My young daughter’s vegan journey started at the age of 3. I served her chicken nuggets when she asked me a question that changed our lives forever. Genesis asked, “Mom, how do you get this food?”
I wanted to take the easy way out, so I told her I bought it from the store. My daughter has always been very intelligent, so I should have known that this would not be a good enough response for her. She asked, “It’s from the store, but where do the nuggets come from?” I stopped for a moment to think about my reply. I have always wanted to be honest with my children, so I told her the truth and said, “Baby, we have to kill animals to get your food.”
She looked at me in disbelief and started to cry. She told me she never wanted to eat animals again, and I told her I would think about it and secretly hoped she would forget our conversation, because I knew if she gave up eating meat, I would have to do it, too.
Months went by, and she didn’t ask, but I started to research vegetarianism and watch food documentaries. I stopped buying processed food, artificial sugars, and food containing artificial ingredients, but I continued to purchase animal products because I thought I could not live without them.
On occasion, my daughter would ask if we could stop eating animals, and each time, I told her I would think about it. I was considering it because of the health benefits but did not see the ethical aspect to it until I saw pictures posted on Facebook by vegan friends I met online.
After a year of having blinders on, I took them off, and when Genesis was 4 1/2, I told her we could stop eating meat. My husband jumped on board to support us, and we quickly found that going vegetarian wasn’t as hard as we thought it would be. But we never considered going vegan, because we thought we couldn’t live without cheese.
One year into being a vegetarian, Genesis asked me how cheese was made. I told her cheese was made from milk and milk is taken from cows. I was nursing my baby at the time I told her this, and she said, “Mom, that is like someone taking the milk you are making for my baby sister and giving it to someone else, right?” I looked at my baby, who was nursing, and tears started rolling down my face as I realized she was exactly right. How could I take part in such a cruel industry? Was my love for cheese greater than a calf’s need for his or her mother’s milk?
I told my daughter that if we stop consuming dairy products, then that means no pizza, no mac and cheese, no ice cream, and no birthday cake since these were her favorite foods. She told me, “Mom, if it means a baby cow can have his mother’s milk, then I am OK with that.” I realized that if a young child thought she had enough will power to live without dairy products, then I could, too. From that day on, we have been vegan.
I have had people question me when I share her thoughts because they cannot believe a young child would say these things. It does sound hard to believe, but we have to remember that children are so much smarter than we give them credit for. This is one reason I have always felt the need to tell her the truth and be honest with her.
Parents may find themselves in the same situation as their child starts to question eating animal products and may even want to go vegan. As an educator, I truly believe that knowledge is power. Research veganism and children, and you will find that children can have optimal health through a vegan diet. Discover various sources of nutrients and protein, and then incorporate them into your child’s diet. My daughter loves smoothies, so I make her a smoothie every morning and add chia seeds to it because they are packed with protein!
Also, sit with your child and make a list of all his or her favorite foods then go on a shopping trip together and discover vegan alternatives. The more you learn, the more confident you will be raising a vegan child.
It was difficult discussing the deaths of animals for food, and it is very hard trying to explain to a child why humans feel they can do this to animals, but I am glad I did it. Her love for animals and desire to help as many animals as she can has led her to activism.
Genesis wants to speak up for animals and show other children that they are never too young to stand up for what they believe in. I know she will encounter obstacles throughout her journey, but I am confident that she will continue to stand up for what she believes in as long as she has support from family and the vegan community. Oftentimes, children say they want to be just like their parents when they grow up. Personally, I want to be just like my daughter.