”Because I wouldn’t be able to kill or harm an animal myself, I don’t see it as right to pay someone else to do it for me, which is essentially what you do when you buy animal products,” Cecilie A. S. Overholt states. She’s been vegan for almost 5 years, her fiancee followed after, and two years ago, 19 years of age, they welcomed a son into their family as well. A vegan son.
When I meet her at her home, located just outside the centre of Narvik, Norway, on a cold winters day, her son, Emilian, is sleeping soundly outside in his buggy. I’ve intruded upon her free hour of the day, as she jokingly reminds me, before she reassures me that talking about her biggest passion, veganism, also counts as free time.
Upon discovering her pregnancy in the last few months of year 13, Cecilie already knew her pregnancy would be vegan, and her child would be too. ”Most people didn’t see it as very clever. But I stood my ground and did exactly what I wanted,” she says, thinking back to her pregnant days. She tells me all of her blood tests both before, during and after her pregnancy have been excellent. ”There’s a lot to think about when you’re pregnant no matter what diet you have, it’s just a few extra things on top of that.”
From pregnancy to raising a child
The same goes for being a parent. She says there isn’t too much extra as a vegan parent either. She tells me all children are advised supplements for omega3 and vitamin D. Emilian also gets supplements for B12 and iodine. ”A lot of people freak out when they hear that you need to take a B12 supplement. It’s not like vegans are the only ones who need supplements, a lot of people on a regular diet also need supplements. And the animals that are bred for food, their food has been fortified with vitamin B12, it’s not like B12 can be found naturally in animals either. Why shouldn’t you just take those vitamins first hand, and not filter it through an animal first? I don’t get it.”
The Dairy Industry
Over the baby call, we can hear Emilian waking up downstairs. Cecilie gets up quickly to bring him in. He curls up in her lap, hiding his smiling face from me, sort of playing a quiet game of peek-a- boo. We continue with our conversation, but the little man clearly wants something from his mother – the food.
As Cecilie breastfeeds him, she says, ”The matter that is closest to my heart when it comes to veganism is the dairy industry.” She tells me about the horror of the dairy industry, how the calf is being taken away from its mother, so that her milk can be put into cartons and sold to us instead. ”I feel a lot stronger about it now that I’m a mother myself. You see it in such a different light when you become a mother and you produce milk for your own baby. My milk is for my child and no one else, and it’s the same for the cow. Her milk is for her calf, not for us.” She thinks it’s a disgrace how many mothers are being bullied into stop breastfeeding, switching from breast milk to cows milk. Emilian breastfeeds anywhere between 2-10 times a day, sometimes at night. According to WHO (Worlds Health Organisation), she’s doing it right – children should be breastfed for at least two years.
Cecilie expresses to me that the biggest challenge she faces as a vegan parent is the prejudice. She thinks the biggest problem is the general negative coverage veganism gets in the mainstream media, for example where children with vegan parents die from malnutrition. Whereas it’s true that these children did have vegan parents, it’s more a question of general neglect, than it is about veganism. Cecilie says that they work everyday to kill these assumptions once and for all, presenting their plant based eating habits as healthy as they actually are. She says, ”For a lot of people who have no idea what veganism is, and don’t know much about diet and nutrition, it must sound crazy when you’ve grown up with the idea that you need cows milk for calcium and meat for protein, but they just haven’t got the right information. So you just have to tell them what it’s really like. And when we’ve informed others, most have been pretty accepting, especially our families.” It’s confirmed by the American Dietetic Association, as well as the Norwegian Directorate of Health, that a well-planned vegan diet is suitable for all stages of life.
A vegan child
”I always encourage people to ask questions, I’m more than happy to help. The more vegans, the better for the planet, for the animals and for us,” she says. Through her Instagram and Snapchat channels, together making up over 4000 followers, she’s asked weekly about how best to raise a vegan child. Of course, she doesn’t, by any means, claim to have all the answers, but she’s picked up a few tips and tricks throughout the years. ”I respond to a lot of questions when it comes to having plant based children and how to make the children want to be involved. Everything from child friendly meals to how to talk to children about veganism, without it being all grotesque, about blood and gut, and all the horrible things that go down in the industry. I have many good books that I read to Emilian. That helps a lot.”
As Emilian awakens from his nap, I ask her about the future. She’s very persistent with the fact that when Emilian gets older, he gets to choose himself how he wants to live his life. For now, however, he does what any child does – whatever their parents do.
Our conversation is breaking up as we’re both thrown out of the sofa along with the pillows by a two year old who thinks the best way to use a sofa is running back and forth in it.”I think it’s wonderful to raise a vegan child. You know, it’s really just about that we as parents want to teach him what we see as right and wrong, it’s not more complicated than that. We try to give him good values and inform him as well as we can about how things work and why we do like we do, and when he’s older he can make an informed choice himself. Hopefully he’ll continue to do like we do, I can’t really imagine anything else,” she says, smiling at her energetic, healthy and vegan son.