How difficult is it to bring up vegan children?
Hannah Weston talks to experts to smash the myths about raising a plant–powered family.
Forcing your children into veganism is tantamount to abuse-at least that’s the message coming from much of the mainstream media following news an Italian child was admitted to hospital suffering from malnutrition after reportedly being fed a vegan diet.
But is this hysteria just fear mongering? Many families manage to eschew animal products and thrive. Despite this, in a world full of Happy Meals and KFC, parents who decide to raise their children as vegans are often seen as oddballs, or worse, as forcing their own views on their kids, making them miss out on a ‘normal’ childhood.
The controversy and difficulties these parents must face poses the question: is it really worth it?
When you picture raising a child, you may conjure images of children’s parties, tantrums, ice cream in the park, play dates, mass sleepovers, tantrums, parent’s evenings, being a responsible role model, tantrums and so on. However throw veganism into the mix and it would appear to some that children’s parties, sleepovers and ice cream in the park would become a distant memory. Speaking to a vegan father, Dan Nusku from Clitheroe, who has raised his two daughter’s vegan from birth, the reality appears different.
For Dan, the decision he made to raise his daughters vegan was not one he made half–heartedly, and the choice goes way beyond the act of simply saying no to that Big Mac. “I raise my children to understand health. I see a parent as someone who guides the young child into being able to make true and proper decisions that benefit themselves.” Having at least 10 years of experience raising his daughters vegan, Dan is certainly equipped to face any difficulties that come his way.
“At the start, parties had been a nightmare, especially with parents not understanding the difference between vegetarian and vegan, and mistakes happened. But now many parents have become aware and some parents even message to ask what they can have. I see it as an indirect way to show different tasty vegan foods to them, I’m very willing to guide them with that. Hopefully they no longer see vegan foods as lettuce and a cucumber butty.”
Taking a vegan child to parties may not be the be–all and end–all as some may think, as popular foods such as Oreos and Party Rings are vegan, not to mention the vast choices of vegan junk food lurking in most supermarket frozen aisles. Raising vegan children 50 years ago, in an era where adverts such as that of the Carnation condensed milk, which said ‘ask your doctor why Carnation milk is so good for babies’ were commonplace, would have come with its difficulties. But with the increasing awareness of the vegan diet and the huge boom in the meat and dairy substitute industry, feeding children a plant–based diet is becoming easier and easier by the day as the variety of vegan foods increases. As of 2016, Ipsos Mori polling commissioned by The Vegan Society and this very magazine showed there are 542,000 people following a vegan diet in Great Britain, showing why more companies are meeting the demands of the ever–growing number of vegans.
It seems the central reason why society is so sceptical towards people raising their children vegan is because of health reasons. Many believe growing children need animal products. We were all taught in school we need milk for calcium and strong bones, and that meat is an ‘excellent’ source of protein. However whilst there may be calcium in milk and protein in meat, children can get all the goodness they need from plant–based sources such as greens for calcium, lentils for iron, beans from protein, the list goes on. It appears that as long as the diet is well planned, children can be just as healthy on a vegan diet, according to Sandra Hood, a specialist dietician for the NHS in Yorkshire.
She says: “As with any diet, it needs to be well–planned. A well planned vegan diet can more closely match the Department of Health recommendations of more fruits and vegetables and wholegrains, less saturated fat, less processed foods, salt and sugar.” As for Dan, he regularly says how healthy his children are and how successful they are at school, thanks to plants.
At school, children are surrounded by books, many with underlying messages. I have distant memories as a child of reading books with ‘child friendly’ recipes all containing animal products and painting these recipes in a positive, fun light. These books never educated children on where their food comes from, perhaps because it would be deemed inappropriate to show children pictures of slaughterhouses and abattoirs. Maybe this is why children are taken strawberry picking and shown how their food is grown, as opposed to how their food is killed.
Ruby Roth, LA–based artist and leading author writes books such as Vegan is Love, educating children on where meat and dairy comes from. Her books have caused much controversy, with child psychologists such as Jennifer Hart Steen saying that her books present ‘fear’ and they would make children afraid. Yet the fact these books even exist are testament to our changing times when more and more children are being educated on where their hamburgers and chicken nuggets come from.
I spoke to Ruby Roth about the main purpose of her books: “My books encourage critical thinking–by presenting kids with the truth and including them in a conversation where they are usually left out of. When we give kids the information they need to make educated choices, they choose wisely.” Ruby doesn’t believe veganism is a lifestyle just for adults. “In the context of our era–where we can easily meet all our nutritional needs and effectively practice sustainability in all sectors of the market–the benefits of veganism makes sense no matter a person’s age.” I suppose meat eating isn’t exclusive to adults, so why should veganism be?
Ultimately the parents are the ones raising the child, and make the choices which they have to live with. Sometimes you’ve just got to take criticism with a pinch of salt, and if the parent chooses to raise their child vegan then they must go in, whether willing or not, ready to face some kind of criticism. Raising vegan children is no longer an ideology, but more a way of living based on personal choices and ethical beliefs. Vegan children should no longer be seen as victims of neglect, instead they are simply conscious children who may turn away a cheeseburger in favour of a falafel burger, but are in no way unusual, and as it seems by Dan’s children, are certainly not wasting away.