By: Mandy Parry
Last year my 7 year old son came home from school looking dejected. He pulled out a worksheet he was given for homework. The instructions were to draw a line from the farm animal to the thing it “gives”. This week his 1st grade class was learning about farm animals. The curriculum didn’t bother to mention how the animals look, sound, think or live outside of exploitation. Instead it only focused on how a cow “gives” milk, a hen “gives” eggs and a pig “gives” pork. Give is a funny word to use because it’s as if the animal was asked and had first right of refusal or they have a choice in the matter. The reality is that they have no choice. These things are not only taken, the sentient beings they are taken from, endure a life of suffering..
I expected to run into a time when my son and I would have deep conversations about veganism but not in 1st grade. To my surprise he already understood what was wrong with these teachings. He’s been to farm sanctuaries and has a better understanding than I assumed he did. What a relief. He continued to bring home worksheets along the same lines. I was upset that this type of thinking was being ingrained into young minds. I went to the school and talked to his teacher but she didn’t see my concern. She went on to say this was standard curriculum from the district and she couldn’t change it if she wanted to. As disappointed as I was to hear that, I’m grateful this gave my son and I a chance to discuss farm life in greater detail.
My family and I became vegan a little over 2 years ago. My husband and I decided we didn’t want to contribute to violence against animals and we studied some amazing health benefits from plant-based diets. The switch was easy, but we worried how the kids would adjust. What I didn’t consider is how compassion in children is so innate. They get it better than most adults and before we knew it we had re-placed calf growth fluid (milk) with almond milk, cheese by delicious Follow Your Heart, and beans or lentils in place of meat. Contrary to some beliefs, we didn’t starve and in fact our pallets developed a new appreciation for foods we used to eat sparingly. Not only do we find ourselves getting sick less often, but our recovery time is quicker. Our kids come in contact with kids with viruses at school often and rarely do they contract the illness. Their immune systems kick ass! Same goes for working out and being athletic. My recovery time reduced though I’m getting older.
In my experience the most powerful tool to raising compassionate children is to lead by example. They watch as I volunteer at animal sanctuaries and rescues. They come with me when I go to protests. They see my passion and love for all beings. Even though we haven’t always been vegan we never supported animals used for entertainment. My husband and I never felt right going to circuses, zoos or aquariums so that wasn’t a shock for them. Now I watch as my children explain to others why we don’t support the animal entertainment industry. My daughter has a Dr. Suess book where a cartoon girl is riding a rhino. Each time we read it she says “Momma, it’s so sad that she’s riding that rhino. Animals don’t like to be treated like that”. My son comes home upset because kids were stepping on bugs at school and he couldn’t get them to stop. What so many adults are unable to see, children just know. I hope they never lose that. I want them to question everything and refrain from following the status quo.
I know there may come a time when they decide to step away from veganism. To say this possibility doesn’t terrify me would be a lie but I want them to find their own voice and passion for veganism. What I can do is be the example and hope what they have learned is what they already know in their hearts – compassion.
Another great tool for raising vegan kids is finding community. It can be lonely without it. I was amazed at the amount of support I found online and in my hometown. Our first discovery was Esther the Wonder Pig and Ziggy the Traveling Piggy. I was able to show my kids videos of beautiful animals living free from harm. We love watching the videos on The Dodo and Peta Kids has some great information too. We were able to find a community of local vegans that put on holiday parties, potlucks and meet-ups. Being around like-minded people with children that have answers to your questions and an understanding for the hardships you face is incredible. It’s one thing to go vegan yourself, but when it comes to raising vegan kids everyone has an opinion. I personally have extended family that thinks we’re “too extreme” because we don’t share their views on animal exploitation. It’s not always easy, but it is definitely worth it. It’s not even as close to difficult when you consider the challenges the animals face being raised for food.
For Christmas this year I have my eye on a few new books that teach about compassion. One of them is “V is for Vegan,” which goes through the alphabet giving the why’s and how’s of veganism. The other, “Santa’s First Vegan Christmas,” is a story about a fun-loving reindeer who meets Santa and shows him how we can all be kinder to animals. Kindness is a gift we can never give or get enough of.
“It is vital that when educating our children’s brains that we do not neglect to educate their hearts.”