I’m raising a vegan child.
As a long-time (and pretty darn healthy) vegan, nothing surprises and scares me more than seeing news stories of vegan parenting gone wrong. Parents who don’t feed their children a well-rounded diet have caused nutrient deficiencies that can be fatal. This is less the fault of a vegan diet and more an issue of generally poor food choices, or a lack of basic nutritional understanding—something too many Americans suffer from these days, vegan or not.
Even though the vegan diet is far more accepted now than ever before, truth be told I still worried about the backlash we might receive from family and our pediatrician about our diet choices for our daughter (who by the way, at 20 months is thriving in the 75th-90th percentile). She is an avid eater and, yes, actually loves her Brussels sprouts.
What we know now about the vegan diet—and our pediatrician believes it too—is that meat doesn’t matter. The only milk a child ever needs is breast milk (or formula if breastfeeding isn’t an option for newborns). Beans have more protein than eggs, and typically without the salmonella risk. We can thrive without meat. Soon, we may have no choice anyway.
I’ve been eating a vegan diet for my entire adult life—more than 20 years. As someone who eschews labels, religion—even political parties—I’m comfortable calling myself "a vegan." I’m comfortable talking about the reasons I won’t eat animal products and why I’m raising a vegan child. We make sure she gets her B12 and vitamin D. She gorges on protein and healthy fats. She gets ample fiber from fresh fruits and veggies, which are also loaded with vitamins, minerals and powerful plant compounds science is just beginning to understand.
So when people ask me why I'm vegan, or why I'm raising a (healthy) vegan child, I point to these undeniable reasons:
1. We don’t actually need meat: Sure, some studies say small amounts of meat, poultry, eggs, dairy and fish can play healthy roles in our diet, but we don’t need them to be healthy. We certainly don't need to eat as much meat as we do. What we do need—what all science agrees on!—are the benefits of fruits and vegetables, beans and nuts and seeds. These are the foods that really do our bodies a world of good.
2. There’s more than ‘meats’ the eye:GMOs, antibiotics and other unhealthy additives are routinely found in animal products. They’re fed unnatural diets, given growth hormones and other unhealthy chemicals in order to boost their growth and production. Even organic animal products can come from animals fed unnatural diets (grains like soy and corn). Plus, studies have found that stress hormones, which all animals release living in captivity, can affect the animal products consumed by humans.
3. Animal products are ruining the environment: There’s no question producing animal products is energy intensive. It uses an astronomical amount of resources—from land and water to food and fuel. What's worse, all those animals are putting tons of methane into the environment, which is a leading cause of global warming. As a parent, I want my daughter to inherit a happy and beautiful planet. Meat doesn’t seem to be in that equation.
4. We can feed more people without meat: It’s an undeniable truth that meat is an inefficient way to score nutrients. After all, the animals we eat are mostly vegetarian. The giant cow in her natural environment would eat grass and hay (not soy and corn, and certainly not other cows). The land we use to raise animals could produce a significantly larger amount of protein if we grew wheat or lentils or peanuts.
5. Meat is murder: There’s no way around this truth: animals are killed for food. Maybe you’re not doing the killing yourself, but that doesn’t mean the murdering didn’t happen. I do believe our children—and certainly theirs—will look back on the animal industries in horror. Just because an animal’s consciousness differs from ours doesn’t mean we have the right to control and kill them.
Raising a vegan child, I hope, means I’m raising a human who is all around more compassionate and kind. Isn’t that what the world needs now more than anything?
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