An Australian couple, who fed their toddler strict vegan diet has been sentenced with 300 hours of community service. According to The Independent, the couple’s 20-month-old toddler was so under-nourished that her bones fractured and teeth fell out. The couple had pleaded guilty for failing to provide for their child in 2018, who was fed a diet of oats, potatoes, rice, tofu, bread, peanut butter and rice milk, with small snacks of fruit and vegetables, and wasn’t vaccinated. With a lot of parents taking up veganism to support the planet and restore the ecological balance, is it fair of them to rub their activism on their young children, to such an extent that it harms their health?

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • There has been a rise in awareness regarding greenhouse effect of breeding livestock and commodification of animals.
  • As a result of which many adults are turning to vegan diet.
  • But is it fair for such adults to rub their activism or lifestyle on their young children?
  • If you impose your ideas on your children, instead of offering them the knowledge and giving them choices, then it isn’t parenting, it’s policing.

I understand the concern of many modern parents who have adopted veganism, and advocate responsible eating. We owe our very existence to this planet and it is indeed a priority to reduce our collective carbon footprint.

A lot of parents also quote cruelty to animals, referring to methods used in extracting animal-based products, as their reason to adopt veganism. Again, a genuine concern, with repeated reports of inhuman treatment meted out to rearing and processing poultry and livestock emerging time and again. However, people can’t forgo their responsibilities as parents, because you are responsible for the well-being of your child, as much as, or more than you are for that of the planet. There are nearly eight billion people to care for the planet, your child may only have you.

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Is it fair then, to push children to adopt lifestyles that you advocate, especially children so young? When you know that putting them on a special diet can have detrimental effects on the child’s health? Judge Huggett said during the proceedings, regardless of dietary preferences every parent has a responsibility to ensure their children’s diet is “balanced and contains sufficient essential nutrients and vitamins for optimum growth and development” and I couldn’t agree more.

The child in question had scurvy, was underweight and malnourished. It isn’t an overnight condition, a child gets into such a state due to constant and consistent neglect, and her parents should indeed be held responsible for it. This isn’t about veganism, it is about child neglect and imposing your world views on a child who isn’t even two years old. Vegan diet isn’t essentially devoid of nutrition, it just avoids any animal produce. But then one must keep in mind that dietary requirements of a child so young are very different from that of an adult, or an older child for that matter. Nutritional requirements also vary from person to person. So before taking any such drastic measure, the parents should have consulted a paediatrician. They could have even approached a dietician for better guidance, to ensure the diet they were adopting doesn’t affect their child’s well-being.

Not that veganism or vegetarianism has no positive outcomes, according to an article in PuMed, vegetarians have a lower prevalence of overweight and obesity and a lower risk of Ischemic Heart Disease (IHD) compared with non-vegetarians from a similar background. Besides parents should always encourage children to eat more fruits and vegetables, as it is good for their health. We are not talking of nourishment here though, we are talking of undernourishment.

So where does one draw the line, a parent may ask. In times demanding our active participation to make this world a better place, aren’t we supposed to do our bit both as people and parents?

Aren’t we expected to raise citizens of the world, who are empathic advocates of animal rights and ecological preservation? Shouldn’t we put them on track early on? Besides, who would take you seriously, if your own children don’t embrace your lifestyle and values?

But this is where parents go wrong. True activism isn’t about setting your children on a course you approve of. But to encourage them to ask questions. To provide them with information and then leave it to them, as to which path do they want to follow. You can encourage them to empathise with animals, to care about carbon footprint and the greenhouse effect, but you can’t stop them from consuming animal products, because that is policing, not parenting.

Once the children are old enough, they can decide what diet they want to embrace, and while we may not approve of it on a personal level, it is wrong to impose our wishes on children, by force or emotional blackmail. There is a lot which can be done to make this world a better place, but putting a 20-month-old on a diet isn’t where we must start for sure.

Picture Credit: Elite Agent

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Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are author’s own.

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