A picture book aimed at teaching young children the virtues of veganism is ruffling some feathers…
The book, Vegan Is Love, advocates against leather, testing on animals, and zoos, circuses, and aquariums—but the section causing the most controversy involves children's eating habits.
Nicole German, a registered dietitian in Atlanta, points out on her blog that parts of the text advise children to not eat meat as a way to cut down on pollution created by factory farms. "It could easily scare a young child into eating vegan, and, without proper guidance, that child could become malnourished," she says.
Child psychologist Jennifer Hart Steen agrees that the book conveys the pro-vegan message through fear. "If you would just give it to a child as a children's book they don't understand it," Steen tells The Today Show. "So now they're just going to be afraid."
Another child psychologist, Dr. Robert Epstein, goes one step further, telling FOX News (via The Globe and Mail) that it's "the most disturbing children's book I've ever seen."
But is veganism really a gateway to malnutrition? For non-vegans, it can be difficult to imagine how children could thrive on a diet that omits milk and cheese, eggs, meat and fish, and other animal products. With careful planning, however, other nutrition experts say vegan diets for kids can be healthy. As the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetic Association writes, "Appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life-cycle including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes."
For babies and kids of all ages, a healthy vegan diet is one that includes all the nutrients needed for normal development, including vitamins D and B12, iron, calcium, zinc, and protein. Most nutrients can be found in abundance in carefully chosen plant-based foods, except for B12, which is naturally found only in foods derived from animals. Breastfeeding vegan moms need to make sure they get it from B12-fortified soy milk and cereals. After they're weaned, kids can drink fortified soy milk as a primary source for this important vitamin.