We were shocked to read that Sarah Anne Markham, a mother from Florida, who enforced a vegan diet on her child has been arrested. She’d denied her baby prescribed formula because she did not agree with the animal by-product ingredients it included.
It’s estimated 1.2 million people in the UK follow a vegetarian diet. This includes children. Some of whom have chosen to follow a meat-free diet. Why? Well the moral argument is probably best explained by adorable Luiz Antonio in this video. But there are youngsters that that haven’t quite got to grips with where their food comes from and merely eat what’s put in front of them – or not, if you’ve got a fussy eater!
So, is it a parent’s right to deny their children what’s perceived to be a balanced and varied diet, before they can make their own informed decision?
Claire Dolton on Twitter says, categorically no. “You should never force your beliefs (of any sort) on your children! Same as I wouldn’t force a religion or a particular football team on them. They need to grow up and make the decisions themselves.”
For flissbee90, it’s a compromise; “I’m vegetarian and want to raise my baby as one but my husband doesn’t so we’ve agreed he’ll have one meat meal a day! I’ll make sure he knows where meat comes from and hope he goes veggie. I’ve found people think I should give him meat as it’s unfair to pass my beliefs onto him. But surely that’s contradictory?”
Quite so, says Kim at The Triplet Diaries, “Don’t we all force our own eating habits on our children? My children eat what I eat and they have no choice in the matter at the moment. I think most parents would accept their child’s personal preference if they expressed one, but if the parent has moral objections to eating meat then I think that until the child is old enough to cook for themselves then they will have to stick to a vegetarian diet.”
Which leads us nicely to vegetarian Michelle Crowther’s passionate blog post…
“I have friends who have chosen what sporting team their child will support before they’ve even been born. As parents we choose our children’s religion (or not). We make early decisions about their education. How is being vegetarian any different?” Michelle asks. “I chose to be vegetarian and I also chose to raise my children as vegetarian. It doesn’t affect anyone else, it doesn’t mean they are fussy eaters and it certainly does not mean we are ‘odd’. So think before you judge and respect the choices of others.”
On that note, Emma from Life According to Mrs Shilts says we should never judge another parent’s choices. “As parents you decide what is best for your child based on your own experiences and preferences. I personally don’t think a vegetarian or vegan diet gives my son all the nutrients he needs. I offer him foods that I don’t like myself so he can make his own decision whether he likes it or not. Although I might not agree with parents enforcing a vegetarian or vegan diet, I wouldn’t give their children chicken nuggets if they came over for lunch!”
The same respect can and should be applied whether you’re vegetarian or not says Gayle from Make Thrift, Love Life, “I have a rather relaxed approach to food, letting Heather try a bit of everything – even chocolate! But, I choose to give her water and milk as opposed to juice and would be upset if someone else decided to give her fizzy pop.”
Each to their own – this is parenting after all and there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. However, what about questions over the health ‘benefits’ of vegetarianism? A recent Austrian study found that vegetarians are less healthy than meat eaters. Vegetarians are at higher risk of asthma, cancer and allergies compared to meat-eaters. Over 90% of vegetarians are vitamin B12 deficient, which can contribute to poor mental health, as it regulates depression, stress, and anxiety by supporting the nervous system.
Michelle argues it’s all about education. “I am very aware of what nutrients, minerals and goodness our meals consist of. I take care to plan what meals we will eat and ensure we all eat plenty of protein, iron and vitamins. My children WILL grow as strong as their meat eating peers and not suffer any nutritional deficiencies just because they are vegetarian. These comments and opinions irritate me due to the fact that they are largely based on ignorance.”
Hillary Eaton has been convinced vegetarian children are not a fussy breed of eaters: “When the vast majority of problems that come about from a kid being vegetarian or vegan are results of not properly educating yourself on what exactly your vegetarian kid needs in order to survive, making them eat things they don’t want to, or not giving them a B12 vitamin, I think it’s time to stop blaming the diet itself and point the finger at inadequate parents.”
Surely we’re all just trying to do our best for our children, and that’s where Sarah Anne Markham got it wrong…
Note from the Ed: If you’re thinking of raising your children on a vegetarian or vegan diet check out the NHS guidelines. And whether you’re serving up tofu or T-bone for little one’s tea, head to Kiddicare for your highchair and a bib (or three).