Question of the Week: Helping a Parent to Understand Vegetarianism
December 7, 2009

veggies

Hey guys,

Thanks for your response to the snowy sesame seed milk. And the requests for raw eggnog have been duly noted; I’m going to give it my very best shot!

I’ve been slacking a bit lately with questions of the week, but it’s not for want of requests. Fortunately, a young reader of mine recently provided me with a very excellent question to share with you all:

Courtney wrote in last week with this thoughtful question:

Hello!

I would like to preface this email with the fact that I am fourteen. About a year ago, I became a vegetarian for the first time. I did not fully understand how to give myself the correct nutrients with this type of diet. I gained quite a bit of weight from eating so many grains. My mom told me she was worried about my health and advised me to begin eating meat again.

Throughout this past year I have been learning and understanding better ways to receive proper nutrients. I am ready to become a vegetarian again (the right way) and eventually continue on to veganism. I have discussed this with my mom and she is more than wary of this idea. I expressed to her that it is a much healthier way to live and it makes me happy to do so, but she still does not think it is the best option for me. This frustrates me so much!

What do you think I should tell her to help her support me? Are there any amazing articles you know of that I could show her? How can I prove that I am able to get enough b vitamins, protein, and iron this way!

Thank you so much!

Courtney

Wow, Courtney! I should begin by saying how happy I am to hear that I’ve been reaching young readers–especially young readers who write so elegantly and maturely and with so much composure. Thanks for writing.

This is a very important question. A healthy vegan lifestyle depends on education: educating yourself, and educating the people who love you, about vegan foods. While I sympathize with your frustration at your mother’s doubts, I also urge you to remember that many of the most well intentioned moms out there simply don’t know a lot about plant-based nutrition. So when their precious little girls announce that they intend to eat vegetarian or vegan, they may be left with all sorts of questions and doubts.

The best thing you can do to help your mom understand vegetarianism is to:

1) Educate and inform yourself with legitimate and thorough information
2) Share your source material with your mom

I’d suggest one of the following books. They’re not as short and digestible as articles, but they’re far more comprehensive, and they’ll surely be able to put some of your moms questions to rest. While she’ll have to invest time in reading them, I guarantee she’ll be persuaded. My top five are:

1) Becoming Vegetarian or Becoming Vegan (Brenda Davis, etc.)
2) Vegan for Life (Ginny Messina and Jack Norris)
3) Vegan For Her (Ginny Messina)
4) The Food Revolution (John Robbins)
5) Whole (T. Colin Campbell)

I also recommend the pcrm.org website for tons of great articles, as well as Go Veg and Veg Family. They’re full of information that’s presented in an accessible and welcoming format.

Don’t forget, too, that seeing is believing! Give your mom evidence of your optimal diet: get routine blood work on a yearly basis (just as you probably do already), and be sure to get your B-12 and Vitamin D checked. Contrary to popular thought, many vegans do not experience low levels of either of these nutrients, but it’s always wise to check! And be sure to discuss your vegetarian lifestyle openly with your doctor.

Good luck, Courtney! It may take your mom some time to adjust, but when she does, you’ll be able to celebrate your lifestyle, even if she doesn’t share in it directly or agree with it 100%. And remember: never stop educating yourself! This will not only be crucial for helping your mom to accept your vegetarianism, but also for ensuring that you are as healthy and nourished as possible.

Good luck and stick to it!

And now, I invite my readers — especially those who went vegan at a young age — to share the resources that helped them most, both in making the transition to plant based foods, and in helping loved ones to understand your choice.

I’d love to hear more, and so (I’m sure) would Courtney!

Night all.

xo

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    52 Comments
  1. Great response, Gena (as always)! I wish you had been around when I was a teenager. 😉

    My favorite books are “The Vegan Sourcebook” (the title sounds like some sort of witchcraft spell book to me, but it’s terrific), and “Becoming Vegan” (which you mentioned). I also LOVE “The Food Revolution,” but in case Courtney’s mom won’t commit to reading longer, in-depth books, “The Vegan Sourcebook” & “Becoming Vegan” are great, comprehensive books that can be flipped through & not read necessarily cover to cover to still get a lot of information.

    Good luck, Courtney! You can do it & sooner or later, your mom will support your decision!

  2. raw vegan eggnog is EASY!

    1 lrg ripe banana
    1/2 cup raw nut or seed milk
    1/2 cup water
    1/4 tsp vanilla extract
    Nutmeg and cinnamon to taste (I like about a 1/4 tsp each)

    blend until you can’t hear the carolers, garnish with some nutmeg.
    Not thick enough? Add more banana!

    serves one or two.

  3. Gosh, Courtney. At only fourteen you are considered immature but your attitude is as adult as they come.

    I have no real advice other than to say – follow your heart.

  4. I’m 16 and I’ve been mostly vegan for over a year now. I’ve found that one very compelling book is Fit for Life, by Marilyn and Harvey Diamond. They offer a very intuitive approach and explanation towards a plant-based diet. I especially liked how they put the focus on eating more fresh vegetables and fruits, instead of drowning out the book with negative condemnations of meat and cheese. Their writing style was engaging and their arguments were very clearly presented, so I recommend it as a read to anyone who is conscious about their health, whether they are vegetarian/vegan or not!

  5. Courtney,

    I’m a parent and, while we never ate a lot of meat, our family was very into dairy and processed foods for a long time. My daughter, at 7, decided to go vegetarian and was successful with that for a good year until she slowly started eating meat again, as we all did. By the time she was 9, I was starting to think about getting rid of all the meat and maybe even going vegan. She, again, was the first to say, “I’m going to be vegetarian!”

    Now she and I are vegans while my husband is vegan at home, but flexs away from home. We’ve been totally vegan for about 8 months, but mostly vegan for a few years now. My daughter is now 12.

    I’d like to respectfully disagree that blood tests yearly are necessary at your age. You mentioned that you would like to do it right this time. If you’re eating a whole food diet (whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, fruits, veggies), you are going to be meeting all of your nutritional needs minus vitamin B12.

    You mentioned that you over did the grains…on that score, I’d encourage you to check out Dr. McDougall – http://www.drmcdougall.com/ It’s usually not about the grains themselves unless they’re all processed beyond recognition.

    Another good resource is Dr Fuhrman – http://www.drfuhrman.com/ He is the author of “Disease Proof your Child” which is another good book to give your mom to read.

    If your mom is willing to educate herself, you may find your whole family going down the path to healthier eating.

    Good luck!

  6. Hi Gena! Hi Courtney!

    I am going to be honest… discovering the book “The Raw Detox Diet” by Natalia Rose, launched my curiosity about proper vegetarianism. I found it easy to understand, and relate to, and I thought it was extremely helpful in simply explaining certain things to my family.

    Courtney, I wish you the best of luck. It has been years and my family still (sometimes) gives me a hard time about certain things… i.e. protein. My suggestion to you is: to never ever stop learning and always be confident in what you know is good for you!

    In addition, I am so very impressed that, at such a young age, you are not only eloquent with words but you are interested in a healthy lifestyle. I was the same way, but very confused about everything.

    I wish you the very best of luck.

    always,

    lauren

    • Great advice from everyone!

      I’m adopting a primarily raw/vegan lifestyle at 21 and I think all of this advice (especially education, leading by example, and sharing your food) is great!

      I also think it is important to be verbally positive about what you decide you’re eating– I try not to state what I DON”T eat to my parents (ex: “No I don’t eat that”) but instead communicate what I want to eat (“I’d love a huge salad for dinner”). I feel like this is less intimidating.

      Salads are great because non-vegs can easily add a meat protein and you can still feel like you’re eating with the family. Best of luck!

  7. Gena,
    What a great post! I wish I’d seen this when I first went vegetarian (I’m now vegan and have my nutrition more in check) when I was 12 or so and did it all wrong – I was a junk food/pasta vegetarian and thought that since I wasn’t eating meat I could eat what I wanted, was being animal friendly, and was more healthy. Boy was I wrong. I gained a lot of weight in high school and especially college (with all you can eat meal plans of scrambled eggs, paninis, waffles, cookies, etc.), but have since learned I need to consume veggies, greens, fruits and eat much more balanced and naturally. Since becoming vegan I’ve learned how to eat to get the nutrition I need and much more about how food relates to health. I’m a long time follower of your blog (and just started my own, now that I’ve gotten my super-powered new Vita Mix in the mail!) and I can’t wait to try out some of your recipes with it. Thank you for all your insights and wisdom you share! 🙂

  8. i’m glad you posted these links, I’m interested in checking them out… even if i remain a flexitarian. i guess we’ll see!

  9. Hey there!
    I’m actually fourteen too, vegan for two years, and interested in raw food, so maybe I can help. :3

    Courtney, it’s all about doing as much research as you can, and telling your mom about it, and just showing enthusiasm and happiness about it. Don’t try to push it on anyone else though, after a while of veganism, when I got all the energy and felt amazing, I was just so happy about it that I just told everyone how much I loved it and how amazing I felt and why they should do it too. Although it will be very tempting to do, you probably shouldn’t. If they ask you about it, however, feel free to tell them, with lots of enthusiasm, but no push.

    Also, if you don’t already, helping your mom make the grocery list and go grocery shopping can help out a lot, as well as cooking for the family, with tasty vegetarian foods occasionally.
    Actually, after going vegan, I started doing more of the cooking than anyone else, not because they didn’t know how to feed me, but because I just had so much fun doing it.

    Best of luck to you!

  10. I would add that in addition to reading about the nutrition angle, Courtney should also start reading cookbooks. Maybe she could take over cooking for her family one nite a week and make an all veg meal. The Moosewood Restaurant cookbooks are great for beginners (“normal” foods, nothing too far out). Perhaps by cooking for her family she can show them just how easy, tasty, varied, and nutritionally balanced it can be to go veg. Good luck Courtney!

  11. I started wanting to go vegetarian in the 6th grade. But other than avoiding meat there was not much that I could do at that point, I had no real understanding of vegetarianism or what I should be eating. Then when I was 16 I tried to go vegan, which was really difficult for my mom to understand and for her to try and feed me. Neither one of us really had any clue as to what we were doing and I ended up eating mostly instant rice and bean cups which she thought would help me to get complete protein and very few fruits or vegetables (my family really does not eat many to this day). Unfortunately I was one of those vegans that got sick after a few months, not for vitamin or mineral deficiency, but from what I now understand for lack of calories. To fuel my body for track, basketball and swimming I needed far more calories than I was getting at the time.

    And while I did go back to being vegetarian, I have been vegetarian over 10 years now, it was only when I began cooking my own food that things fell into place for me. When I moved away for college I got to experiment with different foods and spices, try fruits and vegetables that I had no idea even existed coming from a standard American household. When I started doing this I started to shed excess weight that I had put on while eating a junk food laden, vegetarian diet. And slowly I began eliminating dairy from my diet, and a couple months ago I finally took the leap and eliminated eggs.

    My transition to vegan has taken me a long time. My family still does not really support what I am doing, my mother is constantly nagging me about getting tested for being anemic and is concerned I am not getting enough iron or protein in my diet. But I have more energy than ever, I sleep better, my skin is better, and I am the most active I have been in years. She and other people have started to notice what a difference going vegan has made in me, she even said that both she and my sister are getting jealous, so I think it will only be a matter of time before they start to come around. I know it took my husband a while to come around and eat those weird vegan foods, but since he started eating more of the food I make he has also seen an improvement in his health. He still will not give up meat or dairy, but eating the way I do he has had a dramatic improvements in his blood panel and waistline.

    So I think the best thing for a young vegan/vegetarian can do is to start experimenting in the kitchen. Go to the store with you parents and pick out one or two new fruits or vegetables a week that you have not tried before and try preparing them two different ways, see what you like and if you don’t like it try in again in a few months. Once you start filling your diet with whole and healthful foods it will be easier to make the transition.

  12. Great information, Gena. I think the aspects of vegetarianism that seem to convince my carnivorous relatives the most are the physiological arguments. It’s quite obvious how hard it is for our bodies to digest meat when you look at the evidence, and I think it’s fairly easy for most people to acknowledge the mucus causing attributes of dairy. Once they understand that it may not be mainstream, but that a vegetarian diet has merit, its then just proving that it can also be balanced and delicious. That’s where deception comes in…”Did you know that was vegan?” 🙂

  13. hi Gena! this is such a great post – I have had to go through this many times with my family, its so hard convincing them that a plant-based diet is so healthy. Loved this post, as I do all of yours =)

  14. I just recently read The China Study and was completely stunned at the findings. I was 100% raw for about 6 months, but did include raw cheese in my diet. Now I see why that was the healthiest I have ever been. Even my step-mom who was a nutritional counselor at one point admits that was the healthiest she ever saw me, though most people thought my food habits were weird. (to say the least! ha!)

    Our library doesn’t have Robbin’s book Food Revolution (which I have been wanting to read) but it did have Healthy at 100… another great book on the topic of why vegan eating is best. It goes into the four people groups that live longest and healthiest and how their diets are mostly vegan.

    Blessings!
    Amy

  15. Another Courtey here!

    I just wanted to throw my support to the other Courtney and say that I began eating vegetarian when I was about the same age. What was always helpful for me and for my family’s understanding of my choices was my involvement in the kitchen. Throughout my teens I constantly experimented in the kitchen with new foods and recipes. I cooked the vast majority of meals for me and my family. I found that by doing this, I was able to take full control and responsibility of my diet and I also learned a lot.

    Courtney, I hope this helps. Start cooking and have FUN!

  16. (last thought! I swear!) I should note that when I went vegetarian at age 7 my parents were horrified and for years my mother would feed me meat saying it was fake soy meat instead (& I would throw up all night, confused as hell. I was so young I couldn’t put it together). This injured my relationship with my mom for many years. When I went vegan some years ago she again couldn’t understand WHY I would do this and was so worried for me. After I ran a marathon, lost 25 lbs (my hubby lost 40+) and she could no-longer DENY the results, she started to open up. Then Ellen (her hero) went vegan and she started reading more. Both of my parents are now proudly flexitarian trying to move towards a vegan diet — and my mom has never been more supportive of proud of me.

    I was in Veg Times recently and my mom went to Whole Foods to buy a copy, showed everyone in the store and then talked the employee’s into making MY recipes at their vegan demonstration this weekend. Quite a change from the mom who fed me meat against my will. Have patience with your mom… and remind her you love her and appreciate her concern.

  17. I always recommend John Robbin’s Diet for a New America and I can’t recommend The Kind Diet enough, either. Skinny Bitch is also informative (maybe not as informative as the other books you’ve listed) and considering the “language” in the book may be unsuitable for some parents, but I’ve found it a good book to give to friends who are not understanding. Even they don’t join me in this diet, at least they understand where I am coming from after they read it and respect my choice.

    Thanks for a wonderful post — and email me about “eggnog” I learned some tricks when I made vegan eggnog parfait for Vegetarian Times

  18. Not parents that don’t understand – my husband thinks I’m crazy for going vegan – vegetarian was odd but acceptable, but somehow the natural conclusion of veganism is too extreme. I still cook him his SAD foods, so we’re okay, but he isn’t supportive and it’s frustrating sometimes.

    I am reading a lot about nutrition but it’s a lot to digest at once – I just know days that I manage to eat varied I feel great, days I rely too heavily on a certain food (say, too much carbs in grains and pasta. etc) I don’t feel as good. The body really is good at telling us how we’re doing, once we detox it from SAD stuff.

  19. At first my mom didn’t support me because she thought it was a part of my eating disorder. Then she realized that this diet was helping me recover, not hurting me.
    She has read most of these books after I finished reading them and she is so much more understanding and supportive!

  20. I became Vegetarian when I was 7 or 8- my parents just thought it was a “phase” , but they did buy me quorn and tofu which I hated, so I began to eat far too much cheese and pasta and consequently I became an overweight teenager. I didn’t learn until I was 21 what a healthy, balanced diet was.
    I’ve learnt that the best thing is to have plenty of wholewheat cous cous, millet, and quinoa instead of pasta, along with plenty of pulses and lentils.

  21. Don’t forget to point out that it’s not the vegetarian or vegan diet in itself that is unhealthy, it is whether or not it is well-balanced.

    This of course applies to meat-eating diets as well, and of course the obvious response would be to point out all the desperately sick meat eaters out there.

    It is quite a revelation that you can subsist and even thrive on fruits, veggies and the odd seed and nut. Adding to your diet anything more than that becomes optional, or a “bonus”, if you like.

  22. I didn’t have many issues here since my mom is vegetarian. Gena’s book list is perfect. If you want more of a shock-and-awe approach, though- which may or may not be a good idea- try watching Food Inc or Fast Food Nation with your family. It will lend a whole new motivation to veganism!

  23. Great post Gena and always nice to have this in my arsenal to both show others who are in need, and others who are in need…of some education 🙂

    What’s interesting to add about Vit D is that most people, veg/vegans, carnivores, etc are deficient in D, esp. D3 and that there is a whole bru-ha-ha within the holistic and natural community about trying to establish “RDA” type values for D3 specifically. Anyway it’s pretty interesting the past few years watching the D3 issue unfold in my holistic and crunchy online network & groups I’m a part of.

    Nitey nite 🙂

  24. I double the thank you for the list of books…I am on the verge of going completely vegetarian (I eat a fish a bit) so these will be helpful as I make my decision. Thank you!

  25. A great topic indeed! I wish I could write this comment feeling like I myself have the perfect understanding with my parents about eating a vegan diet. Well, although it is short of perfect, my parents have definitely come to respect my lifestyle and even improve their own eating habits. The best advice I can offer (from my experience) is to be patient and never to be too pushy or preachy about vegetarian/vegan foods. I think that it is best to show by example how healthy and energizing veg food can be. Rather than forcing your parents to care about plant based foods, pique their interest over time and they will come around to it on *their own time*. I learned that once I stopped being defensive and/or frustrated by my parent’s criticism, they actually stopped criticizing and even became interested in vegan foods. While my family is definitely not vegetarian by any means, they now consciously prepare vegetarian meals and incorporate vegetables (besides potatoes) into their repertoire. And believe me, this is a HUGE and significant change to my meat, potato, and packaged-food-eating family. I feel good about having a positive impact on their health, and they no longer (well almost never) criticize my diet.

    Good luck and remember- NUDGE, DON’T PUSH!

    Gena- I just started reading The China Study, and even though I already eat a high raw plant based diet, I am seriously floored by the book. It is truly amazing!

  26. Good luck to Courtney! I wish you all the best and Gena gave great resources. I did not go vegan at a young age… boy do I wish I did! From my experience education is key and having faith in what you are doing! And over time everyone around will be supportive some more than others.

  27. Gena, why couldn’t you have written this post back when I became a vegetarian in sixth grade?!?!?

    My favorite offensive comment from extended family members has got to be “well the Bible says to eat meat so clearly you aren’t a Christian”… lol… there are no words!

  28. I thought having a vegetarian older sister would mean no resistance from my mom where my veg-inclinations are concerned, but after this most recent visit, I’m not so sure! I got some hairy eyeballs when I picked the chicken out of their white chili, which had been cooked with the chicken in it from raw, for that matter. I didn’t think I was being obnoxious, but you could tell they would just rather I stayed omni (or at least more often). It’s half my fault, but still, it takes a lot more than old wives’ tales to understand nutrition, and unfortunately that’s what a lot of parents are going by.

  29. I would add to the resource list the Crazy Sexy Life website and Evita’s Evolving Wellness blog. Both are informative and inspiring. Evita just posted an eye-opening post how some vegetarians go wrong with processed vegetarian foods, like fake meat stuffs.

  30. Hey Gena,

    First of all, hello! This is my first post, but I’ve been reading for a while and have just mustered up the courage to say something.

    I went vegetarian at 16 and my diet was appalling. I really hadn’t educated myself at all and my mum refused to cook differently for me, so I lived on microwave meals for the next three years! Everything I put in my mouth was processed and coupled with the fact I did virtually no exercise, I dread to think what my insides looked like!

    It wasn’t until I moved to Australia three years ago that I really started paying attention to what I was eating. I actually went vegan a couple of months ago (after several months of reading your blog and following the links to virtually every other one you’ve listed) and I’ve never felt better, but if you’d have said ‘vegan’ to me a few years ago I wouldn’t have had a clue what to do, or eat.

    As you say, it really is all about education. The unknown is scary and mothers want what’s best for their daughters. Courtney, if you believe in your choice and and can show your mom you’re doing everything you can to be healthy and take care of yourself, I’m sure she’ll lay off on the eye rolls hehe. I think that’s where I went wrong; I could’ve earned my parent’s support much earlier if I’d gone about things the right way.

    I’ve also found trying out different recipes and experimenting with food has been a great way to learn. When my mum visits I’m planning on making an amazing vegan meal for her, so she can see how well I eat and be confident in the knowledge I’m not malnourished!

    Sorry for the epic post. I had more to say than I thought.

    Good luck, Courtney, and Gena, thankyou for educating me 🙂

  31. Hey Gena!

    I love your blog so much-I’ve tried many of your recipes and have found them to be delish! I also love raw foods and vegan foods as well. However, along the lines of young readers, I’m going to college next year, and even some of the healthiest options weren’t raw or vegan-many dishes also have LOTS of sodium (which is expected when feeding mass amounts of people). Some raw options were just salad-I’m not eating salad for four years (and not even spinach salad, mind you!). Also, I don’t want to make my own food if there are meal plans available anyway. Do you have any suggestions? Is this something I should wait for until after I graduate from college?

    • I think you should consider talking to your college about the lack of healthy options. I’m still appalled that there can be such a lack of decent vegetarian/vegan options in so many places and college is supposed to be about education and progressive thought so they ideally should be open to giving better choices.

      And imagine how good you’ll feel if you can actually make a change in the way your college handles nutrition. It’s possible that they just don’t realize how much people want healthier choices.

    • Hannah!

      That’s a tough question. Of course I want to tell you to try veganism/vegetarianism no matter what the circumstances, but not if you’re going to go nuts with the cafeteria options. Instinct says that you’ll always have some grain dishes and pasta options, PLUS salad and veggie sides. When I was in college, we had a food court with vegetable sushi rolls and a stir fry bar, too (and you could dictate how much soy sauce went in). Veggie sandwiches make a great option, and you can always supplement with a FEW foods you buy: hummus, Larabars, nuts/dried fruit, etc.

      If that isn’t enough or it’s making you miserable, I suggest eating veg as often as you can, and then hoping that you can go all the way at graduation. You might find that trying most of the time helps you figure it all out.

      Gena xo

  32. That is so awesome Courtney contacted you for nutrition advice – and your recommendations are great! Although I am now vegan and know a lot about nutrition, I just wanted to point out that you don’t need to know the ins and outs of every single facet of nutrition in order to be a reasonably healthy vegetarian. I think that the horror stories (“I lost 30 pounds and my fingernails fell out!”) are likely the exception to the rule – I know that I spent 7 years (I went vegetarian at 12 or 13) basically doing vegetarian nutrition entirely wrong (eating everything BUT the meat, and the odd bit of tofu and veggie burger here and there), and I was definitely quite healthy – although I think I’m much healthier now, as an informed vegan! The human body is very adaptable! 🙂

  33. I am really thankful in that my parents are very supportive of my decision to live a vegan lifestyle food-wise. Internet searches and google scholar searches turn up some nice articles and studies. Also, I would advise educating yourself about basic nutrition, way beyond the scope of a general nutrition class in school, since most people who tell you that your lifestyle is dangerous have NO idea what nutrition is about. Even doctors take very few courses on human nutrition and metabolic processes. It’s surprising and absurd. The resources Gena listed are pretty comprehensive 😀 Good luck!

  34. I know I didn’t write that email, but thanks for the list of books and sites! I’m working my way through the China Study and loving it!

  35. Having gone veggie earlier this year, I definitely plan to check out these books! Great titles. Mine was a slow transition to vegetarian and my parents have been very supportive. I still get the “WHY??!” question from other family members, but luckily no one has been too terrible. 🙂

    Good luck Courtney!

  36. I have bought one of these books for my mom already, it is very informative to both her and me! Thank you for the advice.

  37. I had that problem, but the opposite – I had no idea how to eat vegetarian at first, so I ended up not getting enough protein and losing hair (later I even had an eating disorder, but that’s another issue entirely). Now, I’m a vegan, and I feel great – it really is all about education!

  38. You know my parents and how amazingly understanding they are. They purchased “Becoming Vegan” for me in order to make the transition as healthfully as possible (since I had to make all those dietary changes for health reasons).