Vegan Author Julia Feliz Talks Candidly About Veganism And Parenting
Do you love reading bedtime stories, to your kids, from vegan-friendly books? Chances are high you already know Julia Feliz, the author & illustrator of the much-loved children’s book Libby Finds Vegan Sanctuary. Vegan author, activist, illustrator, and editor- Julia is a multi-talented mom who is passionate about veganism. I got a chance to connect with her and we chatted about various aspects of veganism, parenting, and her latest book, Wild and Free.
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Vegan Author Julia Feliz Talks Candidly About Parenting And Veganism
Here are the excerpts from the interview.
Congratulations on the new book- Wild and Free, illustrated by you and authored by Andrea Zimmer. How did you two meet and collaborate for the book?
Thank you! Wild and Free is a truly special collaboration between Andrea Zimmer and me. We’re both vegan parents, and our little ones have been vegan since conception. Andrea was the first person to approach me about publishing a children’s book when I first launched Sanctuary Publishers (sanctuarypublishers.com) in 2017.
As soon as I read her rhymes, I knew that it was a book that I actually wanted to create for my own children because it explained “why vegan?” in a way that did not just focus on a single point of view or only one nonhuman.
What sets it apart from other books you have authored and illustrated?
Many times, we see books focused on specific nonhuman species and situation, which I’ve realized, as a parent to very curious little ones, means we miss out on the “full picture” and on raising the voices of all nonhumans across different forms of exploitation.
Andrea’s rhyming and catchy verses go through the experiences of as many nonhumans as we were capable of showcasing within a traditional children’s picture book. As the illustrator, I chose to draw non-graphic imagery with bright colors to make sure that the book delivers the intended message without being overwhelming or scary for young children.
Unique to Wild and Free, Andrea and I agreed that the book needed to end with a “call to action” to help parents and children know they have the power to create change for nonhumans in their own communities and through their own daily choices. Therefore, the book finishes with a list of 10 simple actions to help families get started. The book is also special in that it introduces the idea of consistent anti-oppression with regards to veganism at the end through images of diverse children proudly raising the voices of nonhumans – and showing solidarity with marginalized humans and planet Earth as well.
Please go on, I would like to know more about the idea of consistent anti-oppression with regards to veganism. How important is this for you and why?
This was especially important to me to include as I was illustrating the pages because I hope that it will help parents introduce acceptance of different communities, such as neurodivergent children and as they get older, their LGBTQIA+ classmates. Why? Because we are all different and that’s OK. Different is not wrong or bad. In addition, all oppression is interconnected, and we can’t leave any oppressed group behind if we are to find justice for all, including nonhumans. This is what my work as an artist and writer focuses on now. And I wanted to be sure that I carried this message forward to children as well.
Which is your favorite part of the book?
My favorite part of the book is the verse “Look at me! I’m wild and free!” which is fun to say out loud with my kids while looking at the illustrations of every nonhuman happily enjoying themselves in their natural environments, where they are meant to be.
When did you turn towards illustrations? What made you choose veganism as a theme?
I’ve been creating art since I was a child, so I have always loved drawing nonhumans and nature. My work as an illustrator took off shortly after I graduated as a biologist. I wasn’t vegan yet, but once I went vegan, I realized that I could use my skills as a writer and artist to raise the voices of nonhuman animals.
Fast forward to my becoming a parent five years ago, I felt frustrated that there really wasn’t anything vegan-friendly for small children. It was annoying to go to a bookshop and only find books about farms, zoos, aquariums, and circuses. I craved something like a short, vegan-themed board book that I can start introducing my toddler to the idea that nonhumans are not ours to use even though it is the norm all around us. This is how I created my first children’s book, Libby Finds Vegan Sanctuary, under a different publisher.
I have heard the book is based on an actual turkey. Is it true? I would love to know more about it.
Libby is the actual turkey the book is based on. My mom helped rescue her, and then, we found her a home in a sanctuary in Florida. I didn’t just want to “drop her off” and never think of her again. So, I hoped that with sales, I could raise a little bit of money to help the sanctuary with her costs. I donated as much as I could to Libby. This is now what I try to do with all the books published under Sanctuary Publishers. A portion of sales from Wild and Free, for example, go to Preetirang Sanctuary in CA.
You have also authored a vegan feeding guide for babies and toddlers. It looks like you were inspired by some personal experiences. Would you like to share it with our readers?
Yes, the ‘Baby and Toddler Vegan Feeding Guide‘ was born out of my traumatic after-birth experience, where the midwives and a doctor pretty much panicked once they found out I was vegan and that, obviously, I would be raising my new baby as a vegan. Unfortunately, like many non-vegans, they had heard the story of the vegan parents whose baby died and was blamed on their veganism rather than the specific issue that made the parents unable to have the support and information needed to safely raise their child.
Even though my baby was completely healthy, my rights were violated. I was scared because the doctor even mentioned having my newborn taken away simply because she thought my child and I should not be vegans. It was a horrible experience that I do not wish on anyone.
I am sorry that you had to go through this. How did you finally manage?
With the help of the IVRA (the International Vegan Rights Alliance), I was able to get the hospital to pass a directive to ensure that vegan parent’s rights are protected at the hospital where I gave birth and that medical staff is bound to evidence-based medicine and practices. I’m not anti-medicine or anti-doctor by any means; it just happened that I came across someone that needed to be better educated.
So, that’s why you came up with an authentic vegan feeding guide?
Yes. I decided to use my experience as a researcher to create a simple, quick-to-read guide for parents getting ready to have and raise a vegan baby and toddler. This book is special because The Vegan RD, Ginny Messina, was kind enough to look over the nutrition sections and help make sure they were safe and accurate. This was important to me because I wanted this to be a resource that parents could feel certain was evidence-based, and they could show medical professionals and even family and friends as a starting point should they ever find themselves in a situation like mine.
That’s great. Pseudoscience these days is one of the major problems spreading like wildfire on social media. How do you deal with that?
The spread of pseudoscience is an unfortunate problem on social media. Because of this, it’s important that vegan parents have the correct information, such as understand the specific needs of babies and toddlers, which very much differ from our own. It’s also important that vegan parents realize that there are actually quite harmful claims on social media that are not rooted in evidence and can be promoted by sources without any actual experience in the things they are promoting. It’s quite scary and this contributes to those unfortunate stories that stereotype plant-based diets and veganism as dangerous.
How is parenthood treating you? What is the one thing you absolutely love about being a parent?
Truthfully, parenting is one of the hardest things that I have ever done, and there are days that it is a struggle not to worry endlessly about them and their future and to remember to do things that I enjoy in between raising my little ones each day so as to not lose myself. Yet, I can’t imagine a world without them. I wouldn’t want a world where I didn’t know them, and I’m grateful every day for their little laughs and endless energy. My absolutely favorite thing though is watching them grow into themselves and discover the world little by little.
Any message for Raise Vegan readers? Any piece of advice for new moms?
It’s OK that we all have our own ways of doing things, including raising our children. We all come from different cultures, communities, paths, and are headed towards different journeys despite having veganism and ethics in common. Different does not mean wrong. Imperfect or different does not mean “less than”. It just means we all have different abilities, resources, privileges, etc. that contribute to our experiences and the way we do things.
Honestly, my oldest is 5 years old now, and no one can tell or cares whether he was breastfed, bottle-fed, born vaginally, with an epidural, or via C-section. He’s healthy, happy, and finding himself in the best way I can and know how to let him do so safely. In a few years, as a new or seasoned parent, you’ll find the same is true.
Stop feeling guilty – you’re doing the best you can and know how in a time where the community is scarce.
In saying that, social media has become a sort of modern community with people across the globe. It’s important that we remember that other people’s safe, evidence-based choices or situations that are simply out of their control are valid. We don’t have to understand or even know why. We simply have to commit to listen and not shame parents for trying to do the best we all can.
Are you excited for the latest book illustrated by Julia? Have you read Libby Finds Vegan Sanctuary? Let us know in the comments below.
Tags: vegan books, vegan books for kids