In the News: Should Kids Know Where Food Comes from?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
A new children's book entitled Vegan is Love: Having Heart and Taking Action was released last week with mixed reviews over concerns about the books use of graphic images and a potentially unhealthy diet message. Author and illustrator Ruby Roth's previous book That's Why We Don't Eat Animals: A Book About Vegans, Vegetarians, and All Living Things provided children in vegetarian homes with a colorfully illustrated explanation  to help them understand their family's eating style. (Learn more about the origin of the book here.) Vegan is Love continues the conversation into a deeper context by tackling tougher topics like animal testing and the use of animals as entertainment.  
Ruby Roth told that her book is intended to introduce ideas of compassion and action that help children think, eat, and treat the environment differently. Some of the biggest concerns from critics relate to how children may feel regarding the suggestions to boycott visits to the zoo, circus, or aquarium in addition to avoiding the inclusion of meat or dairy in the diet. Child psychologist Jennifer Hart Steen shared her concern with Matt Lauer on the "Today" show about how children may process the overall message especially if they don't follow a vegan lifestyle. There is also some concern regarding the illustrations especially for younger children.
Here is what the author has to say about her new book.


The Bottom Line
We know that a well-planned vegan diet with special attention to seven key nutrients ensures a plant-based diet is also a healthful one. We are secure about the positive weight and health benefits found in plant-based diets. We recognize that with careful meal planning, a protein rich vegetarian diet that focuses on nuts, seeds, and legumes in addition to fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can meet protein needs for most people including growing and active children. We are aware that some people enjoy a flexitarian approach to plant-based eating while other people like dailySpark Editor Stepfanie Romine have found a vegan lifestyle to be right for them. We also understand that the nutritional needs of children have not changed in several decades even though almost everything else in the world around them has.
Helping children understand where their food comes from and how to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet while being active is important for all families today if we are going to turn the tide on the childhood obesity epidemic we find in our country. There are many books on different topics and interests for parents and grandparents to share with the children in their lives. Parents frequently read to their children while also sharing warm cuddles and conversation as they seek to help them learn to love books from a young age. Parents also tend to know what book topics are appropriate for their children. For some families, this book might not be right. However, other families will likely appreciate the tool it provides to open honest conversation and dialogue.
What do you think? Are you concerned about children eating a vegan or vegetarian diet? Do you think there should be concern over honest books about animal welfare?

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I have been either vegan or vegetarian for 11 years. I take offense to anyone saying that all vegans/vegetarians are judgemental and self-righteous. That isn't fair. No, I do not agree with killing or harming animals, and I am certainly going to teach my children that. I don't agree with circuses or aquariums, there solely for entertainment. I am for zoos though! Many zoos do a lot of good, teaching children to love animals and helping endangered species in the process. Extremism is the problem in the vegan community. That isn't how you are going to get your point across. No one wants to be insulted. I am not necessarily against other people hunting for their food or using truly free-range, grass-fed meat. It isn't for me; the thought makes me nauseous honestly. :P The animals live pretty happy lives though, and it wouldn't be any different for them if a wolf came and ate them for supper all of a sudden than if a human all of a sudden comes and eats them. But it is so important for children to know where their food comes from, and that means knowing that if they are eating store-bought meat, it comes from abused animals. That's just fact. Many people just say "I donn't want to think about it!" Many people deny that it happens and say that the videos of factory farms are falsified. I have seen inside factory farms with my own two eyes; that can't be falsified. It is important to teach your children kindness, health, and environmental consciousness. Factory farming provides none of those. With that being said, there are kind ways to say all of that stuff and to show the truth. And to teach your children that anyone that eats meat is mean isn't giving them a very good moral standing. They are starting life out a bit sanctimonious and judgemental. I think a lot of it is just that it's such a sad thing for so many vegans and they want to see all animals happy and healthy and alive! There is no medium for that. It's hard to watch someone hurt something you love so much.
In our household we just teach that all you can do is be kind, spread the word (politely), and live your life the way that is right for you. Report
The only thing that irritates me here is the anti-zoo message. AZA accredited zoos do vital research and conservation for endangered or extinct-in-the-wild animals. AZA accredited zoos put millions into education for children - so that children can appreciate the world's bounty of creatures, and understand the importance of preserving their habitats. I live near one of the best zoos in the country, Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium, and if it weren't for their research and conservation efforts, several Nebraskan and Amazonian amphibian species would be extinct! AZA accredited zoos do GOOD work - children aren't hurting anything by visiting one.

If people want to be vegan or vegetarian, go for it! I could not sustain my health on a vegan diet because of certain medical issues. I love animals and do rescue work for wild and domestic creatures. I'm awfully dang sick of vegan or vegetarian people who think they're somehow better than everyone who eats meat. Vegans are certainly correct when they say that no animal died to feed them - but what about all the plastic they have and use? Plastic comes from petroleum - what about the habitat devastation from oil sands? What about the pollution from trucking and manufacturing that plastic? No, your dinner didn't kill a cow, but your plastic shoes probably killed an Alaskan wolf. Balance that.

Here's the thing: We're all people, trying to make the best choices we can for our individual needs. Use facts, present your case if you must, and live your life. And always allow others to do the same. Report
Lots of thoughts on this issue. I think absolutely we should be aware of where our food comes from which includes understanding that not all meat comes from the highly publicized meat factories, nor do chickens like to live an organic life when given free range options - they like bugs of all sorts. Is that gross? for some yes. And what about the fields where grains are grown? Not just whether an acceptable fertilizer is used or whether a harmful pesticide is applied, but do the fields exist anymore? Where do all of the nice, beautiful housing developments come from? Farmland. We tend to take all of it for granted and expect enough food of our inclination to be available when we want it, in the form we want it. So yes, even more than children, adults need to know where our food comes from, all of our food whether it's a chicken from an Amish farm down the street (plucked or not?) or a gluten free grain mix or the carrots in their 1 lb. bag. Report
Books that leave children with answers about their own family's chosen lifestyle and food choices seem like a mixed bag. Sure they need validation, but we have to be able to give them that without teaching their children to be judgmental about other people's decisions. Children will learn from what their parents do and say and most certainly don't need to be self-righteous. We are more than our food choices! Report
I saw that 'Today' show featuring an interview with the author and then a child psyc, and a dietition. Frankly I don't see how animal testing and eating animal meat go together. I would eat a slaughtered animal, but not an animal used for testing..just the though of the testing is disturbing. I hate the thought. When I can I get farm raised beef from my aunt's ranch, and I know for sure that they are grass fed, and humanely slaughtered. Sorry, but i think telling kids that 'eating' meat is 'scary' is not a healthy way to raise kids. If my child chose to not eat meat, I would support that, but that book is just not apropriate. Report
I am a vegan, for 3.5 years now, and I use no animal products of any kind in my diet or in my shoes/accessories. There are animal products used in any number of things (like car tires for example) that I can't get away from, but I think using fewer animal products is a matter of trying your best rather than being perfect. I am in better health than I ever have been. I do not have children, but if and when I do, I would raise them as vegan (which is perfectly healthy and nutritious, just like an omnivore diet, if attention is paid to constructing a diet plan with the appropriate nutrients, vitamins, and minerals), until they were old enough to make their own decisions. I do not necessarily think that veganism is the solution for everyone. So not every vegan is some kind of religious evangelical or militant, and there is no reason to be nasty toward all of us, just as there is no reason for this author to write a book that is clearly meant to be inflammatory and accusatory toward those who do not share her very narrow viewpoint. As a vegan, I find this author's reasoning backward; if she is trying to convert people to her lifestyle, she is doing it wrong by pushing people away. Implying that a meat-eater is heartless simply because he or she chooses to eat meat is just not accurate. Report
This issue is like everything else. There is no happy medium. What you eat or don't eat is your own personal decision. God placed animals here and gave us permission to eat them. A personal choice. But people like to try to push things down others throats. No pun intended. An old communist addage is to brainwash children then you can take the nation.
People who eat meat are not being "mean" to animals any more than they are being "mean" to vegetables when they eat them . Report
A better way to teach children "where food comes from" is to go out to a working farm, such as a community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm or to a farmers' market. My kids know that much of our food comes from Jennifer, about 6 miles from our house! They know that our eggs come from chickens that they've seen. They know that our meat is humanely raised. Report
Yes they should know where food comes from, and they should learn to appreciate the people who produce that food for them, and the work that goes in to it. Report
I have three children that grew up on a beef protein diet. We are ranchers and our lively hood depends on beef consumption. None of my children are overweight and they understand the cycle of life. If they want to be vegan they have that choice. Report
I think it is wise to introduce all sorts of ideas to your children at age appropriate times. If you introduce the ideas, you can add learning and flexibility to concepts. You are able to explain your choices and family legacy and inspire individual growth and decision making. Being able to talk through differences is healthy! Report
I don't believe this author has children of her own, just wait until her young children don't want to eat their vegetables. When it comes to animal testing, of course I don't like it, but just think of all the lives scientists have saved making vaccines and medicines for humans. And when animals are in the zoo, think of the good treatment they received and aren't getting poached in the wild. Report
Well, to answer the question the blog suggest: "In the News: Should Kids Know Where Food Comes from?" Absolutely! My children already know. As for use the new book "Vegan is Love" well, I won't be buying it! My 9yo son is a cub scout and had to do a report on animals and endangered animals. He was a bit shock to find out that "Man" is one of the threats. He is very compassionate on the subject. My daughter's class trip is to the Zoo! We love the zoo, aquariums we love our dog! My daughter is 7yo is kind to all animals. My whole family is compassionate. MY CHILDREN ARE LOVE!
And yes, we eat meat (& fruit, veggie, nuts, beans, etc...). On weekend my kids ask us "Are we eating bacon from piggies or turkeys today?"
As for the book tackling "deeper context by tackling tougher topics like animal testing" Again yes, I believe when our children are mature enough we will explain that too. No doubt my children will be like their parents, many family member and friends and support NO cruelty to animals. Yes, meat eater also care and love animals. This book sounds a bit narrow minded.
I am lucky to have both vegan and vegetarian friends who are NOT narrow minded. So, I am not put off by this young author. My concern is the book may reach young minds in such a way that they might look at the non-vegan community as cruel &unjust people.

I personally have a flexitarian approach because it works for my family, but just as with my religion, I would never try to convert anyone else, including my children. I'd encourage them to read this book but also to think through their own choices for themselves. I am much more concerned with changing our out of whack food system than with what my neighbor is or isn't eating. Healthful, balanced diets come in all shapes and sizes, just like people! Report
Veganism and vegetarianism is not a problem. Being unhealthy is. I am a meat eater and my love of bacon won't allow me to be a vegetarian or vegan, but we eat way too much meat in this country. Kids should know where food comes from just like they should know where everything comes from.

My paternal grandparents bought 1/2 a cow each six months and my grandma cut it up and put it in the deep freeze. My dad and his siblings didn't suffer because they knew it was a cow. My mom lived with her grandparents who raised chickens (some of which ended up on the dining room table) and her grandfather attended a hog killing 2-3 times per year. Again, she wasn't hurt by this. There is a cycle of life for all things and kids should be allowed to know that. Report
Yes, I'm very concerned about children being brought up as vegans or vegetarians. My vegetarian daughter researched "Bringing up Baby as a Vegetarian" for a college class. Her research resulted in her feeding her daughter meat/dairy and stopping her own vegetarian diet. She was dumbfounded to discover the dietary and nutritional needs of infants and young children. The bottom line- they need more complete amino acids for brain development and bone growth than a vegetarian or vegan diet can give them.
I'm also very concerned about children learning about where their food comes from and basic animal care. I'm VERY sure that no one can learn that from this book.... Report
So, if "Vegan is Love"... what does that make all of the meat-eaters that I know, and love, and who love me back?

Ugh. I have a million things I could say about this book and the horrible, propagandized, oversimplified misinformation its spewing, but it's clear that you have already drawn your conclusions.

And you know, the more I look at this blog, the more insulted I am by your tone -- you're being completely dismissive. An "HONEST" book about animal welfare? SERIOUSLY? A book that says aquariums and zoos are on par with circuses and livestock farmers are cruel? People who raise animals for food or educational purposes are not abusive. I come from Vermont, where dairy farmers are clinging desperately to their family traditions so that they can raise hormone-free cows who live healthy, safe, long lives. I live in Tennessee, where our Aquarium is actively restoring sustainable populations of several endangered fish and bird species. Does this author think using almond milk at breakfast and doing yoga in organic cotton pants will do as much for animals?

Am I concerned about a kid eating a vegan diet? YEAH. I am. Human beings evolved as omnivores. I work with inner-city kids who eat so many carbs that they're pre-diabetic and sleep apnea at age 10.

Luckily, meat doesn't give you diabetes. My children will be raised on a paleo diet, the one that nature intended. And when they have questions about why we don't eat Oreos and pasta every day, I'll pass on the cutesy illustrations. Instead, we'll visit our CSA farm and have a real discussion about where food should come from. Report
I just wish people would do their research. Vegans should stop pushing people to become a vegan just like meat and dairy eaters should stop pushing people to eat that way. I don't belive in killing animals so that we can eat their flesh because personally I see that they have emotions and feel things. I wouldn't eat a cow just like I wouldn't dream of eating my cats. That's just me. If you want to eat meat, be my guest! I do envy vegans. I am not one. I think it's awesome that they can stand up for what they have the freedom to believe in. And yes it IS HEALTHY! Report
To be honest, I'd rather see people teaching about compassion to each other before we worry about animals. Just a thought. Report
I grew up on a farm, so I think nothing about eating animal products. Report
It makes me a bit sad to hear so many uneducated, and at times down right caustic opinions being slung about regarding an animal free lifestyle.

Can both "sides" please quit bashing each other?

People will make decisions based on the information they have at hand. In order to make a balanced decision you must have access to unbiased information. I cannot stress that enough. Many reputable health associations condone a well-balanced animal free diet. Do your research, folks.

The cold reality is that most of the meat and dairy people consume comes from CAFO's (Confined Animal Feeding Operations).

(Luckily, we don't have those where I live. Our steers grow up on rolling green pasture, fresh streams to drink from and plenty of fresh air, sunshine, and room to graze.)

A lot of people are not ok with the way the animals are treated, the content of their feed, the filthy conditions in which the animals live, or the containments found in the end products.

I'm not afraid to stand up and say that I'm not ok with any of these things, and will not consume animal products in protest.

I don't have children yet, but I believe that it is the duty of the parent(s) to give the child the information they need to make their own dietary choices. Show them the pros and cons of both sides (unbiased information from reputable sources), tell them your personal philosophy and let them make their own choices (age appropriate of course). Report
As a farmer who raises chickens for eggs, turkeys for the holidays and a couple beef steers (just picked them up yesterday), I find the overall message in the book and the overall message in this blog to be extremely insulting. Not everyone who raises animals for food is a monster and doesn't care a wit for the welfare of the animals they raise! Not everyone who CHOOSES to eat meat is either! As someone else said, I don't think the author is truly honest about the intent of her book (less explanatory about food and more brainwashy about animal rights) and the video was insulting. The obesity epidemic and environmental issues have more to do with AMOUNT of consumption and the METHODS of mass production than eating a rational amount of QUALITY meat. Don't like how mass production raises animals? Find a local farmer who is natural and cruelty free to buy from -- you'll both be better off in the long run. Report
Funny, my husband and I choose a vegetarian diet but I would never read this book to a child. We'll give our children the freedom to eat any meat they are served at a party or a friends house. and I don't have a problem with children having a realistic view of where the meat they eat comes from... as ROSEWAND said, many of us haven't even confronted that reality.
But this is way too narrow minded. As Carproth said, there are a wide variety of reasons to be vegetarian. The fact that there are flaws in our current meat production system is certainly one of them for us, but as 1LBDOWN said, that doesn't mean there aren't healthy, sustainable meat sources available. Even though I don't want to eat meat and I don't want animals to be abused, I can't subsribe to the belief that "animals are people too". I'm sorry, but they aren't. Report
"Do you think there should be concern over honest books about animal welfare?" Honest books? I am not certain what that term means. It seems that someone is using the term 'honest' to avoid using the term 'truth.'

I found what the child said in the video about the book be very disrespectful. I was raised to respect adults and never to insult them. I would not introduce this book to my children or even place it in my library. The author is less than "honest" about the intent of the book and I expect the content of the book to reflect the authors attitude.

@KLSIMPSON70: I know a couple vegan souls who do wear leather and silk. One of them has leather seats in their vehicle. Report
I am a lifelong vegetarian due to being exposed to the realities of the animal lifecycle on my grandfather's farm when I was a little girl. This is my personal choice and it has seemed to work well for me. Even though I believe I have enjoyed some associated health benefits, I am not a crusader for vegetarianism or animal rights and believe each human should do what works best for him or her. Report
Hmm...I buy only cruelty-free products. All of my food comes from an Amish farm close to me, including raw and prepared foods...and yes...meat. The animals are raised compassionately and are loved and enjoyed, both by their keepers and by each other, until they are food. That is the circle of life, whether in the animal kingdom (in which we, as humans, exist), or if you insist upon separating us, the human kingdom. I eat more vegetarian meals than meat-based meals, but I do still eat meat (if it's compassionately raised, which means I usually do not eat it out, since I do not know where it comes from in that instance) and I refuse to feel guilty about that.

When we're talking about children, I think it's important for children to know that animals are often mistreated in the quest to create products for people. I suffer under no delusion that some of those products are in my home (though I do try to raise my awareness and prevent that). But I don't think that a vegan diet is the only path to awareness.

For me, allowing children to understand how a farm works vs. how commercial production works is the answer, but still within the confines of a child's scope. In other words, I don't think it's the right answer to force graphic horrors onto children under any circumstance. People die in fiery crashes, but I wouldn't force those images onto a child to prepare them not to drink and drive...and I wouldn't force graphic and torturous images of suffering animals on them in an effort to help them understand that there is a compassionate way to raise an animal and a non-compassionate way. I think it's fair to say that most kids understand if you say, "Some people are nice to their animals and some people are very, very mean to their animals, so if you want to eat meat, it's best to know where the animal was raised, so you know if the farmer was nice to the animal." That should suffice, if you ask me.

I also think it's important to expose children to lost of yummy, non-meat options. As a child, every single meal that we ate involved meat and veggie choices were so boring. ("Here are beans. Here are carrots." Yawn.) If you teach children how to really ENJOY vegetables, then the horrors of commercially-raised meat may even be secondary to actually preferring veggie dishes to meat dishes, as they grow. As I've matured, I've actually come to prefer meatless dishes in many instances. Report
I don't have a problem with the book. If you are not a vegan family your children won't read the book! Anyone can voice any opinion about anything they want. We see it all the time everywhere. It's all about deciding what is right for you and your family and letting others do the same.

P.S. I had a dietician tell me she couldn't help me get healthy if I wouldn't consume dairy or meat! Report
Children by nature are more compassionate than many
adults. There is so much fear in the responses to this
book which expresses views not often presented to
children. Children are raised on sweet farm scenes
with happy animals. Talk about propaganda.

If children really knew of the suffering that occurs to
billions of these sweet animals, most of them would
become instant vegans. Most adults have
compartmentalized their feelings about animals
in order to continue to consume these sentient
beings. That is apparent in many of the responses
to this thread.

Teaching compassion is the most important aspect
of parenthood, compassion for people and compassion
for the others that share this planet. Report
I raised my children to make up their own minds - not to follow my thinking OR that of others. In fact, I taught them critical thinking and the ability to recognize when someone is trying to slant their opinion through things like grotesque pictures. (Have to say thanks to protesters and their signs at a Planned Parenthood years ago for a good learning experience for them.) Report
Haven't read the book, don't intend to. The title alone sounds like pure propaganda, directed at an innocent and vulnerable audience. Children believe whatever Mommy tells them, whether it be about Santa Claus or that milking cows is evil. I'm pretty sure the author had that in mind when she wrote the book. Report
I am not now, nor will I EVER be, a vegetarian, much less a vegan. I have serious doubts that the vegan diet is all that safe and effective. There is no such thing as a "one size fits all" diet! Further, I find that most vegan advocates are quite annoying about their chosen lifestyle, and are constantly trying to convince people not to eat meat, often using the flimsiest "evidence" to support their conclusions. So no, I will not be reading this book, nor do I think my bacon-loving children will, either.

Now, if you take the basic question, "could kids learn more about where their food comes from?", I'd say yes, absolutely, as long as there is no vegan agenda attached to it (or U.S. dairy, or any other agenda, just the facts please). For the record, I think the Atkins diet is equally crazy and dangerous. Report
This comment is about the boycott of zoos, aquariums, etc. I feel there is a narrow-minded view about these places. These places provide an educational tool to "teach" society about various animals, species, etc. It also give those people in that area of experitise hands on experience with these animals, species to better understand their needs that could ultimately save them from extinction. Having the experience of seeing endangered animals up close can be a profound experience and a teaching moment for future generations. Report
Yes, if the agenda was clearly focussed on choices for nutritional health, I am all for presenting the options to kids - there does seem to be a political agenda/tone to the description of the book.

Educating our children is important - if education means giving them two or more sides to an argument and the tools to decide what's right for them and the planet. If "education" presents only one point of view, then it is not education, it is indoctrination.

I am a carnivore, and I believe in animal welfare. That's sound like a contradiction to some, but animals can be treated humanely, while still being a food source - in my opinion. Report
I think these topics are important for parents to discuss with their children and for the parents to use their best judgement on what kind of pictures or themes are appropriate for their child's developmental level. I am a teacher, and I would frown upon using books like this in a classroom setting. I just cannot advocate enough parents guiding and teaching their children at home, and although these books disagree with my views, I think they would be helpful under the guidance of parents who truly agree with the views presented in the books and who believe that this lifestyle (and reasons for it) are truly what is best for their child.

Edit: I only read the article above, I couldn't watch the video at work.
I have five children myself, each with different diet issues and needs. My oldest can't handle wheat or glutenous grains. My second has a gag reflex with any dairy food. My third needs to stay away from rice. The other two seem able to eat most anything.

If I've learned anything since becoming a mom, it's that there is no perfect diet. We are all individual beings with unique metabolism and biochemical needs. While some may do very well on a vegan diet, others will not. Same with any other diet. Some of us are obligate carnivores. We simply aren't able to get enough vitamin B12 or other proteins without meat, dairy or eggs. There are documented cases of people who can't tolerate most vegetables, though they are rare.

What I've chosen to do is to stay away, as much as possible, from foods that aren't processed at home. That means that we cook from scratch as much as possible. We note and pay attention to what we're eating and listen to what our bodies tell us. If any of us were to break out in hives after eating spinach, for instance, we know that it must be avoided for optimum health no matter if it is a nutritional powerhouse for most people.

So, while I have absolutely no problem with teaching my children where food comes from, in fact I actively teach them these facts, I do have a big problem with the judgemental tone that this author is using. I was once chastised for not supplying my children with enough treats and cookies for crying out loud. And it bothers me a lot when parents dictate to their children what a nutritious diet is based on ideology instead of what child's unique nutritional needs are. If your child is doing well on a vegetarian diet, great! More power to you! But if not, then I would hope that even a hard-core vegan would take the steps necessary to ensure their child's good health. Report
Disappointing that so much attention has been given to what is clearly an animal rights agenda and not solid nutritional advice for children. Yes, I would have concerns if my children expressed an interest in a diet with poor nutritional planning. As for animal welfare, that is not the same as animal rights. Report
CARPROTH, I'm a bit surprised by your tone. Do you know vegans who wear leather? Because I don't. Any true vegan does not purchase or wear leather products. They also don't wear wool or silk or anything else that comes from a living being. Report
I am a vegetarian getting closer to veganism and my husband is neither. We don't have children but I've often wondered what I will do when I do have them. I am happy to let people choose what they want to eat for themselves. I would want my children to be informed about where their food comes from -- meat and produce -- and to be honest with any questions they may have.

I think these books are great to help children understand complicated issues but the key is having an adult who can keep the dialogue going and help them process what the book says. Report
Do those who advocate a vegan diet out of concern for the 'poor animals' also eschew wearing leather shoes, belts, gloves, purses, and require fabric upholstery in their autos and on their recliners? There are many reasons for embracing a plant-centered diet: health benefits of limiting overly processed meats, lowering cholesterol by reducing fatty feed-lot meats, utilization of the planet's resources (the amount of plant-based food able to be grown on 100 acres of ground vs amount of aminal-based food possible from those same 100 acres). If a person wishes to use the argument of cruelty to animals as well, that's OK with me as well - I just ask for consistency. Report
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