New Zealand recently launched a new curriculum, advising children against dairy and meat consumption. But can we teach veganism? Is plant-based education the key to a more accepting perspective of the lifestyle?
Why start young?
Reports show most vegans are aged between 15 and 34. Adolescence is when humans are most likely to explore, and try new things. But unless we are exposed to those options as children, those new things don’t necessarily become habits.
Ellie Jackson, author of Wild Tribe Heroes Books, which address environmental issues and have reached over a million children worldwide, believes teaching children is the absolute key to solving our planet’s issues.
As a mother of four, the author has witnessed how children’s “inherent love for nature starts at a young age”. Covering topics from the ocean’s plastic to palm oil production, animals play a central role to all her stories.
Calling them providers of hope and inspiration, she adds that “feeding children this information” will ensure they make “conscious decisions from an early age”.
Go Vegan World
Sandra Higgins, founder and executive director of Go Vegan World, an Irish public education advertising campaign, says: “In theory, most people already have the same values as vegans. That is, they believe that it is wrong to unnecessarily harm other sentient animals.”
Children grow up learning about the food they eat and the animals they see as two different entities. But if education showed this isn’t always the case, perhaps they would be more open to alternatives.
Starting at a young age also triggers change from the home. “If a child comes home to their families and discusses the problems and new ideas… then parents are more likely to be influenced by this than anything else,” Jackson says. She explains children have the power to make adults realise the responsibility they have towards future generations.
Many parents hold influential roles in politics, business, and medicine, and if their children can change their minds – they can bring their ideas to life.
Jackson provides tools for children to take action into their own hands too. Each one of her books holds example letters inspiring them to write to companies regarding issues they find concerning. “If enough children learn about the problems then they will have links to virtually every single business in a community and it is these business owners that we need – to become aware of the issue and take action,” she adds.
Where vegan education already being implemented?
New Zealand is not alone in exploring scholarly vegan education. Several online courses like the Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition are now available, teaching the value of the diet side to veganism. New York opened its first professional vegan training school, Main Street Academy. The US is also home to MUSE, the first ever vegan school, which opened its doors nearly two decades ago.
Educating children about veganism at school could prove beneficial. “A school program creates that culture and ethos throughout the school that can be carried on throughout their entire education and future lives,” states Jackson.
However, learning doesn’t happen solely at school. It can done through books, film, poems, art and many other forms.
Higgins’s Go Vegan World campaign uses education in schools as well as billboard advertising on social media and in public to promote veganism and dismantle the legal property status of other animals, while educating the public on animal rights. As director of Ireland’s first ever vegan sanctuary, Eden Farmed Animal Sanctuary, she strongly believes animals “are our greatest educational teachers”.
Through their personalities, animals have the power to help humans empathise with what animals endure. Higgins hopes to show people that animals are not resources, but rather “complex, sentient beings”.
In addition to winning many legal cases, her campaign has caused many people to research animal rights and even go vegan.
Why we should educate, not enforce
But education comes with a price. In New Zealand, where 60% of the country’s exports derived from their agricultural industry, farmers feel targeted by their new curriculum.
Go Vegan World has also “had a constant backlash from the industries that profit from animal use”, with attempts to prevent them from erecting their ads.
Vegan education is essential, says Higgins, but its introduction to schools often meets resistance. “It is socially acceptable to use and kill other animals for convenience, habit and profit. The very presence of someone who is vegan confronts this status quo and can make non-vegans feel uncomfortable. Discomfort is not necessarily a problem. In fact, it is an essential aspect of becoming aware of the facts and the injustice of animal use.”
How can we teach without causing discomfort? Images and film usually portray messages most effectively, but they can also be quite painful to endure. Being exposed to the reality of the issue brought about a new phenomenon in many teenagers and young adults: eco-anxiety.
Jackson says exposing children to the real scale means “much of that hope and energy they hold would be lost”. Her stories use gentle images and happy endings. So they come away with feelings of hope and change for the future.
If we can teach children to grasp what is happening. And how they can help, without frightening them. Their steps to protect animals and our planet can be even more effective.