Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Child Autonomy: I’m Vegan But My Toddler Isn’t

I’m very interested in children’s autonomy – their ability to make their own decisions, choose their own actions, and control their own behavior – and how we, as parents, interfere with or inspire those choices. The questions of how much to “control” versus “inspire” has been a huge question for me, especially when it comes to food.

I’m a vegan. Or, putting it in a way that is more comfortable for most people (the term “vegan,” I have sadly come to learn, has lots of negative connotations or preconceived notions about it but that is for a different blog post), I eat a plant-based diet. I do not eat any animal products at all (yes, this means cheese and other forms of dairy, fish, meat, and eggs). I do this for a variety of reasons ranging from health, to ethics, to morals, and to the environment.* Again, I could write a whole blog post about the reasons why I am vegan but that isn’t the focus of this one. What is important here is that a vegan, plant-based diet, is what works best for me physically, emotionally, and intellectually. 

The most popular question I get after “How do you get your protein?” (easy peasy) is “Well, is your kid vegan?”

No, the droidlet is not.

Now, this isn’t because you can’t raise a child vegan (because you TOTALLY CAN and it’s TOTALLY HEALTHY) but for a variety of reasons I am still exploring for myself. One part that plays into the droidlet’s meanderings into meat is because my partner, his dad, is not a vegan. I’m very adamant about making ONE meal for my family at dinnertime that the droidlet, even at two, eats. This means, though, that Funk sometimes cooks meat to add to the vegan dish I’ve prepared. When droidlet wants to try it, I don’t stop him.

What I eat and put into my body has been a very conscious decision I have made that has included much research, study, and decision-making. All things I want droidlet to do for himself some day. Just like I am not pushing one religion on droidlet, I’m not going to force one food philosophy on him either (and no, this is not a dig at other vegetarian or vegan families – that totally rocks that you’re all experiencing it together, it’s just not for my situation). Now, does this mean I’m going to let him eat McDonald’s every day? Hell no. Does this mean I’m going to let him eat a ton of processed food? NO. Ice cream for dinner every night? Um, no.

What this means, is that I’m going to model healthy eating habits and make available a variety of healthy foods to my son. I’m going to show him that plant-based dishes are delicious, fun to make, and help make our bodies feel good. But I’m also going to give him autonomy. Allow him to choose chicken if he wants it (of course, hoping it is local and grass fed). 

Will I be thrilled if the droidlet decides to be a vegan one day? Of course!! But, I will never berate him for not eating like me. The goal is to teach him that what we put into our bodies matters. To teach him how to make healthy choices and where they are available. To teach him about locally grown, fresh food.

I’d like to think I’ve already planted the seed with our CSA box. Every week, he screams and jumps to open our vegetable box to see what we got and is stoked to try out new vegetables and fruits we’ve never had before. Just a small box is showing him that supporting local agriculture is fun, that healthy food is both visually appealing and delicious, and that food is something that brings our family together. Just like with so many other things in life – morals, values, relationships – I hope that I’m arming the droidlet with the best information and experience I can so that when we unleash him into the world as an adult, he can make the decision that is right for him

*My Composition Professor self is nagging me for a disclaimer -- these links are very simple and easy to read sources that are usually linked to some sort of vegan advocacy cause. Because this blog post is not trying to persuade people to become vegan or defend my own position as a vegan, I haven't equipped the sources from long, scholarly articles. These links are purely for informational purposes should any readers want a little more detail. 

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