Answering questions from non-vegan children

April 6, 2010

Child reading

Sadly, "read the manual" usually isn't a good response. Photo by mil8

This week’s question came from Council member Kim, who asked:

“How do other families talk about vegan choices when other children are over and curious. (For example, a little friend asking “Why don’t you eat bacon? It’s yummy!)”

Without further ado, here’s what some other members of the Council of Vegan Parents had to say:

Be assertive, consistent – and prepared

“Think about things beforehand,” says Steph: “I have found myself kicking myself for using wishy-washy rhetoric when people are interested in our veganism and I wish I had said something more positive and assertive at the time.”

This advice holds true in pretty much all scenarios, really, but it’s especially useful with children, where things tend to be more on the black and white side without so many shades of grey. That said the part about being positive is a big deal too: “because we’re not murderers like your parents are” is probably not the best approach 🙂

As Steph notes, “thinking through the scenarios will make sure these things don’t happen again,” and there’s a lot to be said for preparation. If you have a few spare moments to go through some imaginary conversations (hey, they’re not just for toddlers!) you’ll find yourself better equipped for simple “why” questions if they come up.

Be honest without being gruesome

Elaine takes an honest yet age-appropriate approach to questions from nonvegan children. For a pre-teen she knows, she’ll offer vegan food when he visits, and if he has questions, she’ll answer them. For very young children, Elaine opts for a simple “I don’t eat that,” and while she’ll still answer questions, she’s quicker to change the subject. And for those in between, here’s a recent example that I think is pretty cool:

“…on a drive to the park on day we saw a truck filled with pigs. I
told the kids that seeing big metal trucks like those, with the holes
in the sides, made me sad. The kids asked why. I explained that the
pigs were probably being hauled off to slaughter to become pork, ham,
or bacon.

“More questions came: How far do they take them? Do they get food along
the way? Do they get hot or cold in the truck? Do they know what’s
happening? What should the driver do instead if everyone stopped
eating pork, ham, and bacon?

“I answered each one as honestly as I could. The pigs travel from all
over the place so some pigs travel short distances and other travel
for days. No, they do not usually have any food or water while they
travel because that would make it too messy in the truck. Yes,
sometimes it gets too hot or too cold and sometimes the pigs will get
sick or die during the trip. They don’t know exactly what’s happening,
but they’re probably scared. Wouldn’t you be scared if you were in
that truck? The driver should haul vegan food or… well what do you
want to do when you grow up? Maybe the driver should do that!”

Focus on things in common

Julie’s family tries to shift the conversation away from “why don’t you eat that” to a discussion of things that they do eat that kids also like, which shifts the emphasis over to things that they have in common. I like this idea a lot, and have you noticed that discussions with children have a lot of good strategies that work well with adults? Funny, that.

Dealing with other parents

What about when a child goes home and tells his or her parents what was said? Are there issues that need to be dealt with there?

Interestingly, none of our Council respondents have had any problems here. I think it has a lot to do with the approaches they’ve taken, as detailed here: be be consistent, be honest, don’t be gruesome, and focus on things that you have in common and you’re a lot less likely to have to deal with the “my kid says you called us Bambi killers!” confrontation.

Of course, that could just be a factor of our sample size. Have you had any incidents explaining veganism to nonvegan children, either with them or their parents? Let us know in the comments!

Thanks to Kim, Steph, Elaine, and Julie for their help with this one!

(Photo by mil8)

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

lj2002 April 6, 2010 at 1:03 pm

My phrase when young kids ask why we don't eat animals is: “Cuz we think they're cute!” It usually gets a little grin and no further questions.

jendiggity April 6, 2010 at 1:04 pm

I would love to hear from more people with experience here. I recall my aunt being horrified that my young cousin who LOVED and collected pigs would one day find out where her beloved bacon came from! I can only imagine how angry she'd be if I had been the one to spill the beans during a convo about why we don't eat the stuff. I think a lot of parents probably shelter their kids from the truth of what they're eating. Is it overstepping the bounds by being honest, even if you're tactful about it?

busyhappyvegan April 6, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Great post! I haven't had to deal with this issue yet, because our daughter's young – but I've definitely thought about how I would handle it. I think something very brief about not eating animals because it hurts them is good enough!

misovegan April 6, 2010 at 3:23 pm

jendiggity, I have always been tactfully honest with other people's children, but to be honest, if I were the one to “spill the beans” in such a situation, it wouldn't be my fault that the aunt has built up a shelter based on lies and untold truths. We can only control so much, so we err on the side of honesty, and if that means there are repercussions for someone who was kept in the dark, there's not much we can do to prevent that. Besides, someday she'll find out. Is sooner better than later, in a case like this?

misovegan April 6, 2010 at 3:27 pm

I keep it age-appropriate and straight-forward. Some variation on: we don't eat our friends. As my son and his friend got older, 8 or 9, I upgraded the message to, “… because we don't want animals to die for our food. There's plenty to eat without killing animals.”
I only had one situation where the child wanted to know more than the parent would “allow.” He was 9 or 10 and wanted me to tell him “all” the reasons we're vegan. I told him to ask his mom if that would be okay, and she said “”no.” The next time I saw him, he was disappointed, so I told him, “that's okay, you can find out the same way I found out: on the internet!”

Sami April 12, 2010 at 4:39 pm

I was once taking a group of 5-8 year olds around a petting zoo and had to deal with questions

about why the birds were on a 6″ tether. “To stop them flying away” was my response, to which the

older ones questioned the morality of it. I gave them a pretty netural answer, since most kids of

that age already empathise with animals and don’t need to be told that a bird dosen’t like being

tied up.

My standard answer for most people asking why I am a vegan is “Because I don’t agree with the

animal industry.” It clearly states why I made my choice without being gruesome – and virtually

everyone knows the answer if they were to ask “Why”. It’s non confrontational, non gruesome and

totally honest – all of which I think people appreciate (and so have less of a gut reaction against).

Kids of course, might not know “why”. So I say things like “Because I believe animals should stay in the wild” and sometimes “I don’t think it’s fair to keep animals in cages/on farms/take thier milk/eggs” etc.

deva April 27, 2010 at 8:00 am

When children ask why my kids can’t eat something I say that we don’t eat meat and eggs. If they ask why don’t we eat meat and eggs, I say that we like animals better alive than dead. And we like the little chickie eggs to be able to be born. Kids either look like they had some little epiphany or just shrug and say *well I love hamburgers.*

Melissa April 28, 2010 at 8:27 pm

lj2002 I love your responce!! Thanks for all the great tips. I am fortunate that my son’s more inquisitive friend is a celiac (as well as her sister, mom and aunt), so she is very understanding when it comes to some people not being able to eat some food. I hope she doesn’t think I am allergic to meat, lol!!

Allison June 27, 2010 at 12:19 pm

I would just like to thank everyone who has given some input on this topic, it can be very difficult. I am trying to conceive and I would raise my child no other way than at minimum vegetarian with seafood. I made the decision to become vegetarian. I know of many people who claim they would hate their parents if they had been raised vegetarian. I, also have dealt with friends in high school, parents of those friends, my OWN family. It can be very difficult for a very young child to have to maintain friendships and not to be picked on. I have concerns about teachers, daycare places, camp leaders, and my own child’s choices. Children have a desire for what they cannot have. Any advice?

Rebekah August 22, 2010 at 12:28 pm

Allison – for us it is not about telling our kids that they cannot have something. It is about telling them honestly, and in an age-appropriate way, why we choose not to eat animals or their products. I have found that kids are naturally compassionate and tend to love animals, so if you explain how the farming industry hurts those animals, they won’t WANT to eat them. For example, when explaining why we don’t buy dairy products, I told them that a mommy cow’s milk is for her baby calf, and that the calf has to be taken away from it’s mommy for humans to take the milk. As young kids, they can think about how it would feel to be away from their mommy and it makes them very sad. Another thing my husband and I have agreed on is that we don’t forbid our children from eating anything. We buy the food and eat a certain way at home, but if they are at a friend’s house or a birthday party, they can make their own choices. They will often choose to eat the birthday cake but they have never chosen to eat meat. I think it really empowers them when they feel like they have a choice in the matter.

Mark October 1, 2012 at 11:31 am

“because we’re not murderers like your parents are”
Hahahahaha, exactly 🙂

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