Joaquin Phoenix: ‘I’m not going to impose’ my veganism on my son River

Rooney Mara and Oscar® nominee, Joaquin Phoenix arrive on the red carpet of The 92nd Oscars® a...

Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara welcomed their son River last September. It still makes my chest tighten when I think about Joaquin naming his son after his beloved late brother. I want Joaquin and Rooney and baby River to be happy and to live their lives on their own terms. Which includes… veganism. Both Joaquin and Rooney are vegans, but according to Joaquin, they’re not going to force that on River. They’re just going to tell them why they don’t eat animals, and if River ever tries to eat a hamburger, his dad will describe what happens in the slaughterhouse as the child eats. Some highlights from this new interview:

On whether River will be vegan: “Well, certainly I would hope that [he is vegan], but I’m not going to impose my belief on my child. I don’t think that’s right. I’m going to educate him about the reality. I’m not going to indoctrinate him with the idea that McDonald’s have a Happy Meal because there’s nothing f***ing happy about that meal. And I’m not going to tell him that it’s OK to read books about all the wonderful little farm animals, and they say ‘oink oink oink’ and ‘moo moo moo,’ and not tell him that that’s what a hamburger is. So I’m not going to perpetuate the lie, but I’m also not going to force him to be vegan. I’ll support him. That’s my plan.”

Animal rights are part of the fight against injustice: “For me, I see commonality. I think whether we’re talking about gender inequality, or racism or queer rights or indigenous rights or animal rights, we’re talking about the fight against injustice. We’re talking about the fight against the belief that one nation, one people, one race, one gender or one species has the right to dominate, control and use and exploit another with impunity.”

On his Oscar speech: “I’ll be honest with you here. I did not want to get up anywhere and do anything. I was not excited about the opportunity. It’s just not who I am. I was full of fear.” While he knew it would be easier to say thank you and leave, Phoenix chose to use the moment to speak out. “I was in that situation and there was a part of me that just wanted to say, ‘Thanks so much, great, goodnight.’ But I felt like I had to. If I’m up here, I can’t just thank my mum.”

How River inspired him to be vegan: “My brother, River, and my sister Rain said, ‘If we’re not going to eat this then we shouldn’t take their milk, or wear leather.’ That was 43 years ago.”

[From The Times via Yahoo]

Whew, that’s a lot! I mean, I respect Joaquin’s passion on animal rights and veganism and all of that. I don’t think animal rights are the same thing as human rights or the fight against institutionalized racism or the fight against inequality, but Joaquin does and that’s his right. Mostly, though, I’m just concerned that Joaquin really is planning to indoctrinate River? He says he won’t, but then describes how he’s going to lecture River and… you know, indoctrinate him. If River comes home from school one day and announces that he had chicken nuggets and he liked them, there will absolutely be consequences. I hope Rooney is more of a moderating influence, don’t you?

Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara attend the "Joker" screening

Photos courtesy of Avalon Red, Backgrid, WENN.

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56 Responses to “Joaquin Phoenix: ‘I’m not going to impose’ my veganism on my son River”

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  1. AA says:

    I’m already exhausted on behalf of that child. He’s a lot.

    • Piratewench says:

      He is such an incredibly brilliant actor. You know he’s gotta be a lot in his personal life! People with extreme talent seem to also be a lot to handle. I will always love his movies but very happy that I’m with a very low-key and chill man. I could never handle this guy!

      • Samab says:

        Hell yes. When they are talented artistically they sure are tricky to live with. My man is right that way. I learned a lot of patience because love is love

  2. Astrid says:

    This sort of has that Alicia Silverstone vibe to it.

  3. InVain says:

    To each their own. I am a meat-eater but refuse to eat anything I’ve had as a pet (duck, goat) or baby animals (veal, lamb). I grew up on a dairy farm, surrounded by animals. Those are my rules based on my own experiences and opinions. It always makes me a bit uncomfortable when parents don’t allow children to make their own choices about things like this and develop their own opinions. And yes, I am a parent. My husband will sit across from me and on occasion enjoy a veal parm – he knows I hate it, but he’s not an ass about it. I also don’t preach at him when he decides that’s what he wants for his meal.

    But I’ll say it again… to each their own.

  4. OriginalLala says:

    Well, most parents “impose” meat-eating on their children and rarely do people bat an eye about that. I was raised a meat-eater and I wish I had been taught the reality of what that means, I would have become vegetarian much earlier in life. To each their own but I find it insane how people react to vegetarian/vegan diets – all of a sudden everyone around you is a dietician trying to police your food no matter how shitty their own dietary choices are. It’s really eye opening.

    • Kristen says:

      All of this. It’s not indoctrination to be honest with your kids about where animal products come from.

      • Kelly says:

        Yeah. He’s not lying about anything. I liked what he said about the happy farm animals and what a lie that is. Not telling him the truth about the meat industry is “indoctrinating” him to eat meat.

    • Larisa says:

      That’s one way to look at it. Another way is that most parents “impose” being an omnivore on their kids, and let the kids be drivers on any more restrictive diets they may wish to choose.

    • Robyn says:

      Thanks for saying this. We are a vegan family. It’s not indictrination or “imposing” it on them – it’s our values and how we live in our home and community….just like all parenting. As is teaching our kids that all sorts of families have different beliefs and traditions and all are valid and worthy of respect and understanding. Our kids have a keen understanding that they are free to make their own choices as they grow and evolve, but the family meal is the family meal.

      • pottymouth pup says:

        he seems to be saying that when reading stories of farm animals, he will make sure to say what food the animal in the story is used for. that does sound like indoctrination as opposed to having age appropriate discussions with his child(ren) when discussing food and the foods they eat/are exposed to. That goes beyond the expectation that a vegan family would have no animal products in their home (unless they actually have pets that are omnivore/obligate carnivore and are feeding them appropriately) so the only way the child will be exposed to use of animal products is outside the home.

      • Robyn says:

        Why is explaining where food comes from “indoctrination” and not education? It’s up to patterns to decide what is age appropriate. Understanding where food comes from matters for all of us.

      • pottymouth pup says:

        that’s not really how he put it though. He pretty much said that when reading a book with farm animals he’s not going to just read the pig goes oink, he’s going to specifically use the opportunity to say how it’s used for food – not even a caveat about approaching the topic when age appropriate. That doesn’t really sound like just giving an (age appropriate) understanding of where food comes from. My friends who are vegan and have children have been able to explain this to their kids without interjecting it into toddler story time the way he seems to be describing it. Reading the interview, it just brought back memories of Heather Mills crowing about her then very young daughter going around lecturing strangers about what they’re eating.

    • moo says:

      Agree. I wish I’d been offered veganism as an option in childhood. I didn’t know it was a thing, but I also hated seeing meats I’d let rot in the fridge (I tried to use it up, but I was a kid and mom was busy) because I recognized an animal’s life had been literally trashed for nothing.

      Parents appropriately make choices for their kids all the time, until the kids start making their own choices in various areas, which is an unfolding process that occurs throughout childhood, teens, and into early adulthood.

    • thaisajs says:

      My daughter is a vegetarian and I am not. She’s 8. She’s never liked meat and just won’t eat it. It started out as a taste/texture thing and when she discovered meat comes from animals, she really wouldn’t touch it. We still do Happy Meals and the McDs near our house has learned how to make the “cheeseburger” as she likes it (i.e., a bun with some cheese). It can be done.

      I still think he sounds insufferable, tho. He won’t impose his veganism on his kid but he’s happy to be passive-aggressive about picture books about farms and cows? Gotcha.

    • aang says:

      I was completely up front with my kids as to how meat was sourced, in age appropriate ways of course. Both my young adult kids are pescatarian and have been since they were tweens. We’ve settled on local eggs from pasture raised hens and fish farmed in the EU. They eat eggs several times a week and fish twice. Rest of the time it is vegetarian. They don’t drink milk but will eat cheese sometimes. I sometimes cook meat hunted by my father and my son will eat that but my daughter will not. Once they were old enough to share a preference I respected their wishes.

    • Eleonor says:

      Agreed.
      Basically my mum forced me to eat meat: I didn’t know anything about animals being slaughtered, but I remember me hating the taste and endlessy chewing if not even spitting and hiding it from her because it was disgusting .
      I spent years avoiding meat, I have been vegetarian for about three years, and now I am mostly flexitarian, but I don’t buy meat, I don’t even know how to cook it, I appreciate some receipe but I refuse to learn them. I buy veggie burgers and vegan nuggets which are good to my taste, and that’s it.

    • Kaylove says:

      100% this! I’m a vegetarian and my husband is a meat eater.. when we had our children all I ever heard was “you’re gunna let them eat meat right?”
      Beyond annoying. Now I have one meat eater and one vegetarian. We’ve always been open with our children about each others diets and they had the final say.

    • Haapa says:

      It was a bit of the opposite for me. I remember asking my mother at one point is meat was muscle (I knew which animals it came from already) and she was squeamish about answering me. I have no issues with this. I also skin and dissect animals as a part of my job curating a natural history collection so this applies to all areas of my life.

  5. Sam the Pink says:

    I mean, as long as he’s doing it in an age-appropriate way, I don’t really see the issue. I am a 20 year vegetarian. My husband eats meat. We have 5 children who are allowed to make their own choices, and all the kids currently eat meat to some degree.

    I mean, I do not lie to my kids. My kids know that meat comes from animals, and the animals have to die to get the meat, and that they are killed for it – meaning, you know, they do not die natural deaths. But they also get that meat eating is a natural thing – animals kill each other. The difference is two things: 1.) some animals, like their cats, have bodies that need meat to live; there is no choice for them, whereas humans do not need meat to live and 2.) humans have more advanced brains that can think about our choices and make decisions that most other animals cannot. They know that many farms that create meat are very cruel and the animals are treated very poorly.

    I think the biggest issue with imposing something like veganism on a child is that you are setting the kid up for rebellion – cheese and pepperoni on and crackers will become “edgy” to this kid. The more you demonize something, the more the kid will seek it out. That’s my concern with my kids – if they do become veg, I want them to choose it.

  6. Lucy says:

    His approach doesn’t seem any more like indoctrination than people who raise their children to think eating animals is ethically justified. Both are ways of teaching ethical codes, something parents typically do. One ethical code is just less common. I raised my daughter, who is six, as a vegan, and while I would be disappointed if she decided to eat meat, it’s ultimately her choice. I imagine my level of disappointment would be similar to my parents’ level of disappointment when I stopped eating meat as a child.

    • Larisa says:

      I won’t be disappointed at all if my kids stop eating meat. In fact, I almost kinda wish they would – I feel like if I’d lived alone, I’d already be a vegetarian, but my husband is not interested and I’m just too weak-willed to cook separate meals. If a child joined me, that would give me more motivation to cook and, hopefully, it would also give them more motivation to try new things – there are a lot of “meat substitutes” that I enjoy, but nobody in my family eats, such as eggplant and mushrooms.

      • moo says:

        I applaud both of you for navigating life in this complex world. It’s easy for me to make my own choices and be vegan but I can imagine having a family would complicate things. My BF is vegetarian (I dreamed of dating a vegetarian my whole adult life!) but happy to eat mostly vegan at home. I don’t judge when he eats dairy ice cream or gets dairy at restaurants, and he doesn’t pressure me to eat dairy to make things more convenient. It feels good this way.

  7. Willow says:

    We all raise our children with our beliefs, traditions, religion, politics, etc. And then they grow up, are exposed to other beliefs, and should be allowed to make their own decisions about how they want to live their lives. Hopefully that’s what he means by not ‘imposing’.

  8. Beth Curley says:

    I am a meat eater who learned at a very young age where dinner really came from. I have also worked on farms but still have no issue with what I choose to eat. From the time my children were little they understood where food comes from and that it doesn’t magically appear in the grocery store. If any of my children ever decide to be a vegetarian or vegan, I would support them 100%. I just don’t understand why it’s anyone else’s business how someone chooses to raise their children. I think the greater take away should be that most of us have the privilege to choose a diet and what we eat. What I would hope people like Joaquin Phoenix would also think about is the millions of starving children who would gladly eat a McDonald’s happy meal instead of going hungry another day.

    • Kasia says:

      There are hungry children in the world precisely because places like McD exist. Factory farming uses the resources that could be used to feed everyone. Huge swaths of land are cleared every day for meat and dairy production.

  9. Kasia says:

    I’m raising my 3 kids vegan and the way we see it is that animals are not food.
    Few years from humanity will look back and say “I can’t believe people used to eat animals”.

    • rainbowkitty says:

      I have a friend who is vegan and raising three boys vegan as well. She often gets comments like “where do they get their protein from, etc”. Her kids are healthy and well fed. And they enjoy their vegan food just fine.

    • Nicole says:

      Never gonna happen. We have a whole industry fighting back against a vegetarian lifestyle. It’s called the cattle industry.

      • Kristen says:

        There’s a good episode of Sam Harris’ podcast in which he talks to Bruce Friedrich and Liz Specht about this issue, and they assert that right now cost is the primary barrier to animal-free meat. Apparently even the large meat producers are on board with lab-grown meat if they can mass-grow at a lower cost.

    • Haapa says:

      I won’t eat anything I wouldn’t be able/willing to kill and butcher myself. So I don’t do lamb or veal, but I’ll do just about anything else.

  10. rainbowkitty says:

    If I were vegan I’d probably feed my kids the same. If anything, just because I’d rather not make multiple meals although I understand that some parents have to do this because kids are fussy.
    But if I wasn’t a meat eater morally or otherwise I doubt I’d cook meat for my kids. That’s not saying that I’d oppose my kids making their own food decisions when they get older.

  11. Lunasf17 says:

    My husband and are longtime vegans and our toddler is also vegan. We will tell her what meat is and about factory farming and slaughter houses when it’s appropriate so she can decide what she wants to eat when she has more choices. There is a reason many people don’t even know about how meat and dairy is produced, because it’s abuse and torture to living creatures and we want to keep that hidden in the shadows and ignore it because we like the way their flesh and body fluids tastes more than we care about other creatures. If you can’t actually face how your food is produced, maybe you need to look at why your consuming it then.

  12. ce says:

    Humans are omnivorous, plus especially young babies/children’s immune system and overall health is greatly impacted by their nutrition and diet. I say this as a vegetarian for over 20 years, it’s immoral to restrict food groups from young kids or make them feel guilty for wanting to eat it. Give them the info in a non-judgemental way and let them decide. Diet is a personal choice just like religion and political views, it’s not up to us to impose that on another person, ever

    • Robyn says:

      Whoever is doing the shopping and cooking in ANY family is “imposing” that on their family.

      Say the word “vegan” and suddenly everyone is a nutritionist and clutching their pearls over indoctrinated children. It’s a spectrum, like all parenting choices.

    • teecee says:

      Several cultures have centuries of vegetarianism at least, like the region of Gujurat in India. It’s not an imposition, it’s simply a cultural norm, and because most Westerners are so deeply culturally entrenched in meat-eating, anything else feels like indoctrination. It isn’t.

      I believe there is already a slow global push towards reducing animal consumption, although I think it’s more driven by environmental concerns rather than a response to animal cruelty.

  13. Q says:

    Not everyone can become vegan, some due to certain illnesses and cross allergies literally cannot.
    I wish there were much more understanding about that from vegans because the last thing these people need is people condemning them and raising prices on meat which they need in order to live.

  14. Sel says:

    Why is it only indoctrination when someone educates their child about the way animals are killed (and the cruelty those animals endure before that), so they can make informed choices about what they eat? If that’s ‘indoctrination’ then what do you call the rest of us who are part of a system that not only massively contributes to the upcoming climate catastrophe but also normalises and ignores the obscene overconsumption, mass slaughter and appalling treatment of animals? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with him explaining the reality to his child. If only more of us would be more honest with ourselves the world would probably be in a much better state than it currently is.
    Also, why is it the norm for people to see animal lives as somehow lesser than humans lives? Is the idea that non-human animal lives matter less some sort of religious hangover, that comes from the ancient idea that only humans have souls? Do people not realise that animals have emotions and feel too? That they’re not automatons? Do they understand that humans are in fact *also* animals? Are people basing this idea of animal lives being worth less on the basis of intelligence? In which case do they consider the lives of humans with lower IQ as somehow worth ‘less’ too? Isn’t that sort of thinking bordering into eugenics? Where do you draw the line with this sort of thinking? I find it deeply problematic and disturbing when I hear people unthinkingly echo these sorts of sentiments and I wish people would consider their opinions more on these sorts of issues.

  15. Becks1 says:

    I mean, if both Rooney and Joaquin are vegan, the child is going to be vegan presumably, right? Like he will be raised vegan at home – they aren’t going to go out and buy cow’s milk for him just because. He’ll drink almond milk or whatever they drink and he’ll eat….whatever they eat.

    I do think he’s coming across a little…..I dont know, extreme here…..mainly because it doesnt sound like he’s going to handle it in an age-appropriate way. Like your 2 year old kid is singing “old macdonald had a farm” and you’re going to be like “AND THEN THE ANIMALS WERE ALL KILLED SO PEOPLE COULD HAVE A HAPPY MEAL!”?

    BUT I’m assuming that’s just how he’s coming across in the article and its going to be a little more nuanced and gentler than that lol. It will probably be something discussed in the house as he grows up and the convos will probably change as River gets older.

    • Cherie says:

      I doubt it — I expect it will be exactly as you envision with pacing and fist shaking and thunderous proclamations. Their kid , their choice , but I’m sure he will be just as precious about it as he comes across here.

      I was raised a farm kid so I’ve always known that the beef I raised for show was also going to be dinner one day.

  16. paranormalgirl says:

    My spawn were raised omnivore, with vegetarian meals three times a week. They were taught very early where all their food came from and the result is that boyspawn is vegan and girlspawn is pescatarian.

  17. WTF says:

    Eh
    I can’t get worked up either way. I get working people that are vegan raising their kids vegan. Who has time to make 2 sets of meals?!? I eat meat, so my kid eats meat. The day he can cook for himself, or has money for DoorDash he can eat whatever he wants.

    It is funny to me the level of outrage on both sides of this though. Serious side eye to Joaquin for comparing eating meat to racism and sexism. While we are over here fighting for equality and dignity, only ignorance, privilege and the ignorance of privilege allow you to compare our struggle to a chicken or a cow.

    • Nicole says:

      Yes to all of this!!!!

    • Sel says:

      I don’t think he’s making a comparison through the frame of a zero sum game mentality though. I think he’s attempting to talk about the awful, harmful excuses hegemonies make to commit murder, suffering and inequality and how those with privilege need to do the work and look at the world in a fully intersectional way to fight and stop the cycle of abuse from continuing.
      Though could he have phrased it better so it doesn’t sound like a comparison? Yes, he could and absolutely should have clarified that. It’s obviously and rightly going to cause massive offence otherwise.

  18. Nicole says:

    Ugh….basically, if I’m a parent, I’m damned if I do, damned if I don’t. My kid only eats hot dogs, chicken nuggets, and tacos. If I don’t tell him where the meat comes from, I’m a bad parent? And to some parents, I’m spoiling the child for making him what he’ll only eat (the whole “when I was growing up, my mom made ONE meal….”). Now if he decides he’s vegan or vegetarian, it’s okay that I make specialized dinners to just for him and that I should to support his decisions. What exactly is the difference?!?! Makes my head want to explode….

  19. LP says:

    Uuuuuh I mean I’m a white person but please don’t compare POC to animals?? Under any circumstances?? Of course if a POC feels differently fine, but Joaquin should NOT say that!!

  20. Mimi says:

    Idc I love him it doesent matter lol

  21. BeanieBean says:

    Well, that kid’s not going to be making his own food choices for several years. He’ll be vegan until he’s old enough to buy/prepare his own food. If he decides to make a dietary change,

  22. Jaded says:

    We eat ecologically sourced seafood and poultry, but gave up beef/pork/lamb a decade ago. My issue is the conversion of forests into livestock ranches which is one of the major causes of drastic deforestation. Add to that greenhouse gas emissions and serious water depletion and you have a perfect storm of an ecological disaster. The sooner we can develop meat sources grown in labs the better.

  23. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    Can we possibly count all the teeny tiny things we say and do all day, every day, in order to steer our kids in some fashion or another? Every pun. Every micro expression. Every roll of our eyes or passive aggressive chuckle. And then pair all the small moments with the larger conversations and lectures and offhanded discussions in the car. In all honesty, we probably don’t need to say a damn thing as our actions do the bolding and underlining all on their own.

  24. Mel says:

    He is absolutely right that animal rights are part and parcel of fighting racial injustice
    There is a huge body of work dedicated to understanding how animality (the concept denoting the subordination and exploitation of animals) is inextricable from the different modes of human domination. It’s no coincidence that racialized humans are likened to animals to demote them on the spectrum of humanity… we sanction violence on animals collectively, and when humans are analogized to animals… it’s no surprise what follows…
    There are brilliant black scholars doing this work on veganism and racial oppression. I wish animals rights would stop being trivialized!

    • Emily says:

      Who are these “black scholars?” I doubt any black person would compare themselves to a chicken.

  25. Norafloral says:

    It’s already a huge environmental issue. I believe meat, fish, and dairy, the conventional stuff, will be luxury and even taboo items in the near future. Lab-grown stuff (sans animal suffering incidental) will be the accepted norm.

    I like Joaquin and Rooney; they seem like people with a lot of integrity.

  26. Roo says:

    I think an important part of the discussion that may be missing from his approach is that he and his wife are privileged enough to make that choice. Both are immensely wealthy, and they can choose to eat vegan, but many families don’t have that choice in their family budget and/or live in food deserts. Those challenges must be part of the discussion, too.

  27. Ishqthecat says:

    In my family we ate meat for many years and even started hunting. I have always very much enjoyed the taste of meat and the feel of leather. After a few years of hunting, we couldn’t kill animals any more. We just didn’t see any important differences between the animals we ate and and our beloved pets (birds, dogs, cats). We stopped hunting and went vegetarian and then vegan. We have only vegan food in the house now, but our kids are free to make their own food choices outside the house (e.g. school lunches), and Mum won’t pay for anything new that is made of leather. We have made it clear that we hope they will choose to be vegan when they are old enough to understand how to eat a (mostly) whole food plant-based diet (late teens). Having said this, the default option is always going to be McVegan for everyone when Mum is paying at McD’s ;-) When you have a choice, choose to be kind (as we vegans like to say). Way to go Rooney and Joaquin!