What happens when a child is raised with vegan values and habits, right from the moment she is born?
I met Dee Campbell-Giura on the National Capital Vegetarian Association Facebook group in very early 2012. She was a new vegan, full of questions and observations, and with great hair. We became friends as I helped her navigate her new lifestyle.
A year or so later when she was 40, her baby Bianca was born, after a healthy vegan pregnancy. Three years later, Bia is a happy and healthy mini vegan who is already reading labels and questioning her mother on food’s vegan status. It’s a fascinating glimpse into what happens when a child is taught to foster her compassion, rather than suppress it.
Dee graciously agreed to share her story, as well as some of her tips and advice for those who want to raise their child(ren) vegan but who may be wary of the societal stigma. (Hint: It’s become much less severe.)
PT: How did you become vegan? What were your reasons? Challenges? Supports?
DCG: My partner and I were talking about marriage and a baby. With age not in my favour (I would likely be 40), I wanted to offer a baby the best ‘host’ possible. So I read “Skinny Bitch Bun in the Oven,’ not knowing it had a vegan angle to it, and was repulsed/saddened/grossed out – within days I cut out meat, eggs and dairy from my diet.
The last to go was fish. I couldn’t connect with fish; they were too different (I know that’s funny coming from an evolutionist). I ate it two more times before I purposely watched videos and read online material with the intention to remove fish from my diet too. It worked. Once you know, you just can’t un-know. I couldn’t contribute to it anymore, at all.
Then I looked at my wardrobe. I got rid of anything that was obviously animal flesh (leather jacket) and kept the things that weren’t. Why? Because I’m also eco-minded (knowing what I do about the impact of animal agriculture and husbandry on our environment, it’s laughable that I called myself “green” or “eco” when I ate meat!).
The other challenge was learning to cook vegan. I had no clue what I was doing. I had been eating things like “steak and salad” and chicken breast sandwiches. What would we eat?? That’s where SUPPORT came in. The first person who helped me was, well…Pamela (editor’s note: That’s me!) No, she did not pay me to say that. I would text or email or call with questions like, “what do I eat instead of mayo?” or “is chocolate vegan?” She was my local coach, helping me become – and stay – vegan.
My next support was Credible Edibles, vegan cooking classes. These were fabulous. I learned how to make apps, mains and desserts with legumes. I learned how to make meals that my Italian husband loved, and he never complained about being hungry afterward. The classes were integral to building a roster of dishes, and learning about cooking vegan, and healthy. Yes, we eat vegan crap too, but the majority of our food is way healthier than it was when I cooked non-vegan – and we have a much wider variety of meals and foods now. I’m a better cook as a vegan than I was as a non-vegan.
PT: How long had you been vegan when your daughter was born?
DCG: Just under two years.
PT: Was there ever any question that you would raise her vegan?
DCG: Never. Not even a smidge. My husband is not vegan (he eats meat at his own discretion outside the home) but he too was 100% about her being raised vegan. The only disappointment for him was that she would never eat his favourite recipes that his mother makes, but he got over that quickly. My only disappointment was that she wouldn’t see many animals up close like I did growing up (at both land and aquatic zoos).
PT: What are your goals with raising Bianca?
DCG: I want her to have enough compassion that she won’t have any interest in eating animals, and ideally, for her to be repulsed at the thought of eating animals. I’m glad she will never think that eating dead animals is normal.
PT: How did the people around you react?
DCG: Because I was vegan for ethical reasons, I don’t think anyone was surprised that she would be vegan. I don’t recall any conversations about it. People may ask if she’s vegan, but I can’t recall anyone questioning her health. She’s above average in height, a healthy weight, very strong, and on target developmentally.
PT: What are the challenges of raising a vegan child?
DCG: 1. My first vegan-baby challenge was daycare. We had a bit of a checklist: cloth diapering, gentle parenting (no crying to sleep), babywearing a plus, and vegan-friendly. It actually wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, and I think every parent checks out a few providers before deciding on one – vegan or not. Nobody turned us away because Bianca is vegan, but I do send her food most days because we also eat 50% or so organic (the Dirty Dozen, at minimum). Bia is only three years old so school isn’t an issue yet, but in our local support group, the Vegan Mamas, I can see a few obstacles to come. Eg. When schools are nut- and sesame-free, it becomes a head-scratcher for people who probably eat more nuts and hummus than the average omnivore (that’d be us…the vegans). Luckily we have several resources (including Dreena’s book), and share tips and ideas with each other.
Also, many baby shoes are made with leather. Ick. Every now and then, a Vegan Mama will ask the group for help finding vegan soft-soled shoes for their almost-walking babe. I’m a fan of MEC. Once in firm shoes, though, PediPed (and Payless!) has good options.
PT: What have you done differently than parents who do not raise their children vegan?
DCG: Not served Bianca animal flesh, milk, eggs, and not taken her to land zoos or aquariums 🙂 Otherwise, the rest would be similar to any other parent.
I supplement with b12. Since we’re the only species who can’t lick its own butt and we don’t eat animals, we need this one supplement.
PT: What misconceptions do you think exist around this decision?
DCG: That she is somehow missing out, nutritionally and socially. Eg. Some may think that she is missing out by not being able to visit zoos/aquariums, eat turkey at Christmas, etc. We have traditions, too. We eat a celebratory meal at Thanksgiving and Christmas – a delicious, filling, nutritious and kind one that doesn’t require anyone die.
PT: How does Bianca feel about being vegan?
DCG: Unprompted, she expresses disgust at eating animals. “Yuck!” She likes to serve and feed me pretend food. At around two years old, when I’d say “mmm” and ask what it is, she’s say, “Aminal,” smirking…and watching. I know she’s trying to see how I would handle it. She’s learning!
She also looks at containers of food, running her finger along it saying, “aminal. cow muk. eggs.” She’s already reading labels 😀
She doesn’t understand why people eat animals. It’s a question I don’t answer well, because I can’t think of an acceptable reason why people eat beings either. Even when I think back to my omnivore days, there was no good reason to do so. So my answer is “Sometimes people make silly decisions.”
PT: Fun stories/cute anecdotes?
DCG: In Nemo, when the fishermen are unsuccessful in catching the net of fish, Bianca cheers and yells “Free!!!!!!!!!” She’s super-happy about that.
Sometimes she questions the vegan-ness of food that I’m offering! She asks, “No aminal, cow muk, egg.” I reassure her that “No, none of those things are in it. It’s vegan. I’d never offer you food with animals, cow’s milk or eggs in it.” Then she eats it.
At a birthday party, I told her there was vegan cake. “Me! WUV! Vegah! Cake!”
PT: Advice for parents who want to raise their children this way?
DCG: Make sure your child is getting what s/he needs, nutritionally, so that a) you have peace of mind, b) your child is healthy and c) you can defend your case, if ever needed (I’ve never needed to, so don’t assume people will be all over you if you raise a vegan child.) I supplement with b12 and vitamin D (both her mom and dad are always low in vitamin D so we assume that she will be too.) Use a food tracker like cronometer to see what your child is eating. This will help you know where your child is missing out, and where he’s doing well. Truthfully, this tip should be for ALL kids, not just vegan ones.
-> Find support. The vegans are out there.
-> Arm yourself with knowledge about why a vegan diet is best for you, the animals and the environment. You are your baby’s first teacher
-> Don’t worry about offending people by choosing a vegan diet for your child. Lives, including the life of our planet, are literally saved.
-> BYOF – Bring your own food. Have snacks in your purse (don’t ALL parents do this?!)
Pamela Tourigny is an Ottawa-based expert on the topics of veganism and vegan advocacy, sustainability, and ethical consumerism. She also consults with business clients with their marketing, communications and public relations needs, and with restaurants on adapting their menus to introduce plant-based options. Sign up to receive her monthly e-newsletter here.