There is a negative stigma that surrounds bringing up a child vegetarian or vegan and in various conversations that I have had with people on the topic, there is generally a focus on there being a moral problem with a parent’s decision to take a choice away from their child revolving around their particular diet. The view is that there is an issue if a child does not have the power to choose whether they want to have animal products as part of their meals or not.
From birth, my mum decided to bring me up as a vegetarian and she was faced with backlash from various directions, but mostly from relatives who deemed it cruel that I had no choice in what I was eating. As if I would have much choice as a young child anyway. Another problem was that I would apparently not be able to develop properly, either physically or mentally, without consuming meat. When I was five years old, I was offered bacon and I answered that I was not allowed to eat it. My mum was horrified at the idea that she had taken away some of the little autonomy I would have had as a young child and quickly explained that of course I could eat it if I wanted. I did exactly that and entered the world of carnivores for the next fourteen years, and at nineteen I found some footing of relative ethical food consumption in vegetarianism again. I now think that the most questionable part of my vegetarian childhood was the disapproval and misjudgement that my mum had to endure, rather than there being anything morally wrong with her decision.
In exploring the question of the morality of raising a child vegetarian or vegan, I am focusing on families who have the privilege of a definitive choice of what they can feed their child. There are many factors affecting what meals are available to a family surrounding issues such as poverty and education, and sourcing food in general for a child might be the most important factor alone. I recognise that the discussion comes from a place of privilege. It is, however, still important to consider.
Firstly, the idea that it is unfair for a child not to have animal products in their diet should be flipped on its head. Rather, the ethical implications of a clueless child growing up amongst the mass torture and killing of animals should be addressed. There is something crooked about feeding a child bacon while showing them cute pictures of piglets and teaching them how to oink. It would of course be cruel to show a toddler the realities of an abattoir, but the unease that accompanies this thought should raise further questions as to why they are being given meat to eat in the first place. In the UK, we are at a point where there is an abundance of alternatives and a lot of resources on how meals can still be sufficiently nourishing without animal products. They can be replaced by other iron-rich foods such as fortified cereals and lentils, protein can be found in nuts, seeds and meat substitutes and there is plenty of calcium to be found in soya milk and leafy green vegetables. The argument that there is no sustenance in a meat-free diet is evidently disputable and invalid. It takes very little research to find out that a vegetarian or vegan diet can be rich in the required nutrients as long as necessary research is done.
Even if a parent does not care about animals, there is undoubtable evidence to suggest that the meat and dairy industries have huge negative environmental impacts. The future of climate change seems like an obvious moral issue when concerned with the future of a child. The population is growing and so the demand for meat is rising at an unsustainable rate. According to research published in the journal Nature, people in the UK need to decrease their beef intake by 90% and their consumption of milk by 60% in order to help reduce the looming effects of global warming. Meat production makes up 15% of anthropogenic emissions in the world and compared with plant-based food sources, it also emits a huge amount of carbon emissions. Not only this, but the industry destroys the natural environment due to the need for land for crops to feed livestock and for the livestock to graze and rivers and lakes are continuously drained for irrigation leading to droughts and a lack of natural resources. It seems imperative that something be done about the mass consumption of animal products so raising a generation to eat no or even a lot less meat and other animal products seems like common sense and the morally right thing to do for the world. The overall moral question of raising a child vegan or vegetarian is evidently an important one, and it comes down to an animal cruelty free and sustainable future.
[Tabitha Tinkler-Ferguson – @tabithatf]
[Image credit: Marco Verch/flickr.com]