Ethical fashion designer Stella McCartney counts four in her veg brood. Bethany Frankel announced that her toddler daughter is a vegetarian. And anyone could have guessed that Alicia Silverstone, who blogged throughout her pregnancy on vegan health issues would pass her commitment to vegan living on to her son. Yet these announcements were all met with a combination of curiosity, support, disdain, and outright criticism. Which is something any of us non-celebrities who are raising veg kids can relate to. I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 10, and I have eaten a primarily vegan diet since I was 24. So I never considered that I would raise my children as anything other than vegetarian. My son is in good company: a 2010 Vegetarian Resource Group Poll reported that 3% of kids in the U.S. are vegetarian. But is raising vegetarian or vegan kids a no-brainer? I spoke to several vegan and vegetarian parents, read on to discover their theories and challenges behind how they feed their children.
Vegetarian Families & Vegan Moms Serving Meat
For some, like Jonathan Safran Foer who examines dietary decisions in Eating Animals, having a child can be the catalyst for inspecting one’s own diet and for making changes for the whole family. But for others, especially those in “mixed-marriages” of vegans or vegetarians with omnivores, the decision might not be quite as simple.
When children are smaller (as most of the children whose parents I spoke to are), it’s easier to have a veg household. Killeen, a mom in New Hampshire explains, “Our daughter, Zinnia, is not quite 3, so we are still in a position to make all of her food choices for her. When she is old enough to make her own, informed decisions, we will support her choices. Regardless of the diet she chooses, we will continue to strongly encourage a healthy, vegetarian diet. Family meals will always be vegetarian; I will never spend a dime on meat products.”
I personally have a very difficult time imagining what I would do if my son decided in a few years to eat meat. I’d like to be supportive, but I also cannot imagine putting meat on our table. Yet, some veg parents find themselves in a situation where the decision makes itself.
Cat, a vegan for nineteen years and mother of a 1-year-old girl, recalls how after initial difficulties nursing her newborn daughter, she and her husband turned in desperation to a non-vegan formula, “just to get her to eat something.” Once they got their daughter’s health and feeding under control, they quickly found a vegan option, and their daughter has maintained a vegan diet ever since.
Tara, who was a vegetarian for numerous years before marrying a non-veg and who still likes to make and eat vegan food whenever possible, has four sons, one of whom has kidney endocrine issues. She says, “There are certain vegetables he can’t eat at all, and you can imagine my horror when I found out that some of the things I insisted he eat for his health were actually what was making him sick. He gets anemic and lethargic and starts having urinary tract problems when he eats too many legumes and not enough meat. For the most part we stick to whole grains, fresh, local produce and either wild game or local meat, where we can actually go see the conditions in which the animals are raised and processed.”
For certain parents, vegetarian or otherwise, finding the most humane and local non-vegetarian options for their young children is the best temporary solution. Julie and her husband have made several health and lifestyle related changes in the past few years. The latest is their transition to being raw vegans. However, their four-year-old son’s dinner plate looks slightly different. Julie explains, “Our son loves meat, and our naturopath told us to continue offering him a well-balanced meat option until he is 8 years old and old enough to decide on his own. Stephen will be a vegetarian-raised child, with the option of consuming meat, when found drug-free, local and sustainable.”
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