Raising a vegan kid: the first 2 1/2 years

71 Comments

Our daughter is 2 1/2 years old now. She’s never consumed any meat, dairy, or eggs. She’s being raised vegan and is being taught compassion for animals right from the start. Of course, if you listen to some people, we’re killing our child by denying her animal products.

I’m very thankful that from the very beginning, we haven’t faced any resistance from our families. No snide comments, no threats to call child services, no sneaking meat into her food during family gatherings. We’re very lucky in that sense. Our families understand that we’re doing what we think is best and that we’re not going to be stupid about it and feed her only soy milk and apple juice.

We’re first-time parents, so we didn’t exactly know what to expect going in. What if Rasine was a picky eater? What if she was constantly wanting what her friends at playgroup were eating? What if she “failed to thrive,” as they say? I thought I’d talk a little bit about how things are going so far since I really don’t talk about the parenting side of veganism very often here. (If you just want a cute photo and a funny audio clip, jump to the end.)

Food

My wife and I held our collective breath hoping that Rasine wouldn’t turn out to be a picky eater or stricken with a slew of food allergies. Thankfully, she didn’t and she wasn’t.

Some of Rasine’s favorite foods right now are lentils (which are a staple in her diet — she has them nearly every night mixed with nutritional yeast, DHA or olive oil, and ground flax), pears, tofu, quinoa, rice, steamed broccoli, grapes (as long as the skin is peeled), apples, hummus, grits, whole grain pancakes and waffles, banana muffins, tempeh chicken salad, smoothies… and the list goes on. Sure, there’s stuff she doesn’t like and there are some days where she’ll even deny her favorites, but that’s true of any kid. Her diet is primarily whole foods and she’s been exposed to a wider variety of grains and soy/rice/nut/seed milks than I was until my late 20s.

We also keep her involved in the making of food. She’s always playing in the kitchen when we’re making dinner and she loves helping out with stirring pancake batter, pressing the button on the food processor, or licking hummus right off of the spatula. We want her to be close to her food and to enjoy the process of making it, not just eating it.

Really, the food part of things has been the easiest. I’ve become a firm believer that if you feed kids healthy stuff from the start, that’s what they’ll develop the taste for. Rasine’s not really into fake chicken nuggets, hot dogs, or stuff like that (though Veg Booty and ice cream sandwiches are her vices).

The Social Side

Without a doubt, the most difficult part has been the social side of things. My wife is the one that deals with it most frequently, since she’s staying at home with Rasine right now and hauling her to playgroups, weekday birthday parties, and picnics with friends. It takes some extra prep work to be prepared for these situation. For instance, we make sure to always come with a cupcake when headed to a birthday party. And if we know her friends are going to be having cheese crackers, we’ll pick up some Eco-Planet vegan cheddar crackers. There are times when she wants something someone else has, but if we’re prepared, we can usually deal with it without too much trouble.

I think this will continue to be tricky as she gets older and starts school or going to friends’ houses and realizing that there is a difference between what she’s eating and what her friends are eating. Hopefully the “why” behind it all will be enough to help her work through it.

Health

One of my concerns before Rasine was born was finding a pediatrician that was vegan-friendly. I knew we weren’t going to get a vegan pediatrician, but if we could get one that was knowledgeable enough to know that vegan kids can be perfectly healthy, I’d be happy. Rasine’s first doctor had to have the term “vegan” defined for her, but she was hands-off enough and trusting enough of us to make the right decisions that she worked out well for us. Until she stopped taking our insurance.

Right before Rasine’s 2-year check-up, we had to scramble and find another doctor. We found one that seemed decent and OK with the fact Rasine was vegan. However, during the check-up, the doctor expressed some concern that Rasine was quite low on the growth chart and had fallen slightly off of her curve. She asked that we go see a nutritionist to have Rasine’s diet analyzed.

Damn.

This ended up being a major stress for me. Not because I thought Rasine was unhealthy, but because I was worried the doctor might. See, our daughter comes from small stock. I’m a touch under 5’6″ and was always very, very low on the growth scale growing up. My sister was, too, and her kids have all also been small, but healthy. My wife’s just under five feet tall. Neither of us had any expectations that Rasine would be a center in the WNBA.

Never mind that Rasine had never had an ear infection, had only had one high temperature, and was way, way healthier than many kids her age. The weight thing was becoming an issue.

We visited the nutritionist and, thankfully, things went wonderfully. She was very impressed at Rasine’s diet and had no concerns that our girl was thriving. It was suggested that we add some oils and more calorie-dense foods to Rasine’s current diet to help boot her caloric intake a bit. We did and six months later Rasine was back on the growth curve and our doctor was ecstatic. She’s still a small kid — one of my elementary school friend’s son weighed more at six months than Rasine does now, at 2 1/2 — but she’s healthy and active and well-proportioned.

Teaching Compassion

Rasine loves visiting the farm. When I go to volunteer, she says, “Daddy help bock bocks!” She’s not freaked out by bugs and enjoys helping usher them back outside. The other day, I even noticed that she was taking special care not to step on some Boxelder bugs that have started gathering outside our house.

She also loves our dog Amina. Rasine helps us feed her, loves taking her for walks, and says good night to her before bed. Sure, if she gets in Rasine’s space, Rasine will push Amina away, but we try to catch that as it happens and explain that Amina’s being nice and so she should be, too.

All kids naturally love animals, I think, but explicitly cultivating that love early on by exposing them to what many would consider “food animals,” by using positive language, and by helping them look at animals not as lower beings to be dominated but as peers worthy of equal treatment and consideration, that love won’t die once they get older and more hardened to the realities of the world.

I’d love to hear from some other parents here. Chime in with all your cute stories as well as any challenges you’re facing.

And now, the cute stuff…

Here’s something we recorded last week:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

(Translation of her definition of vegan: “No eat bock bocks (chickens), no eat piggies, no eat moos (cows).”)

Flag

Guest post: Natala’s Story

18 Comments

Today I bring you a first on the Veg Blog: a guest post.

I first met Natala Constantine when she came to my family’s house and took pictures of us after being recommended to us by her sister-in-law, a friend of my wife’s. I was surprised when veganism came up in the conversation and was even more amazed when I heard the details of Natala’s story. Sometimes, I don’t give as much credit to those who come to veganism for health reasons, but Natala’s story reminds me that it is indeed possible for people to become vegan for purely health reasons but then open up to the ethical reasons as they dig deeper. I’m going to shut up now and let Natala tell you her story…

I stood in the kitchen, tears rolling down my cheeks and splashing against the floor as I talked to my Granny on the phone. I was 15 years old, she was 57, and she called me to tell me that she was giving up, that she could no longer go through diabetes, that she could no longer have dialysis treatments, that she could not face the possibility of getting her lower leg amputated, that she had no more fight in her. I wanted so badly to tell her that it would be okay, that something would change, that she could hold on just a little bit longer. But I was witness to the life my Granny had lead up till that moment, the countless doctors, the insulin injections, the pills, the complications she suffered from diabetes. For her, death was the better alternative, better than having to go through another day with diabetes. She opted to stop dialysis, and not more than a day later, I sat beside her as she drew her last breaths of life.

It was ten years later that I would find out that I was also a diabetic. I sat in a doctors office, head spinning, as words were flying all around me. I watched as they pumped insulin into my veins, sitting still, numb, and wanting it to all go away.

For five years I was insulin dependent, a severe diabetic. I went to doctor after doctor and have been put on medicine after medicine. I was told that I would always have to take insulin, that insulin and medication were the only answers to controlling my diabetes. Paired with medication, I was given numerous handouts and book suggestions on how to eat as a diabetic. Every single doctor and nutritionist that I encountered, every single hand out, every book that was suggested had the same exact advice: eat lots of meat (it was suggested on several occasions that I try South Beach or Atkins). I was told over and over again to stay away from ANY carbohydrates, that I should never eat fruit, and that I should fill up on meat. Sure, every so often they would throw in “eat salads,” but really, it was a side note to eating a diet that included a large portion of meat protein every day. The standard percentage was to eat less than 20% of my diet in carbohydrates and the rest in meats and low carb vegetables.

When I say that I tried every thing to help my diabetes, it would be an understatement. I was willing to do anything to change the course of the disease that took my Granny. But my biggest mistake was relying on a medical industry who was making money off of me staying on medications, not to mention relying on a medical industry who was having no success after the millions of dollars in “research” that it had been doing for the past 50 years or so on curing diabetes. I was trusting an industry whose record is devastating. In the past 50 years the rates of diabetes have gone up in numbers that are atrocious. And decades later, diabetes is treated the same way, with the same nutrition advice: take more insulin, eat a meat protein diet. There is a great saying “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.” And every day in this country, thousands of people sit in their doctors office, terrified about a diagnosis they have just been given. They are handed a prescription for insulin and other diabetes drugs, and they get a piece of paper with a guide to eating healthy as a diabetic, sponsored by a major pharmaceutical company.

This past August, my life changed when I decided to take my health into my own hands. A very good friend of mine started me on a quest of searching for natural healing books. It was on this search that I came across a book called The 30-Day Diabetes Miracle. I will be the first to admit that I nearly put it back on the shelf after seeing the title. I am not one for fad diets, or anything that claims to be a “miracle.” But I started to thumb through the book and quickly realized that the book was describing the very problems that I was having regarding my blood sugar numbers. The book went on to say that for diabetics, the best diet was one that was completely plant based. It referenced several studies, including ones that they had done on their own (they are part of a large clinic), and the results were astonishing. People were going off of insulin in just days after switching to a completely plant-based diet. I started to research more about a plant-based diet, and decided that at this point, it could not hurt. My blood sugar numbers were already bad, and this was one of the only things I had not tried.

With in a few short weeks I was off of insulin. For five years, I took insulin every day. I was told that I would never go off of insulin. And in a few weeks of going on a plant-based diet, where I completely eliminated animal fats and proteins, I was off of insulin. My blood sugar numbers were the best they had been in 5 years.

The more I looked, the more I found other stories like mine. People who had been on insulin for far longer than me, were going off of insulin and reversing their diabetes in a matter of weeks.

When I called my Dr. at the time to schedule an appointment, and told him what I had done, he simply stated that I should stay on all my medication, because chances are I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the “strict” diet. So, basically, stay on medication so that I can eat poorly and not reverse my diabetes, all because a plant-based diet might be difficult.

I, of course ignored this advice. And I am still insulin free, continuing to learn as much as I can about this disease and the cure that already exists for it.

The why and the ethics of it all

A lot of people ask me a lot of questions about why I’ve done what I’ve done, likewise a lot of people tell me that they could “never” do what I’ve done, some going as far as saying that they would “die” rather than stop eating animal products.

This sentiment is echoed so much, not only by people I’ve talked to, but in society at large. It is completely devastating to me. I’ve lived with diabetes for five years, and I can not think of many things that are worse, and I did not suffer some of the complications that a lot of diabetics face. I do not understand how things like blindness, amputation, stroke, nerve disorders can be better and more easily adapted to than eliminating a few foods. The addiction to animal food products in our society is something that I’ve only been able to see after adapting this new lifestyle. We are inundated with commercial after commercial that sensuously display animal based foods. They appeal to addiction in ways that are no different (if not worse) than what the tobacco industry has done. The public at large collectively covers their ears when the overwhelming ethical side to all of this is stated. They yell and scream when the undeniable health benefits are presented clearly before them. The right to eat foods that are killing them is ingrained deeply in their psyche, as I know it was in mine a for very long time. I am ashamed of how long it took, and what condition I had to get to, to take my life and health into my own hands. I also can look back and see exactly why it is that I ate the way I did, and why I never wanted to consider a different way.

Doctors

We’re told to trust doctors. And we’ve also all seen the effects of doctors who are nothing more than snake oil salesmen. Doctors in the United States are in a horrible position. Can you imagine if a doctor were to tell a severe diabetic to not take insulin, but to instead go on a plant-based diet? If that patient did not hold up their end of the bargain, the lawsuits would begin, claiming that the doctor did not adequately care for their patient. Doctors, in many cases have become experts in prescribing medicine. Every doctor I went to spent a maximum of 5% of the visit talking about nutrition, and when they did it was essentially “eat lots of animal protein.” The rest of the visit was explaining the new medication they were going to be giving me and explaining why I needed to increase my insulin dosage each day. It wasn’t until I decided to take my health into my own hands that I realized that my doctors were not concerned with reversing my diabetes, they were interested in controlling it with the aid of medication. As I read through books and talked to people that were on the side of natural health, I started to understand the negative effects of the medication I was on. I found out that insulin is a growth hormone. The medication that I injected into my abdomen every day was indeed a growth hormone and it slowed weight loss. So, losing weight, which would greatly improve my chances of reversing diabetes, was that much harder because of a medication that I was taking every day, a medication that my doctors all prescribed and promoted.

I remember sitting in a doctor’s waiting room looking through a diabetes magazine and being alarmed by how many advertisements there were for various diabetes drugs. Every other page had something insulin related, paired with advertisements for things like Splenda, Subway, and Kraft. So, some of the very things that cause diabetes to progress were there, advertised right along with the things that help people continue to eat poorly, that being medication. I wonder what would happen if doctor office magazines promoted legumes and broccoli? What if instead of drug companies pushing their brand new diabetes drug, a local farmer walked in to promote their lovely new spinach? What if the pens we fill out our co-pay checks with did not have a giant pharmaceutical company’s name plastered on them, but instead an apple?

We have the cure for type 2 diabetes, and yet it is completely ignored by most doctors. We sink billions into diabetes research, yet the cure is there, and has been there for a very long time. How is it morally right for this continue? How can we continue to ignore this, and put the health of ourselves and future generations at risk, simply because we want to continue to eat foods that hurt us?

I do not want to lay the blame completely in the hands of doctors. I think they have a huge responsibility. However, ultimately, we are the ones who need to be the doctors. We know our bodies better than anyone else and we have time to do research on the truth of what will heal us. If we simply rely on a 20-minute check-up every six months, we are doing ourselves a huge disservice. It is astonishing that people will spend upwards of four hours per day watching television, but will not crack open one book that could potentially save their life. There are plenty of people that will call me up to talk about the latest political or entertainment news, but at the mere mention of health, the conversation quickly ends. As a society, we have done a marvelous job in ignoring every solid piece of evidence presented to us regarding our health and we continually turn our heads away at the mention of changing the lifestyles we’ve become addicted to. Doctors play a very small roll in our health and it wasn’t until I made this realization that I was able to really take control of my life and health.

Animals, meat processing, and the truth I knew, but ignored.

A few years ago my husband and I watched Super Size Me and Fast Food Nation. Since then, we have not stepped one foot into a fast food place. It wasn’t just the horror of what was done to the food itself, or the animals. It was the ethics of what these giant corporations were doing. They are committing mass murder (on several levels) and we could not justify supporting them any longer.

During the process of going vegan I would come across articles and books talking about the food industry and exactly how animal products were made. The truth is, when I was eating animal products, I knew some of the horrors of what was done to the animal I was consuming and I knew all of the poisons that were pumped into that animal that I was consuming. I knew that pigs were pumped full of sugar to fatten them up (often giving them diabetes) and I knew that most animal farms were using more drugs than we would ever legally give a human being, and yet, I would sit and eat my chicken sandwich anyway. Going vegan meant reading more and more about the food industry and what was really going on before I grilled up my Perdue chicken. Looking at it from the vantage point I have now, I still completely understand why people have continued to eat the way they do. No matter what the overwhelming evidence says, it is easily ignored.

My Grandfather used to smoke. He told me that back in the forties “everyone smoked, including the doctors.” He would tell me that despite logically knowing that putting a cigarette to your mouth was a bad idea, it was easily ignored because there were ads for cigarettes everywhere and there were even doctors who promoted smoking them. He told me that the people who were early advocates in the anti-tobacco movement were considered to be “quacks” and were largely ignored. After all, how could television and newspapers allow something to be advertised that would kill you?

This is exactly how I see what is going on with our food industry. Our society puts their trust in advertisers and large corporations. People at large can be given very clear evidence of why eliminating animal meats and proteins from their diets is not only healthy, but ethical, and they go home, turn on their TV, and right in front of them is a barrage of commercials negating every thing they started to consider about a plant-based diet. They go to their doctor, who knows close to nothing about being on a plant-based diet and are told that eating that way is not healthy. They’re given large amounts of wrong information by a person that they trust with their life. The contradictory information is overwhelming for so many people, I know it was for me, which is why I had to do a few things before being able to completely adapt to this new way of life.

  1. Taking health into my own hands. I spent all of my free time reading and studying. My life all of a sudden became my most important priority and I no longer wanted to put my life in the hands of other people. I wanted to do the research all on my own and come up with my own conclusion.
  2. Just a few weeks… I decided that going on a plant-based diet for a few weeks was not going to hurt me and that I could do anything for a few weeks. For me it was easy to see what a difference going plant-based was doing. My blood sugar numbers were dropping and I was able to go off of insulin. I wish that all people could have something so visible and obvious to see when making the switch. Aside from that, I started to feel a lot better. I was having far fewer days that I felt depressed, I was feeling well rested more often, and I was starting to lose weight. Paying attention to how my body was feeling was really key for me. I could not deny that I was starting to feel physically better.
  3. Research. I picked up several books, and was given a few as well, that became my course on going on a plant-based diet. I took on my health like I would a college course (well, one that I really cared about, at least). I realized that my body was one thing I had very little expertise on. Being that I spend a lot of time with my body, I decided that needed to end.
  4. Talking to people who were already doing this. It always takes me by surprise, the number of people who have been doing this for years and who very casually talk about going on a plant-based diet. The more people I meet who have done the same thing, the easier and easier it gets for me. There have been days where I feel overwhelmed by it all or I feel that I can’t possibly keep it all up, and I am then reminded of the millions who have been doing this for a while.
  5. Not letting negative people get to me. I am always discouraged by how many people will put down my new lifestyle. The lifestyle that is saving my life and preventing things like amputation seems to be a joke to a lot of people. I understand for many it is very threatening, what I’m doing and how I’m changing my life, but in order to really take control of my health, I had to work to eliminate some of that negativity from my life.
  6. Getting rid of TV. We made the decision a while ago to get rid of our cable. It was the best decision we ever made. No longer do I watch commercials which tell me to eat bad food or watch television shows that use product placement to enforce negative behaviors.
  7. Caring enough about myself. Part of my eating poorly was my own depression and this underlying feeling of not caring about myself. I had to work a lot from the inside out, getting in order some of the emotional hang ups that I had, and reasons that I did not want to be as healthy as I possibly could. I had to care enough about myself to want to change.

For vegans: Why to not lose hope on society

I never thought I’d go vegan. And yet, here I am, planning out my three bean chili for dinner and finishing my hummus sandwich with micro greens, bean sprouts, and cucumber. It took a devastating disease to wake me up, but I do not think that it has to be that way for most people. Keep doing what you are doing. Keep eating the way you do, keep supporting stores that are doing their part. Keep writing about your life and your health. You are more powerful than you realize. Even as people dismiss you, make fun of you, question you, know that you have planted a seed, somewhere, and that you could help someone unlock the door to their health. Be encouraging to those who are seeking to live a more healthy life, don’t give up on people, once they realize just how strong they are, there is no telling what can happen in our society.

For the non-vegans

You can ignore every thing I said, you can put it in the category as another health nut hippie who is telling you to give up your favorite foods. You can do all of that and it won’t effect me one bit. It makes no difference in my life. I urge you, however, to attempt going on a plant-based diet for a few weeks. Yes, you will crave things. Yes, you might even feel like crap for a few days. But what you will discover is that you have the choice to live a much more healthy life, one where you don’t have to constantly worry about what you are eating, how much you are eating, and how it might one day effect you. You will soon realize that eating a plant-based diet is plenty tasty and fulfilling and that a lot of your food addictions will start slipping away. You might even start to see the ethical side of going on a plant-based diet and all that happens in our food industry.

Become your own doctor. Start doing your own research. Don’t take my word, or anyone else’s word for that matter. Take your life into your hands.

Some books/resources to help you get started

  • The China Study – T. Colin Campbell
  • Becoming Vegan
  • The Free Vegetarian starter kit (you can find it at the pcrm.org web site)
  • veganhealth.org

Other favorite books/cookbooks

  • Eat, Drink and be Vegan (I am currently attempting to cook every thing in the book!), Vegan with a Vengeance, Veganomicon, La Dolce Vegan!
  • The 30-Day Diabetes Miracle (if you are a diabetic, or if diabetes runs in your family)
  • Fast Food Nation (also watch the movie)
  • The Food Revolution
  • Vegan Freak
  • Vegan: The New ethics of Eating
  • Skinny Bitch (for a quick, in your face kind of approach to it all)

Ok… really quick, I wanted to get into my husband’s health. My husband is not vegan, but very much wants to be. I am hoping that someone reading this might know someone, or might themselves know some of good resources for us. In short, my husband is allergic to plants. He has a reaction (oral, mainly) to any raw fruit or vegetable and has reactions to some cooked plants as well (tomatoes and spinach, for starters). He has a severe nut allergy and has adverse reactions to some beans and grains, as well. We have been looking for a doctor that might be able to help, but have had little luck. We’ve tried to find anyone online who has gone through the same thing and also have not had much luck. So, if you are reading this and you know of someone that might be able to offer any insight, we would love to hear from you. We can travel pretty much anywhere and are willing to try just about anything. He certainly has a rare condition, but I am convinced that we can find answers, just like I found answers to diabetes.

Thanks so much for reading about my journey. Really, that is all I have to offer, just my personal experience with all of this. I wish I could help to open up the eyes (and minds) of people that are in the same situations that I have been in, or are on their way there. There is no food worth having this disease. There is no food that tastes as good as being healthy feels. And for me, there is not a food that is worth compromising my own ethical and moral standards. The fact is that we have the cure for type 2 diabetes, for obesity and probably many other diseases. It just doesn’t fit into the lifestyles that our society has become addicted to, and that is one of the greatest tragedies of our lifetime.

New Milk Industry Ads to Push Value

5 Comments

The ubiquitous (and unbelievably irritating) “Got Milk?” ads from the earlier part of the decade pushed milk as a healthful beverage, but according to The Consumerist, The Wall Street Journal is reporting that now the industry is changing their focus in light of the economic crunch:

Also Monday, the milk industry will begin running ads touting milk as a bargain. Financial guru Suze Orman will don the familiar milk mustache in a print ad that reads: "Even at today’s prices, a glass of milk only costs about a quarter…." The ad is a big departure from prior "Got Milk" campaigns that focused on the nutritional value of milk.

The milk industry plans to spend just under $1 million on the Suze Orman ads.

I guess that if they’re going to try and top the earlier “Got Milk?” ads for sheer annoyance, bringing in Suze Orman would be the person for the job.

It seems to me that you can’t get much more economical than fruits and vegetables when it comes to bang-for-the-buck health benefits.  Alas, there’s no money in advertising broccoli or tomatoes.

The Leafy Green Growers of America don’t exist, but if they did, they could put out one heck of a counter-ad.

Eat to Live

3 Comments

It may not be explicitly vegan, but the video for Talib Kweli’s “Eat to Live” hits a lot of the right notes:

Vegan Cooking in Northern Virginia

6 Comments

A former co-worker of mine recently started teaching a vegan cooking class in Fairfax, Virginia.  Finding vegan-only cooking classes outside of a major city can be kind of tough, so something like this is really welcome in this area.  She comes from a background of French cooking, so I’m willing to bet her classes are going to be quite good.

Here’s the info:

HI06026   Transitioning to a Vegetarian or Vegan Diet

Learn how to transition to a vegetarian diet (lacto/ovo) or an animal product free diet (vegan). Learn how to manage proper nutrition and to prepare dishes such as spinach lasagna, couscous salad, upside down apple tart, and various hot and cold soups for both types of diets. Class includes demonstration and participation. 5 sessions @ 3 hrs each.

Course #         HI06026       
Fees: Tuition ($179.00) + Materials ($50.00) = Total ($229.00)     

Fairfax HS, room B115, 09:00 AM, starting 05/10/08

Note that even though it says “vegetarian or vegan,” the class will focus exclusively on veganism and will not deal at all with dairy or eggs.