Eating meat, dairy, & eggs is status quo. Virtually all of us grow up eating some version of an omnivorous diet. Animal products are so easily accessible that they’re taken for granted, even difficult to avoid. Living in a society – actually, a world – in which consuming animal products is well-accepted, nay advocated for, means that people who adopt a vegan lifestyle are total outsiders, on the less-trodden trail. But nothing happens in a vacuum, right? So, what happens when these vegans interact with society-at-large? In this multi-part series, I want to take a look at what goes into our choices around food. Are our choices what we think they are? Do we really have a choice at all?
A common accusation levied against vegan parents is that they force their children to be vegan. The underlying assumption is that children have the right to make that choice for themselves. I’m always amazed, and a little infuriated, at how little thought process goes into this accusation. I guarantee you not a single person who has ever accused a vegan of forcing their children to be vegan has asked their own children whether they want to eat animal products or not. More often, and I’ve seen this first-hand too many times, people try to make kids eat animals products even when they don’t want to. Not out of some desire to inflict pain & suffering, but for the same reasons that vegans don’t give their children the very same products. The desire to do what’s best for the child.
The problem here is obvious – those people who believe vegans shouldn’t “force” their children to adopt a vegan lifestyle, at the same time forcing their children to eat & drink animal products, don’t understand/haven’t yet learned that veganism is the best possible choice, ethically, sustainability-wise, and in terms of their children’s long-term health. They’re thinking of veganism in the negative – those poor kids are being denied the simple pleasures in life – a life without cream- and egg-filled desserts isn’t worth living – it’s some ascetic nightmare. How could you force that on your children? And many people still believe that it’s more difficult for vegans to get enough protein & calcium, so they worry about vegan children. It’s totally valid to have those concerns – but they must be taught (and willing to learn!) the truth. What is the truth? Vegans eat dessert. And vegans get plenty of protein & calcium.
They don’t understand (yet, hopefully) that the situation is quite the opposite of what they think – they’re forcing their children to consume animal products, which is devastating to their own health and is a major contributor to that clear and present danger: climate change, never mind causing slaughterhouse workers psychological problems like PTSD, and animals untold amounts of suffering. Why force that on your children? It’s past time to rethink how we understand our choices when it comes to food. Blindly following alimentary norms is not a choice at all. It is the absence of choice.
Another way in which I take issue with the accusation that vegan parents are “forcing” their children to be vegan is that all parents force their children to do certain things (e.g., clean their room) and behave in certain ways (e.g., discuss problems rather than throwing a temper tantrum). Why? As parents, we have a responsibility to do the best we know how for our children in order to prepare them for their future in this world, which includes being a member of society who knows how to make decisions that are in line with their ethics, to seek out new information to use in making those decisions, and to be a member of this global population that is capable of leaving the world a better place than they found it. But that also means first informing ourselves of how to do those things. To stop eating animal products is one of the single most effective things we can do for sustainability, and our health.
Vegans would be seriously remiss in their duties if they didn’t teach their children that! Imagine not teaching your children to look both ways before they cross the street. That’s what it would feel like for a vegan not to teach their children that it’s harmful to consume animal products. For me personally, every time I see a child eating a sausage, it’s like watching that child smoke a cigarette – because it’s the same in terms of cancer risk! And that is the reason we try to keep children away from cigarettes, is it not? So then why give them sausages?? Now that we know how carcinogenic they are, we have a responsibility to accept that we need to change our behavior. But it even goes beyond that.
Now that we know how devastating animal agriculture is for the environment, we have a responsibility to our children, for the sake of their own future survival on this planet, to teach them how to save it. Since we’ve done such an abysmal job of saving it ourselves, the least we can do is pass on a little bit of knowledge before making them responsible for cleaning up the titanic mess we’ve managed to create in just a few ignorance-filled generations – if, that is, it isn’t already too late. And that is why this issue is so important. We have got to turn this boat around. Urgently.
Raising environmentally and socially conscious vegan children is an excellent way to do that.