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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Children

Upon hearing that we are raising our two-year-old as a vegan, an acquaintance remarked boldly with pessimism, "Why bother? I don't mean to be rude, but you know as soon as she's old enough to eat outside the house, she'll go to McDonald's." Of course we have considered this eventuality and harbor no illusions about the fragile bubble we have created around our daughter concerning her food intake. Nor do we doubt the possibility that she will not want to be a vegan once she's old enough to make that decision for herself. Until then we will do our best to impart our very strong values about the importance of diet. It never occurred to us that perhaps we shouldn't raise Kalli vegan. Sure, we heard the arguments: it's not fair to "force" veganism on our children (as if she would somehow be horribly deprived), it's not nutritionally safe, and it's too difficult. None of the arguments convinced us then, and we stand strong in our convictions today.

How fair is it to send children out into the world without first preparing them, arming them with the truth as you know it? With all the evidence available to us, how could we ignore the information and not raise our child vegan? That, in my mind, would be truly unfair. It's not just a matter of preference when it comes to choosing what we will eat and what we will not. I know without a doubt that a vegan diet is the healthiest and most ethical diet for my family. To refrain from sharing those ideals with my child because it might make her different? Well, that argument just doesn't hold water. Don't we share other important values and spiritual beliefs with our children? Of course! If we don't do it, someone else will fill the void. Frankly, I'd rather not leave it up to the world at large to educate my child about what's healthy and right to eat.

Even if my antagonists agree with me on that point, there is still the issue of nutrition. Many people simply do not believe that children can grow and thrive on a vegan diet--"restricted" they call it--but the evidence is on our side. The American Dietetic Association has stated in their position paper on vegetarianism that a vegan diet can be healthful for people in all stages of life, including pregnant women and children. Practically every day we read new reports of the healing power of fruits and vegetables and the preventative role they play in warding off disease. We hear admonitions to lower our intake of animal products: meat, eggs and dairy. And yet somehow people still translate this information to mean that they should simply try to make moderate changes in their diets. Many more ignore it altogether. I know how hard it can be to let go of familiar comfort foods. It took me over ten years of waffling before I finally accepted the facts and "went vegan." I don't want my daughter to have to face that same struggle, so I'm giving her a head start.

I'll admit it. Becoming a vegan was difficult for me. I made the switch to both vegetarianism and veganism gradually, over a year's time. During those months, I witnessed a transformation in my thought processes about food and eating. I have no desire to go back now. Once I opened myself up to the possibilities, I realized that I could still eat many of my favorite foods, just cooked in healthier ways. Now the substitutions for meat, eggs, and dairy are no longer substitutions; they are simply foods that I enjoy eating. My kitchen shelves are full of foods that two years ago would have seemed strange, hard to find, prepare, and get used to eating. So I understand where the argument that "it's too difficult" finds its origins. But my daughter, who has never had animal foods, doesn't know the difference. While her counterparts were eating chicken baby food in a jar and drinking cow's milk, she was happily eating tofu cubes and drinking soymilk. And as for a love of animals--it has not been difficult to instill. That comes naturally for children.

I'm not sure how I'll react when she comes home from school and announces that she had a hamburger for lunch. In fact, I still don't know exactly when we'll start to let her make those decisions for herself. I don't know many mothers (who take nutrition seriously) who would let a young child have complete control over what goes into her lunchbox every day, so I'm hoping we have a few years before we face this issue head on. However, I am also aware that each time my child eats outside our home without me she will face choices and decisions. And I know that she will not always do what I would like for her to do. This doesn't mean that I should give up the challenge now and not make a sincere effort to pass on the values that I hold dear and the information that I believe will give her a solid base, the groundwork for future healthy eating choices. As a parent I don't shy away from the difficulties of childrearing simply because they are unpleasant.

I know there are no guarantees that the future I envision for my daughter will even closely resemble the future she actually discovers for herself someday, but I can be happy knowing that I gave her the best start to life that I knew how. For a few years at least, I will know that she was nourished with purity and respect for life.

Melanie W.
California

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