When Generation Veggie was first raising awareness and funds to create a community of kindhearted and plant-powered families, we asked our supporters to suggest questions and topics they’d like us to address on the site. One of Generation Veggie’s supporters (and thank you for the support!) said this: “I just want to know how families maintain vegan lifestyles outside the home without making the kid feel like an outsider.”
I feel ya. Our job as parents is to protect our children, support them, and ensure they have the confidence and self-worth to make it in this world. We may acutely remember times in our own childhood when we felt left out, derided, or small. But we can’t let the fear of being an outsider keep us from doing what is kind and right. We don’t have to think back very far in our cultural history for examples of beliefs and behaviors that were perfectly acceptable at the time and yet were flat wrong or immoral. “Outsiders” have been known to change history for the better.
I think the heart of this question is not “how do you maintain a vegan lifestyle without making the kid feel like an outsider?” but “how do you make being an outsider a positive thing?”
Children are immensely capable of developing compassion and empathy, especially for animals. Choosing not to participate in the inhumane treatment and slaughter of animals saves very real lives. When my son was four-years-old, we passed a truck on the highway carrying hundreds of live chickens packed so tightly into crates that their beaks and legs were sticking out at terrible angles. My son took in the whole scene, quietly studying the faces of each animal he could see, then sighed and simply said “I’m so glad I don’t eat meat.” Even young children can be proud that they have the ability to make a difference in the lives of animals—being an outsider is an honorable pursuit.
It’s likely that the majority of your child’s friends and schoolmates will not be vegan. My son is the only vegan child at his school and amongst his friends. It’s a unique opportunity for him to model a compassionate lifestyle and introduce others to what it means to be vegan. And like most children (and adults), his friendships are ultimately based on shared interests, or creative or athletic pursuits, and being vegan is just one part of the whole of who he is. Still the majority of the families you interact with will not be vegan. There will be birthday parties, meals with extended families, and snacks after basketball practice that will not be vegan. Your child is going into the world with the conviction that we don’t have to do things the way they’ve always been done; we can make conscious choices that affect the health of our bodies and our planet, and we can save lives. Your vegan child might be an “outsider,” but he or she is also a hero.
How have you helped your child navigate being vegan in a non-vegan world?