There seems to be this popular misconception that feeding children a vegan diet is somehow wrong. Every time there is a story in the press about vegan parenting, the internet echoes with cries of "child abuse," as people recoil in horror at the thought of not being able to eat sausages.
Last week, a news story about my vegan family caused a bit of a stir and I was even invited onto Australian breakfast television to talk about it. The public had mixed opinions on vegan parenting. With four years of vegan child-rearing experience firmly under my belt, I wanted to share with you a few of the things I think you should know:
1. Veganism isn't extreme
The media love to use the word extreme, it just makes news stories sound so much more exciting. Veganism is often described as 'extreme', but is eating a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains really that strange? Is soya milk a sure sign of a maverick?
2. It's not about forcing our beliefs onto our children
There was no big vegan meeting held to discuss the future of our lifestyle. We didn't all decide to start reproducing so we could guarantee the survival of the vegan race. Some of us just happen to have kids, that's all. And for those of us who do, why would we raise them any other way? An important part of parenting is passing down the beliefs and values we hold dear. Our kids eat the same foods we eat, it's pretty simple.
3. It's healthy
I know, I know, you're worried that my child might end up with a vitamin deficiency. You must trust me, nothing is as important to me as my child's welfare. I wouldn't feed my child a diet that could put her health at risk. A vegan diet can provide all of the nutrients a growing child needs. She's ok, I promise, I'm looking after her.
4. It's NHS approved
The NHS isn't worried about vegan kids, they know that vegan kids can get all the nutrients they need from a vegan diet. I was vegan throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding, and my daughter has been vegan since birth. She is a healthy, happy girl who is thriving on a plant-based diet. She's not suffering from any deficiencies, she isn't anaemic and, trust me when I say, she's not lacking in energy.
5. It's not going to affect you
I'm raising my daughter vegan. That means I'm providing her with a healthy, balanced diet free from animal products. Sometimes I'll sit down with her and talk a little bit about why we eat the foods we do, and why we don't always eat the same food as the rest of you. Neither of these things needs to impact on your life. You can continue eating whatever you want, I'm not criticising your lifestyle simply by making different choices to you. I don't want you to feel upset, worried or stressed about the fact that some of us choose to raise our kids vegan. Really, don't let it upset you, just think about something else.
6. Our kids aren't missing out
Please believe me when I tell you that vegan children don't sob each night into their bowl of lentil gruel. The shops are filled with vegan cheeses, substitute milk and enough vegan junk food to keep you busy until Christmas. Vegan kids can eat pizza, chocolate, crisps and sausages (yeah, vegan ones. Duh.) just like your kids. My daughter doesn't feel left out at birthday parties because we always take cake. She doesn't miss out at nursery because she has vegan sweets when parents send in birthday sweets for all the kids. She's not deprived, she's well fed, happy and loved.
7. It's not that unusual
If this is the first time you've heard that children are raised on a vegan diet, it probably sounds pretty unusual to you. It's not, though. There are loads of us. I have friends who are raising their kids vegans. And they have friends who are raising their kids vegan. There's a whole community of families in the UK who are currently enjoying the vegan lifestyle. We're not doing this alone.
8. It's not child abuse
This one will probably come as a shock to you if you are the sort of person who comments on Facebook threads about news stories, but vegan kids aren't victims of child abuse. Child abuse is a really awful thing, and it's ridiculous to suggest that veganism compares. Dark chocolate really isn't that bad. I can't speak for every vegan child in the world, but the ones I know are loved, happy and safe. Isn't that what we all want for our kids?
9. It's not news
Parents raising their kids as vegans is nothing new. It's tried and tested, and there are plenty of healthy lifelong vegans out there as living proof that a vegan childhood is a pretty excellent thing. So why do the press keep talking about vegan parenting? Gee, I don't know, maybe because every story is guaranteed to attract at least a bazillion horrified and judging comments. If you're bored of reading about vegan parenting, stop pretending it's controversial. It isn't. It's just my dinner.
10. We're parents, just like you
Any parent will be able to tell you, it's not nice to be judged. I don't think there's a parent in the UK who hasn't felt judged at least once. Don't you think the world would be a better place if we all just stopped judging each other? I'll promise not to judge you for the way you choose to parent your kids, as long as you promise not to judge me for raising my kids vegan. Deal?