One of the things I’ve been asked a surprising number of times in response to being vegan is whether I’d bring my children up vegan. I think this is a great opportunity to have a productive debate about veganism however a lot who ask this specifically phrase the question using the word ‘force’, and it is in such cases you know they most likely aren’t open to the answer but want to see it as another reason to deem the lifestyle ‘bad’. That’s exactly what the word ‘force’ perpetuates: that this is a detrimental lifestyle that would be wrong to ‘inflict’ upon children. As I’m sure you can guess I am on the complete other end of this thought spectrum: not only for the health reasons but also because of the principles this lifestyle embodies and teaches.
I think it’s worth noting that given veganism is a moral stance, it’s hard to say that a child can be vegan until they have the intellectual capacity and intent to be able to back the ethical underpinnings of the movement. So when I refer to bringing up a child ‘vegan’, I’m referring to feeding them a plant-based diet and teaching them the moral principles, in the hopes that their connection to animals remains intact and they too choose to follow a compassionate lifestyle for the rest of their life.
The first issue that most people have with bringing up a child vegan, and usually the reason they ask, is because they believe the diet to be detrimental to health. These beliefs however are misguided: construed and fed to us by animal product industries with the only health they’re interested in, being the health of their wallets. There are countless studies out there that show for a fact that animal products are not beneficial to human health, they are in fact quite the contrary. For example, processed meat has been classed as a Group 1 carcinogen by the WHO meaning it is known to cause cancer (source). Feeding children processed meat is therefore comparable to bringing children up tobacco smoking, in the sense that we know both cause cancer. There are many other health problems associated with animal products that are not confined to processed meat: a more general example being that animal protein has been found to trigger the release of IGF-1, a cancer-promoting growth hormone (source). People will argue that there are benefits to eating meat in terms of accessing necessary nutrients, but any ‘benefit’ that comes from eating meat can be found in a much healthier form in plants (or tablet in relation to B12 or Vitamin D – neither of which are made by animals either). The question isn’t whether I’d be ‘forcing’ a specific diet on them, it’s how could I feed my children animal products knowing these sorts of health implications?
Whilst I am 100% for feeding children a vegan diet, I am not ignorant to the fact that it has to be done with careful planning. Since we live in a world where food is dominated by animal products and the majority of us have been brought up on an animal-based diet, we may face difficulty in not knowing how to bring a child up on a vegan diet. However I have no doubt that with some research this is a problem that can be very easily overcome and would allow me to provide my theoretical children with a nutritionally adequate diet. “It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes” (source). The crux of the matter is that you MAY get sick on a vegan diet, however you WILL experience detrimental impacts on an animal-based diet – whether these impacts will come into fruition in any serious form is not a risk I’d be willing to impose on someone else.
Another common objection I receive is that I’d be “imposing my belief system upon them”. But I ask you this, what exactly do you think I’m imposing on them? The whole foundation upon which veganism sits is a belief that all beings are equal in their right to be free from persecution and exploitation. We advocate kindness and respect for all living beings: we live in alignment with the fundamental human trait of compassion. We’re not forcing anything upon children that they don’t possess already – before the cruel system of capitalism strips these morals away from them. I also think it’s no coincidence that the majority of people I witness (on social media especially) who advocate for marginalised groups such as LGBT+ and PoC, are vegans. Whilst veganism may be centered around animal rights, it often operates as a gateway to better advocacy for human rights in general. We lead a life of compassion so if you have a problem with this you really need to evaluate whether you believe the contrary would be a better fit to teach children – the contrary being violence, oppression and exploitation (all of which we currently teach children to become immune to). In addition we enable people to live a lifestyle much healthier for both the planet and ourselves – also invaluable lessons to give children.
Having said all this, I think people always fail to see the crucial reverse of this thesis: most people ‘force’ an animal-based diet onto their children just as we’d be ‘forcing’ a plant-based diet onto our children. Once you realise the many benefits and prospects veganism presents, I would argue that the word ‘force’ is much less reconcilable with bringing up a child vegan. So in conclusion: yes – if I ever have a child I will be raising them in accordance with a vegan lifestyle.