Despite the rising popularity of veganism, the topic of vegan children remains a very controversial one. People usually object to the idea of raising a child vegan for one of two reasons, either they think it is unsafe, or they think that parents shouldn’t force their views on their children. Whether you think it is okay for you to raise your own child vegan is completely up to you, but when we are discussing people criticising someone else’s parenting or accusing them of neglect on the sole basis that their child is vegan, it is a different matter entirely.
Firstly, it is demonstrably false that in normal circumstances raising child vegan is unsafe. A vegan diet provides every nutrient and vitamin the human body requires, it is perfectly safe to raise your child vegan, and to be vegan while nursing. I’ve met quite a few people raising healthy vegan children, as well as adults who were raised vegan, there is no evidence whatsoever that it is harmful. You can read personal accounts of raising vegan children here here, and read short individual biographies of healthy vegan children here. The NHS have said that vegan babies and children can be perfectly healthy, and the American Dietic Association says that well-planned vegetarian and vegan diets are appropriate for all stages of life, including infancy.
The loudest voices are always those of the animal agriculture industry, and they spend a significant amount of money convincing the world that we need to buy their products. From our earliest years we are taught the food pyramid (an initiative heavily funded by animal agriculture industries) and we carry this ignorance with us into adulthood. This has led to a lot of myths surrounding raising children vegan, some of which are dispelled here. Besides, a child is much more likely to be made ill from eating processed meats than plants; and this is undeniable. How many children are raised on processed meats and then when they’re older don’t even have the choice to be healthy because their diet has permanently damaged them? Those numbers must be in the millions, but this argument is never used against people who raise their kids to eat known carcinogens.
As for the claim that vegans shouldn’t force their beliefs on their children, what really bothers me about this argument is that it assumes that only raising your child vegan is a choice, as if raising the to eat animals isn’t also making a choice on their behalf. All parents try to impart their values onto their children, that’s part of what parenting is. If you force your child to be vegan later in life when they are old enough to choose for themselves then that is a separate issue, but when you are making decisions on behalf of someone who cannot do so for themselves then you choose what you think is in their best interests, for vegan parents that will naturally be a vegan diet. Besides, is unlikely a child raised vegan will experience any distress or guilt later in life because they ate plants, whereas all vegans can relate to the regret they now feel that they ever ate animals at all, even though they didn’t know better at the time.
It is necessary here to mention the isolated cases which are always bought up, of children supposedly dying because they were raised vegan. In every such published case, the child has suffered because their parents neglected them and failed to provide an adequate diet, not because they were vegan. A child who dies because vegan parents fail to feed them anything but soy milk are victims of abuse and neglect, but that cannot be used to determine the healthfulness of a vegan diet any more than a child dying from being fed nothing but chicken nuggets can be used to judge how healthy an omnivorous diet is, and people almost never want to talk about the damage meat can to do children. Dr Russell Bunnai, a practising paediatrician, when asked what single change in the American diet would produce the greatest health benefit, his answer was: “Eliminating dairy products.” The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which studied both humans and adults, concluded that diets high in meat, eggs and dairy could be as harmful to health as smoking.
You are well within your rights to choose your child’s diet and lifestyle, so long as it well-planned, healthy, and subject to regular check ups. Not only is veganism perfectly healthy for children, it is by far the most responsible option for your child, for animals and the environment. Children are far more likely to grow up kind to animals and socially conscious if they are introduced to these ideas early on, and they watch their parents put these principles into practice by living an ethical, vegan lifestyle. Veganism represents a healthy, positive and ethically conscious way to live, and those of us who grew up eating meat can envy those children who will be given such a positive start to life.