Five Tips for Talking about Veganism with Kids
These days it isn’t hard to find fantastic vegan parenting advice or kid-friendly recipes. I’ve come across many blogs discussing ideas about how to talk to your kids about animal rights. My question is: How do I talk to other people’s kids about it? Working in schools, camps, and museums, I’ve been faced with this dilemma countless times. Kids are curious. I hate to pass up an opportunity for discussion, and I certainly don’t want to lie to kids or perpetuate the normalization of animal eating. However, talking with other people’s children is sensitive territory and I want to be respectful.
Based on my own experience, here are five tips for talking about veganism with kids.
Wait for the child to inquire. Unless you are very close and comfortable with both the child and parent(s), it is not productive to initiate unsolicited conversations about veganism. Once your conversation is relayed to the parents, they may become defensive. This can be confusing and uncomfortable for the child.
Only speak for yourself. If a child does ask about your diet/lifestyle, avoid responses that imply judgment of others. Instead of saying “I don’t think people should eat animals,” try saying “I choose not to eat animals.” Be honest, and try to phrase things positively. “I love animals so much! I don’t want to hurt them. I’m lucky to have lots of other delicious food, so I don’t need to eat animals.”
Express your love of food. Don’t be shy. Kids appreciate genuine passion! I rave about the colors, flavors, and textures of my favorite fruits and vegetables. I mention where and when certain foods grow. Ask kids to describe their favorites! This is also a great way to start an informative discussion with a group of children. “Who knows what it means when we say something is in season?” “Can anyone tell me what compost is?” If anyone has grown food at home, invite them to share their experience!
Get on their level. As always, talk with kids at their eye level. Listen attentively when they’re speaking. Use familiar language. Try not to talk down to or patronize them. Basically, be mindful and respectful.
Ask a lot of questions! Encourage kids to come up with their own answers and think critically about the world around them. Children are so inquisitive, and I think adults feel pressure to always have an answer. I’ve found that responding with mindful questions of my own can challenge little ones to start developing their own ethical standards, and makes them feel independent and intelligent.
These are some questions I might pose to curious kids:
“Why do you think someone might choose to eat animals?”
“Why do you think someone might choose not to eat animals?”
“Hmmm, I wonder why people love cats and dogs, but eat pigs, chickens, and cows…”
“What kinds of things might someone eat if they were trying to be peaceful?”
“Whose job is it to make sure animals are safe?”
By keeping questions at the core of our discussions, we begin to address the complexity and interconnectedness of animal eating. By verbalizing our own inquiry, we’re setting an example of critical thinking and social responsibility. Of course there are times when a direct answer is appropriate, or when a child might need to be nudged in the right direction. If I ask a child why she thinks people eat animals, and she responds with something like “because they are yummy!” I might reply, “There are lots of different yummy foods, aren’t there? Now what’s the difference between eating a chicken and eating an apple? Is there a difference?”
My new children’s book, “Garlic-Onion-Beet-Spinach-Mango-Carrot-Grapefruit Juice” aims to raise some basic questions about eating animals. It does not discuss factory farming, or even the animals who are usually consumed as food. The “moral of the story” is intentionally open ended, with the hope that it will spark discussion between parent and child (so the parent can decide how detailed to be and what to focus on). When silly, juice-enthusiast Vikings decide to grind up nutritious snail shells into their juice, their friend Thora asks questions like, “What were the snails doing before the Vikings scooped them up?” and “How does it feel to be food?”
I know that kids are capable of thinking through these questions and living compassionately. Animal eating has been indoctrinated in American culture. I think we all benefit from exposure to alternative points of view. Do we want future generations to grow up believing that some forms of violence are intolerable, while others are delicious? When handled with respect and sensitivity, an explanation of the vegan lifestyle can provide kids with a non-violent option. Posing tough questions can help them develop the tools they need to become peaceful, healthy, responsible adults.
Nathalie VanBalen is the author/illustrator/designer of “Garlic-Onion-Beet-Spinach-Mango-Carrot-Grapefruit Juice” and founder of ThoraThinks Press. Nathalie works with young children in schools, camps, and art museums, and is involved with the biodynamic farming community in Nashville, Tennessee.
Photo Credit: Sally London