A little over a month ago, Rasine (who’s three now) and Huyen were at a birthday party. Rasine was offered a snack or a piece of cake by her friend’s mother and, before accepting, asked the hostess, “Is this vegan?”
Huyen was surprised and I was equally taken aback by it when she told me about it afterwards. This was the first time that Rasine had it taken upon herself to ask about food, showing an understanding about her food that we, honestly, didn’t think she had quite yet. To top it off, when she found out it wasn’t vegan, she didn’t cry or complain. She just said, “OK!” and moved on.
And, amazingly, it’s continued like that.
I underestimated where Rasine was at with regards to understanding about why we eat the way we do. Turns out, she’s able to clearly and concisely state that we don’t eat animals because we like them and don’t want to hurt them. And if there’s a food she wants that isn’t vegan, she’s fine with it.
A funny moment came when we were helping to clean up after Poplar Spring‘s open house last month. One of the other volunteers was cutting a cake from Sticky Fingers and offered Rasine a piece. Rasine dutifully asked, “Is that vegan?” Robin, the volunteer, almost fell over from shock.
The topper came, though, when we visited my sister’s house a few weeks ago. They’d fixed bacon for breakfast and Rasine asked if she could have some. I took her aside and quietly told her, “We’re not going to eat that because it’s not vegan.” She said, “OK,” and we got our food ready.
A few minutes later when everyone sat down for breakfast, as everyone else took a bite of bacon, Rasine decided it was good time to announce, “We don’t eat that because it’s not vegan and it hurts animals.” My sister was a gracious host and didn’t throw us out, instead responding, “Yes, dear… we know…” We all had a good laugh at our vocal little activist speaking her mind.
We’ve been told by her teachers that she’s been doing some vegangelizing at school, too, telling everyone about veganism and how she likes animals.
I write about all this not to say, “Aww… look how cute my daughter is!” (well, OK, maybe it’s a little bit of that, too), but to show that it’s really easy to underestimate kids’ understanding of what they’re eating. We think they need to be shielded from the reality and told cute stories about how chickens happily give their eggs for us to eat. This just isn’t the case. Now, I’m not suggesting you break out Earthlings at your kid’s fourth birthday party, but there are ways we can be gently honest about the food that people eat and why we, as vegans, don’t choose to eat the same foods. We also need to stress that just because some family members eat meat, that doesn’t make them bad people. There may be a few of those awkward moments where your child blurts something out that might shock a family member or friend, but hey — everyone does it at some point.
It’s also easy to fall into that trap of thinking raising your kids vegan is somehow depriving them of the “experience” of eating meat or having a piece of birthday cake with eggs in it. But it’s not. Just like most of us probably don’t feel deprived for not being able to strangle a hobo, kids who grow up vegan aren’t going necessarily feel like they’re missing out. As parents, we have to make sure we focus on what we do eat and why and to always offer alternatives. That might mean coming prepared with cupcakes to a birthday party or offering a trade of her favorite vegan candy for non-vegan candy she collected during Halloween.
I fully expect that at some point, Rasine will rebel and want something that’s not vegan. I’m under no illusions that it’s always going to be this easy with her. But, for now, her inquisitive nature and her enthusiasm about veganism remind me that we’re not depriving her. We’re nurturing her natural compassion and she’s teaching us that kids shouldn’t be underestimated.