Every few months or so an article surfaces online detailing the neglectful actions of parents who have apparently caused harm to their child by feeding them a vegan diet. Often shared by people who do little more than read the headline, it usually goes unnoticed by most that there is far more to the story than initially meets the eye.
Such examples include the parents who fed their baby a diet mainly consisting of soya milk and apple juice. The prosecutor in this case specifically mentioned that the issue was not that the infant’s diet was vegan, but that he simply was not fed. Other examples include religious parents who self-diagnosed their child with allergies and fed him a diet lacking in key nutrients; and the mother who refused to take her child to the hospital (despite the baby’s obvious sickness) due to a number of personal and religious beliefs. In all of these cases poor dietary decisions were made by the parents, but none of the symptoms themselves were actually related to a lack of animal products in the child’s diet.
In the UK alone, hunger and malnutrition affect millions of people. In the last few years there has been a significant increase in malnutrition in children; the vast majority of whom consume meat and other animal products. In these cases we recognise that a number of factors are at play; some parents struggle to afford to feed their children properly, whilst others are simply neglectful. The fact that these children are malnourished and non-vegan is obviously never reported – this would go against the media bias, and would not make for profit generating clickbait.
The NHS, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the American Dietetic Association all state that a vegan diet is healthy at all stages of life. This includes pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence and onwards. Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation classifies processed meat as a class 1 carcinogen, and red meat as a class 2 carcinogen. The fact that processed meat falls within the same classification as smoking, makes it highly questionable that we as a society see fit to feed such products to our children. What may seem like a harmless piece of bacon is actually a substance strongly linked to several types of cancer. This is a conclusion reached by a group of 22 experts, from 10 countries, reviewing the results of over 800 studies. You have to wonder: what sort of headlines would be making the rounds if a child was sent to school with a packet of cigarettes in their lunchbox?
Although red meat currently has a lower classification, it is still considered “probably carcinogenic to humans” by the World Health Organisation. This includes all forms of beef, pork and lamb, amongst many others. According to Cancer Research UK, 21% of bowel cancers and 3% of all cancers are caused by red meat. What possible reason could we have for feeding this substance to our children, when it is not only damaging the planet we hope to leave for them, but also putting their health at severe risk?
Although it is often said that vegan parents force their beliefs on their children, it is actually meat eating parents who are guiltier of doing so. An infant given meat by his or her parents is denied a number of important choices which should be theirs to make later on in life. Not only are children in this situation made to consume products which could be detrimental to their health, they are also forced into believing in an ideology which states that killing animals for pleasure is acceptable. An individual raised eating meat can never undo the harm they have caused to the planet or bring back the countless animals killed on their behalf. This is something that most vegans have to live with, and something that understandably causes them a feeling of grief, even though they were not complicit in the original decision.
Should a parent ever have the right to make a decision which can cause such an overwhelming feeling of guilt to the child later in life? In any other situation we would certainly say no. Yet this is what a parent is risking when they allow their belief in a carnist ideology to dictate how they raise their child. Bringing a child up as a vegan, even if you consume meat, circumvents this risk.
Of course, it may be tempting to disregard the evidence. A perceived sense of convenience may persuade you to continue to force animal products into the diet of your unsuspecting child. Perhaps, like many others, you will justify this decision by explaining to your child where meat, dairy and eggs come from. The concept of killing animals for food, delicately put into words, may not cause any immediate distress to your child. However, this is obviously a very confusing message, as we also tend to teach our children that animals are our friends, and that they should be cared for, not mistreated. Surely, double standards such as these are not good lessons for our children.
Vegan diets may be considered extreme by many, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, it is the only diet which provides a child with a non-biased foundation on which to construct their own moral decisions. In a society where it’s not only possible but practical to live a healthy life without enslaving or slaughtering animals; surely raising a child to be anything other than vegan is the most extreme decision of all.