Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Don't Squish the Bug!

What is it with kids and killing insects? Even kids who I know would never hurt an animal find it okay to kill insects. I have no idea why this behavior is acceptable to our society, but assume it's a learned behavior from their parents and others who may swat flies, squish spiders, and poison ants.

A vegan life means, to me, to live as cruelty free as possible. Have I been guilty of the above? Yes. And it makes me super sad. Since going veg, I try as much as possible to not use the fly swatter (save for the one time I came home from camping and the garage was disgustingly inundated with flies - yuck!! But I had really tried everything else! And truly cried every time I swatted one).

Anyways, it's Spring time here in California, and all of a sudden it seems all the kids are talking about squishing bugs! Meanies. My son has a friend, who's a little older (12), and kinda a tough guy. He was in the car talking about how cool it was that this other kid was catching tadpoles and frogs at school and twisting their heads off. OMGosh, seriously?!? I think my son got his attention with a loud gasp : )

I always try to take these opportunities to teach compassion to other kids. So I said "My gosh, that's terrible! It makes me so sad to hear that. I am glad you guys don't hurt animals like that - by the way, did you know that kids who hurt insects and animals are more likely to hurt other people too?" I'm not sure this had the effect I was hoping for, but I will say that it stopped the conversation, and led into a silence I like to think was reflective :-)

Yesterday, my daughter came home and said that she and some of the other second grade girls were digging for rollie pollies, and one of the girls decided to have a contest to see how many they could squish. Kayla suggested that they dig for "special rocks" instead, and throw them against the ground to see who could break them in half. I am so proud of her! Unlink Dylan, she doesn't like to stand out as a vegan. I asked her if she told the other girls why she didn't want to squish the bugs; she said "No, but mama, I saved their lives!" It almost made me cry!

I also look for opportunities to praise the kids for not hurting bugs. One of my 8 year-old softball players was walking along this weekend, and said, "look, there's a bee on the ground!" Seeing the toe of her cleat edge towards the bee, I said "thanks so much for not hurting her; it would have made me really sad if she had died". She looked at me, agreed, and didn't squish the bee! I've also used the same technique with the boys after a rain, when all the worms are out and about. Seeing them make a game of stepping on the worms, I made up a game and  enlisted them to help me be the "Worm Warriors" to collect them and put them into the garden beds. It works really well!

Anyways, I know that most people don't value the lives of insects, but I do. And I think that it all leads to THINKING about compassion to other living things, and actually realizing that these ARE living things, deserving of our protection, not viciousness.


Monday, May 17, 2010

Farm Friends and Birthday Gifts

Tami and a sweetie pie cow

Cristian has his first cow meeting alonside Daddy

Magnolia, Cristian's turkey

Kaylee and her friend, Madison, petting Stacey

This small bunny, Boe, is right up Braeden's alley

We recently visited our nearest (and favorite) animal sanctuary, Farm Sanctuary, two weekends ago. It is in Orland, CA and is about a three to four hour drive from our home. We went with friends and family, including my blogging pal, Sarah and her two little cuties.
My husband and I have been taking our kids to Farm Sanctuary on an annual basis for the past 5 years. We nearly always visit the farm at Thanksgiving for the Celebration FOR the Turkeys, where WE feed the turkeys--instead of them feeding us. It really is one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever had, and I have enjoyed sharing it with my children and other friends and family members.

When my daughter, Kaylee, turned three, we started the tradition of asking for donations to sponsor an animal at Farm Sanctuary in lieu of presents at her large birthday party. We usually have 40 to 50 guests at our kids' parties, so that would make for a lot of toys, books, etc if we didn't change our gift policy. I have to admit that I was motivated to ask for donations not only because I wanted to help animals and make people aware of Farm Sanctuary and the plight of farmed animals, but I was also motivated by a concern for our planet. My kids are lucky enough to have all the toys they want or need, plus many more. They really do not need any more things--especially not at the volume they'd get at their huge parties! And I hate plastic and all the wasteful packing toys come in, not to mention the energy and resources that go into making things, especially when they really aren't needed and get lost in the toy bin.

So, the first year I proposed that we skip gifts and asked for donations instead, I was so nervous! I wondered what people would think, and if they would cooperate with my request. I included a note explaining what we were doing with Kaylee's party invitation and hoped for the best. (Kaylee had chosen to sponsor a pig at FS.) My family and friends were GREAT and even brought Kaylee some pig-themed gifts, like stuffed animals and a piggy bank. (Yes, this kind of defeated the waste-reduction goal, but is was sweet and thoughtful.)

Now my four year old son, Braeden, also sponsors a goat named Jacob at the farm and collects money each year at his parties. While we don't recoup the full costs of sponsoring their animals, we do collect a decent amount--usually between $100 and $200--and my husband and I pay the rest. I do remember that the first year we did this, we were the most successful, financially speaking. I think people were more inspired by the novelty of the idea then!

Over the years, I've gotten wise about the cost of the animal versus its size, so when my son, Cristian, had his first birthday party yesterday, we decided to ask for contributions to help a turkey named Magnolia. Turkeys are close to the least expensive animal to sponsor, and we were looking to save a few bucks! =) (I know the donations go to a great cause, but sponsoring an animal is a lifetime commitment--not for the animal's lifetime, but ours! We have had one pig die, and two rabbits die that are a gift to Braeden from a grandma, and the sponsorship gets transferred to a new animal, not cancelled.) I would advise considering the yearly cost when deciding to do a similar thing with your child! =)

So, I combined our FS visit with the topic of birthday gifts in this blog because they are related in a wonderful way. On our visits to the Farm, we get to see the kids' animals and they LOVE it! They talk about their animals throughout the year, and happily anticipate an upcoming visit. I think that helping out a live animal that they can connect with and appreciate helping makes the experience enjoyable and concrete. I have thought about donating money to a local animal shelter--which would also be great--but the kids wouldn't necessarily have the personal connection to an animal that they get from sponsoring a specific animal whom they can visit at least once a year. The kids have photos, and even an artist's drawing of one animal, in their rooms to remind them about their beloved friends.

It really is so wonderful to get to know the personalities of their animals, as well as all the other sweet and spunky animals on the farm. We have learned that goats are generally outgoing and will let you know if they want a good scratching. Jacob, Braeden's goat, is a take charge kind of guy who stands out from the crowd. He is bold and tends to rule the pasture. Stacey, Kaylee's pig, is sweet and very strong, as are all the pigs. Currently, Stacey likes to nap along side her friend Joan. Magnolia the turkey is so soft and gentle and creates a sense of calm when we interact with her.

Braeden talks about the animals all year, how he is going to pet the cows and touch Jacob. He remains so brave and sure that he is going to run about the farm, playing with all of the animals--until we step out of the car at Farm-shoe-ary, as he adorably refers to it. I thought that this time he'd surely be ready to face the animals on his own, with perhaps Daddy's hand in his, but this was not the case. Once again, he freaked out and wouldn't even go in with the cows---until I made him. Mean, I know, but I had to see the cows. They're my favorite, and my hubby was holding the baby, so I was in charge of Braeden. He ended up doing okay. He still clung to me tightly, but he didn't cry too loudly when I made him feel the cow's side. =)

My point in all this is that I never considered the size and general behavior of the type of animal we chose to sponsor when choosing the pig and the goat. This year, I was smarter and chose a turkey. They are generally more docile and are small enough to not be so overwhelming. BTW, pigs are great, but they are incredibly strong and can knock a kid over in a second. They can also get a little nippy, if you know what I mean. Most are best approached when napping and enjoy a good belly rub. =) Even the cows can be less intimidating and cause less safety issues around little kids. No offense, piggies, honestly. Just saying...

So, if you're lucky enough to live near a farm sanctuary, I strongly recommend visiting one with your little ones, and even sponsoring one furry or feathered friend there for your child's' birthday or other special occasion. It has brought great joy to us, and literally puts a face on the animals that our kids might otherwise be tempted to eat. I think the personal connection the kids make to such animals is invaluable, and helps us to reinforce our vegan values. I hope you get a chance to hug a cow very soon! (Really, they are soooo adorable, like big, much calmer puppy dogs...Can you see that I'm infatuated with the cows?)



Friday, May 14, 2010

Saving the Honey Bees... by eating their honey???

I have to apologize to you, our wonderful readers. I am afraid this blog has become more about me than trying to help you. Not that that was my intention - it just turns out I don't know nearly as much as I thought I did! This blog is becoming a way to understand what I really feel about veganism and animal rights. I am fully committed, but writing is forcing me to really be able to back up what I say! In doing so, it's strengthening my resolve to live as cruelty-free as possible.

Honey isn't vegan. Don't argue with me; it's not. When I became vegan, I didn't eliminate honey. I didn't really see it as cruelty; I honestly didn't care much, particularly because there was not a large amount of honey in my diet anyways. Until another veg friend said "look, either you're vegan or you're not". So, bye bye honey!

Since then, I've agreed that honey isn't vegan. I've researched the reasons why - without going into a lot of detail that you are able to search for yourself, basically they treat the bees like crap and steal their honey. It's unnatural and un-vegan.

So tonight I get a "Save the Honey Bees!" email from an online parenting group. Yeah! Someone sticking up for animal rights, awesome! Or, so I thought. Okay, so maybe that isn't fair; she has good intentions. Here is the email:

"The second grade class at (XXXX)  Elementary is studying the plight of the honey bee and colony collapse disorder as one of the class science projects this year.

As I have learned from my second grader, there is a world wide crisis with the honey bees.  We rely on honey bees for one-third of our food supply, but over the last three years, more than one in three colonies has died in the United States alone.  One cause of these losses is an alarming phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder, or “CCD.” When a hive experiences CCD, the honey bees mysteriously desert their hive and die. CCD symptoms have been reported by more than thirty-five states across the U.S. and in many other countries.
How can you help? Our local Market has graciously offered to help our second grade class make our community aware of the honey bee crisis.  The Market's store manager, (XXXXXXX), has agreed to stock Haagen-Dazs Vanilla Honey Bean Ice Cream at the store."

Okay - here is the problem. There is A  LOT of research that shows that malnutrition is a leading, even whole, cause of CCD. The reason for the malnutrition? Humans are stealing their honey and feeding them HIGH FRUSTOSE CORN SYRUP and SUGAR WATER. What the heck?! Humm, wonder why they're all dying off?? 

My first instinct was to write a response as to why this was a bad idea; by purchasing a product containing honey, we're contributing to the problem. So I wrote the nicely worded email with scathing undertones ("that's the stupidest idea ever; no thanks, I think I'll avoid the honey laced baby cow food"), and as my finger hovered above the enter key, ready to hit send, I had to think - where is this going to go? I'll get backlash for sure. And I don't have ALL my facts; I'm not a scientist, and not sure I want to spend more than the half hour I already spent researching  this. And truthfully? I'm not sure I want to be the crazy vegan again. So maybe I am a wuss, maybe I'm letting the animals down by not speaking up. Maybe it's self preservation and a maintenance of sanity. 

So I decided against sending any response (at least right now). As one of my best friends says, "when in doubt, there is no doubt". And now I am freaking frustrated! My frustration is that people don't think. They are not stupid, but lazy.  They react on emotion. They want to help, but are too lazy to actually do so and then buy into commercialism disguised as helpfulness. 

Ugh. It's hard being the moral center of the universe.  

So, how does this relate to kids? That sometimes, because I am a mom, I have to keep my mouth shut. I have to choose my battles; growing chickens in the classroom? What about the negligent care of the hermit crabs? Dissection? Animal shows? Petting zoos? Pony rides? Zoo trips? When you are a parent, you teach your children how to behave in the world. You demonstrate proper etiquette and respect - even (and especially) when you disagree. So, sometimes I chose to remain silent. Sometimes, I chose to speak up. But, as I teach my kids, it's more important to lead by example. If I am (further) labeled the "crazy vegan mom", I may not get the opportunity to gently influence people in the future. That's why, when dealing with other parents, I chose to keep my mouth shut - sometimes. I'm still thinking about it! 

Friday, May 7, 2010

Away From Home

We were the last of our friends to do sleep overs. I think I might be the only parent in Dylan's 4th grade class that does not leave him home alone. And I don't allow him to smoke, drink or do drugs. Yeah, I'm a little over protective.  

But,  now we've both gotta grow up (at least, I do). His entire CO-ED class will be going on a three-day, two night field trip - which I am not chaperoning. Yeah, I'm kinda freaking out. He however, is thrilled! 

Kids can eat a lot in three days. The most frequently used phrase by my kids is "Got any food?? I'm sssstttaarrvvvvinnnngggg!" So when we first started planning the class trip, food was at the front of my - and apparently everyone else's-  mind. "OMG, he's going to starve to death!" read frantic emails from friends, parents and teachers. "What do we to do? There's no way we can feed a vegan kid for three whole days!  Does he eat bananas? We can pack celery....." I assured them that it would not be a problem, and asked for them to send me the menu. 

I'm thankful to be going thorough this first with my easy-going child. When we first talked about the food issue, he said "What's the problem? Just pack a bunch of bars in my backpack". I explained that he might want something more substantial after a day - his typical 10 year old response was "Whatever". While I am glad he's fine with 'whatever', some children (like my daughter) are not. To make him feel included, and not make a huge deal out of the vegan thing, I'm planning to replicate every meal and snack with vegan look-alikes. I've talked to the parents who are planning the meals for the trip, and we've worked to make things veg where it makes sense to (like using a non-meat sauce for the spaghetti, with meat balls on the side). They're also offering veggie dogs and veggie burgers in addition to the traditional ones. Yeah! 

Choosing to raise vegans comes with one major difference than raising omnis. When it comes to eating outside of the home, WE MUST PLAN AHEAD. We are vegan parents; we research the menu before heading out to a new restaurant - we hide packs of nuts in our glove boxes and purses - we  have Zbars, Luna Bars, and Cliff Bars on hands at all times. We pack separate coolers and prep vegan meals for three day class camping trips. 

Parents often say to me, "won't they feel left out? Isn't it really hard?" I think this shows that, no, they don't feel left out, and no, it's not hard! It just takes a little bit of planning and a little extra work. Okay, and  little creativity. Still trying to figure out how to replicate a hard boiled egg......... 

What a fabulous opportunity we have to show all the kids (and adults!) that veganism is not limiting, or too hard, or depriving!  I love that I get to demonstrate everyone that vegans can have all the same foods, without the cruelty. So, I'll prep, pack, and send him on his way. And while I will cry, he will have a fabulous time, and neither of us will have to worry about the 'food thing'! 


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Vegan Celebs


Tyson fan or not, I always think it's cool when I can tell the kids about celebrities who have jumped on the veg wagon! What a great way for them to feel more confident in their decision to be veg. I remember when I told my son that Spider Man was vegan - his eyes absolutely lit up!! He was so excited and thought it was soooo cool. He was 5 at the time, and thought Spider Man was real, so it was extra exciting for him! You can do a google search for veg celebrities, and come up with hundreds of examples. Some more surprising than others - like Kermit the Frog!!


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Don't Expose Kids to the Fad Dieting of Veganism!

I could just scream! A well-meaning friend just sent me an article about raising vegan kids; please, let me share a line from it with you:

"Everyone agrees the solution is simple: don't treat children as adults and subject them to faddy diets or crazy exercise regimes."

Okay - SERIOUSLY?! The stories in this article are absurd. What  kind of parent watches their child dwindle away, or lie listlessly in bed all day and NOT consider their diet might play a factor? Forget veganism; what if the child was consisting off steak and milk? What if all he ate was McDonalds, chicken nuggest, and mac and cheese? Regardless of the particular diet, parents should always be aware of how the food they put into (or don't put into) their child affects them. This article is so reminiscent of the story years ago when vegan parents killed their infant by only feeding him soy milk. "Vegans are terrible parents, with all their fad diets and craziness!", the headlines all but yelled. Never mind it was  a SIX WEEK OLD baby boy, who was also fed apple juice, and had complete idiots for parents. No, soy milk is not for infants. Neither is cow milk. Neither is apple juice.

Yes,  we have to be careful about what our growing vegans eat..... just like EVERY OTHER PARENT. Veganism isn't special! In fact, I think parents raising omni's should be ssoooooo careful about what their kids eat. Just like vegan parents.

Yes, I make sure my kids eat well-rounded diets. I make sure they eat a fairly wide variety or fruits and veggies. I make sure they eat whole grains, especially quinoa since it's a complete protein. I make sure they have fortified non-cow milk, and I make sure they eat tofu. I feed them nuts and seeds, mostly in the forms of butters. And, we all take a daily B12 supplement. And we minimize processed foods. It's really all just common sense!

But I stop there. I'm not going to get so crazy that I monitor every bite they eat. Children have been eating for - well, for freaking ever - and eating all types of different diets. My children's doctors have always stressed the biggest indicator is to make sure they're growing. I assure you, they are! And they eat healthily, are are not obese; they're following their own growth curves.

I guess my point is, be aware of what your kids are eating, but not overly concerned. No, I am not a doctor; I do not have a nutrition degree, and I don't specialize in medicine. But I am a mom, and I am growing two vegan kids. And I can tell you that it's not a fad, it's a way of life. It's a way to teach health and compassion.

For more coplete info from people with more authority than me : ), please check here:

I also HIGHLY recommend Dr. Fuhrman's book "Disease Proofing Your Child".