In this series, we ask vegans engaged in different kinds of activism a question, and post their responses, to show a diversity of perspectives on the same topic. This is not a forum for ‘professional experts’ and thought leaders, but a space for community voices. Join the discussion below in the comments.
Well, I have been born into it, so I only have one side of the coin. I will say that being born vegan, and remaining vegan to this day, provides its challenges as well as many rewards.
I was raised as vegan for human reasons, meaning that once someone understands his/her relationship to the planet and also understands that we don’t need to kill to live, that “animal rights” will take care of itself. I am still vegan for the same reasons, however, now it takes on a different meaning as it is part of my everyday life and career. I think it’s also nice to explore this lifestyle further and truly be able to offer an authentic point of view on the subject for those seeking to make the change. I see myself as a shepherd (joke!).
I am very grateful for my upbringing. The only thing I would change is to have had more of a community around to make it more “normal,” but nowadays I think it is, more in some places than others. There’s definitely more awareness than when I was a kid, so I think it’s better now for parents who want to start a vegan family. I don’t give advice on how to feed anyone under the age of 18 because of legal reasons. But…! I will say do your research. It’s not hard to find how to navigate the common pitfalls of this lifestyle, i.e. omega oils, b12, iron, and calcium needs to be replaced with the bounty of plant-based veggies, nuts and seeds. So google google google! My parents were heavily armed with information (pre-interweb). Everything comes from a book – even doctors learn form a book.
I am so thankful that I was raised vegetarian. I feel like it taught me that it’s OK to be different and to follow what I know to be just and correct.
I wish I had better been able to voice my beliefs as a child; it seemed terribly difficult to explain to anyone. Lunchtime in the cafeteria was interesting. I would get extremely grossed out if I watched other kids eating meat. ‘Chicken fingers’ were the worst – it all seemed so barbaric and strange to me, yet completely normal to everyone else. My mom always packed my (and my sister’s) lunch and made it look so appetizing other kids would make fun of it since it was different, then in the next sentence ask to try it.
I was raised this way because my parents are vegetarian, not religious or spiritual reasons. My mom became veg when some of her veg friends bet her that she couldn’t be vegetarian for six months. After the six months, she felt so good she never went back to eating meat. That was over 35 years ago. I became vegan when I was 23 years old (I’m now 32). I am passionate about protecting all life – people, animals, and our environment. We are all connected. I continue to widen my circle of compassion and to stand up for those without a voice. Through nonviolence, understanding, teaching, and learning I continue to deepen my connection with the world.
It has been very easy to stay vegan, especially when I consider those who would suffer if I didn’t. However, I initially became vegan because when discussing going vegetarian, several meat-eaters pointed out that I had never given up any food that I loved the taste of, so how could I ask them to do the same and give up meat. They had a valid point. So I did some research and discovered veganism and immediately gave up dairy and eggs. This research showed me the tremendous amount of animal suffering involved in these industries that I was completely unaware of before. I’ve never thought twice about my decision.
Of course, I would advise any/all parents to raise their children vegan. My only guess at parenting advice would be to be proud of your choice and honestly educate the child on why you’ve made it.
A friend once told me, “Good vegetarian children grow up to be vegans.” How true! My folks went vegetarian in the early 80s and being home-schooled, we didn’t have many issues of teasing or peer pressure. In fact, many of my friends became vegetarian because of time spent with my family.
My parents made an effort to prepare packed lunches for trips, parties, and everyone was given plenty of notice. Pizza was usually on the menu when other people had us over for dinner. The only argument I can remember was when my grandparents bought us the Ghostbuster cereal with gelatin marshmallows. A simple mistake, but my Dad was PISSED. It wasn’t the most positive reaction to leave others with, but I’m glad he stood up for our morals.
Vegetarianism never felt limiting. I credit this to our parents communicating with us. We knew what meat was, about the lives the animals led, and where everything came from. Unfortunately, it stopped at milk and eggs. There was never an aura of control, we were educated and informed little kids and accepted those choices as our own. We’ve never seen flesh as food or leather as clothing, these items were seen as pieces of murdered beings. Hence, we have all been outspoken and probably caused more insult to carnists than the other way around.
This outlook later gave me problems socially. When someone would use the ‘deserted island situation,’ they were never satisfied when I choose bread over a fishing pole, wanting to force meat on me even in a hypothetical situation. They were angry that I couldn’t see a cow or a fish as a source of food and thought I was lying to be right. I’m often asked if I was ever tempted or tricked, people get some sick pleasure out of potentially slipping me steak and ‘changing’ me forever. Yet, even as a picky kid, I was NEVER tempted. The one time I got meat accidentally, I instantly vomited. Meat was not just a dead animal, it was also a trigger to vomit.
Communication is the key to happy veg kids. I saw other kids (who are no longer veg) not allowed to eat white flour, sugars, etc. These kids grew up viewing their lifestyle as ridiculous and their parents insane, encouraging rebellion. It’s hard enough for kids to comprehend the behaviors of society without extra restrictions. These things are not particularly healthy, but they can be cruelty-free. There is a lot better chance it’ll all stick when they don’t feel restricted, but empowered by cool parents. Coupled with a priming in animal empathy, you’ve got yourself a good little vegan.
I was raised vegetarian from birth along with my five siblings. My mother had been an ethical vegetarian since she was 17 years old, and although my father was not vegetarian at the time, she felt strongly enough in the matter to make sure that we were raised this way.
In my family we were raised with two tenets: Never hurt anybody, which meant don’t hurt my brother’s body, or a dog’s body or a cow’s body or any-body, the second being always question authority. I honestly feel that I couldn’t have been raised with anything more important than these two lessons.
I am asked regularly if it was difficult to grow up as a vegetarian child. I feel that my mother did an excellent job in explaining clearly to me why we as a family didn’t eat animals. For myself, and I believe for most children, it is a simple idea to understand that hurting someone is not a nice thing to do (regardless if that someone is a non-human animal). I think children more than adults understand this quicker, since children know what it is like to be a small creature dependant on others for safety and care. My mom did not need to go into the gory details of a slaughterhouse in order for me to understand that if I was capable of feeling pain, that others were just as likely to feel pain too.
I often hear otherwise highly intelligent people say that they would feel bad about “imposing” their vegetarian/vegan lifestyle on their children and that they would like their children to decide for themselves. I am a little insulted by this. Children like myself, once something is explained to them, will accept an idea if it makes sense and therefore there is no imposing of will. I also find it shocking because I wonder if these same people would not try to impose their “belief” that drinking bleach is bad for their children? Good parents are going to constantly have to explain to children what is good and what is bad. That’s the most important job as a parent in my mind. If people are too timid to explain to their children that killing animals is wrong, McDonalds or some other corporation will step right up and tell them it is OK!
Knowing and fully understanding why I didn’t eat animals gave me everything I needed for childhood interactions with other children, their parents and teachers. Being asked on a daily basis why I didn’t eat meat was a tiring process, but I was equipped with the reasons and was astounded that others didn’t have reasons why they did eat meat. I never desired to eat meat with my friends; I was repulsed by it and would encourage my friends to stop eating meat.
There were times of course that I didn’t want to be different and would feel embarrassed. At school lunch time when I would pull out my veggie burger or soy meats, I found myself almost hiding what I was eating. But I found quickly that I was not alone in this feeling. Other kids, mostly born of immigrant parents, also would feel shy about eating their family’s cultural dishes at school and that gave me some comfort.
I never felt resentment towards my parents for raising me this way, because they came from a place of respect. We were raised with respect and love and a foundation on which to grow, which is something hard to rebel against. Many people told my mother that my siblings and I would simply rebel against her for raising us vegetarian. Few I think realized that this rebellion could come in the form of every one of my siblings going vegan! Being brought up to think critically of everything I encountered while remaining peaceful in my actions led me at the age of 12 to adopt a vegan lifestyle for myself. I had been exposed to the truth of how mother cows have their babies stolen from them so that we can steal their milk, and how baby roosters were ground up alive by the egg industry because they did not produce eggs like their sisters, and I decided I could not go along with this. The blatant disrespect of innocent creatures lives by these industries flew in the face of the single most important rule I knew: never hurt anybody.
I am incredibly thankful that I was raised vegetarian and was given the freedom to become vegan at a young age. The simple lesson my mother gave of not hurting anyone has led my life down a path seeking justice for others. I am the co-founder of a farm animal advocacy organization called RESCUED, which works to expose the reality of animal agriculture in all of its forms. I am also the creator of the international music project xTrue Naturex, which focuses around raising awareness for animal and humyn liberation issues, taking me to over 20 countries and close to 100 performances a year to speak on behalf of the unheard.
What I would like to add to this article is something I often say when the subject of raising children vegetarian/vegan comes up. I am fortunate to have been raised vegetarian, but it was not necessary that I be born into this family in order to gain this message and motivation. So few current vegans and vegetarians were born that way. We were educated at some point in our lives about the horrors that animals endure and we make the decision to change how we live. Having biological children in order to “create” vegans is not the solution in my mind. If we have the desire to have children in our lives, I think we should follow in what every vegan advocates talk about all the time for dogs and cats: adopt! If we want to make meaningful change in this world with children, then we should save the innocent kids already living on this planet rather than creating more and encourage them to live vegan, just as we would our own. I feel so strongly about this that I had myself sterilized to prevent myself from ever having biological children. Couples having children to “create” vegan babies is far too close to eugenics in my mind. If you have the desire to have children in our lives, adopt, foster, or simply just help out and encourage them to go vegan.
My mom, whose father swore off eating land animals after visiting a slaughterhouse in India, raised me as a vegetarian except for small amounts of fish when I was a baby. Luckily for me, for the most part she was very health-conscious, always providing whole grains and withholding sodas from my eating plan. Her beliefs about food certainly affirmed her choices of plant-based meals for me and my brother growing up, and we loved eating my mom’s home-made vegetable curries, whole wheat spaghetti, as well as the occasional gardenburgers – always on a whole grain bun. To this day, I seek out whole grain options and have never even cared for soda or other carbonated beverages.
Apart from a few instances growing up of eating something containing meat while not realizing it, I never chose to “rebel” by eating the flesh of other animals, either. In fact, from a very young age, I professed my love for animals and knew I wanted to become a veterinarian when I grew up. Being vegetarian just seemed natural.
At school, I endured my share of teasing from classmates, usually over my clothes or how nerdy I was, or sometimes my name, but never over my food choices. When I was in elementary school, the school cafeteria grossed me out, especially the smell of it at lunchtime, so I was happy to have a lunch to eat that I brought from home. I remember sharing my fruit “leather” and peanut butter sandwiches with classmates on the playground who found my food quite appealing. In fact, many times I would have them “earn” a piece of fruit leather by tensing a fist in earnest concentration before being awarded the sweet treat. Little did I know I would be using similar techniques to train dogs years later as a vet student.
I am grateful for being brought up as a vegetarian, as it allowed me to live in close alignment with my deepest values. It also made it much easier for my eventual transition from lacto-ovo vegetarian to becoming vegan once I became aware of the cruelty inflicted on dairy cows and egg-laying hens. While an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley, I read books including “Diet For A New America” which opened my eyes and heart to the plight of animals raised for food and impelled me to become vegan and get involved in activism. One of my first activist projects was getting the dorm cafeterias to provide improved vegan options.
If I ever have a child, s/he will definitely be raised vegan. It’s a wonderful way to live, is life-affirming and sets a powerful example for others. I think vegan parents should do their research about appropriate vegan nutrition for infants, children and adolescents so that their child(ren) can be healthy and show the world that being vegan is not about deprivation. Providing tasty, satisfying snacks and meals for school and special occasions can make the lifestyle fun and invite others to explore it.
I think talking to kids early on about the link between showing kindness to animals and being vegan is important, but I would wait on showing graphic images of cruelty until they are older, maybe in their pre-teen or teen years. Although I wasn’t exposed to extremely graphic videos about factory farming and other forms of institutionalized animal cruelty until I was older, I remember having a terrifyingly vivid nightmare involving euthanasia after seeing a kitten euthanized at a vet clinic I was working at before starting vet school. Different people may react to graphic images differently, but regardless of how one chooses to parent in terms of exposing one’s kid(s) to graphic footage, I think it should be done with an understanding of the possible consequences.