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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Mon 15-Aug-16 10:03:40

Guest post: "I'd never raise my children as anything but vegan"

As an Italian MP suggests prosecuting parents who feed their children a vegan diet, Fiona Peacock says resources would be better used educating all parents about nutrition

Fiona Peacock

Watching You Grow

Posted on: Mon 15-Aug-16 10:03:40


Lead photo

"Why would we introduce foods we wouldn't eat ourselves?"

I have been vegan for almost nine years. My four-year-old daughter has eaten a plant-based diet since birth (yes, breast milk is vegan) and my second baby, due shortly, will be joining her. It was never something we questioned. We knew that children could grow up strong and healthy on a vegan diet, so why would we introduce foods we wouldn't eat ourselves? My grandma thinks it's a shame she's never tasted a pork sausage, but other than that our choice hasn't attracted much criticism.

Last week, however, an Italian politician proposed a law that would allow the state to prosecute parents who choose to raise their children vegan. The proposed law has come about after a number of high-profile cases of severe malnourishment as a result of parents imposing inadequate vegan diets, and has opened up a debate about whether it's ok to raise children on a vegan diet.

A vegan diet needn't be restrictive. While veganism means avoiding animal products - cheese, meat, gelatine, to name but a few - a rich and varied diet is easily achievable. My daughter eats fruits and vegetables, lentils, tofu, grains, beans and nuts, cereals fortified with vitamins and she also takes a daily multivitamin specially formulated for vegan children. However, she can also hold her own when it comes to chocolate, chips, ice cream and all the other junk foods four-year-olds love to eat. I don’t want her to miss out, so I plan ahead for birthday parties or nursery celebrations so she can have sweets and cake with the rest of the children. She might grow up and decide she doesn't want to be vegan any more, but I don't want that to be because she felt left out growing up.

There's a pervasive lack of understanding about nutrition. Rather than vilifying all vegan parents for the mistakes of a few, resources would be better used educating people about how to achieve a healthy diet - whether this includes animal products or not.

The NHS says that a vegan diet is fine for babies and children as long as it includes all of the necessary vitamins and minerals. The vegan parents I know are clued up when it comes to nutrition. I think being vegan actually encourages parents to be more critical of their family's diet than they may otherwise be - and that can only be a good thing.

Perhaps, instead of looking to prosecute vegan parents, it would be better for Italy to introduce measures to educate all parents about the importance of a varied diet in childhood. Italy has one of the highest rates of childhood obesity in the world - it’s clear that there's a pervasive lack of understanding about nutrition. Rather than vilifying all vegan parents for the mistakes of a few, resources would be better used educating people about how to achieve a healthy diet - whether this includes animal products or not.

I went vegan after years of being vegetarian. I found out about the cruelty involved in the dairy industry and decided to take the next step to reduce animal suffering. For me, veganism has always been about animal exploitation. The health and environmental benefits of the lifestyle are a bonus, but they're not the reason I choose to be vegan. I am raising my daughter to consider the needs of other people and animals when making decisions. She may not always be vegan. She might grow up and decide she loves beef burgers. I have no idea what the future holds, just like other parents don't know if their children will grow up to embrace the family's love of the outdoors, jazz music or the Labour Party. All I can do is try to teach her compassion now and hope that it sticks. And if it doesn't? Well, she's my daughter and I will love her unconditionally, no matter what.

By Fiona Peacock

Twitter: @fiona_peacock

GipsyDanger Mon 15-Aug-16 11:42:32

Considering the rise of childhood obesity, meat eaters certainly aren't doing something right. I wonder how many vegan children are obese? hmm

charlybs Mon 15-Aug-16 11:47:56

My mum raised me vegan, and I've been veggie/vegan on and off since I was about 16.

I am a healthy happy 26 year old and think it's a good way to raise a child as long as you're careful to get all the vitamins etc., which any sensible parent would/should be about any food they give their child.

My DH is a meat eater so as a compromise we'll be raising children vegetarian with soya milk as the main milk (which is basically my diet).

Dozer Mon 15-Aug-16 11:58:15

The proposed legal intervention certaintly sounds misguided!

maintaining a healthy vegan diet must require much more time and effort than meat eating or vegetarianism (eg your post refers to regularly prepping your own "treats" for parties etc), which could be particularly hard for families where both parents WoH.

Batteriesallgone Mon 15-Aug-16 12:13:58

There's a real lack of understanding about nutrition.

It's not hard to find a HV who will confidently tell you cows milk is better for a toddler than human milk. Madness.

On the other hand, it's also not hard to find a vegetarian whose diet seems to consist mainly of cheese with extra cheese. (I don't know any vegans).

I am capable of understanding the science behind nutrition. I don't need the 'don't feed kids mainly crisps and takeaways' message. I would like some half decent education on what is the best diet to feed my kids...but have no idea how to hunt that down.

The Italian proposal sounds madness.

ShotsFired Mon 15-Aug-16 12:20:40

My daughter eats fruits and vegetables, lentils, tofu, grains, beans and nuts, cereals fortified with vitamins and she also takes a daily multivitamin specially formulated for vegan children.

The fact that a growing child has to take a synthetic tablet in order to get the full complement of vitamins she needs doesn't worry you? It would me.

You are responsible for her wellbeing and you appear to be achieving that by making her pop pills rather than eat a varied omnivorous diet. Like it or not, you are projecting your strong and rigid beliefs on to her at a time when she is not able to make the choice herself; and is almost entirely influenced by you. All your talk about free choice is a little disingenuous when you are raising her without it.

FoofFighter Mon 15-Aug-16 12:26:04

You cannot get vit b12 without artificially supplementing a vegan diet.

imfinallyfree Mon 15-Aug-16 12:35:30

Personally, I am vegan, but I don't force my children to be.
They are able to make their own informed choices when the time comes, but why should I impose my views and beliefs of my children?

FiPeacock Mon 15-Aug-16 12:41:40

Thanks for your comment. The government recommends that all children aged between 6 months and 5 years take vitamin supplements. The only difference is that my daughter takes ones which include vitamin B12 which is difficult to get in a vegan diet thanks to modern farming methods (B12 used to be heavily present in the soil but we're now advised to wash veg because of chemical fertilisers so are unlikely to consume enough B12 this way).

I hope that helps,

FiPeacock Mon 15-Aug-16 12:42:31

Sorry, I meant to include this link so you can check government advice just in case you're a parent yourself.

MyNightWithMaud Mon 15-Aug-16 12:46:47

I share the concern that any diet at all that leaves people needing supplements is sub-optimal (although I accept that people may make that choice for environmental or other non-dietary reasons).

Anecdotes are not evidence, I know, but the sickliest family I know - never entirely well, constant health niggles - are also the only vegan family I know. The vegetarian/not quite vegans, though, are in rude health.

flumpybear Mon 15-Aug-16 12:46:53

I think a grown adult maintaining a vegan diet is very different to a child growing into an adult with a vegan diet as it is restrictive - I know you don't see it that way, but it is, we're omnivores. I'd worry about vitamin B12 but I'd also be concerned about fish oils . Also, you can both supplement and make sure you complement your diet with the correct vitamins and minerals but some sources require higher intake to reach the system.
I'm sure some vegans are extremely diet wise too which is great but there will be others who don't know enough about nutrition and biochemistry to realise there are foods you take to complement each other and promote better adsorption - so my inner me screams that, with children, vary all food types, meat, dairy, grain, lentil, fruit and vegfats/carbs/protein sources etc just to 'be sure' ... As PP said above, Vegan is your choice, but not theirs

TeaWithFelicity Mon 15-Aug-16 12:48:54

I agree with FiPeacock above... The NHS recommended ALL children should talk a daily vitamin...whether they're vegan or not.

And imfinallyfree don't ALL parents FORCE their diet on their children?! It's not like meat-eating parents let their children choose what to eat is it, otherwise there'd be millions of 5 year olds living only on crisps!

Batteriesallgone Mon 15-Aug-16 12:51:48

What are the complimentary foods? Which foods increase absorption of other vitamins / minerals etc? What are good combinations? Where is this advice?

The NHS is so lowest common denominator focused I find it mostly useless as an info source

Dozer Mon 15-Aug-16 13:00:03

Why not just let her have the usual stuff at parties etc?

JigglypuffsCaptor Mon 15-Aug-16 13:02:28

The NHS recommend it because a minority of adults are not feeding their children properly! So it's easier to say all than be group specific because that's frowned upon

I did not grow up taking vitamin tablets, and as a adult I also don't take any neither does my child. He has a varied and appropriate healthy diet as do we all in this house, we also engage in regular exercise.Anything from a brisk walk to a gym session.

The vegan lifestyle is a choice, children don't get to make choices of their own for sometime so why force something that is not "the norm" on them? That's what I don't get. But meh your life, your children it's up to you!

imfinallyfree Mon 15-Aug-16 13:34:09

I have baby led my children from day one, so they have both made their own choice on what they want to eat. So no, no forcing of any diet happening.
Being vegan is a lifestyle choice, one which I take, but will not force upon my children

JigglypuffsCaptor Mon 15-Aug-16 13:37:45

So have you offered them a cooked sausage? Did they refuse it?

JigglypuffsCaptor Mon 15-Aug-16 13:44:44

Sorry free I have confused you with another poster blush my apologies

princessmombi Mon 15-Aug-16 13:48:24

I have no issue with being vegan at home. I'd be surprised if the kids of someone do clued up about nutrition were obese or had other issues. The party food thing bothers me a bit though. I wouldn't dream of suggesting you let them eat meat at parties but the cake and ice cream? Though I appreciate you arnt asking for feedback on that smile

Ffitz Mon 15-Aug-16 14:08:27

If you're a vegan for ethical reasons then you can't, in good conscience, but animal products for your children to consume.

I do not think a vegan diet is optimal for children. They need the micronutrients present in animal products. Totally agree that it is impossible to find out what actually is a good diet for young children. I read a book saying toddlers don't actually need vegetables and that spinach is positively detrimental. It could be true.

charlybs Mon 15-Aug-16 15:04:21

I don't really get the 'choice' argument for kids - my mum raised me vegan and made countless thousands of other choices for what she thought was best for me as I grew up, as I will my kids.

When I grew up (from about 10/11yrs) my mum said I could eat meat and/or dairy if I wanted to, but I'd have to buy it. So I'd occasionally eat ice cream or pizza at friend's houses but didn't really fancy it much.

I won't be buying and feeding my kids meat as it's an ethical decision that our household is vegetarian.

Albadross Mon 15-Aug-16 15:21:16

The choice thing is a total red herring. We have meat eating forced on us everywhere you look, and regardless of whether we have evolved as omnivores, eating animal products is scientifically proven to cause disease, which we also now know can start in childhood as build up in the arteries begins then. We can fix things we didn't evolve to survive because of modern medicine, so why are people so against a diet with supplements when we engineer all of our food, and happily eat hormone-filled meat? Sports nutrition is full of added stuff to get people into tip top condition.

It's just social conditioning and onve you get over that it's not hard to have a really healthy vegan diet. We started cooking food millions of years ago and that allowed our brains to get calories more easily, and grow bigger having only been eating raw before. Imagine this conversation happening back then - we'd have stayed small-brained and not evolved at all if we stuck to the familiar norms.

The combination of rice and beans is the one that enables the body to make the protein we would get from meat, and those things are a staple of cheap diets in many parts of the world. Also found in algae like spirulina, and yes that's expensive but it can be got nonetheless.

Bottom line is - just because we've always done it and that's what everyone does, doesn't make it optimal. Just look around you at the state of health and then try saying how we're eating now is optimal.

LaContessaDiPlump Mon 15-Aug-16 16:09:43

What micronutrients are only present in animal products, Ffitz? The only one I'm aware of is vitamin B12.

PaperdollCartoon Mon 15-Aug-16 16:52:39

Great post. I don't have children yet but as a vegan myself have thought a lot about how I'd raise them. DP is omni but but 95% vegan and we have a vegan house, so at home they would certainly be vegan. I will see how I feel at the time.

B12 as previously mentioned is a big issue in all diets thanks to chemicals and depleted soils. Many animals are now injected with it to get it into the meat/dairy. They can't create it themselves anymore than we can. Most of those with b12 deficiencies aren't vegan (about 10% of the U.K. population, 35% in the US) so everyone would be well served to take a b12 supplement regardless of diet.

A pp mentioned fish oil, and that is one that comes up less but is important to consider. I take Echium seed oil which, along with flaxseed, has very high levels of plant omega 3 and 6s. I have read a lot that suggests that fish oils are more beneficial though, the only animal product I don't feel is so easy to replace in a vegan diet and I would consider eating fish again for this reason, particularly if I was pregnant as the links to infant brain health are more solid than most nutritional research. As my issue with fish for environmental reasons rather than ethical ones, I feel more comfortable about potentially making that choice, but it would be something I'd have to carfully consider at the time.

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