10 December 2010

Interview with vegan children's book author Nathalie VanBalen

Garlic-Onion-Beet-Spinach-Mango-Carrot-Grapefruit Juice is a clever children's book that recognizes the innate curiosity that kids have when it comes to the food they put into their bodies. With help of the main character, Thora, children learn that it's okay to question our food choices and opt for a compassionate alternative. Author Nathalie VanBalen was kind enough to answer some questions for TDIV.

This Dish Is Veg: When did you decide to become a vegetarian and why?

VanBalen: I went back and forth as a kid, and then when I was 14 I learned about factory farming and decided to stop eating animals for good. I made this decision for the same reason that many people do: I was deeply disturbed by the violence against animals and couldn’t justify eating meat any longer. Over the next few years I transitioned to a completely vegan diet, and also learned more about the environmental, health, and social repercussions of raising animals for food. My reasons for not eating animals are complex and always evolving, but at the core is the simple desire and commitment to be peaceful.

TDIV: What inspired you to write this children's book?

VanBalen: I made the first version of Garlic-Onion-Beet-Spinach-Mango-Carrot-Grapefruit Juice in a bookmaking class in college. I thought it would be fun (and a good challenge) to make a book that was wild and playful. I also liked the idea of using plush dolls as characters, so that kids could play with the dolls and continue the story in their own way. The characters’ personalities were inspired by friends of mine. There are few children’s books that support a veg lifestyle, and I wanted to make something for families who are thinking through some of the same questions I am.

TDIV: What message are you trying to convey with the book?

VanBalen: The book raises questions about eating animals. Thora is concerned about animals who are in danger of being eaten. She asks questions like “How does it feel to be food?” I’m trying to convey that it is good to think. That if you’re hurting for someone else, there’s probably a good reason. That it’s okay to listen to the questioning part of yourself, and to voice your concerns.

TDIV: Are you planning to write any other books?

VanBalen: Definitely! I’m currently brainstorming for book #2. The oppression of animals is a dynamic, interconnected, deeply rooted practice, so there are lots of questions to be raised! I want to keep making fun books, and hope to meet many awesome kids along the way.

TDIV: Did you create all of the characters in Garlic-Onion-Beat-Spinach-Mango-Carrot-Grapefruit Juice by hand?

VanBalen: Yes. I made the original dolls in 2008. I use fabric markers to draw Thora’s heart and brain, and the vikings’ eyes. Sewing dolls is work, but fun work!

TDIV: What kind of juice would you create with an "Ultra-Mega-Super-Xtreme-Juicemaster 5000"?

VanBalen: I have an Omega masticating juicer (which is pretty much the same as the Ultra-Mega-Super-Xtreme-Juicemaster 5000), and I love to make carrot-celery-parsley-ginger juice!

Click here to visit Nathalie VanBalen's online store, where you can purchase Garlic-Onion-Beet-Spinach-Mango-Carrot-Grapefruit Juice and other items. The last day to guarantee delivery by Christmas is December 17.

Julia is a student who has a passion for veganism, animal welfare, and religious studies.

Photo credit: thorathinks.com