OK, Spawn Better is an awesome vegan parenting resource, and we’ve heard some good things about the internet in general (it got a lot better once they put it on computers, I think,) but what about good old fashioned, face to face meetings with other vegan parents?
Do vegan parenting groups exist? How do you find them? How do you start them? And are they worth the effort?
I asked members of our Council of Vegan Parents who’d had some experience in the area, and this is what we know so far:
First and foremost, if there’s a lack of vegan parenting groups in your area, that might not be a bad thing. Al says “There are times when I look at the relative lack of large vegan family support groups out there and smile. While I thoroughly enjoy meeting with other vegan parents (and having their kids play with my kids), I think the lack of large parenting groups can be seen as a testament to how easily vegans can belong to society at large. I don’t know, maybe I’m just making myself feel better about the situation, but I think there’s something to it. The lack of vegan support groups supports the fact that it’s easy to be vegan.”
Of course, if you do want to trade tips (and maybe clothes and toys) or even just socialize, it can be a lot more comfortable for members if they don’t feel like they’re a “special case” due to their diet that needs defending on some level, and if the advice you can give and receive doesn’t need a translation layer added in, so if you’re looking for support, a vegan-specific parents group can be just the thing.
Celeste and Al were both looking for resources for their families in the Minneapolis area. Through the vegfamily.com forums and meetup.com, people started to connect online, leading to a first “in person” meeting at a park. This turned into monthly potlucks and other events.
At roughly the same time that this was happening, Dallas Rising was (and still is) working as the Program Coordinator for the Animal Rights Coalition, also based in Minneapolis. Their mission is to help promote and encourage a cruelty free lifestyle at all phases of life, and Dallas recognized that the best way to reach really young people was to get a parents group together, so she started VegKins, which Al and Celeste’s group folded into.
Having an affiliation with a local vegan-oriented organization can have several advantages. Dallas sees her role as being the hub for the group, attracting potential members through ARC’s outreach events and maintaining continuity in case parents in the group acting as organizers move on for various reasons.
VegKins meets monthly and the location varies, and a typical event will see three to six families with children ranging in age from newborn to around five years old. When the weather’s nice, public parks have been popular meeting spots, and activities have included a group music class, storytime, and a trip to the apple orchard.
Seattle Veggie Families
In Seattle, Doh is a member of Seattle Veggie Families. This group actually started as a LunaMoms group, which was an effort by the Clif and Luna Bars people, but that group dissolved after a year or two and Seattle Veggie Families spun off of that (despite the name, Doh assures me it’s an all-vegan group.)
This group organizes through a Yahoo mailing list, which is organized by one person, but the events are suggested and managed by anyone who’s interested in making the effort.
Events aren’t on a set schedule, but they range from potlucks attended by 15-40 people to “Mama’s Nights Out” which are just for the moms to get together and talk.
Tips and Advice
Dallas and our Council members gave this advice to anyone trying to start or join a group:
Be patient. As Al says, “Growing something like this takes time. People are hesitant to join groups (especially people who are known for their independent thinking).” Your first few events will probably be small, and not everyone will show up for everything, so don’t get discouraged!
Remember that parents groups aren’t just for the parents! One of the reasons Celeste stays involved with VegKins is that she feels it’s important for her kids to have vegan friends for peer support. Of course, sometimes it’s good to get “just the grown ups” together, which is why the group is planning to have parent only meetings a few times a year where people can give their full attention to the conversation.
Keep the events short. VegKins events usually last an hour or less, which helps with short attention spans and also makes it easier to find a free space in everyone’s schedule.
Connect online. This almost seems too obvious to mention, but keep people connected through a Facebook page, or a Yahoo or Meetup group. This will help keep families in the loop and provide a voice for future event planning, but it also helps new families find you.
Partner with your local vegan group, if one exists. This can provide a central point of contact and also a source of new members. For the organization, a parents group can be a real help with outreach: Dallas finds that it’s a great conversation starter when she sees families at outreach events.
Keep the agenda to parenting. While the leadership is vegan, VegKins is open to people raising their children vegan or vegetarian, and there’s no strong agenda at the events for activsm, politics, or other subjects; the focus is simply on social interaction.
Suggest an event. One of the challenges with a parenting group is that they tend to focus on families with younger children, so parents may drift away as their children grow up. If the organizer can’t find someone to take the reins, a group can often fizzle out, so while your city may advertise a vegan parents group, it’s possible that they haven’t met in over a year. Often, the group is dormant but not dead, so simply posting to the relevant group asking about a get together might be enough to spark it back to life.
Pick locations wisely. While the groups I’ve spoken with have had good luck with parks and members’ homes, restaurants can be tricky situations with lots of small children around. If you’re planning a dineout, be sure to scout the location in advance and/or call ahead, and recognize that you might not get much chance to talk.
If you’d like more information about VegKins, you can check out their Facebook page or contact the Animal Rights Coalition, and Seattle Veggie Families has a Yahoo group. For other parts of the world, try the VegFamily forums or searching on Meetup for a vegan parents group (or a vegan group in general) and see where things go.
And of course, if you’ve got a vegan group that’s active right now, please get in touch so we can share your contact info, along with any other tips you might have!
Thanks so much to Dallas, Celeste, Al, Doh, and Trin for their input on this one!
(Photo by futurestreet)