Happy Friday everyone!
First of all, thank you for all the very positive feedback I got on my last post. Your calming words and shared excitement have completely eased my nervousness and now I am more eager than ever to reveal the new blog.
Second of all, I know I am totally crazy (considering how full my life is right now) but I’ve decided to coincide my relaunch with participating in my very first Vegan MoFo. What better way to welcome in the new blog with a month of daily recipes?
And finally, I am so excited to announce that today we have our very first contributor to the raising vegans series I introduced a few weeks back. (If you missed it, this will fill you in). I never got a chance to thank you (I have a lot of thanks for y’all right now) for all your encouraging responses to that post. From the bottom of my heart, thank you! Your kindness, shared experiences, and thoughtful responses meant the world. While there was a lot of enthusiasm around the series, I had no idea if any one would step forward with a contribution. But you did and I already have a queue of contributors forming!
Today Bronwyn Fraser, a Canadian from Vancouver, BC, is sharing her experience of raising a vegan girl. Bronwyn is a long time vegetarian (17 years) and 5 year vegan. Through her ethical commitment to the vegan lifestyle and deep understanding of it’s beneficial health impacts, she has played a role in transitioning her parents, brother, and husband to a vegan diet as well! She writes with honesty and vulnerability and I think we all can learn from her experiences, concerns, and plans-of-actions through her Raising Vegans story .
Please, join in the conversations with your comments and questions for her below.
1. How long have you been raising vegan kids?
I have a 20 month old daughter. I feel like I’m on the same page as you as I have been having all of the same thoughts/concerns you’d mentioned in your article. So, thank you for putting this blog entry up – it’s refreshing and relieving not to feel alone.
2.What has been the hardest part about it?
I think it’s important to start off with some background.
I have a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutritional Sciences. I have an embarrassingly large collection of vegan cookbooks and textbooks on nutrition. I spend a considerable amount of time in the kitchen attempting to make healthy, appealing, varied and balanced meals/snacks for my family. I spend a lot of my free time in the evenings swimming through food/nutrition related topics and perusing the latest scientific literature. This is the hardest part I think. The obsessing. This obsessing really began once I became pregnant with our daughter. The irrational thoughts grew as my pregnant belly did. I’ll mess up and my child will suffer at my hand. I know it’s irrational. Nutritional science says the diet is fine, and is awesome if done correctly. Dieticians of Canada, the American Dietetic Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Canadian Pediatric Society, etc. are all supportive of this diet throughout the lifecycle. But I find myself forgetting this sometimes and in times of irrational thought I despair and worry that I am on the wrong path. I fear that despite my desire to live in a way which is healthy and ethical, it may be unreasonable to raise my daughter this way. Warped thinking, yes, but as I am only human and susceptible to the effects of being judged, I embrace this thinking as normal. I won’t let it sway me from being a vegan parent, but I’d be lying if I said I’m impermeable to the negativity and unfounded scrutiny the diet/lifestyle sometimes gets from people who judge based on their own belief systems rather than checking out the facts first.
The judgements come from different places which I suppose can be summarized as being
1) first hand
First hand, for example, from my mother-in-law who told me a few weeks ago that she “thinks the diet is unnatural.” Now, while you might be inclined to think she sounds judgmental and insensitive, historically she hasn’t been at all. I have sensed that she thinks the diet is a bit odd, but she is always supportive whenever my husband, daughter and I visit, ensuring that there’s plenty for us to eat and even going to the effort of researching vegan recipes in order to prepare us nice meals. She has complimented my cooking and meal planning and expresses interest in knowing what is in the food I have prepared. Knowing how she tends to ruminate on things before bringing them up, I knew that this is a matter that has been troubling her in some way and that she felt that she had to voice her opinion at least once, and that the least offensive word she could use would be “unnatural”.
Whether she feels that her granddaughter is in some kind of danger being on this diet and she felt compelled to say something in the interest of her welfare, I don’t know. Nevertheless, I was stunned when she said it as it’s a hostile statement considering it’s how I eat, and it’s how I feed her son and granddaughter. I tried to remain casual, as if the statement didn’t bother me. I responded by saying that it’s a diet that is endorsed by the dietetic and medical communities. She didn’t say anything. I felt like I was stammering. I felt uneducated in that moment, and flaky. I felt like I was trying to justify the South Beach Diet or Atkins, or something as equally as dangerous and scientifically unsound. I can pretend that I don’t care what other people think, but I do. She is my husband’s mother and the grandmother to my child. I care about her and I value her opinion. I just wish it was based on fact and not fear.
The second source of judgement is observed and can be witnessed readily online. We’ve all seen it. Every. Single. Day. There are the news stories which paint veganism as child abuse, the viral stories of former vegans “listening” to their bodies and going back to eating meat (note: “listening” to one’s body has been debunked as a means of determining nutritional requirements), the comment sections on blogs/articles filled with distaste for the snooty, moral-high-ground-hogging vegans. I feel like an outcast sometimes. It’s not enough to make me change my ways, but it makes me worry about my daughter and what she’ll go through later on.
I grew up in a very small, rural community in Prince Edward Island, Canada. The traditional diet there is unhealthy, heavy on meat and this can be seen in the cancer, heart disease rates, and waist lines of the Island’s population in comparison to the rest of Canada. It was difficult going vegetarian there. People thought I was odd, that it was a weird phase I was going through, that it would pass. Two decades later people are more understanding of the diet/lifestyle which is great. As this shift happened, I started to feel a little less “in the spotlight” at gatherings. Once I moved to the West coast I went vegan and that comfortable feeling is gone again because while vegetarianism seems to be pretty well accepted, veganism seems to be less mainstream.
I hope that by the time my little girl is old enough to be aware of her diet, her community will be more accepting of it. My obsessing is not only in ensuring that I do the vegan food thing right for a growing child, but also in worrying she will fit in rather than feeling like the oddball as I have for so many years. That said, I hope she sees my strengths and convictions and draws on them in living vegan as best as she can in spite of the negativity she may experience. After all, negativity is always around us no matter the subject matter, and I firmly believe it will be one of my greatest gifts to her if I can teach her to hold on, to hold true, and to be herself without shame or apology.
3. What has surprised you by being way easier than you expected?
Before I went vegan, and was vegetarian, I couldn’t imagine living without dairy. I was so in love with ice cream. I remember the first time I read about veganism (I didn’t know any vegans) and was baffled….I thought, “How can food possibly be enjoyable without dairy?” I thought that if it was possible to eat that way, it would be torture.
Au contraire! I have tried more foods, and have a far larger array of ingredients in my pantry now than I ever dreamed possible since going vegan. It’s certainly not necessary to be so well stocked to be a healthy vegan, but it doesn’t hurt and it’s way more fun.
4. How do you handle holidays like Halloween? Thanksgiving? Easter?
I haven’t figured out how to handle Halloween – my daughter isn’t quite two yet so she hasn’t gone trick or treating. I don’t want to stop her from going out but I’m not sure how to handle the matter of “Well, how come I can eat these non-vegan treats at Halloween, but you won’t buy them for me at the store?” How do you explain this in simple language to a little kid? I don’t even know how to explain it in complex language to an adult.
Sigh. I don’t know yet.
Thanksgiving will be vegan. It’s usually just the three of us, and sometimes my brother depending on his schedule (who is also vegan). We’re not religious but we celebrate Christmas. We had my husband’s family here one year and I made everything vegan which everyone seemed to be okay with. Easter will have similar issue as Halloween. My husband’s aunt normally has a huge hunt in her back yard for the little ones. I say hunt, and not easter egg hunt because there’s very few eggs. She goes overboard and hides dresses, toys, games and some candies for the kids. She’s so sweet and thoughtful. In the past the chocolate was not vegan, but my daughter didn’t eat it anyway as she was having more fun with her new toys and cousins. The chocolate magically disappeared and she has never questioned it. As for the future, I don’t see the point in causing a scene when a non-vegan chocolate bunny is bought for my daughter, but explaining this all to her someday is not something I’m looking forward to.
5. Do your kids know what “vegan” means? Have you educated them about why you choose to eat vegan?
She has no idea right now as she’s not even two. I will be educating her on the matter though as she gets older. I plan on being quite open with her about my reasons, and while I won’t be showing her graphic footage from slaughterhouses when she’s little, I will be providing her with age appropriate information on the treatment of animals. For example, talking about why it’s not right that pigs and dogs both have feelings but one is a pet and the other is considered food.
I was raised on a hobby farm where my parents raised all of their own meat (goats, pigs, chickens, cows, turkeys, etc), produced their own goat milk and grew their own fruits/veggies (note: my parents are now vegan, too!) I think experiencing all of this has played a hand in me understanding that animals have feelings and that they value their lives just as much as we value our own. I am hoping to use my stories in teaching my daughter. It is my hope that she chooses to be vegan when the time comes for me to step aside and let her to make her own choices and I believe she will if she has fostered this empathy sufficiently.
6. If so, what resources have you used?
I will be using my own stories of growing up on a farm and I plan on exposing her to animals first hand – taking her to see animals on farms, visiting friends with pets, etc. As she gets older, perhaps it means helping her with a little dog sitting business or another job where she gets to work with animals…I’m still trying to think that one out.
I have the beautifully illustrated book, “That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals” by Ruby Roth that I will read to my daughter when she gets older. Additionally, we have plenty of board books about animals and lots of toys which are animals. I suppose this isn’t any different than an omnivore home which is so weird to me (but that’s a topic for another time). As she gets older, I’ll be seeking out more resources. I’m just not sure what’s out there for kids yet.
7. Has your kid experienced any teasing/harassing?
8. How have you/will you handled that?
I have wondered if it will happen. I really hope that considering there are so many dietary restrictions out there these days that food has become somewhat taboo in the teasing department. If she is teased at some point, I’m not sure how we’ll handle it. When kids are really small I think it’s appropriate to get the other parents involved. As kids gets a little older I suppose dealing with teasing as we would deal with any other teasing would be in order. So acknowledging the hurt or embarrassment that comes with being teased, then working to address those feelings in an empowering way. Kids can be jerks no matter what. So can adults. Being a kid is dress rehearsal for being an adult sometimes, so teaching our daughter how to be confident in herself and her lifestyle without bowing to peer pressure will be our focal point.
9. What one piece of advice would you give to other vegan families?
I’m not sure. I’m so new to this whole parenting thing that I feel a little odd offering anyone else advice. But I suppose continuing your research on vegan child nutrition would be something I’d recommend. It’s always a good idea to keep up to date. This will definitely empower you during times of doubt in what you’re doing, when you’re faced with rude questions, or genuine curiosities.
I think tapping into others who are in a similar situation can be beneficial. I have a girlfriend who is raising her twins vegan but she’s on the other side of the country. I hope to meet other vegan families. Having friends in a similar boat would help mitigate some of the obsessing I’ve been doing which perhaps would allow me the time to read fluffy books in the evening or start painting again. 🙂
Thank you, Bronwyn, for your contribution! For anyone else interested in sharing their Raising Vegans story please consider contributing here.