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My Parents Forced Veganism on Me

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Guest Post by Sarina Farb

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Recently, an Italian bill proposed jail time for parents irresponsibly imposing a vegan diet on their children. It has created a lot of buzz and discussion over whether vegan parents should be allowed to “force their values” on their children. A common theme in articles and commentary I have read is that regardless of a parent’s values, they shouldn’t “force” their radical choices on their children, but rather should let them choose if they want to be vegan or not. I have even seen several people comparing veganism to religious brainwashing and cults, making it seem like if a child is given a choice, they will obviously come to their senses and reject veganism. I have also met a number of vegans who have told me that while they have made the personal choice to go vegan, they wouldn’t force that on their children and that plan to let their children decide for themselves.

As a 22-year-old lifelong vegan whose parents “forced their beliefs” on me as a small child, I have a lot to say on this topic.

The idea that parents shouldn’t “force” their ethical and moral beliefs on their children is ridiculous, because society itself is not values-neutral. The notion of letting children choose for themselves whether they want to be vegan or not presents a scenario in which veganism is viewed as supporting ridiculous and extreme values backed by propaganda. Then, the default of non-veganism is viewed as “the norm.” Big business, industry, and advertisers, create and reinforce this non-vegan norm on a regular basis, and it is anything but values neutral. TV Commercials for Cheeseburgers, roadside billboards for zoos, and Got Milk ads in magazines and school cafeterias all convey that animals are things and commodities for human use.

Similar to when an individual holds the moral belief that racism is wrong and that we shouldn’t discriminate or exploit other humans based on their skin colour, vegans reject the notion that animals are ours to use or exploit simply because they are a different species. The same can be said for being morally opposed to sexism. When the choice between veganism and non-veganism is reframed in this way, it becomes clear that veganism is no more a choice than being against slavery, murder, and human exploitation is. The idea of vegan parents letting their children choose to go vegan on their own is similar to thinking children can choose to become anti-racist on their own, without being given an education on what racism is or why it’s awful. If vegan parents don’t “force” (the word terribly used in place of educate) their vegan values and beliefs on their children, society won’t hesitate to “force” standard American values instead. And without a parent’s vegan perspective to counter the dominant mainstream forces, non-veganism may remain unchallenged and children will be more susceptible to falling prey to the influence and perspective of industry and big business.

Growing up vegan, many of my friends and peers would ask things like “don’t you want to know what cheese tastes like?” or “have you ever thought about just sneaking a taste of meat while you are away from your parents?” And I can honestly say that never once in my life have I been even close to tempted to taste anything containing animal flesh and secretions. Being on the receiving end of questions like these has often made me feel like I’m living in an alternate universe to my peers.

From my very earliest memories, my parents didn’t just raise me on a vegan diet, they laid out a very clear age-appropriate foundation for what veganism was and why we were vegan. When I was really little, that reasoning was simple with comments like “we don’t eat animals because it hurts them” and “we don’t drink cow’s milk, because it’s for baby cows.” As I got older, the explanations grew more sophisticated, and conversations about our veganism became a regular family discussion. Along with our discussions of veganism came discussions about our duty to speak up about the injustices and problems we were aware of. At around eight years of age, with my knowledge of animal exploitation and my family’s values on speaking out, I felt compelled to share my truth with my friends and peers. I continue to do so today, with vegan tabling.

Being raised vegan is the biggest blessing I could have ever asked for. Not only has it given me peace of mind knowing that I have never intentionally participated in harming animals, but it has also allowed me to view the entire world in a different light. It has also taught me to think critically, and to see past the propaganda that backs and spreads the pervasive belief that it’s okay to use animals. So as someone who had veganism “forced” on me, what do I think about parents forcing veganism on their children? It is no different than parents forcing anti-racist or anti-sexist beliefs on their children.

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0 Comments
  • Jack McMillan

    Great essay Sarina! You’re on the (vegan) map now!

  • marissa l

    Such a fantastic artical. Thank you ❤

  • jimjams

    It really is great to hear a calm sensible and methodical response to some of the suggestions regarding veganism recently reported. I have never felt the need to have to defend my food choices although regularly get quizzed on them, but my children are all healthy and contented so it was never an issue. It makes me sad that so many vegan families do have to defend their perfectly reasonable and well constructed lifestyles despite the fact that their children are healthy, particularly when they find themselves defending that lifestyle to a society completely brought to its knees by epidemic obesity. Surely this represents a greater cause for concern than parents educating their children on the values of a plant based diet

  • veggiegrrrl

    love!

  • Becky Jones

    I’m also a life long vegan (well since the age of 2 so as long as I can remember!) and you’ve pretty much summed up exactly how I feel! I’m proud to be able to say I’ve never eaten meat and I’m so thankful my parents raised me to know the truth about food.
    I’m now raising my two boys as vegans and feel lucky that I’m living proof that it can be done ☺

  • Great essay Sarina!

    I wonder if any nonvegan parents would get told off for “imposing” their beliefs about eating and wearing animal products on their children.

    The socially acceptable norm is to give our children a choice – because the society considers veganism to be extreme, elitist, purist and fundamentalist. Following social norms, it is anti-social to refuse products of injustice, torture and death if our action makes the person next to us feel uncomfortable. Following our social norms, making a human person next to us uncomfortable is not a personal choice, however perpetuating injustice, torture and death of non-human persons is. The social norm is to be quiet about where we actually stand on the morality of animal use.

    Following social norms is easy. It is comfortable to just explain where meat and milk comes from (as if people didn’t already know that animal products do not grow on trees) and not rock the boat with the position that ethical veganism is actually *not* about compassion, kindness, or a response to factory farms, sick individuals and breaches of animal welfare laws that most people agree with anyway, but a matter of basic moral conduct toward all sentient beings, factory farmed or not, that all humans are obliged to adopt. It is comfortable to accept that in our society, veganism is a personal choice.

    Unless we are breaking social norms and getting out of our comfort zone at every opportunity, we are not doing service to the most vulnerable.

    To me, this statement from the essay summarises it the best:

    “(Forcing veganism) is no different than parents forcing anti-racist or anti-sexist beliefs on their children.”

    If you are vegan and what I wrote here makes sense to you, visit Gary L. Francione: The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights

    If you are not vegan, visit Howdoigovegan dot com and go vegan today.

  • Jasmine

    Beautifully written! I’ve often wondered how I will approach future questions and debates when I start my vegan family (a long time from now).. Your story is very thoughtful and inspiring. Thank you 🙂

  • CSC

    Great article though the title did make me cringe a bit!

  • Mijamoto

    One of the best articles on this topic I have ever read. Wery well worth sharing in order to educate those who believe are “normal”!

  • Gracia Fay Ellwood

    Thanks, Sarina–good work. I’d like permission to reprint this essay as the “Editor’s Corner Guest Essay” in my online journal The Peaceable Table. If this is granted, I’d like permission to put scare-quotes around “Forced” in the title.

  • EquaYona

    Lucid and passionate. Well done!

  • Ursula2007

    Great post! I’ve saved this to share with others when they bring up vegan diets for children.

  • Beautiful. My wife and I are raising our daughters vegan. I love the race analogy. I would never tolerate my 5 year old making a racist comment or judgment, why would I tolerate participation in mass slaughter and an industry that is literally killing us. The racist cycle only stops with parents who teach their acceptance and understanding. The same can be said about factory farming.

  • John F Mensi

    Your parents decision to raise you vegan should fill you with pride. They made the right decision and are examples for the rest of us to emulate.

    Unfortunately, not everyone accepts that moral imperative as a parental responsibility. Angela Liddon (of the popular blog Oh She Glows), for example, has no qualms about feeding her children animal products even though she is fully aware of the extent to which such involvement harms animals.

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