This morning on the Today Show Matt Lauer hosted a segment on whether it’s healthy to put your kids on a vegan diet. The catalyst was the new children’s book Vegan Is Love, which is due out on April 24, and covers clothing choices and animal testing as well as following a vegan diet (no milk, cheese, eggs, meat, or fish). It’s a controversial look at veganism from Ruby Roth, who became vegan as an adult, and authored Why We Don’t Eat Animals in 2009.
Vegan Is Love is ruffling feathers because it includes violent images of animals being slaughtered and illustrations of wounded animals used in animal testing, as well as strong language about what it means to be vegan. “All animals raised for meat and dairy are captured and killed in the end,” Roth writes. “Their deaths are violent and sad. As vegans we do not bring the pain and suffering of any animal into our happy, healthy bodies.”
Roth’s 7-year-old stepdaughter diet Akira follows a strict vegan diet. When her classmates are indulging in a treat at school, Akira asks whether it’s vegan, and if it’s not, she declines to eat it. She says that her favorite food is kale.
On this morning’s Today Show segment, nutritionist Heiki Skolnik said that it’s possible from a nutritional standpoint to be a healthy vegan at any age as long as the diet is carefully planned and monitored. But she objected to what she called the book’s “scare tactics.” “Teaching kids to fear food is not typically a healthy way to approach it,” she explained. Child psychologist Jennifer Hartstein, who joined Skolnik on the show, added that kids could interpret the title as people who aren’t vegan don’t get to feel love or are creating hate or bad feelings.
I have several issues here. For starters, childhood is stressful enough without freaking your kids out about what they eat. A vegan diet can leave a child deficient in certain vitamins and nutrients if it’s not carefully conceived. Furthermore, a 7-year-old should have the ability to explore different types of foods without such rigorous expectations from her parents. She needs to be educated about food and what it means to eat well, so that she can learn how to make smart dietary decisions on her own. Then there’s the social aspect. If you start your child on a vegan diet (or any very regimented diet) at a young age, are you setting her up to be ostracized at a time when she should be developing important social skills and learning how to deal with others?
I’m thinking about experimenting with vegetarianism, maybe even veganism, myself this summer–but I will not be putting Mason on any kind of special diet. (In the wake of my breast cancer scare, I’m re-evaluating various aspects of my life, including my diet.) I’ll be happy to educate Mason about alternate eating styles as he gets older, but right now he is too young for me to eliminate entire food groups from his diet.
What do you think?