Children's Book on Veganism Could Trouble Non-Vegan Kids

The big news on the vegan scene is that Deuce Lutui, the Seattle Seahawks' new guard, has gone (mostly) vegan to get his weight in check (he's dropped 60 pounds since June 2010) and improve his performance on the field. This is just more proof that anyone can benefit from embracing a vegan diet, but as evidenced by the controversy surrounding the recent launch of a children's book on the subject, some people think that "anyone" should exclude kids.

I responded to one critique of Vegan Is Love: Having Heart and Taking Action, by writer/illustrator Ruby Roth, from an LA Times writer a few weeks ago, which spurred Roth to send me a copy of the much talked-about book.

I slowly turned the pages this morning. The beautifully illustrated book begins with an uplifting introduction:

"How wonderful that at this very moment, every person, big and small, has the power to create a better world! We don't have to wait to grow older, for laws to change, or for presidents to be elected. We can begin right now."

On every subsequent page, Roth explains in gentle yet honest language the realities of how animals are misappropriated in our world. On clothing: "There is no harmless way to use the skins of animals. Their bodies belong to them just as our bodies belong to us." On zoos: "There is nowhere to run, hunt, forage, or drink from rivers. Trapped, the animals grow sad, sick, and angry." On eating: "...we can grow strong and healthy by eating from nature's gardens. This way, our bodies do not collect the chemicals, fat, and disease found in animal products. Instead we feed our bodies with love and life."

As I read and admired Roth's lively illustrations, I felt transported back into my 5-year-old self. That's when I first realized that the fat-slicked and shiny white sausages my dad used to slice up and serve us with pools of mustard were made of pigs. I don't remember the exact conversation, but I remember the horror and disbelief I felt at the realization. My parents took my feelings seriously and created the opportunity for me to eat a vegetarian diet. When I discovered the evils of the dairy industry as a young teen, again, they supported -- nay, facilitated -- my decision to go vegan.

I was extremely fortunate to have such accommodating (read: ex-hippie) parents. I can't imagine what it would have felt like to be stuck with a heart that bled for every piece of animal flesh my teeth were forced to gnaw on, or disgust at every hormone-pumped slice of cow cheese I'd have to chew before I was allowed to be excused. I read everything I could get my hands on about the realities of the meat, dairy and fur industries. At 14, I even wrote in to protest fashion magazines that glamorized animal skins (I was published in the now-defunct Mademoiselle), and I wore hideous green plastic Birkenstock clogs that sang out my commitment to do no harm with every clod hop -- er, step.

I think every child who reads this book will be touched, fascinated, and enlightened by its words. Many will be motivated to action and evangelism. Some of the illustrations might be a little nightmarish -- specifically the one about animal testing that shows a row of caged bunnies with open sores on their rumps. But overall the book gives powerful and honest information that kids deserve to know.

Unlike adults, kids can't discover they're feasting on a plate of violence, hide that info in the back of their minds, and just go on noshing. I think adults who have responded negatively to this book have probably done so because of their own fears of facing the true impact of their life choices.

I feel sorry for the kids who read Vegan Is Love at a plant-based friend's house and then have to go home to a steak dinner.

In summary, the only reason any child would suffer as a result of having read Roth's book is if his parents would not allow or empower him to make changes in his diet and lifestyle that avoid perpetuating the everyday cruelty, egregious pollution, immense waste, and disregard for human health that the book exposes.

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Camille Lamb Guzman is a journalist who writes on wellness, travel, and culture. She is also finishing a book of creative nonfiction.