How do you tell your kids where meat comes from?
Many parents are confused about how to talk to their children about veganism without causing trauma; how to tell children the truth about where meat comes from and that the scenes of happy cows giving milk are simply not true. A study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology asked 176 American children from the ages of four to seven years old to sort 13 foods by their origins: either plant-based or animal-based. Forty percent of them thought that meat came from plants.
Many parents think it is wrong for children to learn the truth at such a young age or they don’t know how to reveal the truth in an appropriate way. Children naturally love animals and surely such knowledge would influence their food choices. Most children who eat meat are just naive consumers who are not aware of the origin of food, while adults have had the time and conditioning to come up with a number of reasons to justify eating animals.
How to talk about veganism with children under 6 years old
Veganism is a very complex and sensitive topic that even we adults sometimes don’t fully understand, but we need to somehow bring it closer to children. One way to bring veganism closer to children is through engaging and metaphorical books that talk about animal rights. Such stories can serve as a literary template and stimulus to talk about veganism with young children.
Veganism includes caring for animals, nature, and your own health. It’s easy to talk about environmental issues and healthy nutrition, but when a child needs to be told how a burger and sausage are made, how people abuse and kill animals for food, it’s not that simple. If we say such things to children in an inappropriate way, they may be upset and experience trauma. It is advisable to avoid harsh words and explicit illustrations which can have a powerful effect on the subconscious of children who still believe that the world is a place where good always wins, as in fairytales.
There are no universal instructions on how to tell children the truth about the origin of meat served on a dinner plate because each child has a different personality and will experience the same facts differently. It is therefore important to consider the age and emotional maturity of the child. We would not talk about veganism in the same way to kindergarten children and school children like we would with teenagers.
Facts about veganism related to animal torture should be told to children in a mild way, simply focusing on positive messages. The general advice is to tell the truth by choosing gentle words. It can be said that there are people who do not treat animals well, but there are more and more people in the world who treat animals as friends. Let’s take an example from a vegan story.
In the vegan children’s story The Not So-Crazy Cow, the cow is horrified when she realises that she is treated only like a burger, and not as a sentient individual. It is an opportunity to tell children that vegans do not treat animals as food, but as beings worthy of respect and attention, without mentioning slaughterhouses, blood, and killing. It’s good to focus on the benefits that a plant-based diet has and say that vegans save animals by choosing plant-based foods instead.
How to talk about veganism with schoolchildren
Schoolchildren aged 7 to 10 can be told more facts about veganism. In addition to caring for animals and not wanting to participate in their exploitation in any way, they can understand the link between the meat industry and the world’s pollution and hunger.
Most plant foods in the world are grown for animals, which is why forests are being destroyed in order to create more areas for growing fodder. Children can be led to the conclusion that people could grow cereals for themselves and thus reduce world hunger.
In the story The Pig Who Made It Big, readers meet an animal who realises that she is treated as a pork chop despite her abilities that are no different from the dog’s abilities. This topic can serve as an incentive to tell children that pigs can be pets, as shown in the story, and that they deserve the same protection and respect that dogs and cats have.
Younger children often do not have the patience to listen to lectures on veganism, so it is important that the conversation about it is simple and concise, yet honest and open. It is important to choose words that will convey to children, in an emotionally acceptable way, the treatment of animals in the meat industry.
How to talk about veganism with teenagers
When it comes to talking about veganism with children over the age of 10, we can be more direct in the number of facts because they already know that the world is not “honey and milk”, but that bad things are happening out there. They will certainly have a lot of questions and will be interested in the facts. They will be interested in information that human consumption of animal products is one of the main drivers of climate change. At that age, they can take an active part in the fight for animal rights and it is good that they have as much motivation and knowledge as possible. Greta Thunberg started as a teen activist and now she is a global climate leader.
“The Turtle who fights for animal rights“ is a book intended for children over the age of seven because it contains a number of facts that will help them better understand veganism and form firmer attitudes. They will more often have the opportunity to debate with their peers about food choices and it is good to know the facts that will encourage them. Thus, the book mentions celebrities, writers, artists, and scientists who were friends to animals and who spoke about the ethical and health aspects of veganism. We are aware that we live in a world where eating meat is considered normal and natural so it will be important for children to know that they are in the company of greats such as Tolstoy, Kafka, Leonardo da Vinci, Nikola Tesla, and others.
How to talk about veganism with someone else’s child
If you are talking about veganism to someone else’s child, it is good to consult the parent first because there are those who do not want to tell their children how salami and pate are made or have certain rules and ways to communicate it according to their beliefs. This is advice for all those who will read vegan books to children to take care and to focus on positive messages.
I had the opportunity to present my books at a school where I didn’t know how many vegans there were among the 20 students and whether there were any at all, which doesn’t mean I couldn’t talk about veganism, but I could emphasize the benefits of choosing plant foods. I avoided harsh words and judging the actions of others, and focused on the importance of humane and equal treatment of all animals and the benefits of plant foods for health and the environment.
It is important not to idealize veganism as a perfect way of living, because such a thing does not exist. Veganism is a tendency to cause as little unnecessary pain and harm to other beings as possible with whom we share the planet.