“Propaganda.” “Brainwashing.” “Dangerous!” Who knew that a children’s book about veganism could provoke these charges? While my first picture book, That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals, was welcomed by veg populations around the world, it also caused such controversy—garnering attacks online, in animal agriculture trade magazines, and even from Farm Bureau CEOs. My recently released picture book Vegan Is Love: Having Heart and Taking Action also caused an uproar in the media. I admit—I loved it. I’ve always been interested in the underbelly of things, and each case of opposition to my books provides me the opportunity to study the invisible forces that shape public thinking about children, food, health, and animals.
With several years worth of case analyses under my belt, I’ve found that at the root of opposition to teaching kids about veganism and animal rights is, most simply, fear and unawareness. Though there are many veteran vegan families, not to mention nations of people throughout history who have thrived on plant-based diets, veganism is still relatively new to the American mainstream. For some, veganism is literally unheard of, so the reactionary fear of change and worry about nutrients is understandable. I was raised by a vegetarian mom and I still had these concerns when I first experimented with veganism ten years ago. Now, a decade full of research later, my old perspective seems utterly blind. The information I needed had been there for the taking all along. Today, more than ever, it is accessible at our fingertips.
If you’ve never paid any mind to veganism, now may be the moment to peek into its benefits and the issues which have motivated the U.S. vegan population to double since 2008. As more people discover the realities of our animal agricultural systems—as well as the instant and positive impact of veganism on health, animals, and the planet—fears of abandoning the standard American diet are alleviated. By merely scratching the surface of current research about health and the meat and dairy industries, I’m confident most parents will find immediate motivation to celebrate Meatless Mondays—if not Meatless Everydays.
If you can work through your own ambivalences, there’s good news: unlike adults, kids aren’t scared of veganism. It’s grownups who fear the aftermath of confronting the awful truths about meat and dairy. When people in the mainstream media judged Vegan Is Love to be “graphic,” they incidentally admitted that what we do to animals is disturbing—“too scary,” they said, to talk about with children. But there is nothing in my books that children don’t already see normalized in the grocery store deli case or on the various television shows about cooking, fishing, or hunting—let alone in cartoons. The “controversy,” it seemed, was more about adults’ unwillingness to change than it was about kids’ abilities to handle the truth.
Kids learn when we teach them. Unfortunately, today there is a fine line between education and advertising. Kids are being “educated” by biased messaging hundreds of times a day—most successfully by whomever has the most money to spend. Seventy-five percent of government subsidies go to the meat and dairy industries while less than half of one percent goes to fruits and vegetables. The Milk Mustache campaign, driven by the National Milk Processor Board (administered by the USDA) spent $190 million in 1998. These long-standing campaigns are highly effective, causing massive increases in demand—in this case, billions of pounds of fluid milk. It is these profit-seeking systems that should draw outcry about propaganda and brainwashing, not a lifestyle about choices alternative to the status quo.
The revolving door for powerful people between the government, large processed food corporations, and pharmaceuticals ensures the alignment of public services and education with industry interests. From elementary grades to graduate programs, everything from school events to lectures, vending machines, textbooks, and curriculums are known to be organized for potential gain by colluding industries. Conventional doctors receive as little as six hours of nutritional training. Nutritional degree programs accredited by the American Dietetic Association regularly receive sponsorship from corporate giants like Monsanto, the National Dairy Council, Aramark, Coca-Cola, and PepsiCo. Under these circumstances, neither the moral nor ethical imperatives of veganism, nor the environmental destruction and toxicity caused by eating meat and dairy enters into mainstream nutritional knowledge. Neither are the cognitive and emotional lives of animals considered in the structuring of the USDA food pyramid. It’s up to us to educate our kids.
It is crucial for the next generation to be exposed to alternative thinking, educational experiences, and healthy habits that will allow them to compete with mainstream opinions about health, animals, and the environment as they grow into adulthood. By borrowing practices from the tenets of veganism, we can all learn how to live actively and consciously in an authentic, efficient, and far-reaching manner. I wrote my books for a new generation of kids who will think, eat, and live differently. I believe in the capabilities of children. They need but little guidance in learning to love deeply, think critically, and act responsibly. Nothing can get in the way of this kind of education.
I encourage every family to explore the benefits of veganism. There is nothing to fear and everything to gain.