Should Vegan Children Have Non-Vegan Friends?
Do friends have to be exactly alike? You've raised your sons and daughters to be good vegans, but the likelihood of finding other vegans for them to hang out with can be pretty slim, especially if you live in a rural area. But that begs the question, "Should vegan children only play with other vegan children?"
by J.M. Butler
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Maybe not. Personally, I'm not a vegan. Nor is any of my family. But one of my best friends was. And our friendship worked. In fact, it didn't seem much stranger than any other friendship. Everyone's different. Every friendship will have children and adults alike dealing with issues.
Neither Julie nor I were aware of the potential conflict until we were older because we never actually clashed. But now as I look back, I realize that these five tips may help other families blend vegan and non vegan friends.
Initiate the First Visit
When your son or daughter has a new friend, invite them over, just like you would any other kid. Let the kids play and have fun doing what kids do. You can even prepare some great snacks. Celery sticks with peanut butter, dried apple slices, or icy glasses of fresh orange juice are great. Maybe even some raisins and peanuts. It's a good idea to not make a big deal about the eating differences. If your child's friend stays over for dinner, you can cook something like meatless spaghetti or maybe a good bean soup with crusty French bread. Instead of butter, serve it with jelly or jam.
This may seem simple. But it does wonders, since it communicates that you aren't strange. And your food is just as great as McDonalds! Even better. It never struck me as odd that Julie's family didn't have hamburgers for dinner. I just loved the food. It can also help alleviate any concerns that the other kids' parents may have. If they come back and have had a great time, then they'll be much more willing to respect you. Especially when they tell them all about that great spinach salad!
Avoid Big Words and Scare Topics
Kids are impressionable, and easily intimidated. But you can help keep your children's friends from feeling scared by avoiding words big, strange words like organic, vegetarian, etc.. In fact, don't even broach the subject. If the child asks you why you don't eat meat, then a simple explanation of, "We just don't like it," or "Meat isn't as good for you as beans," will suffice. Use simple words. And don't go into a monologue on the horrors of slaughterhouses. It may keep the kid from wanting to eat meat, but it could also irritate her parents.
I accepted my friend, Julie, as being normal. Her family didn't make a big deal out of eating vegetables and fruit. And I loved fruit and vegetables too. But one of the biggest factors was that they didn't try to scare me into being vegan or make a big deal about the difference.
Talk to their Parents
It's obviously inevitable that your son or daughter will be invited to their friend's house. But even this can be tactfully dealt with. Call the parents up and just mention that your child can't eat meat or meat products. Again, you don't have to go into great detail. Many people have food allergies or abstain for different reasons. If you handle it politely and their parents are reasonable, they should be fine with not serving something meaty. If this looks like it's going to be a big challenge, then maybe only let your child go over for an afternoon. And to make the visit a little sweeter, send over a vegan hostess gift of zucchini bread, roasted nuts, apple pie or something like that.
Most parents should be obliging. Julie had many friends throughout town. When she came over to my house, my mom had a pitcher of lemonade and a fresh batch of zucchini cupcakes ready. Another time she had fresh fruit slices and some baby carrots. Her parents never made a big deal out of it and mine didn't either.
Dealing with Birthday Parties and Holidays
This may be the hardest one. But it isn't impossible. When your child's friend is having a birthday party, come up with a fun dessert you can make and call up the family. Kindly explain that your family doesn't eat meat or animal products, if they don't know this already, but tell them you've made some popsicles or something equally enjoyable. Most families, especially ones with lots of little kids, won't object to having additional refreshments. And one way to keep your child from feeling like the odd one at the party is to take the dessert over ahead of time and have it set out at the refreshment table along with the others.
Of course, as you develop good relationships with the other parents, you may find that they start doing this on their own. When the Cummings held a birthday party for their oldest daughter at the park, there was birthday cake as well as frozen fruit and strawberry popsicles. And as we played on the swing and slid down the slides, none of us really cared whether the other was vegan or not.
Holidays can be dealt with in the same way. And you might even consider hosting your own party. Bobbing for apples is a great treat whether it's Halloween or Christmas. And there are numerous recipes for fun desserts and treats. The sky's the limit. Focus on activities too. When I was a kid, it didn't matter so much what was served (provided it tasted good) as much as the games and things we did. Just let it be a fun time.
Don't Make It an Elitist Group
If there are lots of other vegan families in the area, don't shun the non vegans. Your child may find they want to hang out with someone who doesn't eat the same. But if you shun these other children because they eat different, even unintentionally, it will only breed ill will.
The other great thing about hanging out with non vegans is that you may encourage them to be vegan as well. Children as old as eight or nine have been known to switch over to vegan diets. And most teens who become vegans usually do so because they knew someone who was one.
I loved hanging out with Julie. She was fun. And aside from what we ate, we were two pretty normal girls. We liked best friend bracelets, enjoyed playing with our dolls, and liked telling secrets. Food just wasn't an issue. Had Julie and her family treated me inferior because I didn't eat like they did, I probably would have formed a very different opinion of vegans. But as it is, I have a great deal of respect for them.
When all is said and done, there is a great likelihood that your children will meet non vegan kids they want to hang out with. But this doesn't have to be an eating catastrophe. Kindness, patience, and respect go a long way. You'll be amazed at the impact you can have just by being nice.
One day, my kids will bring home vegan friends as well. And when they do, I'll be ready with iced peaches, vegetable soup and sweet potato rolls. For that matter, I may even have that meal ready when they bring non vegan kids home.