This month we review an exceptional book that guides parents in raising vegan children.
Raising Vegetarian Children:
A Guide to Good Health and Family Harmony
By Joanne Stepaniak and Vesanto Melina
Contemporary Books, 2003
A young girl about 12 wearing low-rider tight jeans that cling to each curve of the body enters the room, flings her books on a chair and announces in a loud voice:
Girl: I'm not going to eat animals anymore. I've decided to become a vegetarian.
Mother: Now that's silly. Animals are raised to be food. Besides, we're not operating a cafeteria in this house.
Readers of Raising Vegetarian Children may encounter this scenario, but instead of a parent taking a confrontational approach to the situation, he or she will find a detailed plan and much sound advice that will aid in helping children cope with an essentially non-vegetarian society.
Instead of mocking the child or believing that vegetarianism is a temporary fad, the parent may want to heed the authors' advice with a response that begins by expressing respect for the child's decision. Their suggestions are a mantra to be typed out and placed on the refrigerator door in any home where children have decided to be vegetarian. This list is so important we are reprinting it in its entirety so that our readers can post it in their homes to remind them of these valuable principles in raising vegetarian children.
In many respects raising vegetarian children is no different than raising non-vegetarian children. In both instances the parents and children must have mutual respect for each other. They must trust each other and share the same values. The authors encourage parents to "practice what you preach;" keep promises; never mock, belittle, embarrass, or mimic; praise and encourage rather than tear down; have reasonable expectations; and "request and invite rather than demand or push." In both instances the home is a refuge where children can be validated and protected from a society that can become frightening and overwhelming.
Most useful is information on how to cope with a non-vegetarian society. This involves reacting to friends, relatives, teachers, baby sitters and other interim caregivers. In these situations a child's nutrition may be in the hands of a person who may not be sympathetic to vegetarianism. In all of these cases the parents must clearly indicate what foods are suitable for their children.
For vegans who are eating packaged or processed foods, the authors present a list of ingredients that many people might not know are derived from animal sources such as albumin, carmine or cochineal, casein, lipase, rennet, and whey. Those who want to avoid animal ingredients need to become careful label readers or just concentrate on eating whole plant foods that are minimally processed. Quite helpful is the extensive pantry list that includes vegetables, fresh and dried fruit, whole grains, legumes, raw nuts and seeds, and spices and herbs.
Eating out presents its own set of challenges. The authors suggest carrying a card that lists the foods the diner wishes to avoid. A sample card might read:
This reviewer would suggest adding a brief list of what vegans do eat, such as beans, whole grains like brown rice, tofu, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds.
Whether a home is exclusively vegetarian or is omnivore, care must be taken that food is clean and safe from harmful bacteria or pathogens. In their chapter on food safety the authors discuss pH levels of various foods and show how bacteria cannot survive in acidic foods. Many readers may not be aware that temperatures between 41 F and 140 F are in the danger zone that encourages the growth of bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses.
In charts, graphs and lists Stepaniak and Melina show which foods create problems. In a four-page chart titled "Major Foodborne Diseases" the authors clearly indicate the pathogen or illness, the time it takes to develop or become problematic, the symptoms, duration of illness, the source of contamination, the foods involved, and prevention advice.
The second part of the book called "Nourishing Our Children," focuses on the nutritional needs of children and "provides a practical plan for healthful eating from birth through adolescence." Reprinted here is the "Total Vegetarian Food Guide" (in pyramid form) that originally appeared in Becoming Vegan, a book co-authored by Melina. This pyramid is quite different from the USDA version that was heavily influenced by the meat and dairy interests. "The Total Vegetarian Food Guide" (in chart form) supplements the pyramid and provides practical information on what constitutes a serving and how many daily servings the child should have from each food group. Also discussed are the vitamin and mineral needs with special emphasis on calcium, protein, and vitamin B12.
The authors devote considerable attention to nutrition in the various stages of a child's life. They are strong advocates of breastfeeding for infants, devoting special attention to breastfeeding concerns and questions. Emphasis is placed on the importance of a proper diet during pregnancy and nursing. Mothers will benefit from their advice on when to introduce solid food and what to feed toddlers. Moms will also receive much good information and ideas from their section on "Children from Two to Twelve." Parents will appreciate the "Food Challenges and Solutions" and "Top Ten Meals for Children" including recipes.
"The Unique Needs of Teens" features "Three Menus for Teens" and discusses issues such as weight management, body image and eating disorders, nourishing healthy skin, and nutrition for athletes.
Part three of the book is labeled "Recipes for Every Occasion." Presented here are four tips to "ensure satisfaction and success in the kitchen:
The chart of "Basic Substitutions for Dairy, Eggs, Meat, and Sugar" answers many questions before they are even asked. The recipes include beverages, breakfast items, quick breads, spreads and sandwiches, soups, dressings, dips and sauces, salads, entrees, vegetable side dishes, desserts, and celebration dishes. The book concludes with an extensive resource list including online websites and organizations along with a impressive bibliography.
Raising children is a complex task that can be quite challenging for any parent. When those children are vegetarian, there may be additional challenges brought on by social pressures. Because so much of the book focuses on family relationships and nutrition, it could easily become a worthwhile guidebook for parents who are not vegetarian or raising vegetarian children.
Authors Joanne Stepaniak and Vesanto Melina have combined their strengths to create a sourcebook that will help any family navigate through the currents of a society that does not completely accept vegetarians. Joanne Stepaniak, the author of numerous cookbooks like Vegan Vittles and the Uncheese Book, presents some of her delicious and accessible recipes. Those who have read her Vegan Sourcebook and Being Vegan will find the same common sense, compassion, and caring for others displayed in this work. Vesanto Melina, who co-authored Becoming Vegan and Becoming Vegetarian contributes her expertise in vegetarian nutritional requirements. In Raising Vegetarian Children they have truly produced the book described in its subtitle: A Guide to Good Health and Family Harmony. It belongs in every home, vegetarian or not.
Reviewed April 2003