Friday 1 June 2012

Raising A Vegan Baby

My husband and I have been vegan for almost five years. It’s not really something that requires much thought after that long; it’s just become part of everyday life. There are some foods we choose not to eat, some products we choose not to buy, and some activities we choose not to engage in (like dogfighting or hunting) and it’s as simple as that.

Veganism is just a part of who I am. It’s intrinsic to my morals. I don’t ever feel that I am missing out, because I feel passionately about this issue. Sure, sometimes a voice in my head whispers “Remember how good strawberry pavlovas were?” and I melt away into a non-vegan perverted daydream where I am trapped in a room made of pavlova and the only way to freedom is to eat myself out, but I think that’s ok. As long as it’s just a daydream.
I now have a five month old daughter, who we are raising as vegan. At the moment she’s breastfed, but when she’s old enough to eat solids she will be eating nice healthy food likes fruit and veg. I’m not worried about her health, because I know that a vegan diet is actually much healthier than one filled with animals fats. There are loads of myths about vegan and vegetarian diets - that they lack protein, or calcium or whatever, but they’re just old wives' tales. It’s easy to get all the nutrients you need on a vegan diet so I’m not worried about my daughter growing up healthy and strong.
But I am worried about how to talk to her about veganism. I don’t want her to feel that she is being forced into being vegan. We are just raising her on the food we eat, and when she’s older I hope she will embrace veganism as we have. But I want it to come from her. I don’t want to force her into it, I want her to understand the facts and make her own choice. I want her to understand that while most people see factory farming as an acceptable part of life, it doesn’t have to be that way, and she has the power to do something about it if even only on a small scale.
I was raised as a meat eater, but I became vegetarian when I was in primary school following the death of a beloved family pet. I suddenly questioned why people believed some animals had feelings and others didn’t, and it didn’t sit comfortably with me so I told my parents I’d like to stop eating meat. Luckily they were supportive of my decision. I was the only vegetarian at my primary school and I didn’t know any other vegetarians until I was about ten. But I never felt left out, because I had a strong belief that I was doing the right thing.
My friend Ella is a life-long vegan and I recently sat down with her and asked her all kinds of questions about growing up vegan. I want to know what kind of experiences might cause problems for my daughter, and try to counteract them. For example, I was worried about trick or treating. Lots of sweets contain milk or gelatin and so aren’t vegan, so how would we be able to go trick or treating? It has been pointed out to me that people don’t go trick or treating to unknown houses anymore, you just knock on a few friendly doors. This has made me feel much better about it, because I’ll be able to give friends and neighbours vegan sweets in advance to give out when we knock on their door.
Ella told me about how her Mum used to carry vegan sweets in her pockets at pantomimes. When the sweets were thrown into the audience, her Mum would catch them and quickly switch the sweets so that Ella didn’t realise she was having different sweets. I think that’s really lovely, and it’s little things like this that I want to be aware of so my daughter doesn’t feel like she stands out.
I asked Ella how she felt growing up vegan, and she said she was always proud to be vegan. She understood the reasons behind it, and felt it was the right choice. She said she had ownership of the decision, it was never forced upon her. She always felt she had the option to make different choices if she wanted. She puts this down to her close relationship with her Mum, and the fact she can talk to her about anything.
I once met a lifelong vegetarian from the US, I asked him whether he felt he had missed out by being raised as a vegetarian. He said no, he was pleased that he had never eaten meat, and he was glad his parents had raised him in what he saw to be a moral way.
I hope that me and Ebony will have a close relationship when she is older, and that she will be able to talk to me about anything. And I hope that her years of teenage rebellion are not filled with McDonald’s cheeseburgers. I hope that she looks back on her childhood and feels proud that we raised her as vegan.
I want her to understand why we choose not to eat animal products, or buy products that have been tested on animals, or visit the circus to see tigers jumping through hoops. I hope she will grow to have empathy with animals as I did when I was a child.
I will have to make sure I always have vegan ice cream in the freezer so that on hot days she can sit on the street eating an ice cream cone like the other kids. And I’ll have to ask her school to alert me if there will be cake or biscuits that day, so I can send her in with a vegan alternative so she doesn’t feel left out. I’ll have to bake tasty cakes so that she dcan eat cake with the other kids at birthday parties.
I don’t want her to feel that she is missing out. I want her to feel that she gaining something by being raised vegan.
I’m really keen to hear ideas from any vegan parents, or life-long vegetarians and vegans, about how to make sure she doesn’t feel left out. And any other tips like the pantomime sweets too, please share in the comments section! Also, if anyone has any tips about how to explain animal cruelty to a child, without scarring them for life, that would be great too!

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