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The Hess FamilyInterviewed by Laura Bruno
Today, we feature the Hess family from Afton, Virginia. Pictured above: Bill, Solomon (2 1/2 years), Wendy, and Althea (8 months). Bill Hess—an artist who uses recycled glass and metal in his work-has been featured in numerous eco-friendly publications and venues (www.ideasonlegs.com). Wendy Vigdor-Hess is a Registered Dietician, certified WellCoach, sugar-free vegan cookbook author, and Reiki Master Teacher: www.vigdorhess.com. Aside from their inspiring work, this couple has had a fascinating vegan journey. Wanting to let their children choose if they would ever eat animals, Wendy and Bill committed to raising their children vegan until old enough to decide for themselves. At the time, Wendy and Bill were still omnivores, but newborn Solomon helped the entire clan go vegan!
How and why did you first become interested in a vegetarian or vegan diet?
Wendy: I don't believe in killing animals to eat them but from many years ago also had a fear that iron was mostly found in meat. With a history of anemia, I felt unsure that I could heal without eating meat. Many times, I had tried a vegetarian diet and always "went back" to meat. In 2000, I learned more about a raw food lifestyle and the benefits of bio-available iron that plants could bring. After having my son and before conceiving my daughter, I went vegetarian, then vegan and have really enjoyed it, noticing a huge difference in my overall mood, health, energy and more. I have always believed and seen first-hand for clients and in my own life, that food greatly affects mood, health, energy and more. My belief system naturally connects with a vegetarian and vegan diet; my ability to act on those beliefs has been a more recent and joyful evolution!
Bill: Over the years, I've had vegetarian friends, and I gradually became more aware of my difficulty digesting dairy products and red meat. With Wendy's passion about nutrition, she often experiments with new ways of eating, and I've always been curious to take part in her trials. I've long had an interest in ecology, energy conservation, and living lightly on the earth. Vegan and vegetarian diets are less impacting of earth's resources, so eating that way became more attractive. But primarily, I was tempted to go veg to make myself healthier. I've become more intrigued with veggie food dishes in general. Since eating mostly vegan, I've found that I just plain feel better on a veggie diet!
What factors have influenced you to raise your children vegan? Article continues below
Wendy: In my own quest for optimizing my health and trying a number of different "ways" of eating, I learned more about our food supply. We no longer live with nutrient rich soils. Meats, dairy, and eggs concentrate genetically modified foods strains, and contain toxins, antibiotics and hormones. With food allergies, childhood obesity and other epidemics on the rise, I thought,"I do not want any of that for my children!" It felt right for me to choose the purest for my children (at least until an age when they can decide for themselves). I feel like that's the most responsible choice for them, and any challenges that decision may pose are worth it to me.
Bill: Wendy and Laura Bruno were the primary motivators for me to do this. I've seen the logic in doing it, but I initially felt resistant--despite knowing the glaring benefits"on paper": children getting sick less; simpler food prep with less harmful bacteria in the kitchen; less expensive grocery bill. However, at first, I was truly skeptical about whether a child could grow in a healthy way on a vegan diet. On the other hand, I've always loved fresh lettuce and can't eat a meal without a nice healthy serving of veggies. My Mom's to blame for that; she raised me to eat granola, sprouts, and other good stuff! I certainly wanted our children to receive that same kind of lesson starting at a young age.
The timing felt right for our family to go vegan so that we could all enjoy the benefits of having a healthier lifestyle. In making this choice, we met a lot of other needs, too. With our son now coming up on his third birthday, I recognize how his great health and heightened awareness may stem from his"clean" diet. He rarely gets sick. He doesn't have any significant maladies of any kind.
What challenges have you found in feeding your children and what tips do you have for other parents?
Wendy's Challenges: Finding a balance to make food in social situations feel seamless even if different foods are eaten. Finding compromises as parents while thinking of our children's needs first and taking our personal agendas out of the equation. Being challenged to look at our own choices and why we would choose something for ourselves that we wouldn't choose for our children. (Is what we say to ourselves truth or a sneaky way or excuse to lie to ourselves?)
Bill's Challenges And Tips: When Wendy first introduced the concept of raising our children vegan, I was quite resistant. Although I wasn't a heavy meat-eater, I still couldn't fathom raising a child without it. But our son's journey became my own, and now I follow his diet! Watching the process unfold, I've seen that the only thing we've needed to remain vigilant about is making sure he gets enough daily protein, vitamins, and minerals. Our son has a lean build, so I get a little paranoid that he's lean because he's a vegan; I do know that he's healthier as a lean child (better lean than overweight). We give him a multivitamin and mineral supplement to be sure. And for part of his protein intake, he gets a lot of high-protein hemp milk, which he loves. We also give him healthy protein powders in his cereal in the morning.
As I've become more committed to this lifestyle, I find it easier to be around others (parents and children, friends, family) who are critical or naive of a vegetarian or vegan diet. I deal with the dietary differences by not making them a big deal. I just focus on making sure my children have food available that they like. We talk about our children's food as yummy awesome food that keeps us healthy and happy, and that makes them and me feel lucky and special to eat the incredible food we have.
What are your favorite vegan family staples?
Bill: Tofu, lentils, seitan "jerky" strips, green smoothies every morning, veggie burgers, greens (lettuce, kale, collards, chard, celery, cucumbers), fruit (berries, apples, lemons, grapes)
Favorite vegan proteins?
Wendy: Beans, hummus, Sun Warrior, Nutribiotic Rice protein, Hemp protein and Raw Power protein, raw olives, avocados, spinach and other greens, spirulina, soaked whole grains like brown rice, millet and quinoa (usually mixed with the rice or millet), pumpkin seeds, Sunshine burgers, lentil or pea pates and soups, wheatgrass juice, green smoothies, green bars.
Any tips for parents of picky eaters?
Bill: Presenting two or three known foods that the child likes at a particular meal and staying firm about that being all that's available. If children feel truly hungry, they'll eventually eat something and will learn to be a bit more adaptable.
Wendy: Keep it simple and give yourself a break. Having a pickier eater doesn't mean we as parents need to make three different meals and exhaust ourselves trying to please. Offer a variety of foods and offer them often. Children often need to see a food multiple times before choosing to incorporate it into "their world." Choose different preparations of the same foods (i.e. carrots plain, in a soup, mashed, whole, raw, shredded, cultured). Let the children help you prepare the meal, food, lunch, snack. The more you involve them, the more likely they will eat the food.
Our toddler is what I call a discerning eater: he's also very clear about what he likes. He tends more towards the carbohydrate foods, and food needs to taste good. I add superfoods to muffins and cookies, so when eating these seemingly carb-filled treats, he actually gets power-packed nutrients. My cookbook, Vegan Sweetness Without Sugar or Gluten, contains many such treats, kid-approved by my"picky eater."
Any tips for larger family gatherings or trips with friends?
Bill: Bring food, find out what's being served ahead of time and bring something similar that is more suitable to what is being eaten. Also, if we are going out or cooking a meal at a big gathering, we try to influence and/or make a shared dish that fits into our diet and yet offers something delicious for others to enjoy, too.
Does Solomon seem extra aware for a two year old, and do you in any way attribute this to his diet?
Wendy: Yes, his understanding and comprehension of things is astounding to both of us. He can know someone is going to call before they do. He makes direct eye contact with people and asks them questions. His eyes are clear and he has a very astute awareness.
I do attribute this to his diet. He is vegan (having occasional honey) and eats only alternative sweeteners as special treats, but still fairly often. His diet is free from animals, artificial sweeteners, dyes, toxins (to the extent that can be controlled) with his environment free from those items too (using natural soaps, cleaners, detergents, shampoos, toothpaste, homeopathics rather than over-the-counter medicines). He also was not vaccinated.
Thank you both so much for this interview! Many Blessings to you and the entire family!
For more information on Bill or Wendy, please view their web sites at www.ideasonlegs.com and www.vigdorhess.com. You can also find Wendy's cookbook and resource guide, Vegan Sweetness Without Sugar or Gluten on her site.