For Vegans Who Want Children

For Vegans Who Want Children

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:

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.

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/

9 Responses to For Vegans Who Want Children

  1. “…veganism is ethically neutral.”

    “So whereas the advocates of a child-free lifestyle promote their choice because it reduces the potential for harm, the decision to have or adopt a child is an optimistic choice that acknowledges that raising a child has risks but also has a huge potential for good.”

    By “huge potential for good,” do you mean potential to help spread ethical neutrality?

  2. By “huge potential for good,” do you mean potential to help spread ethical neutrality?

    When the alternative for most people to ethical neutrality is a total moral and ethical clusterf**k… yeah.

  3. Rhys, Two things.

    First, I don’t actually believe that ethics exist on a two dimentional continuum. That’s just a handy way of illustrating that “veganism is a moral baseline” or that “veganism is the least we can do.” I believe that ethics are far more nuanced than a simple continuum.

    Second, advocating veganism is essentially rescuing animals from other people. Does that make sense? So veganism is morally neutral like how “not beating your dog” is morally neutral because it’s not really “doing the right thing” it’s just not doing a bad thing. But stopping someone else from beating their dog IS doing a good thing. Likewise, stopping someone else from eating, wearing, experimenting on or otherwise harming animals is doing a good thing.

  4. I hope that the world is a better place with me in it than it would be otherwise. Not that I don’t cause any suffering, but I help prevent more than that. That is how I view decisions. I know vegans who have older kids, and many of those kids have inspired lots of people to go veg — preventing more suffering than they cause.

  5. Elaine,

    Thanks for your response. I understand your point that certain humans can make the world better by stopping other humans from doing harmful things. So I can see why you would want vegans to have kids, since they could help stop other people from exploiting animals and reduce animal exploitation overall.

    Does this mean that you would prefer nonvegans to not have kids, since those kids are more likely to grow up to do the sorts of things that vegan parents hope their vegan kids might help alleviate?

    Also, you’re saying that vegans can improve the world as long as there are animal-harming meat eaters around, but if vegans were successful and everyone did become vegan eventually, vegans couldn’t reduce anyone else’s harm anymore and would be left causing harm themselves, even if they called the harm “unintentional” or “unfortunate but necessary.” (Such as destroying wild animal homes and lives to make room for human habitation, vegan agriculture, harvesting wood and other resources, and so on.) At this point, the best way for vegans to reduce harm to nonhuman animals even more and thus do a good thing would be to stop breeding. So at this point, with no more meat eaters to change, would you say vegans should stop having children and eventually go extinct since this would be better for animals than a world with vegan humans? I think this is the question that antinatalist vegans are driving at.

  6. Rhys, your comment sounds like you haven’t read the first essay in this series: http://www.vegansoapbox.com/doing-less-harm-or-doing-more-good/

    I’m not advocating that anyone should have kids. And I would never suggest that someone who didn’t want kids should have kids. I fully support the decision to live child-free. But I’ll be honest, as a vegan adoptive mom I generally have a little more common with other vegan parents than with vegans who are not parents. And while my son is young I generally prefer the company of other parents than that of nonparents simply because they’re more supportive.

    And to your antinatalist argument above: we would first have to get to the point where everyone is vegan before your criticism would be valid. Since we’re not even close to that point, there’s no reason to discuss it. Even so, I’m inclined to favor individual reproductive freedom over utilitarian antinatalism.

    Remember, too, that my son’s biological mother is not vegan. So no, I would NOT “prefer that nonvegans not have kids” nor do I accept the assumption that children of nonvegans won’t become vegan.

  7. Thanks for the shoutout to Vegbooks! I’m a longtime vegan, and I have to say that becoming a mother has made me a better person. I am kinder, more patient, and less perfectionistic than I was before my daughter entered my life. (And her questions have taught me about my veganism too!) Just as we may influence the children in our lives, they can change us. To say I’m grateful to be a mother would be a profound understatement.

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