EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a guest post by Jessica Almy of VegBooks.org.
From Noah’s ark nursery décor to baby animal board books, our culture
nurtures the connection between children and their animal kin. As vegetarians, we know that at some point those same children are expected to recognize that the food on their plate is an animal and
eat it. How that happens is a mystery to me, but as a mother, I have a heightened awareness of how ubiquitous meat is in American culture, and how readily accepted.
Still, I’m hopeful that as vegetarians, we can counterbalance that effect. One way to do it is by ensuring that the children in our lives see positive reflections of our values and choices. How? I think the best way is through storytelling.
You don’t need to be a parent to make a difference. Be a part of the lives of the children around you – whether nieces and nephews, neighbors, or friends – and become a powerful force for change. Children are observant: my daughter’s friends often ask me why we don’t eat meat, and they expect an answer.
Stock up on good books. Read about books online, or talk to a librarian, to find books that are age-appropriate. Preview them, if possible, to ensure that they portray nonhuman animals as friends, not food, and that they promote positive values like healthy eating and caring for others and the earth.
When you settle down for a read, minimize distractions and make sure the lighting is good. Get into the book you’re reading. (Pretend you’ve been hired to perform the audio book.) You can go serious or silly, do voices or not – but be sure to go slowly and stop to answer questions.
Pay attention to the words, illustrations, and the subtext of the book. For younger kids, you can do some creative editing along the way, saying “soy dog” for “hot dog,” or referring to animals as “he” or “she” instead of “it.” Readers who are following along won’t usually let you get away with this, but you can still edit out loud and allow yourself to be “corrected,” in order to draw attention to parts you find objectionable.
Afterwards, find a time to discuss the book you’ve read. Ask lots of questions, but don’t be afraid to point out what you liked, and didn’t, about a particular story.
Finally, be sure to listen to the children in your life. Kids can teach us if we let them.
About Jessica Almy:
Jessica Almy is inspired by her 4-year-old daughter, who sees the
world through veg-colored glasses. (Kiddo once saw a McDonald’s ad
and exclaimed, “Look at those delicious veggie burgers!”) Read
Jessica’s reviews of children’s books at Vegbooks.org.