Vegan for almost five years, Cecilie Overholt’s fiancee soon followed. At 19, she then welcomed their son into the family too. A vegan son.
”Because I wouldn’t be able to kill or harm an animal myself, I don’t see it as a right to pay someone else to do it for me, which is essentially what you do when you buy animal products,” Overholt states.
It’s a cold winters day outside the centre of Narvik, Norway. At home, 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 reassuring 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, Overholt 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 reminisces.
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 much extra to do 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. Overholt gets up quickly to bring him in. He curls up in her lap, hiding his smiling face from me, 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 Overholt breastfeeds him she says: ”The matter that is closest to my heart when it comes to veganism is the dairy industry.” She tells me the horror of the dairy industry, how the calf is 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 [should be] 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 two-to-ten times a day, sometimes at night. According to the World Health Organisation, this is correct – children should be breastfed for at least two years.
Overholt expresses to me her biggest challenge. The prejudice that comes with being a vegan parent. She thinks the biggest problem is the general negative coverage veganism gets in the mainstream media, for example when children with vegan parents die from malnutrition. While it’s true that these children did have vegan parents, it’s more a question of neglect, than it is about veganism.
Overholt says they work every day 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… it must sound crazy when you’ve grown up with the idea that you need cows milk for calcium and meat for protein… So you just have to tell them what it’s really like.”
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 adds. Through her Instagram and Snapchat channels, a comprised total of 4000 followers, she questions weekly about how best to raise a vegan child.
She doesn’t 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 off 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 what 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 what we do, and when he’s older he can make an informed choice himself. Hopefully, he’ll continue to do what we do, I can’t really imagine anything else,” she says, smiling at her energetic, healthy, vegan son.