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THE SPECIESIST TEST: Should vegans ‘force’ or raise their children to be vegan?


Phoenix response generated a heated debate among vegan activists, some of whom believed that the answer implied that animal rights are less important to Phoenix than human rights.

SHERRY F. COLB: Actor Joaquin Phoenix gave an interview with the Sunday Times. During the conversation, he spoke of his nine-month-old son River. Phoenix said that he would expose the boy to the truth about animal products and the misery they inflict. His son would know that a “happy meal” is anything but. Controversially, Phoenix added that he would not “force” his son to be vegan, though he hoped he would be. Both the question and his answer were provocative…

When a person asks a vegan parent or prospective parent whether the latter will “force” her children to be vegan, the question is, perhaps inadvertently, confrontational. Parents, after all, are always “forcing” their ideologies upon their children, even when the programming copies that of the majority.

Consider the questions a vegan parent might ask his nonvegan counterpart: “Will you force your children to eat products that come out of a slaughterhouse?,” “Will you lie to your children about how their meal came into existence?,” and “Will you keep from your kids the truth that cows, like all mammals, make milk because they have given birth to a baby who desperately wants to nurse?”…

Ethical vegans, upon hearing the “force” question, must hold their tongues and not give offense, even as they perceive nonvegan parents as brainwashing their children to believe that it is “normal, natural, and necessary,” in the words of Melanie Joy, to consume the flesh and hormonal secretions of sentient animals.

To have to contend with a question about “forcing” nonviolence and healthful food choices on a child can feel a bit like having to explain to the school bully’s mom why on earth you force your child to keep his hands to himself when he could be beating up his classmates. Joaquin Phoenix has almost certainly heard this annoying question before and will likely hear it again before his baby is old enough to talk…

If the question is as inane as I suggest above, then why did Joaquin Phoenix say that he would not force his son to be vegan? Why didn’t he say that just as every good parent forces her children to respect the rights of other humans, Phoenix would similarly “force” his son to respect the rights of other animals as well? Why did he give up this teaching opportunity in favor of an uncharacteristically passive claim that he would not push veganism on his son?

His response generated a heated debate among vegan activists, some of whom believed that the answer implied that animal rights are less important to Phoenix than human rights, respect for which he and other parents would readily “force” on their children…

Though virtually every vegan parent wants her children to be vegan too, it is unfortunately quite likely that the child will eventually decide to eat the way that all the other children do. Knowing that this is true, a vegan parent could react in different ways. She might be very forceful about requiring her child to be vegan “so long as you live under this roof and spend my money.”

On the other hand, she or he might take a lighter touch, in the hopes of avoiding a complete rebellion. Unlike lessons about not bullying or about treating other people with respect, veganism will make the child different from other children, and a heavy-handed approach could turn him off and drive him into the arms of his happy-meal-eating classmates and friends. SOURCE…


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