The first two questions any vegetarian or vegan typically gets are, “why did you become a vegetarian?” and “when did you become a vegetarian?” Growing up vegetarian, my answer definitely strayed from the norm. I think more often than not people expect a minimal window of time: three months, six months, a year. Most were not prepared for my “from birth” response.
Around 8 million adults in the United States identify as vegetarian, and according to Harris Polls, one million of them are vegan. My question is how many of those people grew up eating a plant-based diet?
The only other vegetarian children I met were kids who did so for religious reasons. I only knew my one friend, Elise, who made a choice (in the third grade) to eat a plant-based diet. I lived in a small town, and did not know any other kids who were raised vegetarian.
The Ones Who Raised Me
Following the explanation of eating a plant-based diet from birth, I told how it all started. My mom was a college student when she became a vegetarian, and while enrolled in graduate school she began dating my dad. He too decided to try his hand at a plant-based diet. From then on they never looked back. My parents have committed to a vegetarian diet for over thirty years now.
When it came time for my parents to raise children, it only seemed natural to raise them vegetarian because it was the life they knew. My parents raised us all as ovo-lacto vegetarians (meaning we eat eggs and dairy). Years later here I am; the youngest of five vegetarian children.
Eating at home meant that my dad did all of the cooking and my mom packed our lunches for school. I found it difficult to eat school lunches, since most “vegetarian options” were pizza, grilled cheese or peanut butter and jelly. There was definitely a lack of nutrition and variety. Bringing my own lunch was the obvious choice.
My Vegetarian Life
I learned that living a vegetarian lifestyle required me to stand up for what I chose to eat. Outside of my home, parents were not there to prepare my meals or to explain my lifestyle. I was on my own. Growing up vegetarian was not always easy (imagine a 5-year-old saying they don’t want to eat something) and it took a lot of explaining, but I never felt left out. Any vegan or vegetarian will get questions about their diet, it just happened at a much younger age for me.
Throughout life, my parents always made it clear that my siblings and I had autonomy with what we put into our bodies. It was my choice to eat or not to eat meat. I am happy to say that four of the five of us continue to follow a vegetarian diet. And either way, my parents proved that it was possible to raise healthy, happy, vegetarian children from birth.