According to the Statistic Brain Research
Group’s latest data, there were 7.3 million vegetarians and 1 million vegans in
America in 2013. Three percent were children. What is going on? If there are
that many people choosing to avoid animal consumption for moral, ethical,
environmental or health reasons, why are there so few children?
Aren’t parents choosing what to feed their
kids like they choose their religion? Are vegetarians and vegans unwilling to
enforce their dietary choices upon their children, especially if only one
parent follows that path?
“Hundreds of times a day each of us, as a
parent, is making choices,” writes Joanne Farb, author of Compassionate Souls,
Raising the Next Generation to Change the World. “The stories we read, the
words we use, the way that we offer comfort, the foods we make available, the
outside influences we bring into our homes (toys and TV for example), every one
of these choices is an element of enculturation. Individually and moment by
moment, each choice by itself is probably inconsequential. But together they
suggest a path, they create a paradigm. Together they communicate to our
children what we value most, what we stand for, what we believe in our hearts.”
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Difficult to bend beliefs
hard for parents,” admits Roni Shapiro, a long-time vegan and owner of HealthyGourmet to Go, a vegan gluten-free meal home delivery service based in
Saugerties. “I know a few vegan parents who feed their children vegan diets at
home but when the kids go to birthday parties they let them eat what their
friends are eating.”
Courtney Skeen of Red Hook agrees.
“At first I restricted anything from my son’s
diet that wasn’t vegan. Now that he’s older I try to be more laid back and let
him have cake at social events.”
According to Roberta Schiff, coordinator of
the Mid-Hudson Vegetarian Society and Hudson Valley Vegans, people choose to
become vegan for three main reasons: health, environment and animal cruelty. Vegetarians
do not consume animals. Vegans take it further—including animal byproducts such
as eggs or dairy. Many embrace a complete vegan lifestyle and won’t wear or use
anything made from animals, such as leather.
Most are doing this as a stand against animal cruelty rampant in food
industry practices. For those vegans it’s hard to bend even a little.
Roni Shapiro, owner of Healthy Gourmet to Go, an organic,
vegan, gluten-free meal home delivery service based in
Saugerties. Shapiro hopes to change the world “one meal at a time.”
Empowering kids to make their own choice
Schiff advises, “Let your children know why
you’re choosing a vegan lifestyle and why it’s important. Communicate it to
them at age-appropriate levels. Just do the best you can. No parent can control
everything a child eats when not at home. But if you’ve educated them on why
then they can make their own choices.”
Violet Batycki of Poughkeepsie was raised a
vegetarian and became a vegan 25 years ago. She is raising her son, Warren, now
14, vegan. She is clear that being vegan is an ethical choice she shares with
“Warren has volunteered at the Catskill Animal Sanctuary and is attending a week-long camp for teens this summer at the
Woodstock Animal Sanctuary,” she explains. “When Warren was in kindergarten, his
dad even brought his rescued farm animal friends Franklin the piglet and Peewee
the goat to visit him in his class!”
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Trying not to feel left out
This idea of educating children so they can
understand and feel empowered to make their own choice is key to successfully
raising a vegan or vegetarian child. “I felt like I was the only vegetarian in
the world,” Batycki says, recalling her childhood in the 1970s and 80s. “I
would be eating natural peanut butter and apple cider jelly on whole grain
bread. I would bring black beans to Girl Scout campfires and everyone would
say, ‘what’s that?’ I felt alone and different. But I was different in so many
When Batycki entered college, she did her own
research into the food industry and became vegan.
“To me it was the only ethical way to eat,”
she say. “When my son was younger I worked really hard to provide him with a
vegan option equivalent to anything that might be served at a party so he
wouldn’t feel left out.”
Shapiro says she often advises her customers
to find or make foods reminiscent of meat and dairy equivalents.
“At Healthy Gourmet To Go, our untuna salad,
unchicken salad, mac n’ cheese and quesadillas are some of our best sellers,
especially in households with kids.”
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Vegan-friendly Hudson Valley
“Children who are continually educated about
animal factory farming, health implications for people and environmental
implications for the planet often develop their own belief system about
veganism,” says Shapiro. “Some end up encouraging their friends to do the
It’s also important to feel part of a larger
community, a need often met by joining organizations and meetup groups. There are 269 members of the Hudson Valley
Vegans meetup, 149 in the Attack of the Non-killer Vegans meetup, and 324 in
the Hudson Valley Compassion meetup group.
There are also events put on by the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary and
the Catskill Animal Sanctuary.
“Every year the Mid-Hudson Vegetarian Society
and Hudson Valley Vegans offer a Thanksgiving dinner,” Batycki says.
“There are so many products and options, even
in mainstream grocery stores now. And so many great restaurants in the Hudson Valley
that offer vegan options. Things have changed a lot since the days I had to
bring a can of beans to Girl Scout camp in order to have something to eat. When
we travel we have to plan ahead, but so does anyone with dietary restrictions.”
Brooklyn and Jaiden Melye make a vegan meal at the Miso
Happy Cooking Club at Benedictine Hospital in Kingston.
The club meets the third Tuesday of every month.
‘Our friends understand’
Twelve-year-old Brooklyn and 10-year-old
Jaiden Meyle of Kingston were raised to make healthy eating choices. A few
years ago they decided on their own to become vegetarians.
“We didn’t like the idea of eating animals
anymore,” explains Jaiden, who followed in her older sister’s footsteps.
“When we go to our friends’ houses or
parties, we don't make a big announcement that we don't eat meat. At parties
there are usually several dishes to choose from, and we just try to make
healthy choices that don't contain meat,” says Brooklyn. “Close friends know we
are vegetarian, so often they have something to offer us without meat. When we
are invited to someone's house, sometimes Mom prepares coconut vanilla protein
balls or peanut butter protein squares to take along so we can share with
“Our friends don't make fun of us,” adds
Jaiden. “They understand it's our decision. We love animals and they understand
that we don't feel good about eating them. Some of our friends have food
allergies, so they understand what it's like to have dietary restrictions.”
“We don't go to fast food restaurants,”
Brooklyn says. “They don't have healthy choices really. Often we go out
for Japanese or Thai food. We love Soba noodles, Miso soup and rice balls
with seaweed. We went to a few Japanese cooking classes and learned how
to make these things at home. It's a lot of fun!”
not hard being vegetarian because there’s a big variety of good healthy food
that we love,” concludes Jaiden. “We don't miss eating meat at all.”
Linda Freeman is a freelance writer, yoga and swing dance
instructor living in Marlboro.