Getting kids to eat healthfully and well is a perennial challenge for parents, especially when the younger set begins to make table choices at odds with the familial norm or, to put it more starkly, flatly refuse to eat what mom and dad have made for dinner. Now comes a new children's book, "Vegan is Love: Having Heart and Taking Action" (North Atlantic Books, $16.95), which may raise tensions in some households.
Written and illustrated by Ruby Roth, the Los Angeles-based author of "That's Why We Don't Eat Animals," this beautifully rendered book offers some ugly observations about how humans often use other species — as lab animals, clothing, entertainment, food — and why vegans choose not to do so.
"As vegans, we live this way because it is best for our health, for animals, and for the earth … and that is love," Roth writes.
But is it "love" to offer this viewpoint in a full-color illustrated children's book? A debate is erupting.
"This is the most disturbing children's book I've ever seen," says Robert Epstein, a psychologist, author and former editor-in-chief of "Psychology Today." He doesn't like anything about the book except Roth's illustrations. "Vegan is Love," he insists, "lays guilt trips on young children. It's a bad way to parent."
"In calling my books 'controversial,' people are admitting what we do to animals is scary, too scary to talk to children about," Roth says. She believes people today stick to a "wealthy Victorian" view of childhood, where children must be protected from the adult world and the harshness found in life.
"In doing this, we're hindering what children are capable of," Roth adds. "This book is for anyone and everyone who want children to love deeply, think critically and act responsibly. You don't have to be vegan to make vegan choices, so there should be no fear."
Marian Nestle, an influential nutritionist and New York University professor, didn't want to comment specifically on the merits of "Vegan is Love" because she hasn't seen it. But she could imagine the scenario that might follow after the book is read by some children.
"The kids announce to their horrified parents that animal foods are out," she wrote in an email. "Some parents will go along with it and maybe even become healthier as a result. Some will be furious at the added trouble and the idea that someone is playing on kids' emotions about animals and telling them not to eat them."
Nestle noted children who don't grow up on farms are often shocked to learn animals are killed for food. If they choose to be meat eaters, those feelings have to be worked through, she said.
Roth's book is about choice — and the impacts small and large those choices can have when, as she noted, 7 billion people around the world choose to act.
"The path to a greener future lies in engaging the next generation," she says.
For Terry Walters of Avon, Conn., author of "Clean Start: Inspiring You to Eat Clean and Live Well with 100 New Clean Food Recipes," that engagement begins by growing a garden with children, shopping, cooking and eating together; and talking about healthy food choices.
"It's our job as parents to teach and we teach most strongly through our actions," she says. "To have a conversation without offering any judgments leaves the children free to make judgments and healthy choices on their own."
The Kids Table
New vegan book aimed at kids stirs debate
Vegan book for children tackles vegan issues, address some unpleasant topics
"Vegan Is love: Having Heart and Taking Action" by Ruby Roth