How to Keep Your Kids Veg (Even When You're Not There)

August 29, 2013

It’s back-to-school season and I know what that means for many of you veg parents! You’re simultaneously smiling and dreading the coming birthday parties, classroom holiday celebrations—any social gatherings where your veg kids must inevitably mingle with the “normal” food everyone else is eating.

To help your kids stay committed to veg life, even when you’re not by their sides, we can take a cue from how children, in general, succeed or fail with various endeavors.

New education theory and the best teachers have been proving that long-term success in the classroom—and in life—depends not wholly on information absorption and IQ, but more on the building of character strengths—passion, curiosity, perseverance, self-control, and resilience, etc. Gaining these qualities helps kids succeed in all areas of life and are not innate, but can be nurtured (or not) throughout childhood.

I say this very honestly: for my now 8-year-old stepdaughter, declining non-vegan food at parties and school has never been a problem—I've witnessed her do it even when she doesn't know we're watching. We don't ever need to enforce veganism—in our lives it just is. And you can get there, too.

I've codified some of the ways we've achieved this over the years. The following 5 tips foster the skills and strengths that will help keep your kids committed to veg life—so you can stop worrying and replace enforcement with education!

1. Discuss What’s at Stake
Kids have to know why they should care and what’s at stake when people don’t. Chronic disease, animals, pollution, and fair global food distribution are all topics for discussion. Share what you yourself discover about food and animals as you learn. I wrote these books to help you find the words, gently and without inducing fear. Remember, kids can’t make choices if they don’t know there are any!

2. Foster Positive Group Identity
A sense of belonging is crucial—i.e. “We’re different and that’s great!” Create or join a veg meet-up group, visit farm sanctuaries or rescue centers. Art has always been a life-affirmative resource for me. I’ve made these prints and T's to help create an affirmative atmosphere that reinforces your veg values. Many schools known for their successful kids adorn their walls and school T-shirts with affirmative words, images, and quotes that serve as a constant flowing undercurrent of the school’s culture. Raised in an environment where specific values are celebrated, an individual is more likely to support instead of detract from group efforts—even once they’re on their own.

3. Encourage Problem-Solving
Involve your kids in the problem-solving process so they get a feel of their own agency and ability to triumph over obstacles. For example, say: “There’s a birthday party in the classroom on Friday. There will probably be a lot of non-vegan food. What could we do to make you feel good and included?” Once you get your little one’s mind going, offer other solutions they might not have thought of—bringing vegan options to share, going out for vegan ice cream after school, etc.

4. Exercise Interest Muscles
The more we help children explore and deeply understand their natural interests—be it animals, rocks and crystals, trees, puzzles, or math—the more effective their love becomes in building character strengths that will last them a lifetime. Love is a great teacher—it drives us to cultivate, persevere, and protect the things we treasure. If your child’s love for animals leads her to learn about animals on a deep level, that love will help inform her decisions throughout life. Routinely expose your kids to varied activities that foster their passions. Be creative! If your toddler loves building blocks, use that interest to serve a greater purpose—he might love the spatial task of arranging healthy snacks on a plate!

5. Encourage Effort
Acknowledge your child’s veg trials and “errors” and focuse on congratulate their efforts—specifically and authentically. Rather than the vague “Good job!”, try “I’m really proud that you tried that hummus dip, you’re showing a lot of drive and that's important in life.” Or, “I know it can be hard to be the only vegan kid in your class, and those milk-chocolate cupcakes can be tempting, but I think you’re very brave and courageous when you stick up for animals.” Focusing on effort sets an expectation of conscientiousness rather than task-mastering. This will encourage long-term skills for success and better relays the values and motives behind our choices.

Do you already practice some of these tips? What do you do to encourage your kids' veg life? Leave a comment below to share with others!

Every Day Is Earth Day When You're Vegan

April 22, 2013


Last night, on my way back to Los Angeles from a successful event at VegMichigan's VegFest, our plane flew over the tracked flatlands of Nebraska, the massive, snow-capped Rocky Mountains, and the shifting landscape of the Grand Canyon. Quite a show. From my window seat, I felt a heart-pang of pride in America—not only for the stunning beauty of her drastically differing terrains, but for the people who actually—ACTUALLY!—care to be her proper stewards.

Fresh from having met crowds of vegan moms, dads, kids, aunts, uncles, teachers, and librarians, democrats and republicans, people of all races and ethnicities, my feeling was truly heartfelt.

Sometimes I feel like no one cares at all—in other moments, I am stunned by just how much people care. As the sun set, I snapped the picture above through my window—a tiny moon rising above the fray of so much good and evil. If we can all rise above the ruckus to be our highest selves (everything is much clearer from that angle), if we can picture our home from highest point in the sky, maybe we can bring a little more of that heaven down to earth.

Happy Earth Day...every day.

White People Wednesday: A Vegan Expat Shares Her Feelings

March 6, 2013
Picture 5Do you own Vegan Cooking for Dummies? No refunds!

The confession letter I would have preferred from vegan expat author Alexandra Jamieson:

•I'm no longer vegan.

•I believe in the good of veganism but I've decided to oblige my cravings for meat.

•The values I have preached can not be reconciled with the violence required to take the life of an animal on my behalf.

•I accept the contradiction.

•I will be donating the royalties from Vegan...for Dummies to Farm Sanctuary in perpetuity.

Instead, her letter hit me with—this is the only description I have—a tsunami of whiteness. A boatload of faux-spiritual, pop psychobabble about her "truth" and happiness, along with an "it's-not-me, it's-my-body" argument to displace any agency in the matter. It's Manifest Destiny, it's eugenics, it's fundamentalist religion—everyone's got God on their side. Except those being preyed upon.

I accept that some people desert. I don't accept the justification. Even if you want to, you can't die on a diet of nutrient-dense natural foods. It can't be the protein or the texture of meat that Jamieson missed—because by all measures those can be replicated and placeboed—I suspect it was the idea, "normal" food culture, and the "forbidden" that was nagging at her.

If, in the wake of her cravings, she had written a public letter in which she confessed her cravings for meat, asked for ideas, or promoted ways to deal, she would have been overwhelmed by the support and compassion she implies her now-critics lack. That level of candidness would have been a better qualifier of the "honesty" Jamieson is being lauded for now. But she didn't decide to keep it real during her cravings for a reason—she really didn't want any advice or encouragement to stay vegan. She wanted to do what she wanted without interference. Same story from dominant classes throughout history—and no amount of soft-spoken, aha-moment, self-congratulatory rhetoric hides it. "Lose the Cravings" by giving in to them?