Explaining Veganism to Children

As a child, I distinctly remember seeing a truck driving by jam packed with live sheep. I had no idea where they were going but I got a kick out of saying hello to the cute little creatures. Had I have known, at the tender age of 6 that they were headed to a slaughterhouse I would have been traumatised. My parents cleverly said they were going to the farm – probably to prevent me from becoming an even more of a fussy eater than I already was.

Having worked out the truth myself at the age of 13 when my stepmother served me lamb chops while looking out the window at our pet lamb, I have no hesitation to tell my own daughters the truth.

Child and a dog
Eating meat and other animal products hurts the animals, and we don’t want to hurt them. Image: Shutterstock.

With my three year old daughter, I have found the simple explanation that meat and other animal products hurt the animals and this is why we don’t eat or wear these things. She understands the concept that hurting others is wrong, after all we all promote non- violence towards other humans.

This concept extends to our animal friends and is easy for her to relate to. For now this explanation is sufficient as she is too young for gory details. I strongly believe that the information should be age appropriate as we don’t want to traumatize our children, but when questions are asked, I will answer them truthfully. As my daughter matures, so will her understanding of our ethics and why we live the way we do.

Typical questions about meat eating from children include the subject of why others eat meat (or other animal products), such as members of their own families (grandparents, cousins etc) and their peers. Leilani has often asked if her cousins and Nana and Papa are vegan. I think this is a touchy subject because there is a fine line between excusing the meat eating of others and making out that everyone who eats meat is a horrible person.

I think it is important to point out that some people choose to eat it, and we choose not to eat it because we think it isn’t a nice thing to do. Making it all about choices has more cognitive digestibility for youngsters without putting others (or themselves) in a position of isolation. After all, we are a minority in the community and we need to function in this meat-eating world. By being passioate, yet also courteous and welcoming rather than harsh and judgemental we and our children might inspire others as well.

Helpful resources

A wonderful book to help young vegan children on a social level within an omnivorous community is called Benny the Brontosaurus Goes to a Party which is about an herbivorous dinosaur that is friends with a carnivorous dinosaur. It sends a great message of mutual respect regarding choice while also saying that being different (vegan) is a wonderfully ethical thing to do.

Book cover
Book cover: That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals by Ruby Roth

As mentioned previously, when children ask about the gruesome factors regarding the meat/animal product industries it is important to take into consideration the child’s age and maturity to determine the level of precision in the explanation. For older children (4-10), there is a fabulous book called ‘That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals’ which explains the conection between animals and what some people call dinner, the conditions the animals are kept in, as well as the environmental impact of meat eating, in a easy to understand child-friendly manner.

For additional support regarding tough situations in regard to explaining veganism to children, touching base with a vegan parenting communities can be a great help. There are also many vegan parenting groups on Facebook where you can ask for support and advice and you will get a response from others who have been through the exact same situation. Remember, you are not alone!

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