I'm Vegan, But I Would Never Put My Baby On A Vegan Diet
I’ve recently become a vegan.
The experience so far has been one of uncertainty. I have no idea what to eat, and I still don’t quite understand what tempeh is. But there’s one thing that I am certain about: right now, I do not want my children to become vegans. And I would never put a baby on a vegan diet.
Could this be hypocritical of me, considering that the reason why I became a vegan was for my children? My decision to turn away from my favourite cheeseburger and sundae combo was influenced by the recent report published by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which suggested that eating less meat, especially in developed countries, could help to reduce global warming. Out of eight different diets, this report ranked the vegan diet as the most effective in terms of carbon mitigation potential.
As someone who regularly panics about the ultra-hot, broken planet my children could inherit, this was enough for me to go full vegan.
And yet, this same sense of responsibility and concern is also what makes me adamant that I don’t want my children to become vegans -- at least, not now, while they are only aged three and five -- because I am also concerned for their daily well-being and health.
The thing is, they’re practically vegan already. My daughter has refused to eat chicken wings since she learnt that they are literally the hacked-off wings of some poor chicken. They both love vegan fare: potato chips, hot chips, popcorn, crumpets and Oreos. Sure, it’s not exactly kale and celery juice, but try as I might, my kids think eggs are freaky and don’t like milk.
I could so easily let them become vegans. But I don’t, because I want them to get all of the vitamins, nutrients and minerals that they need in their little bodies.
So, if the answer is "no” to my kids becoming vegans, what about a baby? Would I feed a future baby of mine a vegan diet? My answer is "hell, no”.
The vitamins, minerals and nutrients present in meat, dairy and eggs are just so potent and convenient that I couldn’t imagine not giving those foods to a baby, particularly as it can be difficult to get babies to eat anything without it ending up smeared all over the table, their face and body, the wall, etc.
In recent news, the parents of a severely malnourished baby who was fed a vegan diet were reported to have sobbed as they were sentenced to 300 hours of community service. At the age of 19 months, the girl was so malnourished that she appeared to be only three months old. She had been kept on a strict vegan diet since birth, and a typical snack for her was two sultanas or a mouthful of fruit.
At the sentencing, District Court Judge Sarah Huggett said that while she was not passing judgement on those who choose a plant-based diet, "It is the responsibility of every parent to ensure the diet they choose to provide to their children... is one that is balanced and contains sufficient essential nutrients for optimal growth.”
As the parent of two former babies, I’ve seen it as my responsibility and privilege to give them all different types of food to taste and experience as they grew from infants to toddlers, to fuel their growth and sustain them, regardless of my own diet and food choices.
The most recent Australian Dietary Guidelines, published in 2013 by the Australian Government, acknowledges that there are many who adhere to a plant-based diet, and makes mention of “alternatives to animal foods” such as tofu and legumes.
The guidelines recommend that vegetarians and vegans take supplements of vitamin B12 and seek the advice of an accredited dietician. There are not, however, recommendations for or against whether children should be vegans.
With the growing interest in veganism, and the sad case mentioned above, the new recommendations would benefit from addressing the diets of young Australians in greater detail -- it could very well save lives.