Parenting While Vegan
Babies. Cooing, sleeping, screeching, crying . . . they’re suddenly everywhere, with an often tired parent in tow. A toddler with big blue eyes, bouncing curls, and a mischievous smile runs to her older siblings, seeming as though her battery will never run out. A mom walks by with a sleeping baby swaddled and wrapped snuggly to her front, pushing a stroller that holds a big brother happily chatting away, clutching his juice box. Two little ones, an infant and toddler, sit quietly and content as their dad pulls them in a little red wagon for a walk around town. I notice them all and feel a twinge in my gut, wondering, craving to know, what it will be like when I’m that (tired) parent.
My husband Mark and I hope we’ll soon have a baby of our own. Nothing is in the works yet (sorry, Mum), but we have visions of Plante babies dancing in our heads. We’re not taking this decision lightly or without some considerable thought, as is our (my) way. Our plans have included many discussions about parenting and our values, parenthood in general, how to prepare the best we can financially (can you ever??) . . . all kinds of things to help ease, and at times exacerbate, my worry-prone, plan-needy brain. Naturally, as it has become evermore a central part of our lives, veganism has also been part of these conversations.
Unaware of her timely curiosity, a friend and reader asked me this week about my thoughts about raising children and how being vegan would come into play. She had heard of a vegetarian or vegan celeb (unsure who), who has apparently decided to raise her children as omnivores so that they can be so-called “normal kids”. She reportedly buys and prepares meat for them while she still lives on a more plants-based diet. This friend asked my thoughts about the situation. I definitely have more than some.
I can adamantly say that we will not follow in this celeb’s footsteps. Before Mark started eating a vegan diet over a month ago, I asked him what he thought about having our future little ones be vegan. I plan to maintain my vegan diet throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding, which he knew, but I wasn’t sure about how he felt about the months and years beyond. He was actually surprised by the question, stating he had just assumed that would be our approach. He explained he understood how important my vegan ethics are to me and that he would never expect to undermine or minimize those feelings while raising our children. I echoed his surprised after he answered. While he had been supportive through my vegetarian and vegan transitions, I wasn’t sure how he would feel about our children following in my vegan footsteps. I felt relieved.
Now that Mark is also following a vegan diet, there is really no question about how we will raise our children. Most people who decide to become vegetarian or vegan do so for some very specific reasons, including ethics, health, and/or environmental concerns; all these issues come into play for us. The thought of simply disposing of these beliefs and passions while raising a child, and wanting the best life for him or her, seems so contradictory.
Some people may initially express concerns about this decision. What about protein? Calcium? Iron? Folic acid? B12? I do, and will, ensure that our baby and I get all the nutrients we need. I am a planner and a researcher (when I’m passionate and it’s important to me), and nothing gets my passion juices flowing more than my ethics, health, and becoming a parent. In addition, The American Dietetic Association (ADA) stated in their position paper, Vegetarian Diets (2009):
“It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.”
Ok, so the ADA reports that a vegetarian or vegan diet can be safe, and even beneficial, but don’t kids need dairy milk? No, they don’t. After what I have read and heard about dairy products, I feel more adamant than ever that children not only do not need dairy milk, but should not consume it, for both ethical and health reasons. I do, however, endorse cow’s milk for calves. It’s the perfect food for them. Not my human baby.
I am, however, well aware that day will come when our ability to leash some control around our children’s food choices will begin to disintegrate, and they may then make choices that deviate from a vegan lifestyle. I can’t prevent our little girl from trading one of her vegan cookies for a cupcake made with eggs and milk. I also can’t ensure that our little boy won’t want to try his friend’s chicken nuggets or (gag) Lunchables “meat”. Sleepovers will be filled with pizza with pepperoni and cookie dough ice cream.
Can I be there, can I be everywhere, to ensure that my child will consume no animal products ever? No, of course not. And I don’t want to.
These situations will provide opportunities for our children to make some difficult decisions and learn about themselves in the process, to explore and maybe make some mistakes. I will do my damnedest to offer alternative vegan cupcakes and vegan Tempt ice cream whenever possible so that my child doesn’t feel left out of the community-building and enjoyment that surrounds food, but I’m not Superwoman (sssshhhh . . . don’t tell Mark) so my efforts may sometimes fail.
When our daughter is old enough to make decisions about her food, maybe she will choose to eat meat, despite the values and ethics Mark and I will consistently relay. Will I then purchase meat at the grocery store and cook it at home? No. But I will respect her ability and need to make decisions for herself, while also maintaining respect for the cruelty-free zone of my home.
Until these challenges and joys arise, I will continue to feel my maternal hormones rush and a smile spread over my lips each time I see a baby or toddler cross my path. And a slight pang of anxiety each time I see one screaming and crying and a Mom ready to pull her hair out.
Either way, I’m ready to be the best vegan Mom I can be. I think.