After a year or 2 of having children, you tend to feel that you’ve got it sussed. Importance of please and thank you: check. Be kind to others: check. Eat your fruit and vegetables: check. You believe you have set the foundations for creating the perfect human being. Then you find out about veganism!
Those basics that you teach as a parent, come from a combination of instinct, common sense and, without realising it, society’s conditioning. But in going vegan, you find that you break free of that conditioning, and reclaim ownership of your thoughts and decisions. That’s certainly how it was for us.
We’d always prided ourselves on being conscious parents, but with waking up to the shocking reality of what we’d been contributing to with our food and lifestyle choices, we soon realised that there was still much for us to learn. This was even more evident considering we had been feeding this to our children, all the while firmly believing it was right for them.
We were already confident with our own resolve, but we had to educate our 3 children adequately. With one being a toddler, and the other 2 being teenagers, it was important we gave them information that matched their individual understanding of the world.
That was quite easy for our teenage children Sam and Jamie, as they were at an age and level of intelligence where they could watch the same if not similar videos to what we watched, and we could be there with them to clarify any points or answer any questions they may have. We were proud to see them both connect just as we did.
And for our toddler JoJo, who at the time was only 2 and a 1/2 years old, telling him the truth in the form of ’some food comes from animals and to get it they have to be hurt and it makes them sad’ was enough for him to see the logic in no longer having that food.
Importance of the food aspect
That’s not just cos it is the biggest change in the lifestyle, but because of the positive associations that many of us have grown to have with meat, dairy and egg produced food. They are associations that go deep, so deep that for some, replacing them may be the only - or at least easiest - option (as opposed to not eating anything like that again).
So, with children that may have had many years enjoying some of these foods, we felt it important to tackle what we identified as possible foods of comfort for them. This resulted in finding or creating the likes of vegan burgers, sausages, ice cream, cakes, pizza and so on.
We were glad that one thing we had got right with our pre-vegan parenting was communicating the importance that they eat their fruit and veg, and with our new found information on nutrition, we’d hoped that fruit/veg would feature more highly than the processed foods that mostly served a comforting purpose.
It turned out that demonstrating that those ‘comfort’ foods were available options, only needed be done once for Sam and Jamie to feel comfortable.
Vegan children logistics
You realise that despite the original parental education you provided was a result of the same cultural conditioning we all received, you still have to pay for the mistakes of your past parenting choices. Like dealing with questions of uncertainty around the newly discovered facts in veganism; and what other friends or family members said are just a few examples of what can be expected from curious teenagers.
Having spent so many years teaching your children one thing, and them trusting in that, for you to then completely do a U-turn on it, we found doesn’t initiate overnight change. As strong as their ethical resolve may have been, Sam and Jamie needed more guidance beyond the videos they watched and the subsequent conversations we had with them.
With them both being less dependent on us than JoJo, they were, therefore, more likely to be independently away from us and have to navigate new situations and scenarios that they may be unprepared for without us. We learnt this the hard way.
When you hear ‘I didn’t know what to have in the restaurant so I just had chips and salad’ or ‘his parents didn’t have dinner for me so I just had beans on toast’ made us realise that being vegan for them was a lot more complex than we thought. Although in both situations they still ate enough good food to fill them up, it was their lacking in confidence which is what we wanted to avoid.
We hadn’t even considered this side of it for them, and so looking at restaurant menus online and advising on foods, and perhaps calling prior to visits ensured each future social outing was mostly free of repeated issues. And speaking to parents, advising them what they can make for dinner was another simple way to resolve a simple problem which again we needed to consider more.
Social challenges for teenagers
Then we had to hear things like ‘they made fun of this’ or ‘but they said vegans don’t get enough protein’. It’s at this point you realise that they wandered out into the world without proper instruction on how to function with this new lifestyle they have, and especially how to deal in situations of conflict of which they were quite likely to encounter.
We would love to have solved every possible scenario for them there and then, but we ourselves were still learning how to deal with the same scenarios in our circles.
So, to start there was some basic additional information we could give to them in the interim, to arm them with apt or wittier comebacks - and then in time we gave them more than enough to deal with these situations to the point that they not only held their own against the pessimists, but actually educated them at the same time.
But essentially, we found that empowering them with the assurance of the decision that they themselves made to be vegan, and for what reasons, made them more confident and proud to deal with these situations.
The situation for toddlers
Fortunately for a toddler, the social aspect isn’t an issue, yet. When kids are 2 and a 1/2 years old - or 5 as JoJo is now, living a vegan lifestyle isn’t something they even know about for them to even have an opinion on.
We’re very fortunate that JoJo’s school provides vegan school meals, and considering his meals can include anything from sausages, chips, potatoes, vegetables, fruit, bread, rice or pasta, the other kids don’t even see it as something too different for them to even query. If anything they may question why he gets sausages on a day they don’t have them (cos they want them!).
Beyond school, the social situations for a 5-year-old always require our direct involvement that goes for any child of the same age regardless of their lifestyle or diet. Whether it be him going round a friend’s house for a playdate, or to a birthday party, we always speak to the parents prior, that communication is pretty standard at this age.
Many of them know JoJo is vegan and make arrangements just for him in advance - we even had one mum make the birthday cake vegan, so all round we’re very fortunate. But even if the cake isn’t vegan, or there is some party food that JoJo ‘misses out on’, he has had it all before in vegan form at home, and knows that we could rustle it up for him if there were the desire.
More importantly as he has grown, we have continued to educate him along with his evolving understanding of the world, so now he truly knows what goes into making animal products (we’ve only told him, not shown him), and therefore he feels very engaged in his own choice not to consume them, so there is never a temptation when others are having them. His integrity, resolve and passion for a 5-year-old is quite remarkable.
Parental education never stops
We’ve found it essential to continue to educate all of our children as they grow, even our teenage children as they’ve gone from 13 and 15 to 16 and 18 respectively - so much still changes for them and the world they are in.
Our conversations are more detailed, we discuss subjects in more depth and venture into new areas of conversation. After 3 years of being vegan they have all individually had their own unique journey, and with that developed their own unique attitude towards it, and that has led to them effectively communicating it to others in their circles.
Sometimes this has been in a balanced manner, other times in a more conflicting way. Whether it be friends for whom they have health concerns or new partners that they love and therefore want to inform them of the ethical implications of their choices, either way. they are actively making a choice to speak out which obviously makes us really proud.
Fundamentally, we’ve found that frequent communication about veganism with them is vital. And more than that our constant empowerment and positive recognition of the lives they now live is what continues to help them along their journey.
Being vegan is a truly amazing thing, and it is our job to ensure our children know that in being vegan, they are part of something truly amazing, something life changing and world changing, something that is bigger than all of us as individuals.
And not just that, but as the next generation they are the ones likely to carry the hopes for the future of this planet, and as their parents, it will always be our responsibility to guide them accordingly.
London Dad and Vegan YouTube advocate Martin Menehan AKA Vegan Geezer has been speaking around the UK for the past year at schools and festivals, where he has been educating people about veganism and positively promoting vegan advocacy/activism respectively.
He also uses his time to create educational, informative, and inspirational videos via his YouTube channel, which include family vlogs, street interviews, speeches, spoken word poetry, lifestyle videos, food, vegan tips, and more.