One of the biggest challenges we’ve had as a family this past year was facing up to the challenge of veganism. I’d been vegetarian for most of my adult life (save lapses into seafood at times), for ethical reasons. Problem was, I hadn’t actually applied my ethical position strictly. Numerous documentaries and articles have demonstrated that even the “organic/free range” dairy and egg businesses do objectionable things, like shorten animal lifespans when they become unproductive, subject them to involuntary insemination, and so on. Being abolitionist means that you do not treat animals as property. The position is well argued here, and I don’t feel compelled to get into the details, as Gary Francione nails it, and justifying my decision not to use animals and reduce animal suffering in the world is not what this post is about.
It’s about raising a vegan kid, and being a vegan family. The decision to turn vegan happened last summer, when faced with the prospect of a meat sale fundraiser at our daughter’s school. I objected to this on ethical grounds, and it eventually never happened, but the experience of trying to stop a crass effort to market cruelty in order to raise money for a school playground got us mobilized, and tuned us in a bit more acutely to other things going on in the vicinity of the school.
One of these is the school lunch program, which serves meat dishes every day. We bag a lunch for our kid, and always have, like most parents at the school. But school lunch programs make sense, and are meant to be inclusive of children of all socioeconomic backgrounds. So why the imposition of a meat diet, I wondered? I took my questions to the administrator of the program at our School District office, and was told that contractual obligations and dietary strictures imposed by the Provincial government made it so her hands were tied. I argued with her, not really believing that the situation was so immovable, but to no avail. I still have to follow up on this thread, but my time and resources for doing so are very limited. In the process of challenging this, I did learn about this successful program in Queens, NY, however, which suggests that change is possible.
We’ve also done a significant amount of work organizing a vegan families network here in Vancouver. My spouse has done most of that work, but many other families have become involved in this venture. Basically it’s a monthly vegan potluck/meetup. There’s a Facebook group.
So while we’ve been doing that, our daughter (who has been vegetarian from birth) has had to adjust as well. It has meant saying goodbye to things like gelato at the local family run cafe, $2 pizza, and innumerable varieties of treats. But it’s been educational, for her and for us. She’s growing up with a consciousness of ethics and nutrition that we never had when we were children. She knows that it’s important to not only read the ingredients of things, but also think about where those ingredients come from, and contemplate the consequences of her choices. This extends to consideration about the human actors involved in food production too (yes of course. obviously.), as well as ecological consequences.
And this means eating ethically is a constant struggle, and every new choice involves intellectual effort, research, and a consideration of the ethical dimension of our choices. But it also means making more food at home, eating more healthy meals, and saving money.
So where does that bring me? Well, I’m wondering what to do next. I’m at once astonished at how mainstream veganism has become in recent years, but also awed by how normative/deep seated animals-as-property is in North American culture. But, as a recent post to a vegan group I’m part of put it (not the group mentioned above, but a different one), what are the most viable avenues for change in terms of public policy/legislation that could reduce animal suffering? I’m in Canada, mind you. Banning pet sales and breeding? Reforming nutritional recommendations? More strictly regulating animal industries? Banning sealing? Banning animal experimentation? All of these initiatives have their proponents and critics, both inside and outside of animal rights circles.
I come back to the meat sale and school lunch program scale of things, I suppose. How can we make a vegan diet more welcoming for families who are veg-curious? Well, our vegan family network is open to anyone – the only caveat is that at potlucks, you’re only allowed to bring vegan food. Some families who attend are mixed (vegetarian or vegan kids, sometimes a fish eating father who’s curious or considering a change). Change is slow. Does it have to be?