[PORTRAIT OF A VEGAN: RUBY ROTH, AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR]
“We don’t force our kids to go vegan any more than omnivores force their kids to eat meat.”
Can children go vegan? And if they can, should they? Are vegans who feed their children a vegan diet and raise them according to their beliefs irresponsible? While veganism is increasingly gaining in popularity, the idea of feeding children a vegan diet and talking to them about animal cruelty still causes controversy. After recent events in Italy, for instance, the decisions of parents who feed their children a plant-based diet instead of one based on animal products, have been called “reckless and dangerous” and some even go as far as suggesting that it should be punishable by law to remove all animal products from your child’s diet.
Ruby Roth is the world’s leading author and illustrator of vegan books for children and has been featured on The Today Show, CNN, ABC, Fox and in magazines like Glamour. After three bestselling books that have been translated into several different languages, she published her first vegan cookbook for children, The Help Yourself Cookbook for Kids, earlier this year. As the author of such seemingly controversial books, Ruby is no stranger to criticism and is used to dealing with those who vehemently oppose the idea of educating children about veganism. In this interview, Ruby talks about what brought her to veganism and writing and illustrating children’s books, how to respond to those who say vegans shouldn’t force their beliefs on their children and her personal tips and tricks for anyone interested in going vegan.
Note: While isolated cases of malnourished children who were fed a plant-based diet are unfortunate and should absolutely be taken seriously, veganism is an ethical stance and there is no one vegan diet. Experts, including the American Dietetic Association, agree that a well-planned vegan diet is, in fact, suitable for children. For those interested in finding out more, I have included resources at the end of this interview.
Kim-Julie: For those who may not know you yet, could you tell us a bit more about yourself?
Ruby Roth: I am an artist and the leading author-illustrator of vegan books for kids. My first book, That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals came out in 2009, followed by Vegan Is Love and V Is for Vegan. My latest is The Help Yourself Cookbook for Kids: 60+ Easy Plant-Based Recipes Kids Can Make to Stay Healthy and Save the World.
KJ: When and why did you go vegan?
RR: In my early 20s, I was very involved in social justice activism and considered myself a health-conscious person—but I ate animal products. At some point, a vegan friend pointed out to me that my eating habits did not match my morals and my values and I took this charge very seriously. When I found out what I was participating in, it stopped me in my tracks. I went vegan as a health experiment and never want back, and the research I did solidified my commitment.
KJ: How did you get the idea to start a children’s books series about veganism?
RR: I was teaching art at an elementary school and the kids were very curious about my vegan eating habits. I searched for a book we could read together, but what I found were just a few books starring a talking animal or vegetable. I decided to write the non-fiction books I wanted to read to these kids, in the honest voice I felt they deserved.
KJ: Even though veganism is beginning to become a little more mainstream, the topic of children and veganism seems to still be taboo, what do you tell people who say children shouldn’t be “forced” to go vegan?
RR: We don’t force our kids to go vegan any more than omnivores force their kids to eat meat. Meat-eating is the default choice because of industrial and political history, not because it’s the only resource to get amino acids.
[Ruby with her step-daughter, who is also vegan.]
KJ: How do you respond when critics say “veganism isn’t for everyone”?
RR: I’d say that I used to think the same thing—until I went vegan and experienced the benefits over a long-term period. Most importantly, I think that given the context of the world we live in today—with natural resource shortages, pollution, environmental degradation, toxicity, and world hunger, along with the overall abundant access we have to all the plant-based nutrients we need, that veganism is the right movement for us to take up as a society. I know vegan doctors who help put patients on a plant-based diet and report that 99% of people improve their health statistics. Healthier people make healthier choices across the board.
KJ: What are your thoughts on the cases of malnourished vegan children we sometimes hear about in the media?
RR: Malnourishment is a result of neglect, not veganism. At least make it even and jail meat-eaters whose kids are malnourished, too—there are a lot more of them, statistically. Every country would need bigger jails.
“Malnourishment is a result of neglect, not veganism.”
KJ: How do non-vegan parents react when you speak to their children about veganism?
RR: I’ve never had a problem in real life (just on the internet!). When I talk to kids whose parents might be sensitive, I just try to talk about me and my choices and inarguable environmental or agricultural facts, never what anyone should or shouldn’t do. Kids draw that conclusion themselves. I always say—when we give kids the information they need to make educated choices, they choose wisely.
“I always say—when we give kids the information they need to make educated choices, they choose wisely.”
KJ: How do you feel about your books being considered so controversial?
RR: We are early in the vegan movement. Historically, what is unfamiliar to the general public often induces fear until it is normalized. I’m happy to have caused a discussion in the public realm. It’s the first step in making people aware of the choice. And so many people and families are finding out why veganism is beneficial now, my books are there for them when they need them.
KJ: What would you tell children who want to go vegan but whose parents are opposed to the idea?
RR: I’ve told kids that they can be a great influence on their families, especially if they learn to prepare meals—that if one person in the family wants to make healthier choices, it often creates a domino effect, so to be patient and learn all they can and share it with their families. Worst-case scenario, they will be educated when they take charge of their own eating habits.
[Ruby’s first book, That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals]
KJ: Who/what inspires you?
RR: I’m inspired by the underbelly of all things. I’m always studying history, art, economy, government, human behavior—usually a stack of books from the library. Untold truths inspire me.
KJ: How is your children’s cookbook different from other children’s cookbooks (besides the fact that it’s vegan)?
RR: Most of the children’s cookbooks I came across had pictures of kids on the cover, but were pretty much written assuming adults would be doing the work. And the recipes often either steered clear of healthy ingredients or suggested “hiding” them—like cooking spinach into sugar-laden brownies. This book really gives kids the credit they deserve—it’s written directly to children in casual language, the recipes mostly use 5 ingredients or less and highlight the beauty and fun of whole foods, and there are factual tidbits throughout about the health and environmental benefits of plant-based foods. I also wanted the book to look better than the go-to mishmosh of polka dots, rainbow colors, and plastic plates. Each page is really thought out and designed, from the text to the art to the color-palette and plating.
“This book really gives kids the credit they deserve.”
[Ruby’s husband and step-daughter preparing one of the recipes from the book.]
KJ: Is your step-daughter ever curious about eating animal products?
RR: Not at all, it’s kind of amazing. I think it’s because we never made meat and dairy taboo, nor did we ever have food “rules.” We educated her, we included her in conversations about anything we learned, and she has always politely turned down any offers to try anything with animal products in it.
KJ: What’s your favorite vegan go-to meal?
RR: My favorite go-tos are giant salads—good olive oil, hummus or garbanzo beans, avocado, spirulina, nutritional yeast, and anything else in the fridge that could be thrown on top—seaweed, cashew cheese, pepitas, cucumbers, tomatoes, whatever is around!
KJ: Do you have any advice for people who want to go vegan but don’t know where to start?
RR: Start adding new things to your repertoire instead of thinking about taking anything away. The Help Yourself Cookbook for Kids is actually a great resource for newbie vegans or busy adults—it’s actually the way I personally eat, with super simple ingredients plus some superfoods, recipes you hardly need a recipe for, and lots of raw food. Eventually you’ll feel so good, the vegan choices will crowd out anything else, naturally.
KJ: Besides veganism, what are you passionate about?
RR: Art is my first love, it has been the driving force behind anything I’ve done—from the picture books to the cookbook. They’re all based on art.
KJ: Your favorite vegan quote?
RR: “For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”
–Henry Beston, The Outermost House
Find Ruby on social media:
- Click here for articles on vegan nutrition during pregnancy and infancy by Registered Dietitian Jack Norris
- Click here to read “A Healthy Start for Vegan Children” by RD Virginia Messina
- Click here to read “Safety of Vegan Diets for Babies” by RD Virginia Messina
- Click here to read “Vegetarian Diets for Children: Right from the Start” by the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine
- Click here to read “Vegan Diet for Children and in Pregnancy” by The Vegan Society