On a recent trip to Watchung Booksellers, my daughter wanted me to buy the new book Vegan is Love because the elephant on the cover has a heart-shaped trunk. After flipping through the pages and reading some of the sections, I didn’t buy it. I left it on the shelf even though I’m very sympathetic to the vegan lifestyle. My children both eat meat once or twice a week, and they certainly drink a lot of milk. I left the book behind because I wanted time to think about how I could present the ideas in the book in such a way that my children would feel informed but not as though they were “bad” because of their meals and outings to Turtle Back Zoo. I needed time to consciously think about my choices for them.
Vegan is Love, written by Los Angeles parent and activist Ruby Roth, addresses moral issues in our society’s overall treatment of animals, not just as a source of food. Specifically, she addresses the ethical difficulties in animal testing, use of animals for clothing, visiting zoos and circuses, food, and so on. These are all philosophies I subscribe to in theory, but not always in practice. However, I felt that my three-year-old daughter is too young to understand the topics well enough to make the book appropriate for her. The book is recommended for seven years and older, and by that age, probably even before, I would feel comfortable reading her the book and talking about the topics and illustrations with her.
The Vegan lifestyle is often at the center of controversy in the United States simply because it’s so foreign to a meat and potatoes country of plenty. However, the controversy surrounding this book seems to be more about its “graphic” illustrations and “radical” views. It’s true that the illustrations show animals with sores as well as animal parts on meathooks. It is written with an obvious bias towards the vegan lifestyle; considering the title, that should come as no surprise. Yet my son, who is five, has books about ninjas and other fighters, also aimed at the 7+ age group, that are much more graphic than Vegan is Love in their illustrations, and there doesn’t seem to be much of a controversial issue with those.
Children learn where eggs come from and where milk comes from, but shouldn’t they also know where their hot dogs come from? Or where the hamburger on the Memorial Day grill comes from? The conditions in the egg factories can be horrific, and we benefit from them. The horror over “pink slime” and other issues with meat products in recent media didn’t get much follow-through with addressing the food industry as a whole. This book is just one piece of the conversation that should be happening.
Those who find the book offensive cite that it is frightening children into veganism and introducing disturbing images about where their food comes from. To some extent, that’s why I didn’t want to share it with my children – yet. I want to be able to actively read the book with my children so I can explain our family’s choices, which are not vegan, in a way that they can understand. There’s nothing wrong with letting children know where their food and clothing and medicine come from. As parents making active choices, we should be able to defend those choices. And if we can’t, perhaps the book will help us to make informed choices just as much as it can help our children. Perhaps if parents choose Cheetos and Hi-C, we should be just as informed.
For more information about books for families interested in maintaining a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, visit VegBooks.org.