Talking to Your Kids About Food: The Politics of Our Diets
Would you believe this spicy chipotle sandwich is vegan?
Would you believe this spicy chipotle sandwich is vegan?

Diets, food and nutrition - those topics used to only interest adults. But it seems more and more kids are coming face to face with real food issues in the classrooms, with their friends and family members. Everything from food recalls, peanut allergies, pink slime, type two diabetes, edible schoolyards, school lunches and obesity, meatless Mondays and veganism…

Slowly and surely kids are becoming more aware of food politics, nutrition and health issues. Food has become political as adults constantly debate about what diet is "the best." And naturally, kids, who seem to pick up on everything, have picked up on the food tension and controversy as well. So I want to know, what do you think about discussing food politics with kids? Are diets and food issues simply too mature for tiny ears? As a vegan, I am often put in situations where I have to describe my diet to curious kids…

Discussing Vegan. Recently a book called Vegan is Love by Ruby Roth sparked much controversy regarding how we talk to kids about animal products and veganism. As a vegan myself, I was amazed that so many people called Ruby's book "controversial" - since I can relate to that moment where I start to think very carefully about the words I choose when discussing food - and a book to help lead the way seems like a good idea. But does the book go too far? Or not? I haven't read it, so I can't say much about its specific contents, but it does remind me of my own life and how I discuss "vegan" with kids.

Related: 10 ways I get my kids to eat their vegetables

What is a vegan? A few years ago I was trying to explain my vegan diet to my four year-old nephew for the first time. Back then he didn't get it. He didn't know what in the world a "vegan" was. He didn't understand why I wouldn't share his snack of cheddar goldfish crackers - or why I said "no thank you" when offered some of his ice cream sundae dessert. I mean, why would anyone in their right mind turn down ice cream, right? He looked at me like I was nuts.

Flash forward. He just turned six. And I was shocked when during a routine aunt/nephew phone call he started randomly talking to me about my diet. There we were discussing his new favorite new toys when all the sudden he started explaining to me how he knew I didn't drink milk and how I won't eat eggs. He referred to me as an herbivore - like "the herbivore dinosaurs."

The conversation lasted a good ten minutes. He asked me if I ate certain foods and why not and how about this, and that. "You can't eat mamas cookies because they have eggs in them! Oh my goodness Aunt Kathy, they are so good!" He circled around certain foods and then suddenly asked me flat out why I was vegan. I went blank.

Related: The 12 worst foods you can feed your kids

Was I supposed to start explaining to my sister's six year-old son that I was vegan because I didn't feel right about eating animals? And how I never really felt right eating meat - and that I don't eat any animal products, and on and on? Here is a curious and seemingly well-informed child wanting answers - how in the world do I shut down and simply say. "Oh, well, just because.."

The obvious answer for me was to pass along the detailed "why vegan" question answering to my sister - the parent. But somewhere inside myself I felt frustrated that I couldn't just talk freely about my truth. I was conflicted. Is it wrong to discuss what are essentially "food politics" with kids? I mean, it wasn't like he asked me where babies come from. Or maybe this was kind of the same thing..

Has discussing food with kids become the new "where do babies come from?"

Is it now… "mommy, where does my hamburger come from?"

Maybe some of you think it is simple. Hamburger comes from cows, right? Well yes.

Related: 25 vegan sandwiches your kids will actually eat

But with most kids, the questioning probably won't stop after a simple answer is given. More details will be asked for. "But how mommy do the cows turn into hamburger?" And so where do we draw the line in the discussion?

Maybe one answer is to focus on simply teaching young kids one true thing: food is controversial. Kids and adults don't always agree on what to eat. And that is OK! Instead of making food a "right" or "wrong" - lets start by simply agreeing to respect one another.

What do you think? Do you think parents should be open with their kids about food issues - political or not? I'm curious to hear how you handle kids and food chatter - and how you explain special diets, food allergies and health nutrition issues with them?

- By Kathy Patalsky
Follow Kathy on Babble

For 10 myths about going vegan, visit Babble!


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