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Personal Development for Smart People
Melanie Wilson: Editor-in-Chief of Vegetarian Baby and Child MagazineHow long have you been a vegan?
Since 1998. I made the switch to veganism after starting my business and coming into contact with so much information. I just couldn't ignore it anymore. My daughter Kalli made the switch with me, though she had never had dairy products. I actually experimented with veganism in college, but I didn't know what it was called at the time, nor that there was a vegan movement, so to speak. I felt I was alone in my endeavor and didn't have the support or information I needed to meet my nutritional and social needs. Also, I was a horrible cook. I gave up after 3 months of eating only fruit, vegetables and bread. NOT healthy. I decided to do it the right way this time! Now I love to cook, and even my non-veg friends enjoy eating at our house.
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The turning point for me was reading the book Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating by Erik Marcus (or maybe it's Eric Markus--vegan.com). I attended an online chat where he was the guest speaker. I was intrigued by what he had to say, so I ordered his book. I cried while I read it. I just couldn't continue to ignore the fact that my food choices had such a huge an effect on the world at large, that they caused so much unnecessary suffering. I also allowed myself to finally face the fact that though I was vegetarian, I wasn't doing everything I could to eat a healthy diet. It took a couple more months to work up to the final switch--giving up cheese was very hard for me. But I've never looked back, and I know I never will!
Are your husband and daughter also vegan?
My daughter is, and my husband eats vegan at home, but outside the home he'll sometimes eat seafood. He is happy with that, never complains about always being a test subject for my not-always-successful recipes, and is supportive in my desire to raise Kalli vegan. I am a strong believer in influencing people by setting an example. I can only change myself, so though it isn't always easy raising a child in a "mixed marriage", we are managing quite well.
How did your friends and family react to your change in diet?
Surprisingly, my family and close friends are very supportive--all of them! I was shocked, actually. But I am very outspoken and a compulsive researcher, so I can back up anything I say about nutrition. I think my passion for my beliefs is contagious, and though I may not "convince" someone else to make the switch during a conversation about veganism, I am persuasive in my determination that I have made the right choice for myself and for my daughter. It's more difficult with casual friends and acquaintances, who seem to feel freer to criticize and question our choices. Still, because I am not forceful in my views and only share information when others seems truly interested, I rarely find myself in uncomfortable situations.
How do you explain veganism to your daughter? Does she seem comfortable with the idea?
She is only 2.5 years old, so I know she doesn't fully understand. But I strongly believe that it is essential to start teaching children right away about what it means to be vegan. I have not begun to teach her about the horrors of animal cruelty--I think her young mind is too sensitive for talks about death and killing--but we do mourn the dead fish and chickens we see in the market, and I know she is beginning to understand that that is sad and unnecessary. I do talk about the fact that we are vegans, that we don't eat animals because we love them--that it's not nice to eat them, and that cow's milk is for baby cows, and so we drink soymilk. I think she is also learning a lot about healthy food choices simply by what food we choose to offer her on a daily basis. And I buy every child's book I can find that has to do with fruits and veggies, and she has lots of wooden fruit and vegetable toys to put in her grocery cart. Unfortunately, I have yet to find toy tofu.
What made you decide to start Vegetarian Baby and Toddler?
As a veg parent myself, I spent countless hours searching the internet for a community, for a regular source of updated information. There were lots of individual articles and some really good books. That was great, but I wanted to connect with other parents out there, and there just weren't families like ours anywhere in our neighborhood. I subscribe to several vegetarian/vegan publications, and still, I wanted something just for parents. So I created it. I also felt that though the world wide web was growing, that to reach everyone I had to also go off the web, which is where the idea for a print publication initiated.
Describe the newsletter/magazine. How does it differ from the web site?
The website offers a sampling of what people will find in the magazine. Technically, it's still a very homespun publication, so it can be called a newsletter. Regular features include a healthy kid story (an excerpted version of which is also published on the website), a question and answer section, lots of recipes for both babies and toddlers (one is featured on the website each month), book reviews, interviews with authors and other vegetarian authorities, nutrition updates and basic information, a list of suggested websites and other little tidbits that I think veg parents would be interested in knowing. We've also recently added a cartoon strip and hope to add another regular column. On the website we also offer a free Vegetarian Parents Database where families can input their contact information. That way veg parents around the world can find each other and get together informally and share resources or create veg playgroups or other associations. On the website, we also offer a line of clothing, bibs and message pins. We have a free monthly email news with lots of great information that is an alternative for those who cannot afford a subscription.
What challenges do you face running your business?
Well, the most challenging part is running my business from overseas. My husband works for the U.S. Peace Corps, so we move from country to country. Currently, we are in Papua New Guinea, and the time difference is almost exactly opposite from the U.S. I do virtually EVERYTHING through email and the internet. The other challenge is running a business out of my home. It's sometimes difficult to balance my work and family time. It takes lots of organization and communication and a terrific husband.
What are the best parts of running the business?
Feeling like I am really making a difference for families out there who are looking for support is so fulfilling! I get letters telling me that our website or magazine is the only source they've found up to that point. The key benefit for me in starting a home business, however, is that it allows me to be home with my child.
What do you hope to accomplish with the magazine?
I realized some time ago that even longtime vegetarians and vegans had doubts when it came to raising their own children veg; perhaps because they had lots of people--doctors, family, etc.--telling them it wasn't safe or that it was difficult. Or they just didn't know anyone else who was doing it, and they were afraid they didn't have enough information. I hope that someday no veg parent has to doubt his or her ability to raise a healthy veg child. I also hope that the work I'm doing will help to change the public's perception of veg diets for children. Vegetarian and vegan children can be wonderfully healthy, and I want everyone to know it!
Do you think your daughter will contribute some of her own ideas to the magazine in the future? Perhaps a Kalliís Korner?
Oh, what a great idea! Mind if I use that? Actually, she has already contributed in many ways--I've quoted her several times, her picture has appeared more than once, and, of course, she is my inspiration.