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?’
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?
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.