“Don’t bring anything vegan. The little kids won’t like it.”
This was the only criteria given to the eighth grade class as it was announced that each student needed to bring something for a bake sale the next day to raise money for a charitable project.
The comment from the teacher was directed at a single student, Ben - the only vegan in the class.
Ben was 10 years old when he chose to adopt a wholly vegetarian diet. For a child of his age to make such a decision is a relatively rare thing in modern society. In 2012, at the age of 13, Ben attended Berkeley Vegan Earth Day as a volunteer tabling for Animal Place, a sanctuary for farm animals. The event showcased vegan food, sustainable living and compassion for all creatures. The infamous Turlock Hen Rescue, in which 50,000 chickens were abandoned to die of hunger and dehydration, was still fresh in everyone’s minds. A few of the survivors of that tragedy were new pets of Ben’s. By the end of the day he had committed to full veganism.
What should be recognized is how difficult it can be for school-aged children to adhere to a vegan diet. Snacks and meals are taken as a matter of opportunity whether it be at school, dining out with friends or as a dinner guest at friends’ homes. Fellow students would sometimes tease or ridicule Ben as they ate their institutional grade hot dogs, cheese and salami. The parents of some of Ben’s friends would make efforts to provide him with vegan options when he was a guest at their tables yet other adults would subject him to the same mockery and ridicule as the children.
When class projects and events involved food Ben would always take the opportunity to educate by demonstrating that vegan food was healthy, tasty and cruelty-free.
Kids have a natural sweet-tooth. It is much easier to get most kids to eat sweets and baked goods than it is to get them to eat kale and Brussels sprouts. Few kids will turn down an Oreo or Nutter Butter sandwich cookie, both of which are actually vegan as are many commercial processed sweets and baked goods including four varieties of Girl Scout cookies.
So when a teacher insists that a vegan student brings non-vegan cookies for a class bake sale is it ignorance or bias? If nothing else the mockery, however slight it might be claimed to be, is not something we would hope to hear coming from our children’s educators. There is clear evidence that changing societal trends are shifting towards plant-based eating and mindful compassion but it is also clear that many adults, those who teach and influence our children, remain the biggest hindrance to positive change.
Ben arrived at school this morning with a big plate of homemade vegan peanut butter cookies for the class bake sale.