When people hear that I'm raising our son vegan, I get this question: “What if he rebels and wants to eat meat?” For a long time now, I have answered this question with: “That would be his choice and we will deal with it.”
But now, after six years of explaining what it is to be vegan to school administrators, teachers, parents, friends, and children, I have a new answer: “Why would my son rebel against compassion?”
Of course, rebellion is a natural part of growing up. It’s about questioning authority and rules that seem arbitrary and stupid. I get it. I rebelled. I quit clarinet; I started a petition to sing "Ebony and Ivory" at our junior high school graduation, because the songs that the music teacher chose were lame; smoked cigarettes at the burrito place (and got caught); hung out down at the docks when I said I was at the movies.
As it turns out, I am still questioning authority, especially about things that seem discretionary, like going to a farm and milking cows on an elementary-school trip.
Compassion is also a natural part of life—it is a feeling of deep sympathy for another’s suffering, and the desire to alleviate that suffering. It is what motivates people to spring into action and help when someone is feeling hurt. Compassion arises because of the deep sense of connectedness among all beings.
Making the choice to be vegan has both at its core: rebellion and compassion. In order to accept that I no longer wanted to participate in a system that raises animals for food, I had to upend my worldview, which was one of the most difficult things I've ever had to do. That meant rebelling against my family, the prevailing cultural ideology of eating animals, and against the system that perpetuates it. I rebelled because the animals are suffering, the people who have to kill them every day are suffering, and our planet is suffering too—her resources are going to run out much sooner than those involved in animal agriculture are willing to admit.
Once I proudly proclaimed my status as a vegan, I found a support system—a network of people who feel the same way I do so that it doesn’t feel like rebellion any more. It feels normal—a new normal.
My normal now includes surrounding myself with vegan friends, cooking wonderful meals together, and supporting each other’s endeavors, whether it is a new clothing line, a new cookbook, a new restaurant, or spending time at sanctuaries, communing with rescued animals: Cows so big that they lower their heads to see eye to eye with my little boy; pigs are content to have their bellies rubbed while their piglets run around playfully as puppies; and chickens, who are pretty amazing animals, especially a rooster named Mr. Peabody who strutted and posed for me as I clicked away, trying to get the perfect picture of him.
So, when I am asked about my son’s future potential rebellion, I figure, if I do my job right, I will have shown my son that compassion is not arbitrary or capricious. Rebellion, yes. I am prepared for that. Rebelling against compassion? No way.