Last week my 9 year old son, Ari, who is in 3rd grade came home and said,

“Mom, Mrs. W is teaching a nutrition class and the workbook she gave us said that dairy is a food group!” 

My first thought was that yes, dairy is considered a food group. It just doesn’t happen to be a food group that we eat from. He then went on to tell me that the class was being told that dairy was one of the “necessary” food groups. He couldn’t believe it. He and his brother have been vegan their whole lives so the idea of dairy being necessary is absurd to him.

The food groups in the workbook were: Dairy, Vegetables, Fruits, Grains, Protein and Extras. Apparently, the first five food groups were considered “necessary”.

Ari explained that his class watched a video that recommended they eat something out of all of the 5 necessary food groups every day. The workbook had exercises in it where the kids would pick foods from the different food groups to make healthy meals. Many of the choices they had to pick from were dairy products in the form of milk, yogurt or cheese. Since dairy is one of the 5 food groups they are inferring  that dairy is necessary and should be eaten every day.

His next statement made me proud.

“Mom, the Dairy Council made the workbook and the video!”

How many 9 year olds think to check where their educational materials are coming from? Ari has grown up hearing conversations about how the meat and dairy industries advertise that their products are both  healthy and necessary. He knows that most people eat meat and dairy products because they were taught by their families, schools, and doctors that these products were normal, natural and necessary for health. Fortunately, up until this point he has never had it taught to him in school.

I was under the impression that the meat and dairy industry was not allowed to advertise under the guise of “educating” in our public schools any more. But I guess I was wrong.

So, as a vegan mother, raising two vegan children, I wondered how I should respond to this situation. I first checked in with how I felt. I wasn’t angry. I was more surprised and disappointed in my son’s school. Then I remembered that most people still believe in the myths about dairy. How could I blame them?

I thought about just letting the whole thing go and not saying anything.  After some thought I decided to talk to the teacher who was in charge of this class. I only wanted to plant a seed and raise awareness.

I ended up having a very brief but nice conversation about veganism and dairy with Mrs. W. I explained to her that we believe that the human body has no more need for cows milk or dairy products then we do for elephant, pig or dogs milk. I told her I was surprised that it was being taught in class that dairy is a necessary food group. I also pointed out that the workbook she gave to the children was from the Dairy Council of California and expressed my concern that it seemed like free advertisement for the dairy industry. I then said,

“It is kind of like letting the tobaco industry give advice on the health issues of smoking”. 

I had no intention or desire to turn the discussion into a debate or to put this teacher on defense. I just made statements about what we believed and pointed out that my kids have been vegan from birth and are very healthy and bright so dairy could not possibly be “necessary” in a healthy diet. I also expressed concern that my child would be given a low grade in this subject because he disagreed with the content.

Mrs. W assured me that Ari was not being graded on this subject and that she could tell he knew a lot about nutrition. She also explained that these were the only workbooks she had to give to the kids about nutrition and that she was not teaching that dairy was necessary.

I think I gave Mrs. W something to think about without putting her on the defense. From my perspective it was a positive exchange and maybe she will look for other material the next time she teaches a nutrition class. I’m glad I spoke up and I will do it again the next time it happens. I hope other parents will do the same when they see the propaganda of the meat and dairy industry sneaking into their children’s classrooms.