Lukas and Lucy are a young vegan family from the Czech Republic. Alongside raising their children – Jessica and Colin – without the use of any animal products, they are both heavily involved with “grassroots” activism. Throughout the week Lukas works in an office as a Senior Games Developer for a well-known company. His influence in the company now ensures that dairy-free milk is offered as standard in kitchens on all office floors. He is also known for an email he circulated amongst hundreds of colleagues regarding the realities of the animal agriculture industry. This simple act prompted many people to come forward to seek out his support and some to even adopt a vegan and vegetarian lifestyle. Here we learn about the reality of raising children as vegans and how it all began…
When and why did you go vegan Lukas?
It was about three years ago maybe, maybe a bit more. It was a smooth transition, but essentially it was for three main reasons, which are: ethical, because of the animals, environmental and health reasons. I could see the reason [to go vegan] from many perspectives and it was the logical thing to do.
And Lucy, how about you?
I was already a vegetarian and then I was vegan for six months, however, at the time I was pregnant with Colin and my cravings were going crazy. When Colin was born, the first moment that I saw him, I decided that I didn’t want to be part of this [industry] any more. At the time I watched footage of how a dairy cow has her baby removed from her when she still needs to breastfeed it. Suddenly I realised that I was in the cow’s position and Colin in the calve’s position.
How did you find transitioning to veganism, Lukas?
It was a slow transition for me, I continued to eat meat but I was reducing it from once a week to once a month. The longer the periods of not eating meat were, when I did eat meat again, I didn’t feel well. I could see that my body was transitioning to a healthier diet.
The very last time that I ate meat was after six months of not doing so, and I was sick for one week. I had vertigo and my head was spinning and I couldn’t walk properly. I couldn’t balance. I was walking around on all fours like a dog and vomiting; I was so unwell.
I didn’t see this as an isolated incident, as I could see from the times prior that the longer the periods were without meat; the worse that I felt afterwards. My body was just telling me to “stop it” really.
After that incident I dropped all meat and only ate a little fish, out of nutritional concern. In the end I realised that I didn’t need it and I took the final step and dropped this too.
How has the support been from your families back home since going vegan?
Lukas: As we are based here now our relatives and friends noticed on Facebook, or whilst chatting on Skype. There were some mixed feelings definitely. In the case of my family they were not too concerned, as they accept what I do and would not complain, or protest. In the case of Lucy, if I can speak for her, her family did not accept it so well. We expected this as when Lucy went vegetarian there already was a lot of resistance, and even provoking. When we both then went vegan this was seen as an act of extremism by certain members of her family, for some people back home veganism is not well understood. Lucy has always been seen as “the black sheep” of the family and this has not changed.
Lukas cont: We have definitely lost friends too, for some of them the change has been too extreme. It has been hard for them to process that such a “naughty boy” like myself suddenly has become vegan and concerned with the environment, ethics and compassion for animals. In terms of gaining new friends this is the positive part; when meeting other activists that you have not met before, you bond over deeply shared beliefs. You feel that they will do no harm to you as you simply cannot be wrong for having compassion towards animals.
How is the health of your eldest child on a vegan diet?
Lukas: Our eldest – Jessica – is five now and as well as being breastfed she was eating eggs and a little dairy until she was around a year; she tried fish once but didn’t like it. Then she went on to pureed fruits and vegetables. She has blood tests every year and she is absolutely brilliant; in all the tables the numbers are normal. Many people say that vegans are weak and tired and that this diet is especially bad for children. There is no way we can tell that – they are both hyperactive and full of so much energy. They don’t know when to stop being cheeky, naughty, playing and running around.
And what about your youngest Colin?
Lukas: Colin is slightly bigger than other children his age and he has been vegan since birth. During his first year he was huge, he was so big that there were mums asking us “what are you feeding him with?” At the time he was being breastfed by Lucy and the nutrients from the vegan diet [plant milks amongst other things] were providing him with his protein. Also, besides being breast fed he eats solid vegan food with us. He loves to sit and eat with me, he has a good appetite and we have no health concerns at all.
In regards to their diet, how have you found the school system to be?
Lukas: It was rather hard because when Jessica was about to start at school there was a meeting for parents, and food and lunches were mentioned. I asked how difficult would it be if we were to provide our own food at our own cost? After the meeting I spoke with the kitchen lady and told her that we are vegans. She was not comfortable with having to provide additional food for Jessica, as she was the only vegan at the school.
Did she explain why?
Lukas: Yes she said that she had to support many other families where there are religious or dietary concerns, or intolerance problems.
Did her attitude make you feel that veganism was less important?
Lukas: Yes I did feel a little discriminated against, as it is a legit reason to want to provide our own food at our own expense, which could only be a good thing for the school.
How was the situation resolved?
Lukas: In the end we compromised that the school kitchen will provide some vegan options on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Whilst we provide food for Jessica on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Lucy: Actually what is really great is that before the school used Quorn in their vegetarian options. From this year they are now using “Fry’s”, which are completely vegan. This means that all the vegetarian options are vegan options, but they still call them vegetarian.
Lucy, as a full-time mother have you come across any other professionals who you felt did not understand your choice to raise your children vegan?
Yes, the doctors. It is very sad; they are not educated a lot in nutrition. I have a lot of information form the [vegan] Czech mums who are not sure that they are doing the right thing for their children. They go to the doctors and the doctor says “oh you must give them meat for development, otherwise your children will be sick, or dead.” How can people be educated if the doctors are not? I don’t know of any doctors who know of veganism or nutrition.
Lucy cont: I have met one midwife who was very interested in how we are raising our children. She told me that she always thought that protein was in milk and meat; but not in other places. I told her “do you know of anyone who has a deficiency in protein?” Nobody knows, because protein is everywhere.
Looking forwards now, what are your plans for raising your two children in alignment with veganism?
Lucy: I have vegan books for children by Ruby Root and vegan cook-books. Jessica understands that cow’s milk belongs to the calf, not to people. If we are in the supermarket where the meat is she will say “oh no they are dead animals, that is not good for us, it’s not healthy.” I also like Bitesize Vegan, she makes wonderful videos on YouTube for children. I think that Jessica understands why we are not eating meat.
What if your children decide to change their dietary choices in the future?
Lucy: If Jessica or Colin decide in ten or twenty years that they will eat dairy or meat it will be their choice, but they will know where meat and dairy come from. How everything is. That milk is not for people and that it is not healthy. They will know everything and it will be their decision.
Lukas: We would obviously be sad if our children did decide to eat meat or dairy, but as Lucy said it is our job to give them the information, to educate them. Now with what we know we feel that we would be deceiving them if we did not tell them the truth. They will consciously make the decision based on their knowledge and they will not lack any information.
What are the main benefits of veganism for you both?
Lukas: I think that I have lost some weight and I feel stronger. I boulder at a rather serious level and I don’t feel any lack of strength, if I did I would recognise it immediately. Maybe even more importantly I can now regard myself, if I can say, as not contributing to the cruelty and the killing of animals. I have also made a more significant and positive change as an environmentalist.
Lucy: I think that I have the best skin that I ever had! Hair as well. Before I had “women’s problems” that have disappeared and I am feeling better in my digestion. My sense of taste and smell are more sophisticated; I finally taste the food as it should be. I don’t need too much salt, spices, or sugar.
Bonus question: do you think that your children are more compassionate as a result of a vegan diet?
Lukas: I wouldn’t say that there is that much of a visible difference, but what I will say is that in general children are underestimated in terms of how bright they are. Many adults underestimate how bright children are. Jessica does understand that there is such a thing as “eating animals” by adults. Adults to these small children should be seen as the role model of behaviour. Jessica is only five and she can already recognise that there is something “bad” in her world; something done by adults who are supposed to have the moral ground.