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Meat-free and merry: This vegan family is making it work without animal products

Michelle Schwegmann, Ruby Hooten, and Josh Hooten are keeping it cool without animal products.

Photo: Joshua Huston


When it comes to food, Ruby Hooten has an ethically clear conscience. Since her birth 10 years ago, Ruby has been a vegan, eschewing foods made by or consisting of animals. In fact, given that her mom was vegan while pregnant, Ruby has foregone meat, dairy and eggs even longer than that. 

“It’s an ethical stance,” said Michelle Schwegmann, Ruby’s mom. “We don’t need to eat animals to be healthy.”

Ruby’s dad, Josh Hooten, is vegan too, and the Portland couple recently released their own vegan cookbook, Eat Like You Give a Damn

As Michelle explains, it’s never been easier to go vegan, with the variety and quality of dairy and meat alternatives now available. Most people in the largely liberal Northwest are accepting of their diets. 

When Ruby goes to a friend’s house or birthday party, Michelle will check with the parents to see what’s on the menu. At a recent pizza party, the hosts simply ordered Ruby a mini vegan pie of her own. Other times, Michelle will make a meatless, dairy-free version of what the other kids are eating. 

“I don’t mind,” Michelle said. “We’re the ones raising her this way.”

The couple turned vegan years ago after reading John Robbins’ Diet for a New America, which laid bare the cruel conditions experienced by most animals used for food production and the environmental damage caused by industrial farming. The two found they couldn’t eat and shop the way they used to and feel right about it. 

Photo: Joshua Huston

Michelle, Josh, and Ruby love to share their vegan dishes.

For Ruby, the whole thing has long been second nature. 

“She has always just known we’re vegan,” Michelle said. When she was a small girl, “someone would give her a cup of water and she’d say, ‘Is this vegan?’”

Even grandma and grandpa — the grandma who fed Michelle McDonald’s burgers with extra salt as a kid — support the family’s values. 

When the trio goes to visit Michelle’s parents in Kansas, her mom will ask what foods they need and excitedly reports back that she’s bought rice milk and multiple flavors of vegan ice cream for Ruby. 

“Grandma still gets to spoil her, but just with the vegan version of junk food,” Michelle said. 

Photos courtesy of the Hooten-Schwegmann family

Check out the fresh, simple and tasty lunches Michelle packs for Ruby each day at #‎rubybirdslunch on Instagram.


The couple respects the fact that people make their own food choices and doesn’t guilt anyone for eating what they choose. When the opportunity comes up to share vegan dishes, Michelle is glad to do it, recently serving vegan pancakes for a sleepover at Ruby’s school. 

As Ruby gets older, Michelle knows she might decide to try carnivorous foods. She hopes that her daughter will consider the impacts of her choices and do what she decides is right. 

There’s always the chance that Ruby will pull the classic teenage move of rebelling against her parents, rejecting what they love and embracing what they loathe. 

“Our worst fear is she’ll become a right-wing cattle rancher,” Michelle joked, perhaps half-heartedly. “She had better not.” 

Find Eat Like You Give a Damn at herbivoreclothing.com

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