Should Your Kids Be Vegan?

A new children’s book heralding the widespread benefits of veganism, is stirring more pots than PETA. Vegan Is Love: Having Heart and Taking Action, now in stores, has nutritionists, psychologists, and even gossip columnists, asking whether veganism is appropriate for kids—and, more poignantly, how we should be talking to little ones about the ethics and politics of food. On Today, Matt Lauer wondered if the title itself suggested that “if you’re not a vegan, is it about hate?” while a widely read Hollywood gossip columnist asked, “Would you read this book to your child?” On FOX News, child psychologist Robert Epstein called the book “the most disturbing children’s book I’ve ever seen.”

Author-illustrator Ruby Roth’s intent in writing Vegan Is Love was to judge—at least a little bit. Through clear, simple dialogue and colorful illustrations of smog-covered land and sad animals in cages and zoos, the book calls on children to start protecting animals, the environment, and starving kids in Africa through a plant-based diet. It explores complex themes like animal cruelty, big agriculture, and world hunger, and while the message is not overly heavy-handed, Roth doesn’t dance around the idea that she believes eating meat will destroy the Earth and everyone we love, and soon—a heady concept for a kid, for sure.

John Bagnulo, PhD, MPH, a nutritionist and frequent Kripalu presenter, says that kids can be very healthy as vegans, but it’s important to remember that it’s not as simple as “just eat plants.” For example, a vegan diet for children that is mostly grain, flour, and fruit juice is much more unhealthy than one that’s mostly fruits and vegetables with, say, small amounts of fish, he says. “So many vegetarian and vegan parents embark on this journey with the misconception that kids have the same nutritional needs as adults,” says John. “Nothing could be further from reality. Kids’ brains are developing so fast and there is clear evidence that high-quality essential fatty acids, like those found in oily fish, are a factor in brain development. You can also get these nutrients in raw walnuts, raw pumpkin seeds, freshly ground flax seeds, and power-packed specific greens such as purslane.” But getting them is essential. B12 and zinc are also critical.

Beyond the nutrition, what about the politics: How—and how much—should we tell our children about eating choices we’ve made for our families and ourselves? How do we talk to them about the philosophies discussed in Vegan Is Love without unwittingly encouraging them to judge others? The bottom line, says John: Keep it simple. We tell our kids daily that people make different choices about how to live their lives and what to eat, and have different priorities,” he says. “There is no judgment—just the truth about choice and the effects it can have on our lives and the lives of others. We never make it a moral issue. That’s important. Our 4-year-old already gets it. Our 2-year-old couldn’t care less; he eats whatever we serve. I realize that they are young and will undoubtedly embark on their own journey when they get older, and to some extent, that will be their choice. But for now, they eat what we eat and enjoy it as much as any kid enjoys any other food.”

In a press release, Ruby Roth was unwavering in her message. “It’s high time we engage youth in topics previously reserved for adults: democracy, supply and demand, and engaging ourselves in the public realm,” she says. After all, she points out: Fast food companies don’t think your kids are too young to be marketed to.

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