Dane Showalter has never eaten meat, gulped a glass of milk, slipped on leather shoes or a wool sweater.
Dane is a vegan, and he says life without things like burgers and milkshakes isn’t difficult. The 9-year-old really doesn’t know any other way.
He loves tofu and fruits and vegetables. And, besides, eating animals doesn’t appeal to him.
“No. 1, it’s just mean,” Dane says. “No. 2, it just doesn’t sound appetizing to me.”
A talkative, energetic boy who loves to show off his pocketknife and play with his action figures, Dane is a normal kid — one who regularly insults his dad’s diet.
“I say, ‘Your food is stinky,’” he says, waving his hand in front of his nose.
When the outspoken vegan was born, his parents — a meat-eating construction manager father and vegan voice-over artist mother — talked it over and decided to raise him according to his mother’s lifestyle, eschewing anything made from animals.
“We won’t do leather. We won’t do wool or anything like that,” Dane says, making his points with a wave of his hands.
Both sides of the Showalters’ families suffer from Type 2 diabetes and other diet-related ailments, and they knew that genetically Dane would be susceptible.
“We thought about whether it would be healthy for the long haul,” says his mother, Ginamarie Showalter, 48. “It was kind of a no-brainer for us.”
“It’s absolutely the right thing,” adds dad Lee Showalter, 53.
Ginamarie Showalter became vegan at 19 after her mother was treated for diabetes. Put on a vegan diet, she improved, and Ginamarie Showalter began reading up on veganism. She became convinced it was a more compassionate way of life.
“I read about factory farms,” she says, “and I realized I was a spoke in that wheel.”
She quit eating meat, and only later realized the health benefits.
“It was cold turkey, for lack of a better expression,” she says.
Back then, vegan options were slim. She started reading nutrition labels and learned to prepare her own meals.
When Dane was little, she jokes, the first words he could read by sight were “high fructose corn syrup.”
Dane’s friends don’t make fun of his lifestyle, his parents say. They even buy him a special vegan cupcake at birthday parties.
“They don’t really care that much,” Dane says.
On a Friday evening a few weeks ago, after Dane finished his homeschool lessons for the day and walked his dog, he prepared a smorgasbord of his favorite foods for two guests. He cooked a vegan pizza, mango, cucumbers, spinach dip, tofu sprinkled with tarragon and his current favorite, a grilled (imitation) cheese sandwich.
To ensure they receive proper nutrition, Dane and his mother eat plenty of beans for protein and buy supplemental flavorings that help provide B vitamins. Their regular blood tests reveal no deficiencies, Ginamarie Showalter says.
“This is how he eats, a little of this, a little of that,” she says. “If you eat a wide variety, you get all your nutrients.”
Dane has never been picky, always willing to try something new.
“I try it once and if I don’t like it, I don’t have to eat it,” he says. “Sometimes I say I hate it. Sometimes I say, ‘Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!’”
For Dane, his vegan lifestyle has little to do with health. At 9, he’s not worried about it, and is confident that when he dies, he’ll go to heaven.
But he cares deeply about animals, volunteering to play with dogs at animal shelters and walking neighbors’ dogs.
“Animals are nice to us, but we’re not nice to them,” he says.
His father suspects that one day Dane will walk through the door “eating a chicken leg.” But Dane says he will never be tempted by meat.
His mother is just happy that he has learned to enjoy healthy foods at an early age.
“If he ever does decide to eat a steak,” she says, “I would have peace that he has a strong foundation of health.”