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

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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:

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

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On Kids

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I’m pretty sure everyone else has moved past this subject, but I’m going to continue my trend of talking about issues after everyone else.

A couple weeks back, Josh posted a pair of entries about the anti-kid sentiment he was seeing amongst many vegans he knows.  I thought the entry was well thought out and made good points, but it really stirred up a shitstorm.  I was honestly surprised at the vitriol I saw on other people’s sites. it was like they’d read a completely different post.  I figured I’d throw in my two cents as a dad of a vegan kid.

Let me start by saying this: if you decide not to have kids, that’s completely cool.  I fully understand the reasons and respect all of them, whether it’s concerns about overpopulation, not having the maternal/paternal instinct, not being comfortable around kids, or just plain old not wanting kids messing up your well-organized collection of vintage LPs.  I promise you I’ll never tell you, “Oh, you’ll change your mind” or say anything like “You never know real love until you have your own child” because that’s just obnoxious.  Parenthood isn’t for everyone and I think we are each fully capable of making the decision to parent or not to parent for ourselves.

That said, I think one important thing to remember is that the kids are on our side.  They shouldn’t be viewed as enemies and even if you’re staunchly anti-breeding, don’t hate the kid. it’s not their fault they were born.  You don’t have to be their best friend or even talk to them, but reserve your hate for something else.  Honestly, as a parent, I’d rather you hate me and snub me for having a kid rather than taking it out on my daughter.  Thankfully, I’ve never had to deal with that, but then again, I’m not really around vegans very often.

Another thing to keep in mind is that these kids are at a point in their veganism that most of us didn’t reach until high school or much later.  I look at 5-year-old kids that are happy vegans and have a grasp of animal rights concepts that I didn’t have when I was in college and it’s amazing to me.  Kids deal with much more peer pressure than we do as adults, and if they can keep their vegan edge at a point in their lives where all they want to do is fit in, more power to ’em.

I’m also constantly amazed (and inspired) when I hear about kids that aren’t even teenagers that decide to give up meat even when no one else in their family does.  Often, these kids get their friends or families to go veg with them.  That’s some realness right there.

Kids are a huge influence on other kids.  Strong, confident vegan kids are going to influence their peers over time.  So, maybe it would be better to think of those kids you “hate” as advocates for the future generation.  We’re going to have a tougher time as adults reaching eight-year-olds than one of their classmates is, so let’s give those vegan kids all the support we can.  And if “support” for you just means showing a little more tolerance to a kid and not hating him based solely on the fact he’s a kid, that’s fine by me.

OK. that’s all I have to say about that.  Now can I share a couple of pictures?

Cages chickens Sad

This is my daughter.  She turns two in less than two weeks.  Earlier this week, she was visiting a fruit farm that also sells eggs.  Their chickens are kept in cages, as seen in the first photo.  In the second photo, she’s making her sign for “sad” or “crying” because the chickens are in the cage.  A few days earlier, she and I were in Petco to look at some kittens that a local rescue group had brought in.  After petting the kitties, we looked around the store a bit and I pointed out the birds for sale.  I said very simply to my daughter, “Those birds are probably sad because they’d rather be outside flying around, right?”  She didn’t respond at that moment, but she was clearly processing it, comparing the birds in the cages to the birds she’s seen in our backyard.  When we got back in the car a few minutes later, she made the “sad/cry” sign and said “birds,” reminding me that the birds we saw in the store were sad.  And then, a week later, she applied the same idea to the chickens she saw in the cage.  Amazing.

I suspect some people would criticize my decision to bring up something depressing like that to kid that’s not even two yet, and believe me, I thought about it a lot.  But I stand by what I told her; while I think it could do some damage to start telling kids about the horrors of slaughterhouses before they’ve even gone to pre-school, I think that it’s very important as parents to instill the idea in kids that animals are sentient beings that want to be free every bit as much as we do as human animals.  I think one of the primary reasons that otherwise intelligent adults aren’t vegan is that the cognitive dissonance is so strong and so ingrained that people have a very tough time overcoming it.  If we can gently teach our kids this lesson early on, they’ll grow up to be adults that don’t have to learn about the sentience and inherent self-worth of animals that are traditionally consumed, it’ll be a completely normal concept to them.

Seaweed-Banana Sandwich: approved by vegan toddlers

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My daughter’s not even two yet, but she’s already developing her own recipes.  I thought I’d share her latest creation with you:

Seaweed-Banana Sandwich
Serves 1

Ingredients

  • 1 strip of Nori paper
  • 1 slice of banana

Directions

  1. Wrap banana slice in Nori.
  2. Eat.

I’ve gotta say, I’m kind of grossed out by her creation, but she seems to like it.  I suspect it’ll be the cornerstone of her first cookbook.

Watch out, Isa!

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