Vegan Deli

Vegan Deli  by Jo Stepaniak

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Raising Vegetarian Children
by Jo Stepaniak, M.S.Ed., & Vesanto Melina M.S., R.D.

Raising Vegetarian Children

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Do you have questions about being vegan? Send them to Jo using this easy form. She would be happy to address your individual concerns as well as general inquiries about vegan ethics, philosophy, practical applications, and living compassionately. Jo cannot respond to questions about nutrition or answer questions that have already been addressed in the Archives

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Living in A Mixed Household

I recently made the transition from omnivore to total vegetarian to vegan. I have a 7-month-old, a 3-year-old, a 10-year-old, and a 15-year-old. My husband eats mostly meat and potatoes, and the 15-year-old and 10-year-old eat the same. The 3-year-old wants what she sees her father and brothers eating, but I won't allow her to have it. My husband and I have had several arguments about this. The practices of the meat and dairy industries do not bother him, so of course they don't bother the two older children. What can I do?

Food is much more than nourishment--it is rooted in our upbringing, ethnic heritage, and culture. Consequently, in addition to being directed by our taste buds, our food choices also are controlled by our emotions. Few of us are willing to eat what we do not like, regardless of how ethical or healthful something may be for us. In addition, many people are fearful of foods that are exotic, "strange," or foreign, so we are averse to even trying them. Although we may have a wide range of food options available to us, most people do not stray far from the familiar.

Through self-education and personal awareness you came to certain conclusions about food that your family does not share with you. These are your insights and your revelations, not theirs. Because you own them, you were motivated to make sweeping changes in your diet and lifestyle. Without such a deep inner understanding and commitment, there is no incentive for your other family members to follow suit.

Before we can implement lasting modifications to our diet or lifestyle, we have to want to make changes, and we have to be open to listening to rationales that explain why we should. It is unrealistic to believe that we can force our private awakenings onto someone else who isn't interested or ready to hear them. We can provide plenty of information in order to grab others' attention and persuade them to see what we see, but even if they consider what we present, it doesn't mean they will perceive it as we do or be inclined to transform their lives as we might wish. It is impossible to compel people to change just because we want them to. Furthermore, coercing them to do so isn't fair.

Your husband and older children have tastes that already are firmly established and that are reinforced by the culture at large. It may pain you to see them select foods you know are inhumane and unhealthful, but short of taping their mouths closed, there is no way you can have control over what they eat. Not long ago, you were partaking of the same foods they presently consume. This is what your husband is accustomed to; it is how you ate when you met and married and what your older children have learned to enjoy. Attempting to take this away from them now will only incite bitterness and resentment. You were the one who changed the rules midstream. They merely are continuing a pattern that had been set in motion previously with your approval and participation.

If you want your family to remain intact, you and your husband will need to come to a swift agreement about how to raise and feed your children. If you do most of the shopping and cooking in the household and do not want to purchase or handle meat or have animal products cooked in the pots and pans you use for vegan food, you certainly have a right to have your wishes respected. At the same time, those family members who want to eat meat should be able to continue to do so without reprimand. Their preferences are no less valid than yours, despite the ethical views that inform yours. You might choose to not cook meat or other animal-based foods but agree to your husband and children purchasing, storing, and cooking these items for themselves (and doing their own clean up afterward). Another possible route is to agree to have only vegan food in the home, and your husband and the children can have animal-based foods away from home, if they desire. Only you and he can determine what will work best for each of you and your family, given your schedules and inclinations.

Honest, calm communication is the first step toward reaching a workable solution--one that addresses and respects everybody's needs. You should not be asked to engage in activities with which you disagree any more than other family members should be pressed to comply with your diet and lifestyle. The youngsters who currently eat meat must be permitted to make their own decision about being vegan, whether that choice is enacted now, in the future, or never.

Although the younger children have never tasted meat, in a "mixed environment" the temptation to try what the others are having will undoubtedly present itself eventually. It would be unreasonable to expect the little ones to understand why they cannot have meat while their father and brothers can. Indeed, if you place certain foods off-limits, especially when other family members consume them, they will be all the more desirable.

These are some of the perpetual challenges that are the norm in a "mixed home." No matter how much you might wish the situation to be different, the harder you push your family to share your point of view, the more you will drive them away from it. Let them learn about your stance at their own pace, if they show an interest. To win the battle of the taste buds, prepare tempting vegan dishes you are confident your family will try and like. Praise them graciously for any steps they take in your direction, and do your best to turn a blind eye to the habits that sadden and disappoint you. In order to create a peaceful home for all who live there and maintain a mutually satisfying and respectful relationship between you and your husband, compromise and understanding are essential. There may not be a perfect solution, but jointly you can create one that allows you and your family to live joyfully and amicably despite your differences.

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