This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.
2002 First Paper
In recent years, the prevalence of vegetarian and even vegan diets has increased substantially, with a 1997 Roper Poll estimating the number of vegans in the United States to be between one-half and two million (though it is worth noting that it is difficult to gather accurate statistics on the subject).((7)) And, many people are choosing to raise their children on these diets - I'm one of those children who was raised vegetarian.
"Vegetarian" is a broad term referring to diets without meat. Often, it refers to "lacto-ovo vegetarians": people who do not eat meat, but do eat both eggs and dairy. "Vegan" refers to those who do not use a wider range of animal products, generally considered to include meat, eggs, dairy products and sometimes honey ((5) ) (though some people, myself included, may adopt the label "vegan" and still eat honey). It is also sometimes used to refer more generally to a lifestyle aimed to reduce animal suffering, including, for example, not purchasing leather products.((5))
People make the choice to become vegan for a variety of reasons, commonly involving, though often not limited to, a concern for animal rights.(5>) Other reasons may relate to health, spirituality, ecology - or any number of other issues.((5)) And, similar rationales would likely apply for people who wish to raise their children on a similar diet. Part of my interest in the subject stems from the likelihood that I will eventually decide to raise my own children vegan.
Even vegan advocacy groups, such as Vegan Outreach, are generally quick to acknowledge that merely removing certain foods from one's diet, without otherwise seeking to balance it, is unlikely to be healthy.((1)) Similarly, the health value of removing wheat, for example, from one's diet would be questionable if it were not replaced with other grains as a staple of the diet (there are, in fact, plenty of other, less popular grains teeming with nutrition). But there is fortunately a plethora of information available on how best to meet nutritional needs on a vegan diet. Here I'll specifically address some of the issues pertaining to the needs of young vegans (as it is interesting and worth noting that young vegans, just like all children, have nutritional needs related to, but unique from, those of adults). For more general information on vegan nutrition or veganism in general Vegan Outreach((1) ) is a good place to start.
Veganism is recognized to have certain nutritional advantages, though having other areas of potential deficiencies to watch. The American Dietetic Association (ADA) gives as its position on vegetarianism at large "that appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, are nutritionally adequate, and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases."((8)) And, child-rearing "expert" Dr. Spock even ultimately endorsed vegan diets for children.((3)).
Breast-feeding is recommended for vegans as for other infants. But, the mother should be careful to maintain sufficient nutrients in her own diet and thus in her breast milk.((6)) Vitamin B-12 and iron are noted as nutrients to particularly watch on this matter, and moderate exposure to sunlight should be allowed for in order to maintain vitamin D levels.((6))
B-12 and iron continue to be nutrients to watch through-out development. It is important to ensure an adequate supply of vitamin B-12 in children's diets (even more so than adults, especially as those who have been raised eating meat may thus have stored B-12 in their bodies), and this is often done via supplements.((2)) Additionally, sufficient sources of protein must be present in a diet. And, young children, more notably than adults or teenagers, should have substantial fat intake (calorie intake should not be restricted for children before at least age 2) because of the swift growth normal at that period of time.((6)) Calcium is also an important nutrient, especially during teen years. Although it is often associated with dairy, calcium can be obtained from several other sources including leafy green vegetables (such as kale) and fortified soy milk.((6))
Although I did not encounter any studies about advantages of the vegan diet specific to children, there is a great deal of evidence of the health advantages overall of diets low in animal products. "Vegetarian diets," for example, "are associated with a reduced risk for obesity, coronary artery disease, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, colorectal cancer, lung cancer, and kidney disease."((1))
On a Practical Note
The potential "inconvenience" of a vegan diet is often brought up as a stumbling block. Yet, as veganism becomes more commonplace, so does the availability of vegan food. Given the typical contents of my cabinets at home, in fact, I would likely find it extraordinarily inconvenient to attempt to plan a week's worth of meals containing meat (my poor cooking skills left aside), and most restaurants (fast food typically excluded) are willing to alter menu items to suit vegans if there aren't options all ready on the menu. But, certainly, being vegan in the context of an outside world which is not, does present certain frustrations, especially in the context of travel to places where vegetarianism and veganism are less popular.
On Paying Attention to Nutrition
The above checklist of nutritional "do's and don'ts" seems to raise the larger question of just how attentive parents might be expected to be (or endeavor to be) to the nutrition of their children - whether vegan or not. On this issue, Reed Mangels, Ph.D., R.D. makes an excellent point. "Of course it takes time and thought to feed vegan children," she writes. "Shouldn't feeding of any child require time and thought?"((6))
1)Vegan Outreach, a portion of the website of an organization called Vegan Outreach
2)an article on vegan children in the June 2001 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association
3)an article on Dr. Spock's endorsement of a vegan diet for children in the April 22, 2001 edition of the Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
4)Considerations in planning vegan diets: Children, an article in the June 2001 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association
5)a useful veganism FAQ
6) Wasserman, Debra. Simply Vegan. Baltimore: Vegetarian Resource Group, 1999. (Note: The nutrition section of this book is written by Reed Mangels, Ph.D., R.D. The most pertinent section of this can be found online at http://www.vrg.org/nutshell/kids.htm)
7) "Why Vegan?" Pittsburgh: Vegan Outreach, 1999. (Note: Substantial portions of this pamphlet are available online at http://www.veganoutreach.org/whyvegan/)
8)the American Dietetic Association (ADA) stating its position on vegetarian diets.
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