The Healing Power Of A Plant Based Diet, Part 4 – Asthma

Inhaler from Flickr via Wylio
© 2008 allispossible.org.uk, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Asthma seems to be SO common doesn’t it?

Don’t you know at least, like, 6 people that have it?

I know I do.

What’s more, I used to be a chronic sufferer myself – twofold, in fact.

What on earth do I mean by twofold? Well, I had good ol’, plain ol’, regular standard asthma; and I also had chronic atopic asthma as an allergic reaction to fur.

Yes, you SHOULD be jealous – I had ALL of the fun.

If you’ve never experienced asthma, let me tell you that it can be horrific. Breathing in oxygen is our most basic need, and when you can’t do this effectively it’s frightening. Try breathing through a straw. A VERY THIN one. Sometimes it’s just like that. Sometimes it’s worse.

In the late nineties, I heard that eliminating dairy products might help my asthma and eczema (eczema is closely related to asthma in terms of its causes). This knowledge has clearly been around a long time.

I had suffered enough to want to give this a try.

If you’ve read my ‘about’ page, you’ll know that I succeeded in ridding myself of asthma by going vegan. To be more specific; my ‘general’ asthma has completely gone since going vegan – I haven’t had an inhaler in years.

My atopic asthma as an allergic reaction to fur has also significantly improved, and I can enjoy a visit to the house of a friend that has a dog or cat, which I couldn’t before. The allergic reactions haven’t completely gone, I still have to wash my hands thoroughly in hot water after stroking any furry animal, otherwise they itch like crazy; and if, say, I’m visiting a house with a cat or dog in winter, with all windows closed and heating on; I’ll start sneezing and my lungs will definitely let me know THEY KNOW there is an allergen in the vicinity. Some allergies I believe are too systemic to completely disappear.

However, this is a vast improvement on before – and I just avoid putting myself in the ‘hot, stifling house with fur’ situation, so I’m asthma-free all the time!

I personally know of two other long-time asthma sufferers that had always used inhalers. They went vegan fairly recently and after a while no longer needed medication and now consider themselves asthma-free.

So that’s my personal story and some anecdotal evidence – but what happened when actual scientific studies took place?

Incredible huh? (BTW – if you haven’t already subscribed to NutritionFacts.org, you really should. Dr Michael Greger is an expert on all things plant-based and health related).

And in this article on Dr T Colin Campbell’s nutritionstudies.org website, we see that dairy consumption is linked to many diseases, including asthma. The original article was written in 1997 and updated in 2015 – so again, this information is NOT new!

Seemingly, even Hippocrates back in 370BC knew cow’s milk wasn’t the universal health elixir it is cracked up to be:

‘Hippocrates first observed and wrote about negative reactions to cow’s milk around 370 BC, since when, the prevalence, awareness and understanding of this allergy has increased. Milk allergy is one of the major allergies in infants and is caused by the proteins present in cow’s milk’ ~ The Food Safety Hazard Guidebook, by Richard Lawley, Laurie Curtis, Judy Davis, 2008

No-one ever got asthma by eating broccoli. Or brown rice. Or apples.

Disappointingly, on the NHS website you have to click through to the last menu option ‘living with asthma‘ and right down at the bottom it does mention that cow’s milk (along with other animal products like eggs and shellfish) can be a trigger for asthma.

Given the amazing results of the Swedish study in the video above, you think they’d mention this on their asthma homepage.

They also put links to the Asthma UK website where I eventually found an option called ‘asthma triggers’ (really not obvious to find at all in amongst a tonne of other options), and then had to click on ‘food’ (again, this was in among 17 other options; it wasn’t even the first one). I clicked on food, and it DOES cite milk and dairy products at the top of the list of food triggers, but is not very positive and encouraging about avoiding them, and gives FALSE information regarding the impact of dairy on calcium intake and bones!

Milk and milk products – You may have heard there’s a link between dairy foods and asthma, but only a very small percentage of people are allergic to milk products. For them, eating these foods may result in wheezing. Dairy allergy is more common in children but they often grow out of it as their digestive system matures. Calcium-rich dairy products are essential for healthy bones, especially for children and adolescents. And people with asthma can be at higher risk of bone disease osteoporosis (which causes thinning, brittle bones and increases risk of fractures) because of the use of steroid medication. So you should only avoid dairy products if necessary, ensuring you replace them with other sources of calcium under the guidance of your GP, nurse or a dietitian.

Again, the results of the Swedish study conflict drastically with this.

Ugh. Just…Ugh.

It seems that as well as avoiding dairy, including lots of fresh fruit and veg in your diet also helps reduce asthma symptoms; so we can easily surmise that a whole food, plant-based diet would be your best bet for improving asthma, and maybe never suffering from it again.

If you’re an asthma sufferer and haven’t tried avoiding animal products yet in a bid to improve your condition – what are you waiting for? Why suffer needlessly? I mean, why?

I know parents of children with asthma who, despite me passing on the above information, are reluctant to take dairy out of their children’s diets.

Now, when parents are advised to do other things to treat disease in their children, they DO it – like giving them antibiotics for example.

Antibiotics have side-effects, while avoiding dairy only has benefits, so why wouldn’t you want to treat your kid in a non-harmful, plenty-beneficial way?

The only reason I can think of is that they genuinely fear their child would miss out on nutrients, or maybe just not be receptive to the idea.

If your child has asthma and you’d like to make their diet more plant-based but don’t know how open to this they would be, maybe this post will help.

If you need more reasons (besides just curing yourself of asthma) to give up cow’s milk and dairy, read this.

If cheese is your downfall, read this.

You know what? If you don’t think you can do it long-term just commit to three weeks. See how you feel then and re-evaluate.

Life is waaaay too short to lose any of it to wheezing and spluttering and feeling like your lungs are about to explode. Take back control over your windpipe and lungs! Don’t let the dairy and animal agriculture industries commit you to a wheezy, hacking, breathless future.

 

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Here’s Why Your Parents Are Not Thrilled About You Being Vegan

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Ha! This is a juicy subject.

There are ways to talk about being vegan with regular non-vegans: then there are parents.

How the dynamics can shift!

If you have parents that were completely on board with your decision to go vegan, and in actual fact wanted to go vegan with you JUST to support you – yay you! And can your parents adopt me please?

But DON’T be downhearted if this didn’t happen to you; the above scenario is definitely the exception, not the norm.

Now you know as well as I do that if your parents are giving you crap about going or being vegan, it doesn’t mean they are shitty parents – far from it.

I mean, they could be shitty parents; I don’t know them; but most likely they are not.

What it means, is one or several of these things:

 

  • Your parents taught you how to eat. They fed you your first foods. For most of us, they decided exactly what your body was going to ingest for at least the first 16 years of your life (sneaky candy splurges aside 🙂 ). They completely informed your food likes and dislikes, and passed their own tastes on to you.

You going vegan is making them feel that you think they were, and are, wrong. That you’ve moved on from, and away from them and the life they gave you

  • Your parents watched with pride as you ate your first boiled egg on your own, ate your first shellfish, and your first piece of French cheese. They have many profound memories that surround you and food. They fear these memories will be negated; that they’ll not now mean as much to you as they do to them.

Don’t forget that the whole food association thing goes further back than you and your parents. Your parents learned about food from THEIR parents, and they have many food memories associated with THEM. And your grandparents would’ve taken on THEIR parents’ food habits, and so on. This goes a loooong way back, baby. You going vegan, in the minds of your parents, is just changing (and ruining) everything.

  • Your parents knew you loved spaghetti and meatballs/cheesecake/pineapple-upside-down-cake, and liked to make it for you when you visited. They fear that they won’t have the same way of connecting with you through food as they used to; that you won’t ever again feel pleasure because of something they cooked especially for you.
  • Maybe you used to go fishing with your dad (why don’t mums go fishing?) and bring the fish home and cook it. Maybe you and your mum or dad always made a special non-vegan dish together at Christmas or Thanksgiving. Food and the acquiring and preparing of it has always been a bonding familial experience for many of us.

When you initially tell your parents you’re going vegan, they may well fear that that’s the end of something they cherished and always looked forward to (it’s most definitely NOT, but I’ll talk about communication with veganism-averse parents in another post).

 

This next one is common:

  • Your parents brought you into this world and wiped your poopy butt; wiped snot from your nose and cleaned your ears and belly-button. Much as they love you and as much as you are the centre of their world, you will NEVER know better than them (about anything!) in their minds, no matter how old and clever you get.

Now, there are not many bigger authorities on a plant-based diet than Dr Neal Barnard of PCRM, but even HE tells this story about his mother being uninterested in going plant-based, even though he’d written fifteen books on the subject and had many times carefully explained to her about how it would lower her elevated cholesterol levels. It was only when, due to her experimenting with going plant-based for a few weeks, her own doctor noticed an improvement in her cholesterol level and told her she was doing the right thing, that she acknowledged that this diet was best for her health. As Dr Neal Barnard says – sometimes the source has to be unbiased. Lots of parents just won’t take information from their offspring, no matter how accomplished.

From my own experience, it’s happened several times that I’ll give my mother a specific piece of dietary advice hundreds of times over a period of years, and I’ll be blown off with a derisory ‘hmmm, that’s nice.’  Then one day she’ll tell me excitedly about how a man she just got talking to down the road told her the EXACT SAME PIECE OF INFORMATION, and how it must be true and she will try implementing it in her own life.

Bless her.

Or something.

Yes, it’s always a facepalm inducing moment.

  • Your parents are not health and nutrition experts (oftentimes even if they are doctors or dieticians!), and are not informed on how a plant-based diet is actually and factually the optimal diet for health and wellness. They are the people that care for you the most in the world, and they just fear that you might be risking your health.
  • They are probably also influenced by all the negative connotations associated with the word ‘vegan,’ and fear that you will become isolated socially and become a massive pain in the ass to people and lose friends.

 

In another post I’ll talk about how to communicate with your parents about veganism, based on the above stumbling blocks.

Fret not; it’s not difficult when you understand the reasons WHY they are freaking. These reasons are mostly just unfounded fears, and there is nothing that a little bit of meaningful communication, sharing of information and creative thinking can’t overcome.

 

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Is It REALLY Difficult To Get Kids To Eat Healthy, Plant-Based Food?

Apple from Flickr via Wylio
© 2012 Tea, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

OK, so I have to start by saying I don’t have kids.

But I know a tonne of kids; was an au pair for four years, and regularly look after kids now (this obviously includes feeding them!).

AND, for the longest time I’ve been an avid reader of vegan/plant-based family blogs where the children have either been brought up vegan from birth, or where the parents went plant-based after their kids were born, and subsequently endeavoured to improve their kids diets,

One thing I’ve observed and learned is this – parents have a lot more power than they think in this respect.

I KNOW there are a shedload of bad influences out there, all vying to push dairy products, chicken nuggets, sugar and processed junk on children, not to mention the added nightmare of peer pressure. But every kid faces the same societal forces, yet not every kid cares about them.

I’ve SEEN kids choose kale; I’ve SEEN kids choose the healthy option; and the common denominator behind all these kids were parents that were informed on nutrition and prioritised it for their kids, and shared this information with them (as much as they could, simplifying when necessary).

If you are a parent who is new to whole, plant foods; this is AWESOME – your kids can learn with you!

You can share the experience of learning, cooking and trying new foods as a family. If kids are as involved in this process as the parents, it may even be more effective this way.

Some kids are naturally adventurous and will go along with anything and try any food put in front of them. If you have one of these, congratulations – you win life!

If you don’t have one of these amazing creatures (and I’m very well aware you can have one of these AND a picky kid in the same family!), and you’re concerned your child won’t take to a healthier diet and will starve themselves rather than eat anything green; don’t give up hope. By nature of them being young, kids are malleable and flexible. They change their minds often, and now is the time to influence them positively around their food habits.

What CAN parents who are new to a plant-based diet do to get their kids to eat healthy?

In my opinion, these 7 things:

 

1. Greens are an absolutely VITAL part of a healthy diet, they are the sun in food form, and we need all the vitamins and minerals they provide.

Any science-loving kid will engage with the explanation of HOW the sun makes the leaves green and fills them with nutrients for us. If they understand WHY we need them, they may be more enthusiastic about eating them. Here is the science if you need to gen up (I did!).

One thing I’ve often heard that drives me crazy is a parent saying to another parent or friend ‘oh, (insert kids name here) doesn’t do greens’ IN FRONT OF THE KID!! Please NEVER say this! They’ll internalise it, it will become part of their identity around food, and it gives them a get-out to NEVER eat greens again!

Always talk in a positive, encouraging way when talking about greens and other veg. Talk about how great they are and how good they make you feel. Eat all veg joyfully in front of them!

I absolutely realise that sometimes this may take a while to have effect. If kids leave veg on the plate or say negative things about it, just ignore this and do the same thing the next day.

Changing any habit is a process, but if kids feel YOU have nothing but good energy around greens and healthy food, this cannot help but influence them eventually.

2. If kids have helped make a meal, they are more invested in eating it.

This may be more time consuming, but is a great way of getting them on board with eating healthier, and once they’ve made and eaten a certain food item, you don’t necessarily have to get them to help make it again – they’ll remember the fun they had helping make it the first time and will vibe off of that and want to eat it again.

Little ones can help breaking off the broccoli or cauliflower florets and popping them in the steamer for example, or they can create their own oats/dried fruit/berry concoction for breakfasts. Slightly older kids can weigh ingredients or help with cup measurements. I have a set of cups and spoons that are brightly coloured and kids naturally gravitate towards them ‘cos they look like fun.

harvest: enormous cucumber from Flickr via Wylio
© 2009 woodleywonderworks, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

3. Go shopping with the kids and give THEM the shopping list, and let them go seek everything out in the supermarket.

The more investment they have in the whole process, from procuring the food to preparing it, the more likely they are to eat it.

4. Kids, especially young ones, tend to GET that it’s not cool to have animals killed for us to eat. I wrote about that here.

When easing meat and dairy out of a kids diet, explain (again, in an age appropriate way), about your reasons for this, whether it’s for health, the animals, the planet, or all three. Just as for adults, understanding something can be the key to kids wanting to change.

5. If you have kids that have been used to burgers and sausages, I’ve found that if you give them tasty plant-based versions, they are not really any the wiser if you don’t tell them.

And if you DO tell them, and they understand that these burgers/sausages are great because no animal was killed for them, AND the burger is delicious – they will eat and enjoy it JUST THE SAME as if it was meat. It’s probably the ketchup they care more about anyway (which is full of sugar, but sometimes you have to pick your battles!)

Yes, these foods are not always optimally healthy, but you only need to use them while transitioning and getting kids used to not eating animals (It can really help kids at first if the new food they are eating RESEMBLES the food they were previously eating). And don’t forget – veggie burgers and sausages are STILL healthier than their animal flesh counterparts, as they contain zero cholesterol, oodles less saturated fat, zero antibiotics and zero hormones.

6. It’s all about taste, texture and fun.

Seek out recipes for healthy food that is attractive to kids. Here’s some (Dreena Burton is fab!). Here’s more.

7. Patience, patience and more patience are required

(I’m a fine one to talk about patience – I have zero. It’s probably a good thing I have zero kids!).

It will take more time to prep meals with kids helping. It will take time communicating the value of certain foods and why you no longer eat others. Depending on your previous eating habits, you may need more time in the kitchen than before. And yes, your kid may well tell you to stuff that broccoli up your bottom, and you may end up throwing away uneaten food at first.

Your efforts will pay off though, I promise. Excitement and energy around delicious, healthy food is contagious – your kids will catch it eventually!

 

As I mentioned right at the beginning, I am writing this based on my experience of being with, talking to and looking after lots of kids, and reading about the experiences of a whole bunch of vegan families.

However, it can always be thrown back in my face that I’m not a parent.

I guess I get this.

So, if you are a parent facing the challenge of getting your kids to eat healthier, I would LOVE to hear your experiences, and if you have any other (or better!) ideas, feel free share them with us in the comments.

 

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Do Vegan Parents Really ‘Impose’ A Vegan Diet On Their Children?

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I want to address something I’ve read quite often in comments sections following articles about vegan parents bringing up vegan kids.

It’s this worn out old chestnut:

I think it’s disgusting and selfish that you impose YOUR diet on your children. Kids should be able to choose how they eat, and they are missing out because of YOU!

I understand where that position comes from, but it’s ultimately an entitled and ignorant thing to say.

It comes from a very skewed perspective and needs to be called out.

Here’s why:

Does any child CHOOSE to eat a meat and dairy-centric diet from the time they start eating solid food? Isn’t THAT diet imposed on them? Just because it’s the mainstream diet, it doesn’t make it any less an imposition of an agenda on a kid.

When you look at all the health hazards we set our kids up for by feeding them animal products (ear, nose and throat infections, sinus issues, migraines, food poisoning, appendicitis, diabetes, the list is too long to complete here) does the status quo REALLY mean that much? Is it better to fit in with the herd than have a healthy kid?

When the kid is sick – aren’t they missing out on playing, learning and fun? I know I had copious ear infections as a kid, and chronic asthma and eczema. What with this and my fair share of colds, flu, and sickness – I must have (as most of us must have) missed weeks of my childhood.

Then there’s this:

In my experience, kids are NOT happy when they find out that animals are killed for meat. Some actually don’t join the dots until they are much older (and we can’t blame them for this – HOW the meat got to the plate is kept WELL-hidden from them by a myriad of societal and commercial forces), but I’ve seen myself that when very young kids – say, four, five, six years old – learn that an animal had to be killed, they are not on board with this.

As vegans, we are in a position to see this first hand. Friends kids often ask me why I’m vegan, and when I tell them about the ethical reasons (I don’t get graphic about this, I just keep it simple, I’m not into scaring kids!) they are sometimes in a state of disbelief. They’ve said things like ’I know about cows but chickens aren’t killed when we eat them are they?’ Now this seems a silly thing to say, but I read it as the child in question not wanting to believe that THAT MANY chickens are killed ALL THE TIME.

Check out this video of a tot realising that the octopus on his plate had to be killed first:

 

 

I even know a kid who is very nervous around animals, so unlike most, he doesn’t particularly see them as friends – but even HE was not ok to learn that animals die for our food. He has an innate understanding of the animals right to live, run around and be happy just like him.

And it doesn’t make sense that we read our kids stories like Peppa Pig, and introduce them to a ton of friendly fictional and film animal characters that in real life we treat horrendously! Does your kid know that bacon comes from poor Peppa’s back?

Kids are often interested in environmental issues too – it’s in their interest, they will inherit the planet! But I also think they really get on board with things like recycling because they understand it. It’s also not difficult for them to understand that animal farming is more energy intensive than plant farming. They can easily comprehend that plants are grown directly to sell, while animals have to be fed with plants, then the animals are fed to us.

Because meat and dairy farming is the biggest contributor to all forms of environmental degradation, world governments are already encouraging us to eat less animal products for environmental reasons; and in the not too distant future – well within the lifetime of your child if they have an average lifespan – independent experts predict we’ll be entreated to eat NONE at all.

How will these children, as grown-ups, feel about the fact that meat was unquestioningly imposed on them as infants?

And I’ve never even explained to a child the impact that livestock agriculture has on world hunger, I think it would break their heart to know that we grow crops to feed animals to feed us  (WHEN WE DON’T EVEN NEED TO EAT ANIMAL PRODUCTS TO THRIVE – in fact, eating them is harmful to us!), and that other kids in poor countries die of starvation as a result, when the crops could have been grown to feed THEM.

As interest in veganism grows exponentially year on year, all this information will become mainstream, in fact, it’s already happening. Children today will come across all these facts sooner than we think. What will they make of the selective blindness, selective compassion, and lack of thought for the future that we passed on to them?

I’ve written here about how easy it is for children to eat plant-based. There are abundant plant-based treats and fun food, just far less of the health issues associated with a diet containing animal products.

I don’t have kids, but having experienced the health problems my childhood was riddled with, and knowing that kids have a natural affinity for the environment, and for other kids across the world less fortunate than them,  and for non-human animals, I absolutely couldn’t impose animal products on them.

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Can You Host Kids While Maintaining A Vegan Home? Of Course! Kids Just Love FOOD!!!

Are you newly vegan or transitioning and wondering how you’ll feed your young nieces/nephews/grandkids/friends kids when they pay you a visit?

Afraid you’ll have to buy some chicken nuggets, fish fingers or dairy yoghurts just to get the kids to eat?

Are you scared that if you don’t buy things they know, they’ll hate you and think you’re the weird vegan person who gives them strange food?

Don’t worry. Not even a bit. And don’t underestimate kids!

(You can also get ideas from this post if you have your own small kids and are wondering how to transition them or raise them on a plant-based diet – but you may want to focus more on slightly healthier foods if the kids are yours long term! This post is more about kids that visit you for a few hours, or a few days, and about feeding them well – but incorporating plenty of treats so they have a fun impression of the way you eat).

I just had the pleasure of hosting two kids (aged seven and eleven) of a friend, for the weekend. Both are non-vegan. One eats ANYTHING (so that was easy!); the other is a slightly pickier type to say the least! A good (mini) cross section right there!

The truth is, it’s easy to nourish and satisfy even the pickiest kids on a whole-foods vegan diet, and we succeeded in keeping them well-fed and happy. They were essentially vegan for three days, and didn’t know – or even if they suspected (which they probably did – they’ve known me for a while!), they didn’t care. They were eating tasty and fun food, that’s all that mattered to them.

These kids are well-known to us and would definitely NOT have been shy about speaking up if they were unhappy or hungry.

At home they already eat lots of fruit, and have been exposed to lots of different foods, so that was a great start.

If you know the kids you’ll be hosting are adventurous and open, food-wise, then there’s no reason why they shouldn’t just eat whatever you’d be making for yourself.

Otherwise, or if you want to play it safe and include a few more treats than you’d ordinarily have in the house; I share below just what we did.

(Don’t forget to consult my previous post  ‘How To Answer Questions From Other Peoples Non-Veg Kids’ if you anticipate any questions. If you don’t have time to read this, the main take away was – stay truthful, simple and kind in your explanations).

OK, let’s get to the food:

 

First up – Snacks

These kids were avid and enthusiastic snackers.

There are a TON of vegan snack products out there. I can only speak for UK products in this post, as I shopped for the kids here – but I know there are even more amazing vegan snacks in the US (try Whole Foods, or the health food section of any major supermarket), and no doubt in Australia too.

I bought:

There are PLENTY of other options, these are just what I happened to choose.

 

Treats

Funnily enough, these kids were also partial to a treat or three. Here’s what I bought:

  • Sainsbury’s dairy-free chocolate buttons (Asda do a version of these too).
  • Swedish Glace ice cream (you can top it with agave nectar or maple syrup). There are other, coconut-based ice creams out there, but Swedish Glace is a good, affordable option. In the US you’re spoilt for choice – So Delicious, Coconut Bliss, Purely Decadent, Almond Dream etc – any kid should be so lucky to be visiting YOUR vegan house!
  • We were out and about, so treated them to Starbucks frappucinos. They come in strawberries and cream flavour, caramel or vanilla. Ask for them to be made with soy and hold the cream. This is a nice enough treat, creamy and sweet – dairy cream is not needed.

 

Breakfasts

These particular kids are not fond of soy or rice milk, so cereal wasn’t an option. Instead they had:

  • Toasted wholemeal bagels with Pure (Earth Balance) and fruit sweetened jam (or you could use peanut butter and banana)
  • A clementine
  • An apple

Breakfast of champs!

 

Lunches

  • Wholemeal pasta, and sauce made of fried onions, chopped mini red peppers and passata (salt and garlic to flavour). Fresh radishes and cooked beetroot (from a jar) on the side.
  • Peanut butter and jam sandwiches in wholemeal pitta pockets. Cherry tomatoes, celery and cucumber batons and hummous.

 

Dinners

 

Desserts

  • Alpro caramel/vanilla/chocolate desserts
  • Soy fruit yoghurts (these are available in pretty much any supermarket these days)
  • Fruit – take your pick! Apples, melon, grapes, clementines are all good!

 

At no point did I get any complaint about the sausages not being made of meat, or the desserts not containing dairy. I even had no complaint or comment about the wholemeal pasta (which I was expecting), even though these kids would usually eat white pasta. It even elicited the comment ‘…Mmmmm, THIS pasta is good!’

Don’t announce that any food you might make is ‘vegan.’ It’s all just FOOD, and kids know this better than most of us, why make it sound different?

And if they are up for it, get them to help you make the meals – if they’re involved in the process, they’re more invested in eating the results!

Also, don’t sweat it. If someone doesn’t like something, try something else. Remember; they wouldn’t necessarily enjoy everything that was non-vegan, so just calmly move on.

Most of all – enjoy yourself! And though it’s not ideal to eat high- sugar treats often, you now have an excuse to indulge along with the kids! It’d be rude not to!

 

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How To Answer Questions From Other Peoples Non-Veg (Little) Kids

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Honestly? I’m still not entirely sure how to do this.

And I don’t think there is a stock answer.

So much depends on the question being asked, the intention behind the question, and the age and nature of the child.

The questions I’ve encountered from kids have usually come from a very sincere and just plain curious place, and have mostly been the straightforward ‘why don’t you eat meat?’ or ‘why don’t you drink milk?’ The most recent one I had from a very young child that inspired me to write this post, was ‘why don’t you drink milk, because you don’t have to kill the cow to drink the milk?’

It’s difficult.

And you don’t really have much time to think about what you’re going to say. Kids want answers straight away. You don’t want to hesitate too long and make it look like you’re not sure why you don’t eat meat or drink milk.

So, how to tell the truth without scaring anybody, without pissing off non-veg parents (‘cuz you KNOW it’s gonna get back to them!) but nevertheless have a little impact and plant a seed so they have something to think about when they are ready?

Hmmm…

This much I DO know.

You DON’T start going into a lengthy rant about the cruelty and horror inherent in the meat and dairy industry. You really want to scare a kid and give them nightmares? Not to mention lose their parents as friends?

You also don’t start expounding on the detrimental health effects of consuming meat and dairy. Non-veg kids (especially young ones) just won’t believe you, they think (like most kids do) that their parents know best, and wouldn’t give them food that wasn’t healthy. Or – and this is more likely – they just won’t care. Most young kids haven’t yet experienced the pain and discomfort that comes from being systemically unhealthy, and so don’t fully get the concept of ‘healthy.’

The environmental issues surrounding livestock consumption? Older school-age kids may well have awareness of green issues through school projects, so this reason could be a part of your answer.

I think the main thing is to be truthful, but brief and positive. You are doing no-one any favours if you are dishonest or withhold information. You have science and peer-reviewed research on your side, so lying or being vague or fluffy about your answer is just a disservice to everyone – most of all the child.

You do want to make sure that your intention is purely to answer their question, and to inform them gently – NOT to prove any point to them or their parents, or to make them automatically see things the way you see them. Don’t forget, they live in a non-vegan world without the experience or context to identify it as such. They are little beings who need to piece information together organically in their own time.

It’s about walking the fine line between answering their question in a truthful and kind (but effective) way, yet without horrifying them or making them think that they are wrong or bad for eating the way they do.

Leading by example and keeping the message positive is always good; so you could tell them what you do and why you do it, and how easy it is. For example, ‘well, I like animals so I don’t eat them, and it’s better for the planet and for our bodies if we eat all this other lovely food instead’ (and you can go into detail about all the delicious plant-based food there is). If the kid is a bit older you could say that you feel it is cruel to kill animals for food when you don’t need to, because you have so much other yummy food to choose from.

A brief answer will satisfy lots of children. Sometimes, small kids ask questions just for the sake of asking a question, so gauge whether this is what’s happening, and obviously a short answer will suffice in this case.

It IS a toughie, and I still get kind of uncomfortable when I get these questions. And SO much depends on who the child is. Just always remember to come from a good intention. Don’t compromise – kids deserve the truth, but be gentle and compassionate. Above all – don’t forget to tell them about all the scrummy non-animal cakes, ice-cream and chocolate you eat. Often times, the way to a kids understanding is through their stomach!

What did I answer the kid who asked why I don’t drink milk? I’m not proud to say that I sort of stuttered a bit, and said, ‘well, milk farming is as bad for the animals as meat farming but in different ways.’

This was a bit lame and vague, but I was caught off guard.

I’m still learning, and always will be (as a coach, I have to make sure I’m a good student too!) Next time, I know I’ll do better.

 

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