Raising Vegetarian Children
Helping them Make the Connection
How do you help your kids make the connection between food and animals? If you are like non-vegetarian parents, most of them are not honest with their children about where meat comes from. They may tell them that it’s special cows, that meat “comes from” animals, rather than being animals, or they may never address the issue at all. If you ask a young child if he or she would like to eat a cow, they will usually think you are being disgusting or silly. And that’s the way I want it to be with my kids.
(at Kindred Spirits Sanctuary)
We try to find ways to help our kids make the connection between meat and animals. There are a variety of ways that we do this. Some of them include:
- Talking to them about where food comes from. We will sometimes quiz them and say things like “Would you eat a carrot, veggie burger, stove, pig, etc?” They always find it silly when we mention eating animals.
- We try to get them to be around and see animals whenever possible. We have taken them to the Kindred Spirit Sanctuary (where we plan to take them yearly), we have also pulled off the side of the road to marvel at the cows, horses, and sheep.
- We take nature walks to learn about nature, animals, our impact on the planet, etc. We also try to get them around other vegetarians, by attending the VegFest in Orlando each year, as well as the Earth Day Festival, and hooking up with other vegetarians/like-minded people whenever possible (potlucks, restaurant meetings, etc.).
- We have the kids grow herbs in containers so they can see the plant-growing process.
- We take them to the farmer's market and show them all the great fruits and vegetables. When we shop, we let them pick out a special fruit or veggie of their choice that day.
- I take them the Sea Squirts program at the Marine Discovery Center whenever possible, where they learn all about marine life. We also go visit the manatees each winter at Blue Springs State Park.
- We have a variety of animal friendly children’s books on hand that help provide a good message about how we should treat animals.
- We participate in Jane Goodall's Roots & Shoots program, where they learn about caring for animals, the planet, and people.
- We have made friends with some neighborhood ducks. For two years the ducks will stop by to visit and my daughter has even given them all a name.
- We point out and discussing animals, bugs, frogs, sea life, etc. whenever we see them. We stop to help the turtles cross the road so they aren't hit by cars.
- We get them out in nature so they feel the connection. While out there we discuss the animals and habitats we come across, whether it’s at the beach, on the river, or in the woods.
- We take bugs that get in our house outside, rather than killing them as many people do. We explain that we don’t wish to harm the bug, but we don’t want them in our house. Now my daughter loves to be the person to “save” the bug and take it outside.
- On some occasions in the grocery store we will go to the repulsive and stinky meat department to point out what things are. While it is harder to make the connection between a cow and a bloody pile of ground burger in the store, they can easily see it when they see things like dead fish, clams, octopus and other such things in the window case.
- At the grocery store we will also visit the sad lobster tank. We teach them about the harsh reality of why they are in the tank and how uncomfortable they are. We talk about where a lobster should be (in the wild).
- We don't let them go to play dates at places like McDonald's, where they will begin to associate having fun with a place like that.
- We discuss what are good food choices and about how many good things there are to eat as a vegetarian.
- We have a motto in our house and that it is “it wants life, too.” Whether we are discussing bugs, cows, cats, or birds – it wants life, too.
- Most importantly, we lead by example.
(one of our chicken friends)
Another thing we do is visit our chicken friends. There is a biker bar not far from our house that has free roaming chickens on their property. Every time we go by there we look for our “chicken friends.” Once in a while we stop and visit with them. The kids love to sit and watch the chickens. As we are there, I mention to them that some people eat chickens. I ask them if they would like to eat the chicken’s leg, breast, or other part of its body.
The great thing is that they find the thought of eating a chicken as weird as eating say a heron, egret, hawk, or eagle. They see a chicken as being like any other bird and don’t find any of them appetizing.
It is important to help children make the connection between animals and abuse, whether the abuse is eating animals, wearing them, or them being made to perform in a circus or aquarium.
Case in point, just yesterday we took the kids to story time at the library and there was a guest clown there who spoke about circuses to the group of preschoolers. She made it seem like circuses are wonderful and she really played up talking about the animals performing. One of the pictures she held up of a lion tamer showed him with a whip in his hand. I couldn’t wait for the segment to be over. and when it was and we went to the car I immediately had a discussion with the kids about what they had just heard and about circuses. I explained that circuses abuse animals, hence the whip in the hand of the lion “tamer.” We talked about how animals don’t want to be in circuses and why it is not a place we will take them (same with Sea World or other animal performing places). If they want to see a circus we will go to a Cirque du Soleil show, where they will see a circus minus the cruelty to animals.
(at Kindred Spirits Sanctuary)
(at Kindred Spirits Sanctuary)
By raising my kids as vegetarians and helping them make the connection between how they live their life and how it impacts other species, my hope is that they grow up to be compassionate adults. And not just ones who are compassionate toward cats and dogs, but are compassionate toward all animals.