If you googled “vegan dad” before I started my blog back in 2007, you would have been linked to a piece about Raphael Spindell or some vegan parents prosecuted for abusing their kids. Although veganism has been getting more mainstream attention in recent years (did you know Geezer Butler is a vegan?!), it is by no means a mainstream lifestyle; it’s still thought of as an oddity or a fad among celebrities, liberals, and college students who are rebelling against “the system.”
Most people are comfortable with veganism as an abstract concept. Once you add kids to the mix, though, they start to get panicky. For example, check out some of the responses to Ruby Roth’s children’s book That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals (from the whacky, to the skeptical). Rarely does one see the word “indoctrination” in a review of kids’ literature, even though most authors are trying to impart some kind of value system on their young readers. (Have you read a kids book lately? They’re all “share your toys,” and “be nice to people.” Holy indoctrination, Batman!)
So what makes telling kids not to eat meat so different from telling them not to lie? The truth is that food is an essential part of our identity; the old adage “you are what you eat” really is true. So, people get really nervous when you start messing around with that identity, especially when kids’ health is perceived to be at stake. Go ahead and mess up your own life, you crazy hippie, but won’t someone please think of the children?!
Having vegan kids often means having to take an extra dose of scrutiny. If you’re already tired of hearing the protein question, just wait until the pediatrician, the baby sitter, and other parents at the local playground get in on the action. And let’s not forget your mother.
Of course, in many ways we can’t blame our parents for thinking veganism is weird. My parents grew up during the early years of the Cold War, when real Americans ate meat and drank milk—not like those Commies, who could only afford bread and water. It was the beginning of industrialized food and a food pyramid shaped by the industrial food lobby. For the growing middle class, meat became a staple, and portions began to increase. Kids needed protein to grow up big and strong, and animal meat was the best protein around—or so the logic went. That mindset was and is hard to shake. When I became vegan and chose to raise my children as vegans, my mom was concerned that we would suffer as a result.
This said, my vegan journey—which began with a few books, like Diet for a New America—has been relatively easy. After a few lame dinners (think plain pan-fried tofu), it was pretty much smooth sailing. Although our parents were wary at first, they never condemned or criticized us. We have been accommodated at family dinners, and many times the extended family has given up meat altogether to eat my vegan entrée. We live in a neighborhood filled with other liberal pinkos who accept us and our vegan ways.
Moreover, the proof has been in the dairy-free pudding. By eating a balanced and diverse plant-based diet, Vegan Mom and I have been able to raise four healthy and happy kids. My youngest two, who have never eaten meat, are not at any disadvantage compared to their elder siblings, who ate meat for the first few years of their lives. In the face of this good health—and after they ran her into the ground a few times with that trademark unbridled energy that little boys are famous for—my mother finally became convinced that veganism was OK.
So, what advice can I offer to other vegan parents? To be honest, I always shy away from this question, lest somebody think that I have legitimate nutritional or parenting credentials. But of course, I can speak from my own experience. So let me say this: the most valuable thing I have taken away from my vegan journey thus far has been peace of mind. In spite of my intellectual confidence in raising my children as vegans, I admit to having had some lingering anxiety. I used to lie awake at night wondering if my kids were getting adequate nutrition. Were they getting the right balance of omega 3’s and 9’s? Enough protein? B12? Iron? Calcium? As it turns out, you don’t need to have grown up during the Cold War to think that the food guide is the gospel truth.
But these past four years of veganism have proven to me that we humans—adults and kids alike—can get all the nutrition we need without meat, eggs, and dairy. Eat a wide variety of foods of a wide variety of colors, and you can rest assured that your body is getting what it needs. Once you have that peace of mind, you can relax and enjoy your food.
Food should be fun. It’s pretty easy to get caught up in all the complexities of eating in our modern age. Is our food organic? Local? Whole grain? Whole wheat? Low fat? Too processed? I’m not saying these things aren’t important, but sometimes we get so caught up in the politics of food that we forget to simply enjoy eating. My blog (www.vegandad.blogspot.com) documents my attempt to explore the diversity of the food world (minus the animal products, of course), and my kids have joined me for every step of the journey. Below, you’ll find my recipe for Creamy Chunky Cauliflower Chowder, which is one of their favorites—and perfect for the season! Beyond this, they eat everything I blog (more or less) and have started to help me out in the kitchen. I hope to instill in them a compassion for the earth and the creatures in it while still pleasing their palates and filling their wee tummies.
If that’s indoctrination, then so be it.
Vegan Dad’s Creamy Chunky Cauliflower Chowder
– 2 tbsp oil
– 1 tbsp margarine
– 1 sweet onion, halved and sliced
– 4 garlic cloves, chopped
– 3 leeks, white and light green part, thinly sliced
– 1 large cauliflower, cut into florets
– 2 medium red potatoes, skins on, diced
– 4 cups water
– 1 roasted yellow pepper, skinned, seeded, chopped
– 1 recipe cashew cream
– generous tbsp yellow miso
– generous tbsp Dijon mustard
– 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
– salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat oil and margarine in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, and leeks and saute for 12-15 mins, or until reduced down and golden.
2. Add cauliflower and potatoes and water (salt the water if you want). Bring to bubbling, then reduce heat and cover. Simmer for 15-20 mins, until cauliflower and is very tender.
3. Remove half of the veggies with a slotted spoon. Add the roasted yellow pepper to the remainder and blend with an immersion blender until smooth.
4. Add removed veggies back to the pot along with the cashew cream. Add miso, mustard, and nutritional yeast and mix well. Season to taste, heat until just bubbling, and serve.
Nathan Kozuskanich is a father of four from North Bay, Ontario. By day he is a mild-mannered professor of American history, and by night he is the intrepid and fearless blogger known as Vegan Dad.