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

Jo will make every attempt to answer each question personally, however, due to her schedule, this may not be possible. If a reply is forthcoming, it could take up to a few weeks, so please be patient. It is also possible that your question will be answered directly in the "Ask Jo!" column rather than an individual response.

If you'd like to view previous questions Jo has answered, visit the Ask Jo! Archives.

Mom, Dad, I'm Vegan!
Explaining Veganism to the Family

I want to make the transition to become a vegan, but I have a dilemma. For the past two years I have been following an ovolacto vegetarian diet at college. However, when my parents are around or I go home to visit them, I don't seem to have the guts to tell them how I really feel, so I eat meat in their presence without complaining.

Now that I'm determined to become vegan, I want to share this decision with my family so I can maintain my lifestyle while I'm at home. Although I know my family would be very supportive, I think my mother would feel as though I'm rejecting her and her home-cooking. It troubles me to have to look her in the eye and tell her I won't be eating the meat dishes she painstakingly prepares--ones that used to be my favorites. In addition, my family is very traditional about meat-centered holidays, and I know they will be hurt as well. How do I keep my mother and my family from feeling this way, while still being able to assert my values?

The fact that you are so concerned about your family's feelings of rejection demonstrates that you are a sensitive and caring person, and that is the key ingredient in finding a workable solution. Defensiveness and hurt are common and understandable reactions when nonvegetarian parents first hear that one of their children has chosen to be vegetarian. It often is difficult for parents to accept that their maturing offspring may make life-altering choices that counter their own beliefs and practices. They may feel confused, cross, or think it is "just a phase" that will soon pass. When they discover that it isn't, they may become frustrated and self-protective, and these emotions could emerge in various forms.

Sometimes parents try to blame their vegan and vegetarian children for any feelings of hurt or betrayal they may experience. The reality is that parents who react harshly toward a child's choice to be vegan generally are taken by surprise and overwhelmed by how this decision will affect them. Depending on how the matter is broached, they also might feel as though their own dietary habits are being challenged and scrutinized and placed under attack.

At holiday times, some nonvegetarian families urge the vegetarian members to "let it go, just this once," or to "take a bite, for Mom's sake" or "just a little won't kill you." These kinds of manipulative comments can make vegetarian children feel at fault and accountable for their family's feelings about their diet. Nevertheless, the hard truth is that the nonvegetarian family members are responsible for their own emotions and how they are expressed--not the vegetarian.

Because your love for your family is evident, you are bound to imbue your dialogue with gentleness and sensitivity. Communicating your honest concern for their feelings is one way to temper the situation from the outset. When you allow yourself to be vulnerable, loved ones are less likely to criticize or retreat. Let your family know that your beliefs are very important to you and not something with which you are merely experimenting. Offer to prepare alternative dishes for yourself or the whole group, if they are open to the idea, and suggest vegan options and substitutions for conventional animal-based ingredients in your mother's traditional dishes.

Avoid going into a tirade about your rationale for becoming vegan, unless you are up for an inquisition or an ongoing debate. Most likely your family will have additional questions once the initial jolt is over; not everything needs to be delved into immediately. Give them time to adjust and let the news sink in gradually, at their own pace.

Many meat-eating families know very little about vegetarianism, let alone veganism, so they may be worried about your health and the soundness of an animal-free diet. If it seems appropriate, purchase a book or two for them to read about vegan nutrition. This will help ease their minds about any imagined pitfalls regarding your diet and also will provide information from unbiased experts who will appear more credible.

Follow your heart without fear. If your family loved and respected you before you chose to become vegan, they will continue to love and respect you now. It may take a short while for them to adjust, but the relief you will have from revealing your beliefs openly and the closeness you will share afterward will make the jitters you feel at the moment seem inconsequential in the long run.

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