As a vegan parent, I try not to segregate myself and my daughter from those around us who eat animal products. I smile as I chase my daughter around at every play group, as all the other parents pass out cheese, yogurt snacks, gummy candies with gelatin, and other treats that I don't want my toddler having. It's just a necessary part of caring about what she eats. I'm sure it's much harder for parents of kids with severe allergies, and I know that at the end of the day it might happen that Violet gets a taste of something I don't want her eating. It's not the biggest deal in the world, it's not something I can really control, and it wears on me without me knowing.
For Thanksgiving Violet and I were on our own, so we went to a potluck hosted through our local vegetarian meetup group. The group has vegetarians, vegans, and veg curious members, but our potlucks and events are all vegan. So not only did we get our first vegan Thanksgiving, but we still got to be with other people and have fun.
There were so many people at the potluck that we ended up all eating in the living room, on the couch, the floor, on pillows. It was wonderful and open and free. Violet and her friend Rakim played while the adults chatted. It wasn't until we started eating that I realized how much energy and stress occurs when we eat in mixed company.
Violet is a mooch. That's just her way. She loves food, loves feeding others (much to the dismay of the parents of tiny babies who Violet tries to share with), and she loves being fed (though not from a spoon like a civilized child). Since everyone was low to the ground, Violet simply wandered around the room and people fed her. She didn't want to sit with me and be fed, she wanted a taste from everyone. I felt a familiar pang of anxiety when I saw her approach a plate, and saw someone feed her from their plate...
until I realized- Everything was vegan.
Everything was vegan and everyone was feeding Violet and she was having such a great time and I was able to sit back and watch her interact with her new friends, asking for a bite or snack. I didn't have to pull her away from someone else as soon as food was around. I didn't have to load her with her favorite foods so that she wouldn't want to eat what others had. She was free to sample and interact in the way she felt most comfortable.
I highly recommend vegan potlucks for any vegan parent. I would add to that, if you have a child with allergies, I would suggest a potluck without those allergens, and maybe with those with similar allergies. As your local bounce house if they would do a "peanut free" day, or host a playgroup in your home with no gluten allowed.
We don't want to teach our kids to just eat anything that someone gives them, but we also don't want to teach them not to try new things. It is liberating to be able to interact with others through food, and I believe that one of the most isolating things about being vegan is that you lose part of the social aspect of eating. Either it's hard to sit and watch your friend eat a side of ribs, or you can't have people over without worry that they won't like what you are making. You can't just go to someone's house without a list of things that you don't eat and finding a neutral location to go out to eat can be just as challenging. It's lonely and it perpetuates both the stereotypes and realities of vegans not wanting to interact with others. My grandpa always said that food is love, and I believe that. Losing the part of your life where you dine with your friends and family in the same way you always have is one of the hardest parts of veganism. The easiest part is when you feel the love of eating great foods that don't support the cruelty or killing of other living beings.
I wish I had pictures to share of the two vegan potlucks I went to this week, but I don't, so I'll post the menus for both instead. Feel free to drool.
Sweet potato casserole with prailine pecans
Green bean and mushroom casserole with almonds
Hazelnut and cherry stuffing made with homemade cornbread
Homemade and canned cranberry sauce
Acorn squash soup
No Bake Pumpkin Cheesecake
Thanksgiving Part 2:
Pesto pasta with fresh tomatoes
Brussel sprouts with pine nuts, capers, and raisins
Salad with spicy chipotle dressing
Fresh peppers with a pea puree hummus dip
Leftover acorn squash soup
Homemade vegan fudge
Molasses ginger cookies