Animal Aid


Posted 1 February 2003

This Veggie Month, Animal Aid is launching its landmark survey of vegetarian parents. You can read the full results online in our new report, Building a Veggie Future.

Angela and her child

Initial results indicate that the majority do choose to bring their children up veggie and that most children stick to the diet as they grow up. Out of almost 1000 respondents, a large percentage say that they are having no problems raising kids on a non-meat diet and find friends, family and the medical profession supportive. However, some parents do encounter pressures and misplaced advice.

Choosing a compassionate diet

Vegetarian and vegan parents have varying views about whether to bring up their children the same way. Some feel that their diet is purely personal and nothing to do with their family, whilst others believe it is their duty to provide a firm moral grounding right from the start, and that a meat-free diet encourages children to value life. Although some parents worried that their children might feel alienated from their classmates, others saw this as a positive thing, encouraging strength of character and individuality. The latter group also stressed the value in their children introducing new ideas and foods to their friends. In this way, children with differing food preferences can educate and inspire in much the same way as a multicultural group might teach each other about different cultures.

A health start for your child

Vicki and her children

Authoritative bodies such as the World Health Organisation and the American Dietetic Association recognise the health benefits of a vegetarian diet. Survey after survey shows that vegetarians are likely to live longer, healthier lives and are at lower risk from a host of serious medical conditions, particularly heart disease.

Reassuringly, this message is now filtering through to local doctors and health visitors, with many parents reporting a positive response from the medical profession. For example, Annmarie, from Merseyside, who has an eight year old daughter and four year old triplets, told us that "I have always found health professionals to be supportive of my choice to raise my children as vegetarians, especially when I was in hospital having the triplets".

Unfortunately, not everyone is so lucky - particularly those with older children. Sheena from London, whose son Michael is now 19, told us of her poor experience with their GP: "When Michael was young he suffered terrible headaches and pains in his legs. The doctor said he was lacking in calcium, gave him supplements and told me to make sure he drank at least two pints of milk a day. He basically told me I was an irresponsible mother for inflicting my views on a child who couldn't possibly know better. I gave Michael extra milk and he got worse, so bad that I took him to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with an allergy to dairy products."

Animal Aid's role is to keep promoting the health benefits of being veggie so that all parents receive the support and encouragement they deserve.

Living in a non-veggie world

Being vegetarian in a non-vegetarian world is, however, becoming easier. Many parents say that their children are well catered for when they're out and about. Helen from Glamorgan told us that her seven year old son Matthew "goes to tea with friends a lot and attends parties and there's never been a problem with what he eats". But some children can still face problems when socialising, as mother of two, Caron from Derbyshire has discovered. "My 13 year old, Laura, finds shopping with her mates difficult because all but one insists on eating at McDonald's. Sometimes friends' parents make no effort to cater for her."

The Wheeler family

The key to eating at friends' houses is to make sure that parents are informed in advance and to talk through menu ideas. People who are used to a meat-based diet often don't realise how easy it is to cook up veggie alternatives to their family's favourite dishes. If all else fails, your child can always bring along some oven-cook veggie burgers or bakes to pop in the oven and eat alongside the potatoes and other vegetables.

Although most fast-food restaurants do have vegetarian alternatives, some veggies would still rather eat elsewhere. Most friends should come to accept your child's beliefs once they realise they're serious. When you're out together, look out for veggie-friendly cafés so that your child can suggest a change of venue.

If you find it hard to get veggie children's portions in restaurants or everything on the vegetarian menu comes smothered in cheese, take the time and trouble to talk to staff. Vegetarians are a significant market now and so café and restaurants usually do want to cater properly. Sometimes they just need a bit of gentle education.

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