Let’s get one thing straight. I am extremely grateful my son Noah does not have a major food allergy. I know moms that constantly worry about their children eating something that could cause anaphylactic shock (God forbid!). Allergies are totally serious and no laughing matter. However, when it comes to a child’s dietary preference, most adults do not take it seriously. My son decided to be a vegan at age 5 (No meat, fish, eggs, or dairy). And in order for me to make people take his choice seriously, I’ve resorted to referring to his aversion to meat as an allergy.
Here’s the thing. Noah decided himself to switch from being vegetarian to vegan before kindergarten, when he told me, “I don’t want to eat my friends or do anything that hurts them.” I gave Noah the facts about dairy cows and chicken eggs in age appropriate terms because I believe honesty is important. But the final decision was entirely his. That was three years ago and he never looked back (I was not vegan myself yet at that time). I respect Noah’s choice. But many people do not.
When it comes to dietary restrictions, allergies always get a pass and adults bend over backwards to accommodate those kids (for good reason). But why do so many people not understand my son’s decision to follow a strict vegan diet by choice? To me, ethical reasons for food restrictions are just as important.
Noah’s government funded public school in Toronto, like many others in North America, has a strict “nut-free” policy and it’s observed very seriously. No nuts are allowed and no exceptions! There are signs all over the school of scary looking peanuts with a big red slash through them. Furthermore, in Noah’s kindergarten class a few years back there was a fruit and veggie only policy for snacks – yay to healthy eating! The idea was to promote smart food choices at a young age. This rule extended to classroom birthday parties. Only fresh fruits were brought in for all celebrations including Valentine’s Day and holidays. (Nobody wants to celebrate with broccoli or brussels sprouts, but who doesn’t love strawberries and apples?!) That year I did a healthy dance of non-processed food joy. Delicious fresh seasonal fruits replaced the gooey cupcakes topped with jelly worms – I know others moms were happy too. The moms of allergy children were thrilled because there was no chance of hidden nuts, the health conscious moms were happy, and I, the mom of the only vegan in the entire school of 600 kids, knew that my child would not be left out from parties involving food.