I’m the father of a child who has been vegan since birth. If recent news stories are to be believed that should have you recoiling in horror, but you need not – she’s thriving, along with millions of other vegan children around the world.
That’s because a plant-based vegan diet contains everything we need nutritionally and, in my experience, gives children the very best start in life, for their physical health and emotional wellbeing.
Last week it was reported that “trendy” vegan diets can cause “irreversible damage” to a child’s nervous system and even death. Death by veganism? The idea would be funny if it wasn’t so damaging.
Put simply, this sort of talk is straight-up scaremongering, flying in the face of an extensive body of independent scientific research. It also contrasts with the position of the British Dietetic Association, which has long supported vegan diets for children.
These stories serve as little more than a distraction from the real issue of the health risks of eating animal products. Eating processed meat, for example, causes cancer – that’s recognised by sensible, independent organisations across the world. The World Health Organisation has classified it as carcinogenic in the same category as tobacco. So rather than attack veganism and the people who commit themselves to that diet, let’s focus our attention on the foods that are genuinely killing us, like sausages and bacon.
These stories arguably also perpetuate one of the biggest public health crises in the UK: childhood obesity. Of all dietary groups, the lowest rates of obesity on average are found in vegans.
With nearly a third of children aged two to 15 overweight or obese, and younger generations becoming obese at earlier ages and staying obese for longer, shouldn’t we be promoting plant-based eating that has been shown to tackle obesity instead of scaring people off it?
We ought to be encouraging children to eat more fruits and vegetables, and less meat and dairy. It just makes scientific sense.
Of course, any way of eating can be unhealthy if it isn’t well-balanced. Regardless of the type of diet we follow, we all need to think carefully about the food we’re eating. But to suggest that plant-based food is somehow inherently deficient and potentially life-threatening is just plain wrong.
The vegan diet is not in any way restrictive. There are now vegan alternatives to pretty much everything and with a bit of knowledge, getting enough protein, iron, zinc, calcium and other essential nutrients into your children is straightforward. My best tip as a parent of a fussy child: hide healthy wholefoods in a smoothie!
While Vitamin B12 is important, breastfeeding mothers and children can easily get what they need in a supplement or non-meat-based food enriched with the vitamin.
Not only can children thrive physically on a plant-based diet, by not harming animals they learn compassion and respect for others from the beginning. This way we raise a generation that sees others as equals, all deserving of the same rights irrespective of our differences.
It also teaches children to be gentle to the earth. Climate change is the biggest issue of our generation, yet it continues to be ignored. Eating animal products is the leading cause of climate change. The answer is on our plates, and it’s our duty to explain this to our children.
Our decision to raise our daughter as vegan was made not only with her best interests in mind, but also those of other living beings and the planet. Veganism is the future, so let’s embrace it.
Jimmy Pierson is the UK Director of ProVeg, a new international food awareness organisation which launches this year in four different countries with the mission to reduce global animal consumption by 50 per cent by the year 2040
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