even fast food restaurant chains have vegan food options now. Many dishes with meat can be prepared without it and taste great. Also, as a mom, I load my purse with non-perishable snacks just in case of flight delays. But these days even airlines are stocking up on vegan food! Bon Voyage!
4. School celebrations, birthday parties, and festive holidays
When I was a Girl Guide our motto was "Be Prepared." I highly recommend this to avoid having a disappointed child at a school party serving non-vegan food. Sometimes I keep a treat with his teachers in the classroom in case. For birthday parties I always offer to send Noah with food but often I don't need to because the kind mommas have offered. I never expect anyone to make special arrangements but am always grateful when we are considered. It's simple when ordering pizza to request a few slices without cheese and now so many pizza chains serve Daiya dairy free cheese! School pizza parties are never a problem. It's important to speak up though, as I hear from moms at different schools their vegan children are often left out of celebrations.
All festive meals can be made using plant based ingredients. In Judaism there are countless holiday meals that traditionally involve eating animals. But there are creative alternatives for a vegan Passover Seder Plate; egg and dairy free Challah bread for your Rosh Hashanah feast; you can dip your apples in agave nectar instead of honey for a sweet year; and even plant based chicken soup for the soul! If you celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas, Tofurky is a great substitute for, you know, a turkey!
5. Teaching kindness and compassion
This is my starting point for everything. Am I perfect? Of course not. But I try my best to raise a child that makes kind choices, including dietary ones. I have read informative books about raising kind children but most of the time I just try to follow my heart. As the famous saying goes, treat others as you want to be treated. Don't exploit or oppress another species. If you don't encourage children to eat dogs, why encourage them to eat pigs? What is the difference? Perhaps it's time to realize there is no difference. Furthermore, why would I want to participate in an industry such as dairy and meat that hurts others when humane alternatives are so readily available? The shelves are stacked with non-dairy milks and every kind of meatless flesh-free food you can imagine.
6. It's progress not perfection
Some people still try to catch me doing something "unvegan- like." Somebody call off the vegan police! Because If you think I shouldn't do anything because I can't do everything, you are mistaken. Every little bit helps and choosing compassionate food is a great place to start. I hope as Noah gets older people don't focus on what he isn't doing, but look at all the wonderful things he is doing. In his young life he has already saved 3600 animals by not eating them. (Approximately 400 lives a year are saved by being vegetarian, not including dairy or eggs)
So why am I raising a vegan child? For the same reason I became vegetarian at seven years old. The day I found out my hamburger had a cow face was the start of my journey. I do it for the animals.
Photo: Rescued Cows at Wishing Well Sanctuary
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Follow Miriam Porter on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MiriamRiverP