Mommy, what’s vegan?

Slowly, but surely, issues around diet and nutrition are filtering down to kids of all ages. Childhood obesity, school lunches, vending machine wars, and junk food controversies are entering the awareness of the younger set, and parents everywhere are wondering how to talk to their kids about food and food politics.

What’s the best way to discuss the food choices at your kitchen table? How do you explain food alternatives to children? Is it okay to make a food right or wrong? Has discussing food with kids become the new “where do babies come from?” 

The following interview with Ruby Roth, author of the children’s book, “Vegan is Love” is posted on babble.com. Take a look, then let us know how you feel about discussing the politics of food with your kids.

Why write about veganism for kids?

I was teaching art in L.A. and the kids were always curious about why I wasn’t eating their classroom snacks–usually packaged string cheese and milk. Sometimes, as a vegan, you feel like a communist, like you’re going to be black listed, so I would brush aside their questions. One day, however,  I realized I’m a teacher, I’m supposed to be teaching. There’s nothing against the law about telling the kids the truth. I went to look for a book that might explain more about vegan choices, but every book was about a talking animal or vegetable. I thought that took away from the richness and reality of the issues. These kids were too cool, they wouldn’t take a book like that seriously. They were street smart and could handle this information and we as adults were leaving them out of the dialogue.

Here in the West we have a Victorian concept of raising children, that they are precious and frail and I think that hinders what they are captures. But, in my experience you can really say anything to kids, any tough topic can be talked about if you talk about it in a nonemotional straightforward, frank way. Especially if there isn’t a focus on negativity, but on constructive ideas. If you want to talk to kids about the circus and the abuse of elephants, I wouldn’t just show the kids a video of an elephant being abused, I’d say, “hey I just found out something really important and I wonder what you think about it.” You’re not scaring them, you’re offering facts to them about their world and empowering them to come up with constructive ways to address those facts.

What is the best way to use your book?

I’d say to first, read it all the way through. Introduce those ideas to your kids. Then, use it as a reference when children come up with questions. I really tried to hit on all the tenets of veganism so the book is a good place to learn about a variety of concerns. I wanted the book to be a jumping off point for discussion. And mostly, I wanted this book to be a resource to anyone and everyone, I wanted it to show the power of our choices.

What books & websites would you recommend to parents interested in starting their own path toward veganism?

There are so many, but here would be some good places to start.Food Revolution (John Robbins)

  • Eating Animals by Jonathon Safran. The book is a must-read for anyone wants to understand the issues.
  • 101Cookbooks.com is my favorite place to send people to for beautiful, realistic vegan recipes. The site is very well organized. It’s not all vegan, but there is a large section of recipes that will get you started.
  • Skinny Bitch, by Kim Barnouin and Rory Freedman. A fun way to introduce yourself to the benefits of a vegan diet.
  • Jason Wrobel’s entertaining videos and incredible recipes are a great resource to have for new vegans and raw foodies. All of his recipes are good.
  • The Sun Food Diet Success System and Superfoods by David Wolf. This book is full of great information for new vegans.

How can people new to veganism start making choices that make a change?

  • 1) Expand your food repertoire. Start by adding new things in before you start taking things away. Once you start feeling good, and find out this whole world of food, you start craving what you’re eating. If you’re eating cotton candy, that’ what you’ll crave. If you eat avocados, you’ll crave avocados.
  • 2) Looking at the underbelly of the food system. The food in our fridge, where our money is going. When you are really honest about the issues, it’s hard to ignore them.
  • 3)  Work within your own area of influence. As you begin to veganize your own territory, you don’t have to become a teacher or write a book, we need people to work within their own area of expertise, people greening their own area. Go to the principal at your school and be a reliable resource to all thigns green within your school. People are more likely to listen to you if you use the word “green” rather than “vegan”.” Same goes for if you’re a makeup artist or a janitor. Use green materials and introduce them to your clients.
  • 4) Support organizations that already exist. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Support and volunteer. Animal sanctuary’s are an amazing resource when you want to do something with your family that is active and positive. Nix your trips to the zoo. How much more exciting is it to be with lively animals, versus depressed animals sitting in cages? The zoo doesn’t teach true, authentic reverence as much as when you’re doing something as hands on, so find a local animal sanctuary and volunteer some of your time there.
  • 5) Dive into analytical, interesting discussions with your kids. Find ways to broach topics that you think are too tough. When you find a gentle way to talk about it and take about it with your kids, you encourage critical thinking. You start teaching your children how to form their own morals, opinions, and values. Kids can’t make choices if they don’t know there are any. In my experience, they can easily make the move toward making wise choices on their own, so long as they are given the chance to understand and actually make those decisions for themselves.

What do you hope people learn from Vegan is Love?
This book is my personal prayer for the future of the world. I think since my first book came out, we as a nation have heard a lot of chanting about hope and change. I think it’s clear at this point that we can’t wait on our leaders to fix our food system, the environment, or health care. It’s up to us. Social change has always come from the bottom up. So, I wrote this book for a new generation of kids in the hope that they can make choices. This book is really about choices and about how far across the world we can send our love.

The Mamas want to know what you think. Do you agree with Ms. Roth? Is feeding kids meat child abuse? How do you explain nutritional choices to your little ones?

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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?


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One response to “Mommy, what’s vegan?”

  1. Michelle

    Teaching children about food and helping them make good and healthy choices is so important. I believe that kids should know the origin of their food. A book like “Vegan is Love” is terrific because it has so many people talking about this important topic. A lot of the talk has been quite negative. Many people seem to think it’s barbaric to tell kids the truth about what they eat. I think Roth’s book is a bit heavy handed and perhaps she could’ve toned it down some but the truth is that she is just telling it like it is. I heard her say in an interview that not one child has been upset with what she wrote – it’s the parents who can’t handle it.

    Children are more connected to nature and animals than adults. Let’s teach kids about food, feed them as much organic food as we can and guide them in making smart decisions that work for them and us. Thanks for posting about this!

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