There is debate over a study earlier this year put out by the Vegetarian Resource Group that claims that more kids are opting for a vegetarian lifestyle.
According to the group’s nutrition advisor, Reed Mangels, children are increasingly saying no to eating meat. Mangels says that vegetarianism “is definitely a more mainstream choice than ever before.”
The organization’s nationwide survey found that 3 percent 8- to 18-year-olds never eat meat, poultry or seafood, which would account for an estimated 1.4 million young vegetarians. Out of that number, Mangels claims that two-thirds of those kids are vegans, who never consume dairy or eggs.
Not so fast, says Greg Henderson, Editor of Drovers/Cattlenetwork who believes that the statistics are skewed.
Trendy food writers and editors like to take such numbers as an indication of a national trend, and they incorporate those trends into their stories. But, really, a 1.6 percent increase in 15 years? At that rate America will be well into the next century before vegetarians would comprise a demographic worthy of being termed a minority.
Whether the numbers are steadily on the rise or taking off at a fast pace, it safe to say that there are more vegetarian children now than 30 or 40 years ago. When I was a child, I don’t think I knew anyone who was a vegetarian. Now it’s so commonplace, asking someone if they are a vegetarian is almost like asking how they drink their coffee.
My daughter has recently shunned meat altogether over the past two months. An animal lover, she always felt bad about eating something that was once alive. It reminds me of my mother who was a meat-eater her whole life, and then moved to the farmlands of Pennsylvania and upon seeing the cows and pigs on a daily basis, was unable to consume any more meat.
Morals aside, some kids just don’t like the way meat tastes or looks, especially in those finicky preschool years. Washington Post writer, Carolyn Butler says her son became a vegetarian of sorts recently and turned his nose up at eating meat little by little. “Over the past several months, however, my 4-year-old has started to reject nearly all forms of animal protein, one by one: First, steak was declared “too tough,” then chicken “yucky,” and on and on, with pork, sausage, ground beef, fish of any sort and even, last week, his once beloved franks.”
The health benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle have well been established. For the most part, a proper vegetarian diet lowers the risk of obesity, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and maybe even certain types of cancer. Parents just have to make sure their kids are eating their daily requirements of vitamins and minerals, which we have to do anyway. Protein is the hard part, and for vegans it is more difficult. My daughter is also allergic to gluten, a protein found in wheat products, which makes preparing meals a little more involved. We have to use gluten free grains only when cooking.
Vegetarianism is not a cure-all or a ticket to eat junk. It’s entirely possible to have a poor diet and still be vegetarian. Kids who fill up on bagels, pasta, and ice cream will be no better off than their meat-eating counterparts in terms of excess fat in the diet. The key is always moderation.
It seems the magic age for many kids who turn to vegetarian diets are the preteen/teen years, when a new consciousness takes over and they begin to question morality and health. Many adult vegetarians say that they stopped eating meat around puberty and never went back.
I’m happy my daughter chose to become a vegetarian and I think it says a lot about her spirit and discipline. She struggles with missing certain favorite foods, like steak and chicken cutlets, but says that she feels like she is doing something to help animals everywhere. She has also been a great influence on me. I’ve stopped eating meat for the past few weeks. I’m not committed to it entirely but I’d like to see how far I can take it. Hopefully, it will become a permanent lifestyle choice for our family.
Would you let your child go vegetarian? Do you see vegetarian kids on the rise in your neighborhood?