Mum raising children as vegan: Backlash is born of ignorance

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  • Veganism is on the rise.

    According to the Telegraph, there’s been an estimated 360% increase in the number of people choosing to be vegan over the past 10 years – and many of them are children.

    Some have questioned the nutritional, ethical and developmental issues of vegan diets in children – in August 2016, an Italian politician even suggested that parents who impose a vegan diet on their children should face a prison sentence.

    But there are many mums out there that believe veganism is the right choice not just for them, but for their families too. We sat down with Steffi Rox, who is mum to Brody, four, and five-week-old Romeo. She also has a 12-year-old stepson, David, and a partner named Simon, who are both meat eaters.

    Here, she tells us why her children follow a vegan lifestyle, what they actually eat, and gives advice for anyone who might be considering veganism too…

    I became a vegetarian at the age of six, when a primary school teacher taught me about the cruelty of the meat industry.

    It wasn’t until 2013, while protesting badger culling in the middle of the night in Somerset, that I went vegan. I suddenly realised that I was protesting against the very industry I supported through my dairy consumption, so I went home, researched veganism, joined some online vegan support groups and became a vegan there and then.

    I waited a while before putting Brody on a vegan diet too, as I wanted to establish myself as a vegan and gain a better understanding of it. Once I was certain he could live healthily and gain all the nutrients he needed as a growing boy, he made the transition to veganism – and we haven’t looked back since.

    Steffi’s sons Brody and Romeo
    Image: Steffi Rox

    We usually start the day with a light breakfast such as cereal with a fortified plant milk, or toast with Marmite, which is a favourite of mine. I’ve been on a bit of a diet recently, so I’ve been having fairly light lunches – usually a wrap with salad or a salad with tofu or vegan feta. Brody has school dinners, so they give him things like pasta, chilli or bean wraps.

    For dinner, we love jacket potatoes, pasta, lentil curry, Linda McCartney’s vegetarian pie and chips, and vegan sausages with mash. Our family favourite meal is vegan sausage and kale pasta.

    If we’re getting a takeaway, my favourite is salt and chilli tofu from the Chinese. Brody loves fruit, so we always have some on hand for snacking, and I often have a secret stash of vegan chocolate for emergencies!

    A vegan Sunday roast
    Image: Steffi Rox

    With eating out and birthday parties, it’s not too much of a problem. I usually make Brody a little packed lunch of party food so he doesn’t miss out, but so far every party we’ve been to has vegan food for him anyway which is really nice.

    He isn’t bothered at all that he has a different school meal to his friends – in fact he’s glad of it. He has a good understanding of how animals are harmed and killed for some foods, and he often tells me how he finds it disturbing that his friends eat dead animals. He’s turning into quite a vocal little activist!

    The other day he told me he wanted to make signs, one with a picture of animals on and a big red cross through it, and one with a picture of nice vegan food so they know it’s good. He’s definitely happy to be vegan.

    A vegan falafel burger
    Image: Steffi Rox

    When I was pregnant with Romeo, I spoke to a dietician who explained the use of folic acid and folate. He said folate is the food form of folic acid, so eating folate-heavy foods like beans and greens means there’s no need for folic acid.

    I was very lucky to have a doctor with a vegan daughter, and a vegan midwife; their understanding of my diet was very good. I know other vegans who have found doctors hard to deal with as they’re not nutritionists, so sometimes don’t have as good an understanding of veganism as they should.

    I really think it’s time for health professionals to start promoting veganism more – it’s been shown to prevent so many diseases such as osteoporosis, some cancers, heart disease and arthritis, as well as issues such as antibiotic resistance, which is often a side affect of meat consumption from animals.

    I’ve never had any backlash about my children’s diets to my face. I did an interview with the Guardian recently, and there were some negative comments underneath, but they all seemed to be from people who didn’t understand how healthy a vegan diet is.

    I’m not concerned about those sort of comments, as I know I’ve thoroughly researched everything and made sure my child is getting a healthy diet. I find it amusing that no one bats an eyelid over a child being fed junk food, but the mention of a vegan diet suddenly generates a lot of concern about nutrition.

    I also heard that a family member thought I was wrong to request vegan school meals for Brody. Veganism is a protected human right, so there’s absolutely nothing wrong with requesting vegan school meals, and the school had no issue with it. I find backlash tends to be born of ignorance, so if I can’t use it as an opportunity to educate someone, then I just ignore it.

    If your child expresses an interest in becoming vegan, I’d say educate them and let them make their own mind up.

    There are lots of age appropriate materials for children on the subject. We often read the Ruby Roth books, titled ‘V is for Vegan’ and ‘That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals’. For older children, there are some great videos online by Bite Size Vegan. When people realise your child is happy and choosing to be vegan, its much harder for them to be negative about it.

    Steffi says Brody, 4, is happy to be a vegan
    Image: Steffi Rox

    Make use of the free resources available online and from charities such as Animal Aid, Viva and Vegan Society. They will help with research, recipes and support. Vegan Society also offer an advocacy service, so if you need help dealing with schools, they are on hand and very willing to offer advice.

    And be prepared to answer questions about it. Unfortunately, despite all the great press veganism gets these days, there are still people out there with an uneducated view of it who will want to criticise – so be ready to defend your decision.