Guest post: Bloom’s (not-so) “healthy foods” tour

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This is a guest post, written by my wife, Huyen. Several grocery stores in our area are actively advertising “healthy food tours” of their store for children to, supposedly, show them how easy and fun it is to eat good-for-you foods. Sadly, that’s not at all how this tour went.

I had a bad feeling as I committed to attending a mom’s group local grocery store “healthy choices” tour at Bloom. But I wanted to support the moms who organized the outing and I was curious how “healthy” this tour was going to be. So we met up with a few other moms and a frazzled store manager who had had a surprise visit from a health inspector prior to our group.

The manager/tour guide began in the bakery aisle (which is right next to the health food section at this particular store). I knew this was a bad sign especially as there are never any baked goods (besides some French or Italian breads) that are vegan in most grocery stores. We got a frosting demo from a bakery person and then they gave out chocolate chip cookies. The tour guide prefaced by saying, “I know this is a healthy choices tour but…” Chocolate chip cookies at 9:45 in the morning. Good, healthy, breakfast food… Not! And definitely not vegan nor allergy friendly but at least it wasn’t donuts, right? They could have easily offered up bagels or some other healthy whole grain goodness but instead we got a dessert for the breakfast hour because preschool aged, high-energy kids need a good sugar kick to start off the day right. Needless to say, my daughter and I were not a happy campers albeit for different reasons (had to quickly grab a Zbar from the health food aisles that I paid for after the tour). They supplied a sugar cookie to the one girl who had peanut allergies- thank goodness the mom asked if they were made with or near peanuts. Of course they had no alternates for vegan children. And forget gluten-free (the mom who is doing gluten-free for her family opted not to join us for this outing and I began to see the wisdom in her decision).

At least the produce was next to the bakery section so we followed along and they opened a bag of organic baby carrots for the kids. Back on the healthy track! Then they opened up a bag of non-organic carrots for the kids to compare and several kids (including mine) decided the non-organic tasted better. Sigh. But not all variables were the same- the non-organic carrots were smaller, thinner and the organic were quite fat- and I know for certain that my daughter prefers her carrots on the cute, petite side. I ate the remainder of her baby carrots and the non-organic definitely had a slightly older taste to them, even if they were cuter.

We then got a tour of a backroom where a worker was cutting up watermelon and mango slices. The kids were given both to sample but most refused the mango. I commented to a fellow Asian mom that ironically we had the Asian kids who didn’t want mango, a sweet tropical fruit that is frequently seen in Asian kitchens and dishes. The kids got a glimpse of the first of several walk-in coolers and we left the work room shivering.

From produce, we visited the seafood area and the worker at that station pulled a live lobster from the tank to show everyone. The kids were scared but slowly gathered courage to touch the lobster. He pointed out how the big claws are tightly rubber-banded together so they don’t snap or fight with each other and there are little claws that can pinch you if you are not careful. He pointed out the gender of the lobster. The worker shared facts like lobsters can live up to 6 months in his tank without any food and the lobsters are not fed because it keeps their insides clean. I think he may have also shared some details about how to prepare and cook them but I kind of zoned out at this point. Then he told an anecdote about working at a different grocery store where a woman complained about animal abuse in regards to the lobsters but she didn’t get far because there are no laws protecting against mistreatment of food-animals. He clearly did not understand why the woman was upset and felt the law supported his own belief that the lobster were not mistreated in any way. He spoke of banging on the glass to make sure the lobsters were still alive and not fighting and how he makes sure to return the lobster right-side up because they can drown in the tank if they return to the water upside-down. Interesting bit of trivia but my daughter didn’t think it was too nice that the lobster was tied up and stuck in a tank with no food. She was shocked to hear people would buy them to eat them.

From there we moved to the meat section where my daughter and I purposely got distracted in another area as they discussed meats and demonstrated some ground beef going through a mill. Of course there were no mentions of healthy, cholesterol-free, sat fat-free, tasty meat alternates like tofu, tempeh, seitan, Gardein, Boca, Yves, etc. I kept thinking, maybe they’ll talk about these items when we come to the health food section since it is a healthy choices tour and the store was beginning to label items with a special symbol to note that it is a good choice, two symbols for a “better” choice, and three symbols for the “best” choice in terms of healthiness. I was attempting to figure out what their requirements were for each symbol designation but did not quite grasp it. I should hope that with this system, the entire produce section should be labeled/rated with three healthy symbols! I have a strong suspicion it was not.

We rejoined the group to briefly peek in the dairy and ice cream cooler (by this time all the adults and children were shivering as we were dressed for 90 degree weather) and walk down the dairy aisles. Unfortunately this particular store did not have any cheese alternatives like Daiya or Follow Your Heart on display and the manager/tour guide did not mention any dairy-free options for those who are vegan or lactose intolerant. So I tried to distract my daughter from the string-cheese giveaway (when is someone going to make a vegan string cheese?!) by perusing the frozen food aisles in search of our Tofutti, So Delicious, and Amy’s.

Finally the tour group came back to the front of the store and I thought, “At last, they are going to do the healthfood section as the grand finale to this healthy eating tour!” Nope. They gave out goodie bags to the kids which had another item in it I had to find a sub for and the manager went to the health food section to point out a single product that had a coupon special to a mom who had requested it. What?!?! The mom who organized said the store was planning to reorganize to incorporate the healthfood section in with the other foods but still, they could have said that to all the moms and shown us the items in that department anyway since it was still grouped together. I cannot imagine why in the world they would skip a section that would bring in some money and promote the healthy eating image they are attempting. Clearly the manager and the store were ignorant of healthy eating options, allergy and special diet options, and we had wasted our morning on this un-veg-friendly tour that made my child feel left out and me feel angry. Needless to say, we will not be shopping at Bloom.

For more of Huyen’s writings, see her book reviews at vegbooks.org.

A 7-year-old’s take on veganism

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(After a few weeks of the “Good and Bad” posts, I’m rethinking them a bit. They didn’t quite work out as I’d hoped. So for now, we go back to regular old posts, reviews, etc.)

Love this video of a seven-year-old discussing veganism. Vegan kids are often isolated from other vegan kids and I think videos like this (with comments turned off!) help. At 4 1/2, my little girl really looks up to kids that are six or seven, so she loved this video.

Yay, Marielle!

Review of Our Farm: By the Animals of Farm Sanctuary

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Children’s books about animals can either be really awesome or really depressing. The ones that teach children about animals’ personalities and their individual likes and dislikes are great. The books that make fun of them or end up making light of things like eating eggs or bacon are pretty evil.

And there’s a new breed of books coming out that are explicitly vegan-friendly, like Maya Gottfried’s Our Farm: By the Animals of Farm Sanctuary. Maya’s fun (but not overly cutesy) poems are a perfect match for the paintings and sketches by Robert Rahway Zakanitch. The animals featured are all actual residents (past or present) of Farm Sanctuary.

Rather than go into any further detail myself, I thought I’d get some help from Rasine to review this book. Here’s the audio (with some sections edited out for brevity and clarity):

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You heard her. Go buy a copy! (And become a fan of Izzy and Morty on Facebook, since they came up in our discussion.)

A Kindergarten Thanksgiving

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(This is a guest post by my good friend Katherine. Her post shows that we still have a long way to go in changing how the world thinks about animals.)

Our oldest child, Emma Kate, is in kindergarten this year. Today we were invited to the “Kindergarten Pow-Wow.” I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew they had been practicing songs and parents had been asked to provide food for the children to eat. The children filed into the cafeteria, took their seats on the floor, and began to sing a variety of Thanksgiving-related songs. The first offering was a sweet melody about being thankful for stars and trees, but it wasn’t long before the subject matter turned to turkeys. Even though Emma Kate attended preschool for several years, these turkey songs had not made it onto my radar. I’ve been a vegetarian for a little over two and a half years, and as the songs progressed, I became more and more uncomfortable. Here are the words to one of the songs they sang:

(to the tune of Frere Jacque)

Mr. Turkey, Mr. Turkey
Run away, run away
If you are not careful
You will be a mouthful
Thanksgiving Day
Thanksgiving Day

All of a sudden I was struck by how utterly one-sided the Thanksgiving curriculum must have been, and on a larger scale, how our children are indoctrinated to eat meat and dissociate from it by making fun of the animals. As if poor Mr. Turkey has a choice! In fact, the lyrics to this song go beyond teasing the turkey to blaming him for his own plight.

Proof of this indoctrination came when the singing portion of the program ended. As the children ate their pow-wow meal (which was interestingly vegan except for the Rice Krispie treats), a slide show played with slides containing “recipes” for a Thanksgiving dish provided verbatim by the children. This was a cute idea, but many of the children chose turkey for their recipe, and more than I would have expected mentioned killing the turkey as the first step. I was surprised to see that at 5 years old, quite a few of these kids had no qualms about taking a life for their Thanksgiving dinner.

Emma Kate considers herself a vegetarian, but she’ll be the first to tell you that she loves bacon (and I don’t mean tempeh bacon). Since I stopped eating meat, I have been honest with her about the origins of her food, but have told her that what she eats is up to her (her 18 month old brother, however, is being raised vegetarian – and dad is a carnivore – we’re a bit of a mixed up family). At the beginning of tonight’s dinner, after hearing Emma Kate belt out the Mr. Turkey song once more, I asked her what she thought about the song. She answered that it was about a turkey, and I probed a little further. Once she could see what I was thinking, she jumped pretty quickly into agreeing with whatever I said. She tends to do this whenever vegetarianism is discussed, so it’s hard to figure out her truest thoughts. However, at the end of our discussion, I was saying that I thought the turkey wanted to stay alive, and that it sometimes hurts to die, and she said, “Yeah, the turkey has to suffer.” Who knows what will come of this? Part of me is rooting for her to go to school tomorrow and inform the teacher or a classmate that she feels sorry for the turkeys. Part of me hopes she mulls it over, makes some connections and eventually decides to forgo bacon. I hope at the very least, she will be able to think a bit more critically of similar songs in the future.

Unfortuately, based on what I saw today, I doubt there were similar conversations around the dinner tables of Emma Kate’s schoolmates tonight. I now understand that if I want my children to be exposed to different points of view, I need to make these conversations a priority. I’m glad to have this awareness for my own family, and the greater awareness of how many opportunities for change remain for our culture, but at the same time, the task seems larger and more difficult than I previously believed. If you think of this scenario going on in thousands of elementary schools across the country this week, that’s a lot of reinforcement of meat-eating as the norm.

“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