The following article originally appeared on WhatToExpect.com and was written by PETA’s executive vice president, Tracy Reiman.
As a vegan and an animal rights activist for more than 20 years, I was prepared to raise my son, Jack, vegan. I knew how kids’ health can benefit from vegan meals—including the reduced risk of obesity that comes with naturally high-fiber, low-fat, and cholesterol-free plant-based foods—and I knew how to “veganize” just about any meal under the sun.
Of course, we did run into some challenges—10 years ago, many people still thought a “vegan” was someone from Las Vegas, and we didn’t have anywhere near the wide variety of vegan meals and snacks that are available in grocery stores and restaurants today. But I used these challenges as opportunities: When Jack first went to preschool, for example, I met with his teacher to see what I could do to make sure that he got vegan snacks every day. Some days, everyone had crackers and peanut butter or one of the many other “accidentally vegan” treats available (such as popcorn, Scooby Snacks, and even Oreos!). Other days, I sent Jack in with his own snack. A month or so into the school year, I asked Jack’s teacher if he seemed bothered by having something different from the other children, and she said that it was quite the opposite—they all wanted what he was having!
And of course, an added benefit of teaching kids to “be kind to animals” is getting them to eat their veggies! Like many kids, Jack can be picky at times, but we’re lucky that his favorite foods are quite healthy, with miso soup and tofu at the top of his “yes, please” list. He loves to snack on vegan cheese pizza and faux meats like Tofurky and chicken-free tenders—the same foods his friends love but with a vegan twist—and he eats loads of broccoli, carrots, green beans, potatoes, corn, and more.
But being vegan is more than just the food we eat—it’s a way of living. Just as we don’t eat animals, we don’t wear them or support using them for entertainment, either. I’ve always been open with Jack about the reasons for making these choices, and of course my explanations have been tailored to his age and ability to understand them. For example, I’ve told him that circuses hurt animals, but no 3-year-old needs to see photographs of trainers beating elephants with bullhooks. As he’s gotten older, I have explained in more detail—and he gets it!
Jack is definitely his mother’s son. Ask any of his teachers or his friends, and they’ll tell you how much he loves animals and wants to protect them. He thinks it’s ridiculous that people love kittens but eat chickens, and he can’t imagine why someone would want to go to the zoo, where animals look bored and lonely—especially when he knows how much fun it is to watch wildlife films like the DisneyNature documentaries, visit museums, go hiking, and participate in other activities that don’t hurt animals.
Like all parents, I want Jack to follow the Golden Rule, and teaching him why we eat veggie burgers instead of hamburgers is a big part of teaching him to have compassion for others. I’m glad that he is learning to respect all life, and it brings me even more joy to know that he is as proud of his efforts to help animals as I am.