During a month-long family trip to Malaysia, my 7 year old son said, “I want to be a vegan.” Out of nowhere. He was smack in the centre of a culinary paradise and, being a hearty and adventurous eater, he was enjoying it. But something pulled on his heartstrings and, and out of a desire not to hurt animals, he wanted to eat none of their products.
Worst timing ever. Although I have never aspired to a vegan diet, I really respected my child’s view. My own early impulses to avoid meat were alternately ridiculed or ignored when I was younger, and I wanted none of that for him. I wanted to support him. But as travelers, we weren’t cooking for ourselves and eating out for every meal resulted in very limited options for him. He also has the misfortune of disliking mushrooms, which is ubiquitous in Chinese vegetarian cuisine, and the Indian food was spicy. For the last 10 days of our trip, the poor kid stoically refused foods I knew he loved, and subsisted on an inadequate diet.
I wanted to turn things around for him once we got home, but jet lag ate up the first few days. By the time I got myself together and started preparing vegan meals, my son’s resolve had waned. Faced with yet another dish that he couldn’t eat, he sat tearfully one day at the kitchen island and said he didn’t want to be a vegan anymore because he couldn’t eat anything. I told him that eating vegan would be easier now that I was cooking again, but he had had enough.
Truth: I was partly relieved. It’s way easier on me if he eats like the rest of our family, which is mostly veggie (we eat some seafood). I often really like vegan dishes, but it’s another way of approaching food, and since I don’t want to abandon what I currently do, adopting vegan cooking would add a load to already heavy kitchen duties.
Also true: I regretted that my little guy didn’t get a proper go at making tangible his desire to be more compassionate towards animals. Knowing his dietary leanings, I was not at all convinced veganism would suit or benefit him in the long run, but the interest deserved better exploration. I was sorry I couldn’t help him more.
But what I did tell him is that you don’t have to be a strict vegan in order to have a more positive impact on the world through our eating habits. I explained that his desire to eat vegan moved me, and led me to reconsider my eating choices. As a consequence, I’m trying to lighten up on dairy, and I started buying organic butter more consistently. I dusted off Angela Liddon’s Oh She Glows (which I knew I liked but had neglected) and we have a couple of staple recipes out of it now. The kids love her Creamy Tomato Soup (the chic pea crouton accompaniment is tasty, but I often make the soup without it which speeds it right up). I prepare many of the meals in our family, and enjoying more vegan choices means our crew of five is participating in what was once a one-boy endeavour.
Incremental changes not only have a place, but they are often the most sustainable path to making better choices. Radical change is glitzier but often less stable. I have a friend who describes himself as a “recovering vegetarian” – ages ago he told me that a broad population eating 10% less meat is much more impactful than a small population eating none at all, and I’ve never forgotten it.
I’m not sure my son was comforted by my perspective of his foray into veganism. I am, though. I’m proud of him.