My two daughters, ages 7 and 11, are vegan. They’ve both been vegetarians their whole lives and vegan for the last couple of years. I’m often poo-pooed in Unschooling circles, since many Unschoolers are Radical Unschoolers and believe that children should be allowed to eat what they want when they want it (and not forced to eat anything, nor disallowed from eating other things). I find this interesting. These people make a lot of assumptions about our dietary decisions based on the fact that I am the mother in this family. They are forgetting that we, too, are Radical Unschoolers and did not take on the decision to become a vegan family lightly nor without a lot of thought, research and time.
These Radically Unschooled Vegan children of mine are healthy, strong, and brilliant. Their bodies and minds are healthy and pure. They don’t get sick often and are growing at a healthy rate. While their genetics make it appear that they should have a variety of ailments and maladies by their ages, neither does. While it is still possible for them to have something physically wrong with them later in life, their chances are significantly reduced by their diets.
Do I leave this decision up to them, as Radical Unschooling dictates? Yes. My children are allowed to eat whatever they want, whenever they want it. They have, individually, decided to become vegan on separate occasions with no pressure from any other member of our family or anyone else. If anything, I pressured them not to become vegan even as their hearts and minds encouraged them to. I didn’t want to make this decision for them, yet honestly told them the facts as they asked (many questions over years). My children can, at any time, eat whatever they want (I always do point out what ingredients are in various food items when we are at potlucks, etc., as many of our personal vegan foods do not look vegan and could easily be confused with their meat/dairy counterparts). While we do have a completely vegan kitchen at this point, I would drive them to a restaurant and purchase non-vegan food for them if they asked me to — they know this. With all the incredible vegan choices available today, they’ve never made that choice. They know that they can though; control of their bodies and what to consume are their decisions. Their lives are theirs. They listen to their bodies’ wisdom and always make the right decision for them. And, they always know that whatever their decisions are, I will never be disappointed in them. Veganism is a very big decision and I’ve left it up to them to make it.
From the moment my oldest daughter was born, she showed that she was not going to consume anything unless she knew EXACTLY what it was. At the time, my husband and I were omnivores, eating meat and/or dairy with every meal. Our baby refused to eat anything except breastmilk until she was nearly a year and a half old. Considering that both her father and I had had serious dietary caused ailments by that age and she had none, her baby wisdom was a lot smarter than what doctors were telling us.
It wasn’t until she was three or four that she asked to possibly eat a bit of meat that was on my plate. She wondered what it was. We said chicken. She wondered if the word chicken we were using was the same word chicken that was the bird that we saw in books and in chicken coops. She first thought we were kidding when we said yes and she laughed and laughed. When she saw that we were serious, she was flabbergasted, then appauled, then very upset with us. She made us seriously consider our own personal food choices. She led us on our journey to veganism. She was our leader, our teacher, our guide. In an Unschooling family, the learning goes in all directions — Not just from the older people down. We are on this journey together, learning every day — together.
All four members of my family are introverts. We relish in our time alone in the solitude of our own home. However, several years ago my oldest daughter wanted to become a vegan activist. She led our way on that journey, too, and it is her that I thank every day for broadening my mind and my world so much. I wouldn’t be who am I today without her wisdom. Without her, I never would have wondered if it was my diet that was causing all of my ailments. Without her, I never would have attempted an elimination diet. Cutting out all animal products from my diet has been the best health decision I have ever made. I am presently disease-free and that is something that could not be said about me my entire life before I became a vegan. Without my daughter, I never would have started this very site.
Are you interested in vegetarianism or veganism, but aren’t sure it is a healthy decision for growing children? Here are a few fabulous resources for you to start your own research with:
- Keeping Kids Healthy article on “Raising Vegan Children“
- VegFamily site
- Dr. McDougall’s site (do a search for “children” on this site — there is a lot of great information there)
- Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s take on what children should eat
- Do Life Right‘s aStore on Healthy Diets
- The very best book on this topic is: Disease-Proof Your Child: Feeding Kids Right by Joel Fuhrman
As with all topics and subjects in my family’s life, we are open and honest and factual with our children. They asked the questions about food and diet, and together we explored and researched to find the answers. We did not hide the truth about food from our children, just as we do not hide the truth about anything from them. We tell them what we know and we research the rest. Kids are smart and can come to decisions and conclusions on their own if they know the facts. It is up to us, as their parents, to keep our minds open as we explore the world together.