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Why Raise Children Vegan?

(Originally published in Veggie Views)

by JoAnn Farb

In previous months I have addressed many issues surrounding how to raise your children to be vegan, but thus far I have not discussed why one might wish to do this. The reasons are varied, and of course similar to the reasons why an adult might choose to be vegan or vegetarian...health (studies show people on plant-based diets tend to live longer and suffer less degenerative disease), ethics (animals are capable of suffering, and have a right to their own body and life), concern for the environment (producing meat and dairy products wastes enormous amounts of water, land and energy. Over 90 million acres of tropical rainforests have been cleared for animal grazing), or concern for starving people (an acre of prime land can produce 40,000 lbs of potatoes, or 250 lbs of beef). Each of these is a large topic in itself and I will refer you on to one of the many other books/sources of information which I feel can better address these topics in depth...(Vegan Sourcebook by Joanne Stepaniak, The Food Revolution by John Robbins or online The Mad Cowboy at Vegan Outreach ). What I prefer to address right now is why I raise my children vegan, and what benefits this lifestyle affords my children and our family.

There's a saying in Judaism, "The deed shapes the heart." By modeling a vegan lifestyle for my children, while explaining the hows and whys of veganism, I am building a framework for moral behavior. Three or more times a day, my children participate in an activity (eating) which is laying the foundation for how to live a life that is considerate towards others, respectful of the environment, and caring towards one's self. Bringing a child up vegan teaches discipline and restraint. We don't mindlessly put things into our bodies just because everyone else is--we make conscious choices. According to Victoria Moran, author of several books including Shelter for the Spirit, raising her daughter vegan from birth has firmly instilled in her drug resistance. Her daughter is used to making healthy choices instead of just going along with her peers--a habit that has paid off in the teen years.

As far as health goes, I believe a vegan diet offers a child the best start in life. As I observe the various children that I have known from birth, it appears to me that the only thing that has a more positive impact on the child's health than the elimination (or even reduction) of animal products, is exclusive breast feeding for as long as possible. Consider for a moment, what are the biggest threats to the health of children in this country? Ottis Media, Asthma, Leukemia, food poisoning (some sources suggest that much of what we assume to be "the flu" is really mild food poisoning), antibiotic resistance of bacteria, and juvenile diabetes. There is growing evidence that all of these problems (plus many more) are either caused by or exacerbated by consumption of meat and/or dairy. Now consider that as adults, the number one killer in this country is heart disease. Studies show that many children eating meat and dairy already show signs of clogged arteries as preschoolers! Since there is a strong tendency to continue to eat the diet which we've been brought up to eat, I believe that raising children on a whole-foods vegan dies is our best bet to protect our little loved ones from sickness both now and in the future.

It is interesting that many parents, who aren't even vegetarian report difficulty in getting their toddlers and preschoolers to eat meat. Could it be that consuming flesh is a learned behavior--one that goes against the fundamental nature of many children? Consider this... now that we have the ability to transplant human organs, we are starting to hear stories of organ recipients having unusual memories which can be traced back to experiences of the donor of their transplanted organ. If in fact, memories, sensations, or experiences can somehow be transmitted from one to another via an intact organ being placed inside one's body...what happens when bodily tissue from one being is broken down and assimilated into another body like when a person eats meat? What effect does this have on a sensitive child--especially if they are subjected to this repeatedly and and the beings that they are eating lived lives of extended suffering and then died violent deaths?

Raising children is not easy, and certainly any time you make choices for your family that are different than the mainstream it can be challenging. But as any experienced parent can confirm, taking what seems to be the easy way out is seldom in the child's best interest. Three times a day we make a statement to our children about how we value our bodies and how much we respect others, and the planet. Three times a day we model what to do with a knife and fork. Only the act of procreation is at once more intimate and far reaching. Three times a day the deed shapes the heart. That's why I raise my children vegan.

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