Although friends, family, and medical professionals have generally been accepting and supportive of Kenya and I raising Astral and Defy as vegans, there have been some people who subtly (and not so subtly) suggest that we are depriving them of the choice to exploit and kill other animals later in life. These people have posed questions in ways that made it seem as if they were genuinely concerned about Astral and Defy's freedom of choice to exploit and kill whomever they want as if, without doing so, they will live a joyless life of constant deprivation that we have selfishly imposed upon them.
"What if they really want to eat (animal product X) when they are old enough to make the choice? Will you let them?" is a common "concern" that we encounter. Or the question has been framed this way: "But what if they choose to eat at (chain restaurant/fast food establishment X) when they're older? Will you be OK with that?" We spoke with one individual about how Astral and Defy will not be wearing popular name-brand shoes made from the skin of cows, and this individual very politely and curiously asked, "but they'll have the choice to wear leather when they're older, right?" And then there was a heated exchange with another individual about the ethics of veganism. This individual quickly became very hostile, pointed at our boys and exclaimed, "but you're taking away their choice to eat whatever they want!"
So the question posed is: Will Astral and Defy have the choice to not be vegan when they are old enough to make decisions for themselves? Before answering, let's examine the question, shall we?
First of all, those of us who speak of exploiting and killing other animals as merely a personal choice do not seem to understand the ideology of speciesism. It has been forced upon us by our parents or guardians just as it was forced upon them, and it has been, and is being, constantly reinforced by our society and its institutions. This is the reason that many of us believe that humans are not animals, that humans are naturally superior to all other animals, that other animals are “stupid”, that other animals are here for humans to use as we please, that there is no moral problem whatsoever with using and killing other animals, that humans need to consume other animals to survive, etc. These are not beliefs we developed on our own. As young children many of us were fascinated by other animals and naturally had compassion and empathy for them. Some of us considered them to be our equals. As adults, even after a life of reinforced speciesist indoctrination, most of us claim to love and/or respect other animals and do not want to harm them, especially when it is unnecessary to do so. However, most of us choose to actively participate in the exploitation and killing of other animals on a daily basis for completely unnecessary purposes such as eating them, wearing them, or using them for entertainment. Therefore, it seems that choosing to actively participate in the exploitation and killing of other animals is the result of our being thoroughly conditioned to believe that it is a “normal” and morally justifiable thing to do, not because it actually reflects our values or personal ethics.
Furthermore, questions about having a personal choice to exploit and kill other animals are based on the assumption that no one else is affected by that choice. This is incorrect and relies on the belief that other animals do not have minds capable of experiencing the distress, pain, and suffering inherently caused by their exploitation. It is also incorrect because choosing to participate in the exploitation of other animals concurrently results in the exploitation and harm of human beings and the destruction of the planet we all depend on for our survival.
Finally, there is a common misconception that vegans, by opting out of the systematic exploitation of other animals, are somehow depriving themselves of otherwise unattainable enjoyment. But being vegan is not a restrictive way of living at all. For instance, a diet consisting of fruit, vegetables, seeds, beans, grains, nuts, mushrooms, herbs, and spices has proven to be much more varied, satisfying, and healthful than the one I was eating when I was not a vegan. And does anyone reading this essay really need to wear popular name-brand shoes made from cow skins? There are plenty of other materials out there such as hemp, canvas, recycled plastics, recycled rubber, and synthetics. Most importantly, how can we justify the exploitation and killing of other animals merely for the sake of enjoyment?
Now I'd like to return to the question of Astral and Defy having the choice to not be vegans when they are old enough to make their own decisions. Will they have the choice?
The short answer is yes, they will have the choice to not be vegan when they are old enough to decide for themselves. We will certainly not force them to do anything when they can make their own educated choices, but we will in no way facilitate or condone any non-veganism.
Now for the long answer...
My feeling is that all caring and concerned parents or guardians raise their children in a way that is consistent with their own values. Not many parents or guardians would, for instance, admit to teaching their children that it is acceptable to physically violate another human being (and perhaps even the valued domesticated animals in our society, such as dogs and cats) just because it might be enjoyable. Most of us teach our children that this kind of conduct is ruled out from the start no matter what psychological or material gains would be derived from it. However, our children will still technically have the choice to participate in the exploitation and/or killing of another human, or participate in any other activity we parents or guardians find objectionable, when they are old enough to make their own decisions to do so. It is only when we speak of other animals that it becomes an acceptable personal choice to exploit and kill them, and this is a direct result of our speciesist indoctrination.
Veganism, on the other hand, is a challenge to the deeply rooted beliefs that have developed as a result of this indoctrination. Essentially a principle of non exploitation, veganism is philosophically in opposition to the oppressive arrangements humans have long maintained with each other and with other animals. Although Kenya and I have the choice to participate in the exploitation of other animals on a daily basis, we simply try our very best not to because, like humans, other animals are morally significant and have interests in living their lives on their own terms. We owe it to them to be vegan; it is the very least we can do if we take their interests seriously.
People who present us with "the choice" question really do not seem to understand that Astral and Defy will be raised in a way that actively challenges speciesism. They will be raised as vegans and their choices will be guided by vegan principles. This means that, unlike the vast majority of humans on Planet Earth, they will not be taught to see other animals as food, clothing, or any other means to human ends but rather as fellow autonomous sentient beings with intrinsic value.
Given the fascination Astral and Defy already have with other animals, and considering the joy they get from seeing the other animals they've already met, they appear to be well on the vegan path all on their own...