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For this week’s parenting topic, Linda had a challenge for the Council of Vegan Parents:

“Last summer I did daycare for a 5 year old. I had explained to his mother that we were vegan and wouldn’t be serving animal products. One day, she was running late and sent him in with his fast food chicken nuggets and fries so he could finish his lunch he had been eating in the car.

“I was horrified but didn’t say anything. So here I was, picking up chicken nuggets off of the floor and explaining to my children why they weren’t something they could eat. So how would you handle it if your child’s playmate came toting their own non-veg food over to your house????”

Be clear

As Kari says, “we are always clear with people before they come over. We tell them that we do not eat animal products (and we give them the most common ones) in our house.”

This is one of those things where someone like me says “be clear” and you go “yeah yeah yeah, I’m clear,” and then something happens. Sure, it works out great for me because there’s a column in it 🙂 but it’s worth repeating again and again and again.

I don’t know the specifics of Linda’s story beyond what you see here, but “we won’t be serving animal products” is different than, say, “we don’t allow animal products in our home,” and then listing off some of the big ones like Kari does – it always amazes me how fish and chicken are mystical non-animals for a lot of people, for example.

If you’re in a mixed household with meat eating and vegan parents but vegan children, you’ve probably already given a lot of thought about what you will and will not tolerate, so while this situation might seem more difficult, it’s probably a bit easier to communicate the rules, since you’ve likely already done so inside the house – you’ll probably want to review how you say them though, since communication within the family uses its own set of shorthand.

Be The Vegan

In a lot of ways, this isn’t much different from some of the other situations we’ve talked about in the past, like dealing with non-vegan family members: if people know that you’re vegan, and what that means (both logistically and what it means to you personally) then you’re likely to avoid a lot of these problems altogether.

Being openly vegan might put you a little bit outside of your comfort zone (not everyone likes to wear their beliefs on their sleeves like that,) so it might help to think of it as acting on behalf of your child, not yourself.

Tell everyone

This is worth its own bullet: if you’re going to be The Vegan and Be Clear for the purposes of avoiding issues, you’re going to need to be The Vegan to as many people as possible. Tell the babysitters, tell your family, tell the neighbours, and anyone else you and/or your child might come in contact with. I realize it sounds like you need to go door to door for a 30 mile radius, but it’s not as big a deal as it sounds. Telling people, I mean. The 30 mile bit was a joke.

Dealing with incidents

If, despite all your precautions, something still happens and animal products breach your protective force field, it might be an emotional time for you, so it’s best to think of a few likely scenarios ahead of time and plan out how you’re going to react. Scripts can be a great help when you’re in a stressful situation, but when you’re rehearsing in your mind, be sure to remember that a lot of these situations, depending on your imagination, will probably never ever happen, especially if you’ve followed the advice above.

How big a deal is it if meat enters your house, even without your child present? Are you channeling the parenting issues into something that’s more personal than that? In a lot of these cases, it’s helpful to ask yourself “what’s the worst that could happen?” – chances are, it’s more of a minor annoyance than a Class 5 Vegan Parenting Failure.

Your child is going to be exposed to meat a whole lot of times in his or her life, just like you are, so try to keep a level head when you’re explaining things.

Help your child understand

You’re going to be explaining animal products, why you don’t eat them, and what motivates the people who do to your child at various phases in his or her growth, and we talked about some strategies in dealing with overlap and answering questions from non-vegan children, but here’s some of what Rebecca had to offer for this particular case:

“We’ve discussed at home with our older child that other people don’t realize how eating animals has bad effects on their health, our environment, and animals, that we believe animal milk is for baby animals and animals have a right to live happy lives too, and that it’s not our place to tell people about any of this, though we could answer any questions they might have about being vegan.”

A big thanks to Linda, Kari, Rebecca and Angela for their help with this one!

Related articles:

Dealing with non-vegan family members
Dealing with overlap
Answering questions from non-vegan children

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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)

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