This is part two in a series about Veganism and Family Planning.
Part one was Do Less Harm or Do More Good? That essay focused on the difference between ‘doing less harm’ versus ‘doing more good.’ In that essay I suggested that advocates of a child-free lifestyle ought to provide practical aid to women who don’t want to become mothers rather than demanding that people who want to become parents adopt.
This essay will focus on the people who want to become parents. It’s got plenty of helpful information for those in the process of preparing for raising a vegan child. Before that, this essay talks about the possibility that children raised vegan may not stay vegan.
Please imagine an ethical continuum from ‘doing harm’ to ‘doing good’. The carnistic perspective falls on the side of ‘doing harm’ and an animal rescue perspective falls on the side of ‘doing good.’ The carnists harm animals by eating them, wearing them, and otherwise using them unnecessarily. Even though carnists might also engage in animal rescue for some species, their carnistic behaviors are damaging to farmed animals, the environment, and human health. Carnists are NOT neutral. However, in this context, veganism is ethically neutral. Animals don’t really benefit from not being eaten or worn, in fact, as the demand for animal products diminish, fewer animals are bred into animal agribusiness. So those animals don’t exist. They haven’t been harmed, but neither have they been helped. When it comes to farmed animals who have been bred purely to be used by agribusiness, suffering their entire lives and then being mercilessly slaughtered, clearly it’s better not to bring them into the world. But what about when it comes to human children? Should we bring more into the world?
Children of vegans will most likely be wanted, cherished even. They will generally live very good lives due to having parents who are compassionate and thoughtful. Their lives are unlikely to be filled with suffering. Certainly, they will experience some suffering – the loss of loved ones, accidents, violence, etc. But in general their lives are likely to be good. The chances are that they will live happy lives. Imagine what kind of world we would have if every child birthed had been wanted and planned for?
But what about the suffering they may cause to others? If they don’t stay vegan then they will cause tremendous suffering to animals. Some child-free vegans will say that people contemplating having children should take into account this possibility. For this reason, many of those child-free vegans will claim that vegans who want children ought to adopt rather than have biological children. Child-free vegan writer Piper Hoffman wrote at Our Hen House:
“But not all children raised vegan will stay vegan. For better or worse, children simply don’t turn out exactly as their parents hope. Most of us didn’t. [...] Adoption is a beautiful and beneficial way to remedy these concerns.”
Everyone changes as they become an adult. Many children grow up to be very different than how their parents expected them to be. But the general rule is that children tend to become more progressive than their parents, not the other way around. Let’s consider just how likely it is that vegan children will stay vegan. After all, this affects all families, biological and adoptive. As a vegan adoptive mom I want my son to stay vegan into adulthood, just as a vegan biological mom would. I have the same hopes and dreams as any mom has. Choosing to adopt because you believe it’s a “remedy” to the possibility that a biological child might not stay vegan is a very poor reason to adopt and could disqualify you from adoption. The best reason to adopt is simple: you want to be a parent to a(nother) child.
The children of vegans are likely to be taught the ideas of ‘doing less harm’ and ‘doing more good’ that I discussed in the former essay. Although it’s possible that they would abandon their parents’ ideals as adults, it’s also possible that the children of vegans would embody this concept of ‘doing less harm.’ They might even push the envelope and ‘do more good.’ In other words, though the possibility exists that children of vegans may not remain vegan into adulthood, there is also the possibility that children of vegans will remain vegan and will become vegan advocates.
Think about the author of Food Revolution, John Robbins’. His son Ocean was raised vegan, is still vegan, and is the co-director for YES! (Youth for Environmental Sanity). Two of the founders of Vegan Outreach, Matt Ball and Anne Green have a daughter, Ellen, who was raised vegan. Now in college she is still vegan. There are countless more examples of vegan families where the vegan ethic in each family member grew stronger as the years passed, rather than the other way around.
Furthermore, the act of raising children impacts the parents, too. That is, the potential for change exists within the child, but also within the parent. I suspect many vegan parents become more passionate about changing the world for the better when they have an investment in the next generation. And as parents they may have opportunities to influence others that child-free vegans may not have. For example, vegan parents are particularly well-positioned for aiding nonveg families who want to transition to a plant-based diet whereas child-free vegans are unlikely to be very knowledgeable in the subject of feeding vegan diets to children. Consider Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s contribution to vegan advocacy. He co-authored The China Study with his son, Dr. Thomas M. Campbell II. Would he have done it without his son? Who knows?
So whereas the advocates of a child-free lifestyle promote their choice because it reduces the potential for harm, the decision to have or a adopt a child is an optimistic choice that acknowledges that raising a child has risks but also has a huge potential for good. Either choice is perfectly morally acceptable – become a parent or don’t become a parent.
With that out of the way, let’s get practical. How can vegans who want to be parents prepare? Say you’ve decided you want to have a biological child. Or perhaps you’ve chosen adoption like I have. Or you want both? What might you want in order to successfully raise vegan children? What are the things that will keep them physically and emotionally healthy? Some ideas:
- Books and essays about vegan pregnancy and breastfeeding (keeping vegan moms healthy)
- Books and essays about feeding vegan children and teens
- Books, movies, and music for children and teens that promote or support veganism
- Support from the vegan community
This last item on the list above may not be up to you. You’ll want to seek out support from vegans in your community and/or online but depending on your circumstances that may be difficult. And it’s certainly made more difficult by child-free vegans who not only physically segregate themselves from vegan families, but who publicly criticize vegan families, like Ms. Hoffman. I suggest you start your search for a supportive vegan community at http://vegan.meetup.com/
Back to the list. Here are some resources about vegan pregnancy and breastfeeding below. I can’t personally recommend all of them because I haven’t read all of them. But I hear good things about each of these:
- Vegan Pregnancy Survival Guide by Sayward Rebhal
- Skinny Bitch Bun in the Oven by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin
- The Everything Vegan Pregnancy Book by Dr. Reed Mangels
- Pregnancy, Children, and the Vegan Diet by Dr. Michael Klaper
- Vegan Pregnancy Cookbook by Lorena Novak Bull and Jolinda Hackett
- The pregnancy section of Vegan For Life by Jack Norris and Virginia Messina
To the second item, books and essays about feeding vegan children and teens are below. I recommend that even if you have an excellent grasp of vegan nutrition for children you obtain at least one book on the subject and keep it handy as a reference for anyone who asks. And if you plan to adopt, have this book out during your home study to answer any questions the adoption workers may have about childhood vegan nutrition.
- Vegan Eating for Kids by Dana Villamagna and Andrew Villamagna
- Vegan Lunch Box by Jennifer McCann
- Raising Vegetarian Children by Joanne Stepaniak and Vesanto Melina
- Vegan Health Webpage on Children: http://www.veganhealth.org/articles/preginfchil
- Disease-Proof Your Child by Joel Fuhrman
- American Dietetic Association’s webpage on Feeding Vegan Infants and Toddlers: http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=8060
Lastly, here is an excellent resource for books, movies, and music for children and teens that promote or support veganism: http://vegbooks.org/
In the next article in this series I will address the adoption option in more detail. That article is here: http://www.vegansoapbox.com/the-adoption-option/