“Is this vegan?”

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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.

Pumpkin Pickiin' Ride

27 Responses to ““Is this vegan?””

  1. bazu

    This is really interesting. Reading about Rasine’s continuing awesome makes me excited to be a parent one day, but more than that, this is such a powerful statement for veganism.

  2. natala

    Thank you for writing this! It gives me so much hope :)

  3. Jennifer Pickard

    What an adorable story! I have two daughters , and we are vegitarians. We are always the ” strange” ones at family, and social dinners, and events.My oldest daughter Morgan (12)is a great activist! We understand why we dont eat meat. But not everyone does.

  4. Jennifer Pickard

    Our children can see the future,and dont want animals to suffer anymore!These are different times than when we were young! Thats for sure.

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  7. Christopher LCP Mendes

    As a potential future vegan parent, this story both enlightens me and gives me a lot of hope. Thank you for sharing! I hope my children are as cute as your daughter.

  8. sara

    My daughter is 5 and has been an awesome vegan all her life. She seems proud of her decision to not eat animals and doesn’t seem bothered a bit about other kids eating different food than her (other than asking why they would eat animals). I have a 2 year old boy who doesn’t share his sister’s enthusiasm unfortunately:( I can only help he is getting his rebellion out young, and maybe as he gets older and understands more it will be easier? I still don’t feel like I’m depriving my children in any way though. I make a big effort to offer them exciting food choices and almost always volunteer to bring snacks when we are going to be around nonvegan kids so that they have something to share/show off (look my kid doesn’t just eat tofu!). It is always nice to hear from other vegan parents out there. You daughter is amazing. Keep up the good work.

  9. Bea Elliott

    Wonderful story! And I don’t know… given her complete understanding about animals I wouldn’t be surprised if there never was a future “rebellion” to try a non-vegan food. Great job! Thanks for sharing!

  10. links for 2009-11-12

    […] “Is this vegan?” | The Veg Blog Raising Vegan Kids (tags: vegan nutrition) […]

  11. Gary

    What a wonderful, uplifting post! It’s so refreshing to read about (and know) parents who are teaching and setting an example of compassion and respect for animals. And it’s gladdens my heart – but doesn’t surprise me – to know that their children get it.

    I think, with dismay and sadness, about the children who adorn their walls with animal pictures and have favorite stuffed animals, but are lied to by their parents about where meat, dairy, and eggs come from so that they unwittingly inflict suffering and death on the real animals whom their toys and pictures represent. To what degree do the parents lie to their kids to hide their own violent lifestyles?

    Thank you for breaking the cycle of violence and instead cultivating Rasine’s innate compassion and goodness!

  12. Matt Ball

    I agree with Bea — I wouldn’t bet on a rebellion. Our lifelong vegan daughter is 15, and has given absolutely no indication of being anything other than a proud vegan.
    Also might be of interest:
    http://veganhealth.org/articles/realveganchildren

  13. Lacey

    How great! Just one note- I hope everyone didn’t laugh at the tiny activist in front of her! I can remember family laughing at my proud opinions when I was that young… twenty-five years later, I still have difficulty speaking up, because I am afraid I’ll be laughed at!

  14. Ivy

    What an adorable little girl you have there! You should be proud! I’m looking forward to hearing more wonderful stories about Rasine.

  15. nancie sailor

    WHAT A BEAUTIFUL STORY ABOUT RASINE. I HAD A SMILE ON MY FACE DURING MY WHOLE READING AND IT GAVE ME SUCH A WARM FEELING OF A LITTLE GIRL EXPRESSING HERSELF SO WELL! TAKE PRIDE PARENTS IN THE WAY YOU ARE RAISING RACINE!

  16. Lana Holmes

    Loved it and sent on to mom-to-be – i too reacted to the “laughter” comment and hoped it wasn’t in front of her.

  17. cvc

    I loved this post. Our son is the same age and has been very good about asking if food is vegan for quite some time now. Like Rasine, if he’s told it’s not vegan, he just moves on (and he occasionally blurts out “we don’t eat animals” at the lunch table at his preschool). After trick-or-treating this year, he sorted his candy with gusto and we traded non-vegan candies for vegan faves with his cousins and best friend…and then he promptly forgot about his candy stash!

    Three cheers for bright little tots! I agree, they’re so much smarter than many give them credit for!

  18. Amanda

    Wow, this is so inspiring! I still don’t know if I will have kids someday, but if I ever do, my family would definitely be vegan. I never thought I was one to underestimate how perceptive small children are, but I was still surprised that a 3-year-old would ask if baked goods were vegan before eating them! This is wonderful.

  19. T.L.

    Wow! This is a great story. I work with children from many walks of life, and as much as caring for animals is great, some families can not afford to offer their children vegan lifestyles. For many U.S families, milk, yogurt and cheese are readily available and affordable in their neighborhood, while dairy alternatives are triple the price and scarce. Many families may also come from countries where meat is considered a luxury, so living in the U.S., where fresh meat is available, is seen as a sign of prosperity. As a vegetarian who is fortunate enough to have an income that allows me to live a certain way, I invite all to consider those who may not be able to, but who would benefit from it.

  20. vegbooks

    My daughter would love yours! She’s 4 and vegan too — and apparently she’s quietly starting a revolution among her fellow preschoolers with her simple ethical explanations (e.g., “We don’t drink cow’s milk because cow’s milk belongs to baby cows and stealing is wrong.”). But her activism isn’t limited to her peers. My favorite exchange: We were visiting my parents last summer and she asked my dad, “Papa, why am I vegan?” “Because you love animals,” he answered. Her reply? “Don’t you?”

  21. Lazurii

    I always love your updates on your daughter. It’s always such a great inspiration to me. My son just tuned two a few weeks ago and it amazes me how much he understands. If he wants to eat something that’s not vegan I’ll say, “I’m sorry honey, that has milk in it,” or “That’s meat and we don’t eat animals.” He’s happy to move along to something he can enjoy. I know it helps to have similar food on hand, such as our homemade tomato soup that he loves, when one of his friends is having the same thing.

  22. veganf

    My children have all surprised me in this way too. I never thought my 2nd son would ever “get it”, but turns out he was just quiet about it, and when not in my presence always asked if food was vegan before accepting it (it’s not just veganism…he won’t read out loud at home either, but he’s apparently reading at the next grade level at school, this is just the way he is). My oldest has always been very vocal about veganism (plastering anti-meat drawings on our windows for passers-by around Thanksgiving).
    Just recently my 3 1/2yo started asking me if certain things were vegan. He hears his brothers asking often, so I think to him it’s the thing to do!
    Hooray for your daughter!

  23. veganf

    T.L. – I disagree. It is not always more expensive to eat a vegan diet, though if you rely on assistance then it may be more difficult. We usually qualify for state assistance and WIC (our income varies greatly being self-employed), though we choose not to use it as most of the hand-outs are dairy….though there are also beans, peanut butter, vegetables, and farmer’s market coupons, so many vegetarians do quite well with this.
    We just set healthy food as a priority…there are many “luxuries” that many Americans consider necessities that could easily be done without in favour of a healthy diet.

  24. Mei

    Cute! I was brought up a vegetarian (dairy-no eggs) and I remember not being able to eat the chocolate cake at a birthday party when I was in preschool. I asked my mom and she said no-there are eggs. I wasn’t at all upset although I remember my vegetarian friend (our parents were both Hare Krishnas) screaming until his mother relented. I’m 24 and I have never thought about eating meat nor eggs (although I will eat cake with eggs sometimes-don’t tell my mom!) and I am going vegan. So your daughter doesn’t have to be rebellious!
    Sara, my younger brother was raised just like me and he now eats animals without qualms. His excuse is that he is lazy and doesn’t care enough. I still have hope that he will get older and wiser though!

  25. Kathleen

    I find this story both fascinating and captivating! It’s wonderful that Rasine is understanding your choices and telling people about it. However, I would hesitate before condemning a “rebellion.” It’s only natural for us to want to try new things, and I would never, ever condemn my child for choosing a non-vegan lifestyle, just like I don’t condemn others for choosing that path. It’s her life, and ultimately her decision. I can only hope to be a guide and an example for what I believe is right, and I will love her regardless.

  26. lola

    It is a shame you are forcing your eating disorder on your children. You are sick people and your children should be taken by child protective services before it’s too late.

  27. ryan

    Yeah, you’re so right. My daughter is so deprived and so sick. She’s doing terribly.

    Oh wait. No, she’s not. She’s eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. She’s not eating junk food. She gets sick far less often than her peers.

    Read up on nutrition before you accuse someone of abusing their children, lola.

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