Vegan Is Love is geared toward families raising vegan children or, as the author Ruby Roth explains, "both children and adults that are looking for a simple introduction to what goes on in our food and agriculture system." The book has garnered reactions that extend far beyond the vegan community, however. Flip open the happy animal adorned cover and you may be surprised to see illustrated images of animals being hunted or abused and statements such as "...all animals raised for meat and dairy are captured and killed in the end. Their deaths are violent and sad." It's this seemingly graphic content that has critics calling the book everything from not appropriate for children to "brainwashing" and "propaganda."
Many think that statements like this are too gruesome for a children's book. I don't disagree, although Roth does raise a good point. "If it is too scary to talk about where our meat comes from, then it is certainly too scary to eat." But if the issue of animal cruelty and veganism has not been discussed with children, this book may make for a pretty scary bedtime story. It is of course up to us, as parents, to decide what we think is appropriate to read to our children and what is not appropriate. But combined with the calculated and well-thought-out decision to educate our children on the reality of what the modern food system has become, it may be a good supporting tool for families who have decided to live, or transition into, a vegan lifestyle.
The controversy and outrage over the book did not come as a complete shock to Roth. "I was expecting some controversy over the book," Roth said. "I was surprised that it has been on such a big, national level, but I am thrilled that the topic is being discussed."
Bringing light to the topic seems to be one of Roth's biggest goals. What to feed ourselves and our children is a complex decision. Many authors, like Michael Pollan and Jonathan Safran Foer, have written thoughtful books on the topic. Most people agree that, as a nation, there are many major problems with our food system, stretching from environmental to health to ethical issues. The work of writers like these is combated by the deep pockets of corporate advertising budgets and lobbyists that tell us that we should be eating food like meat and dairy, and lots of it. The National Dairy Council, for example, states we should be eating three servings of dairy every day "to ensure a well-balanced, healthy diet." It is hard to know what is the right, or best, information. One thing is for sure: If there are big budgets and campaigns behind certain claims, those claims are worth questioning.
If you are considering a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, Roth's new book is a good starting point, but it is anything but subtle. She doesn't gently encourage us to eat less meat or suggest small ways to incorporate vegan changes into our lifestyle. For example, I wanted to know her thoughts on eating meat that is humanely and sustainably raised on farms that give the animals a good life. I asked her if the issue really is as black and white as it's made out to be in the book. "There is no gray area when it comes to the life of an animal," Roth answered. "When there is money in exchange for animals and their products, it's a dirty business."
Roth argues that veganism is the only way we can eat in good conscience. She claims that a vegan lifestyle promotes a healthier planet and the well-being of all living things, but there are a lot more things to consider. Without the proper research and guidance, we run the risk of not obtaining enough of the nutrients we need to healthfully sustain ourselves. But with a carefully planned out and diversified plant-based diet — and the addition of a few nutritional supplements like B12 and nutritional yeast — a vegan diet can be incredibly nourishing and nutritionally balanced. "Veganism is appropriate for people of all ages and stages in the life cycle," Roth states. "Not only that, but many nutrients, like calcium, are recognized differently when they are obtained through vegetables versus animal sources. Our bodies absorb these nutrients more readily when they come from plants."
Roth suggests that a good way to approach a vegan diet is to focus on "adding new foods into your diet versus taking other foods out." Many people solely think about the lack of foods they will be able to eat. Instead of worrying about how you'll get through a summer without a hot dog or ice cream cone, think about all the new foods you can incorporate. Try experimenting with new grains like farro or quinoa and fun nut spreads like cashew or almond butter.
It is important to keep in mind that a vegan diet should be based on wholesome nonanimal-derived foods. While vegan hot dogs and frozen meals may be a good way to transition into a vegan diet without going through abrupt withdrawal from some of your favorite foods, Roth thinks that "the way to ensure longevity is to focus on fresh, unprocessed foods and eat mainly from nature's garden." It is easier to burnout when eating a "vegan junk food diet."
Making a decision like this is a huge change and takes an enormous amount of commitment. Everybody has to be on board and agree that the benefits outweigh the challenges that you might face. Get the family involved in deciding which new foods you want to incorporate into your diet and have them help with food preparation. Roth's favorite dishes to make with her 7-year-old step-daughter, Akira, are kale salads and sprouted grain tortillas with hummus and greens. Have the kids help make a big batch of vegetable soup with the produce that they hand selected at the farmers' market. When everyone feels involved, it strengthens their connection to the lifestyle and the food that supports it.
A commitment to making a positive impact on our planet and the lives of those who dwell on it is always a good thing. Instead of defensively and harshly critiquing Roth's book, we should look to it as an example of extreme commitment to bettering the world we live in. We don't need to agree with everything she says and many may come to the conclusion to not employ a vegan lifestyle at this point, but we can most certainly agree that it is an issue worthy of discussion.
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