A lot of people are surprised that all three of us are vegan. What they don’t know is that while Joseph and I came to veganism later on in life, Boone’s been vegan from the start, right from the time I felt a blub, blub, blub along one of my fallopian tubes. I initially put this sensation down to my digestion (we were consuming a lot of nutrition at the time) but when I became light-headed and all round funny-feeling, I decided to wee on a pregnancy test and sure enough the blub turned out to be a little blob called Boone! Despite his vegan beginnings, however, I was fairly ambivalent about having Boone join us in our vegan decision last year. I was worried that he was a fussy enough eater as it was without “restricting” his diet further. I was worried that I didn’t know enough about the nutritional needs of toddlers. I was worried he’d be left out. But as time went on, things naturally progressed to Boone going vegan, too.
A few months in, I brought him to a developmental check-up and at the end of the visit, I confessed to the public health nurse that we’d gone vegan. I say confess because I thought she might take a sharp intake of breath and say “I see . . . ” and then start lecturing me on vital vitamins and nutrients. I also had residual feelings of guilt (a mother’s most favourite and least useful feeling) about the decision even though I knew it was right for us. This was her reaction: “So?” I started blabbing on about if we should make an appointment with a dietician, to which she responded “You can if you want.” Then she said “I don’t give a shit, his weight and height are fine.” Ok, so she didn’t actually say “I don’t give a shit”—although her attitude clearly did—but she did remind me that there was nothing to worry about. I feebly mentioned anaemia, to which she gave me a look that said he’s not anaemic. “Look, if you’re really worried, just give him the fortified soya milk if he’s having a fussy week.” And that was that.
I went home and ordered Feeding Your Vegan Child – With Confidence, a book written by a vegan dietician. If ever there was a book title written for me at this particular point in my life, this was it. Like the public health nurse, it told me to get a grip. I had to laugh at the suggested “menus” because basically, they were what Boone ate. As it turns out, a lot of my concerns had stemmed from the fact most dietary advice is geared towards meat eaters, which then misleads people (and by people, I mean me) into thinking that particular nutrients can only be found in the recommended animal-based products when plants can provide just about everything you need. The only nutrient that can’t be found (in a reliable way) in plants alone is vitamin B12, but that’s what fortified soya milk, butter, yoghurt, and nutritional yeast flakes are for. Yeah, I had never heard of nutritional yeast flakes before, either. You know it’s bad when you ask the helpful health food shop employee “what is it?” and they shrug and say “it’s for vegans,” which implies, you know, those aliens, and then they add “it’s supposed to be like cheese?” According to the package, they are “a primary strain of Saccharomyces Cerevasiae, grown on enriched purified molasses under carefully controlled conditions.” When I first tried them, they tasted as disgusting as the description sounds but within a few months I couldn’t get enough of the stuff. The closest thing they resemble in taste and texture is Parmesan shavings but if you’re in the habit of eating dairy, they’ll taste nothing like Parmesan. In our house, though, they’re called “special flakes.”
Give or take the odd nutritional yeast flake, as far as I can tell, Boone eats the same things as other toddlers, just the vegan version. So, instead of cow’s milk and yoghurt, he has soya or almond milk and soya yoghurt; instead of cheese or ham in his sandwich, he has hummus (we even get away with putting some grated carrot in there sometimes) or peanut butter with jam or banana. He has porridge for breakfast but we add flaxseed, dates and/or raisins, and walnuts. He loves this breakfast so much that whenever he’s particularly happy about anything, he shouts out “dates and raisins!” It’s like his happiness catchphrase.
Like Joseph, he has a thing for chocolate, or “choc-oh-late.” Kid can put away some 70% cocoa. He’s a way of asking for it, too, that makes it impossible to say no. The thing is, he doesn’t actually ask for it; instead, he’ll sidle up to you like a cat and bestow you with the sweetest, most angelic smile, tilting his head to the side just so. He’ll carry on like this, wearing us down with cuteness, until one of us can’t take it anymore.
He also believes that jam and ketchup are complete meals in and of themselves and other foods like bread and chips simply accompany them. Hence, we get requests for ketchup with chips, but the chips are left soggy on the plate. It seems he doesn’t like spuds, which is shockng, but then again, he’s not entirely Irish.
Then there’s dinner. Give me patience! Until Boone was one, dinner was like every other meal, a gorge fest. He used to eat everything and with such relish. We’d spend most meal times staring at his “process” and wishing it was socially acceptable for us to eat like that. But something happened when he turned one (I don’t know, he got tastebuds?) and all of a sudden, he started coming out with words like “bleurgh” and “yuck.” Eventually, I found some dinners that he approved of: pesto (made with beans instead of cheese) pasta, tomato soup and pasta with roasted tofu, beans and toast, and what I call gemischtes rice (named after gemischtes eis, the only phrase I can remember from all my years of studying German), basically a rice, tofu, and mixed vegetable stir fry. It all sounds so lovely and well-balanced but these go to dinners also get the bleaurgh/yuck treatment and sometimes end up on the floor. These incidences generally coincide with the weeks when the only thing Boone’s interested in eating is “plain, white bread . . . with just butter.” He asks for this while looking us dead in the eye, defying us to sneak any sort of nutrition into him.
Speaking of sneaky, unspeakable amounts of nutrition: smoooooooooodieeeeeeee!
The only dinner Boone really enjoys at the moment is noodles, preferably at a “restauronk”, aka Wagamama’s; all other restaurants aren’t really restaurants, according to Boone, just disappointments. It’s the one dinner we all enjoy, actually, as we all get to eat our dinner in peace!
I worry about this “fussiness” and preference for carbohydrates and sugar, especially since he’s vegan, but then I have to remind myself that this is not a problem particular to him being vegan. In fact, it’s not really a problem at all. He’s growing, he’s healthy. He’s just two, that’s all. I also have to be honest with myself that I’m not really worried about Boone’s nutritional intake, more that I’m really, really annoyed that the food I’ve prepared has gone uneaten or worse, has ended up on the floor. So, I try to adjust my expectations and tell myself, yet again, that things will change. As it happens, just this week, we’ve ignored all warnings against the use of psychological trickery when it comes to kids and food and have gotten Boone to eat some very green things (broccoli soup! a green smoothie!) by telling him not to steal our food. Whenever we say “Oh, no! Don’t eat our food!”, he promptly comes over and steals whatever we have, cackling all the while. Oh, sweet fallen baby-led weaning star.
However, one thing that did really worry me for a while about Boone being vegan was that one day we’d have to explain to him that other people eat animals. I was dreading it. I mean, he’d already noticed that spiders eat flies and thought it was weird. I’d considered getting the book That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals but another children’s book Me Hungry did the job for us, instead. I’d picked it up ages ago, thinking it had a somewhat vegetarian message. It’s about a little (cave) boy who sets out to hunt some animals for food, first a rabbit, then a porcupine, followed by a tiger, but in the end he collaborates with a woolly mammoth to get an apple from a tree and they become friends. But when Joseph read it to Boone a few weeks ago, Boone didn’t get to the end of the story. With each page, Boone’s lip poked out further and further until by the time they got to the tiger, he was almost in tears. Joseph stopped reading and asked Boone if the book was making him sad.
“Is it because the little boy wants to eat the animals?”
“You know, Boone, some people, they eat animals.”
Boone didn’t respond to this, just looked at Joseph.
“But you and Mama and Daddy, we don’t eat animals.”
“We eat plants. We eat seeds and nuts and beans and vegetables and porridge and raisins. And those are all plants.”
“That’s because we’re vegan. We only eat plants.”
A long pause followed, after which Boone proclaimed:
“A-times [sometimes], people NOT eat animals.”
That was us told.
Since then, Boone’s been on a mission. He tells Ben Next Door that the dinosaur figurine they’re playing with eats grass. “But Boone! Some dinosaurs eat meat.” “This dinosaur eats grass,” says Boone. Sometimes when he’s hungry, he’ll say “Let’s eat plants!” And another time: “I looooove vegan food.”
So this is what it’s like to have a vegan child. Also, I’m not sure how much this correlates but Boone is the sweetest, nicest, kindest, most loving, caring child ever. Just saying :)