If you live on the coast, anywhere in fiery California, along the ever-expanding tornado corridor (that’s, what, eight states now?), or in a flood-prone region (a growing percentage of the Midwest), you’ve seen it for yourself: Extreme weather is here, and it’s getting worse. The world is changing.
So it is on us, then, to tell our kids that they have a battle ahead of them. But how do we explain it? Do we tell them that it is mostly the fault of a choice few types of corporations and lax government regulation of carbon? I mean, yes, that’s largely true: Coal plants account for more than 38 percent of worldwide carbon emissions; a carbon tax set in 2009 would have raised an estimated $2.2 trillion by now; the crude oil industry receives 12 times more subsidies than wind and solar power combined.
But passing the blame is a terrible lesson.
We — breathing, eating, carbon-spewing Americans that we are — are culpable. And we need to teach our kids how to own up to something bigger than themselves. Climate change isn’t their fault. But they’re a part of a global community. They need to learn how to make a change, an extreme change. Something that makes real impact. They need to go vegan.
Most parents try to offer up more palatable lessons than this. My parents raised me to respect recycling because, well, littering was bad. Sold. I was a kid who loved the outdoors, and so I really did think littering was a cardinal sin. Also, recycling wasn’t really a sacrifice. The hard part was paid for by your municipality and done behind the scenes; all we had to do was sort trash from plastic (poorly, I might add), and put a different bin on the curb on a different night than trash.
Recycling is a good thing to do, but it isn’t a big thing to do. Teaching kids that recycling is the bulk of environmental stewardship is out of touch with the times. The state of the planet is desperate. Bigger, more impactful sacrifices are needed.
The kids need to go vegan.
When it comes to personal choices that impact the planet, our diet dwarfs the rest of the list. A recent study published in Science found that ditching animal products could reduce your food carbon footprint by 73 percent. They also found that if everyone ate plant-based, global land use could be reduced by 75 percent.
The fact is, raising animals for food produces more greenhouse gas than all the cars, planes, and other forms of transportation combined. It is hard to directly refute these bold stats, but there are two basic lines of argument that keep vegans on the fringe: Bucking the system takes means; also, it is hard.
To the first argument, point taken. Vegetables should be cheap and easy, but given the ubiquity of cheap animal protein and the dearth of cheap fresh vegetables, especially in low-income areas, veganism isn’t accessible for everyone. Think of the plenty common two-parent, two-kid, three-job household family who has three McDonald’s closer than their grocery store. Big Meat is real, and not everyone has the time or means to fight the system.
But if your gripe is that it is simply too hard, suck it up. Sure, there is planning and shifting of diets and bucking all norms by putting the avocado front and center on the family taco night; making steak night seitan night; replacing morning eggs with a tofu scramble. That, however, is the point! This is a Very Big lesson to pass down to your kids. The responsibility has to start somewhere and you’re showing them that it starts in the home.
I get it: The more reasonable ask would be for families to all have vegan Tuesdays. Teach the kids that this is the day that we eat the ideal diet. You should be doing that! It’s a great call! But it’s not 1992 anymore. Awareness of our impact is not enough.
We’ve loaded this planet with carbon for decades and decades and we need to be extreme in everything we do to save it, and our progeny need to understand this. There will be extreme changes needed — no more coal, no more oil, no more meat — and the idea needs to be put into practice at home. So lay off the thermostat, teach about climate change, and quit meat with your kids. It’s the right thing to do.
An Extremely Skeptical Parent’s Guide to Going Vegan
I write a good game, sure, but my 7-year-old is at this very moment eating a hot dog by the pool. Then she asked for a milkshake. Did I give in? You’re damn right I did. But I did point out this is not the most sustainable meal. So where does a concerned parent draw the line? Also, how the hell are you going to pull this off? Here are a few pointers.
- Do it yourself. In parenting, leading by example is the most important thing to do.
- If you don’t start until they’re 5, that’s OK. There is so much going on in the first four years of parenthood that adding another thing might break you. Also, vegan formula? Telling a toddler to not eat cheese? Count me out.
- Let them cheat. Anytime you’re out to a restaurant, anytime they are at a friend’s or the grandparents’ house, let them have a burger if that’s what they want.
- Don’t cook two meals. This is good parenting advice in general, for the many folks who cook a meal for themselves and then one of lesser nutritional (or moral) value for their kids, it’s a bad lesson. Just don’t do it. Also, this only works if you’re following the first tip.
- Buy a vegan cookbook and follow it for a week. It is the easiest way to see how doable it all is.
- Make use of the fake meat revolution. The Impossible Burger is a helluva lot like the real thing. Choose it — it is simply more sustainable and you’re not at all missing the point.