The McKendrys defend their decision to instill these habits in the family by offering the health and happiness of their children as examples of the positive results of careful nutrition. "They're tickled by the fact that their taking care of their bodies," McKendry says. "They're healthy, active, have good appetites--they're certainly not depriving themselves."
While the diet mandates that both boys bring their own meals to school or birthday parties, the annoyances of life in a nonvegan world are insignificant when compared to the long-term benefits of healthy nutrition, McKendry says.
Emotional and social concerns define child rearing, but critics contend that raising kids in such a nonconformist way may expose immature nervous systems to the harsh realities of living so far from the mainstream. All children want to belong, but are vegan kids given a heavier cross to bear? Every child is different, and nearly all carry some perceived social stigma, Wicklund says. "Each person is unique and needs to be comfortable with him or herself. Parents need to be a little more relaxed."
McKendry says the family is met with little hostility or disapproval from family and friends. "There's more curiosity than criticism," she says. "We've tried to talk to the boys about everybody else's freedoms as well as ours."
"I just don't think it's that big a deal," Alex confirms. "All my friends know I'm a vegetarian and they're very supportive."
While parents strive to influence and educate, most are careful not to force their own nutritional or ethical beliefs on their admittedly impressionable children. "We've always stressed that it's Matt's choice," Finamore insists. "We're not going to tell him, 'you can never eat meat.' We make sure he know, that he does have a choice."
Maintaining a healthy vegan lifestyle has its nutritional and social challenges, but many parents see their system as an important opportunity to present the topic of individuality and to teach children awareness and sensitivity to the culture and values of others. Vegan advocates insist that a movement away from animal products will improve the odds against a laundry list of nutritional maladies that plague both children and adults. More and more Americans are putting their faith in a movement that is nothing more than a concerted effort to ensure a more sustainable, less violent, and healthier future.
Andrea Heaton is a freelance writer and business owner in Edina. Her last contribution toMinnesota Parent was a memoir about her pilgrimage to her ancestral Norwegian homeland.