Animal Aid

BUILDING A VEGGIE FUTURE - Part 2

The Smith family are all vegan.

In the second section of Building a Veggie Future we look at the response from those outside the vegetarian family and the pressures that can arise in school.

Relatives, friends and other parents

Response from relatives, friends and other parents:

  • Of the 81% of vegetarian parents who are now bringing their children up veggie - either from birth or after the parents themselves became veggie - 54% have faced mild or strong pressure from other relatives (36% mild; 18% strong). 20% have received slight encouragement or an enthusiastic response (9% slight encouragement; 11% enthusiastic).

  • Of this 81%, 37% have faced mild or strong pressure from other parents (27% mild; 10% strong). 16% have received slight encouragement or an enthusiastic response (9% slight encouragement; 7% enthusiastic).

  • Of the 81%, 15% have faced mild or strong pressure from friends (12% mild; 3% strong). 19% have received slight encouragement or an enthusiastic response (9% slight encouragement; 10% enthusiastic).

  • Of the 64% who have stuck to their decision to raise their children veggie from birth, 30% say they can't trust certain relatives or friends not to feed them meat.

Our questionnaire shows that more pressure comes from family members and other children's parents than from the medical profession. In the majority of cases, the pressure doesn't change the parents' beliefs but it can have an important impact!

Sarah, from Blackheath, has a daughter Dee, who is now 17. When Dee was very young, her grandmother, says Sara, "used to purposefully give her meat and used to 'smuggle' it into my home in her pockets". Dee's father is non-veggie and as she grew older she began sharing his meals and now eats meat.

"Some friends thought it was unfair to bring up my daughter as a vegetarian stating that I shouldn't inflict my views on her. One health visitor suggested someone else cooked meat for her when I said I would not or could not do so. My current health visitor, on the other hand, said I worried unduly about my daughter's diet, stating that vegetarian parents feed their children a much healthier diet than most meat-eating parents."

Joanne - Henley, Oxfordshire, pictured below with daughter Abigail, 2

Joanne and Abigail's health visitor believes that vegetarian parents feed their children a healthier diet than most meat-eating parents.

Some 63% or our respondents said the other parent was also vegetarian

Where partners have different beliefs, problems worsen. "My wife changed from being a veggie to being a carnivore and my children, Eleanor and Isobel, wanted to do the same", one Coventry, West Midlands, father told us. But Cathy, a mother-of-two from Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, has found that having a non-veggie partner can work:

"I think the key to our success has been my incredibly supportive husband who, although not vegetarian himself, is happy to eat veggie food on a regular basis. Without his support, I think I would have had much more trouble both from family members and possibly from the children themselves."

How to manage your family - tips from other parents

Be Persistent:

"My children have been vegetarian for six years. At first, family members were very resistant and did not respect my decision. However, as it became clear to them that this was an ethical choice that would not change, the pressure ceased. Other family members are now actively preparing vegetarian dishes for them."

Chris - Gloucestershire, whose two sons, Oscar and Harry, are 10 and 12

Link up with others:

"I formed a vegetarian mothers' and toddlers' group when my children were young. There were about seven mothers and it was a great support. I have now been inspired to return to veganism by my children's example and have been vegan for two years."

Rona - Ross-shire, whose children Ruth, Tom and Libby are 13, 15 and 19

Stand up for your beliefs:

"The best answer to the question, why are you a vegetarian? is to say: You're asking the wrong question of the wrong person. The question you should be asking yourself is, why am I not a vegetarian? How, in a society of so much choice, can I possibly justify causing death, when there is no need to do so?"

Vita - High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, whose son Aron is now 21

Promote the health benefits:

"We had some concern from our parents and friends that we had decided to 'inflict' our vegetarian diet on our children but because they are both very healthy, these concerns have been greatly reduced!"

Mrs Smith - Plymouth, Devon, whose daughters, Lynsey and Eloise are 5 and 7

At school

"My daughter refused to sing the 'kill the old red rooster' song when she was 5 and was told to stop being oversensitive. "

Victoria - Wakefield, West Yorkshire, whose children Bob and Marybeth are 7 and 12

Response in the classroom and the school canteen:

  • 64% of vegetarian parents bring their children up veggie from birth. Of the 18% of those children who subsequently return to eating meat, 13% said they were not catered for adequately by their school; 7% said they felt embarrassed about being veggie and 14% were bullied about their diet.

  • Of the 81% of vegetarian parents who are bringing their children up veggie - either from birth or after the parents themselves became veggie - 13% say they have faced mild or strong negative pressure from teachers (9% mild; 4% strong). 9% say they have received slight encouragement or an enthusiastic response (6% slight encouragement; 3% enthusiastic).

  • Of the 14% of vegetarian parents who never intended to bring their children up veggie, 7% said they wanted their children to fit in with their peers and thought being veggie would cause problems.

  • Of the 5% of vegetarian parents who intended to raise their children veggie but later changed their minds, 17% felt the children were being deprived of some of the foods they liked and 11% said there wasn't much vegetarian food served at their school.

Melanie from Cheshire, has a seven year old daughter, Zoe:

"As far as I know, my daughter is the only vegetarian in her school of about 200 children. The school won't make vegetarian food so she takes a packed lunch. At one time they said she could eat puddings for lunch."

Lynne, from County Durham, has four children and says that when her son was four, "he was given fish twice and he ate it without realising."

Sandra, from Leicestershire, says her four children also face problems at school: "My daughter has to have sandwiches or eat chips, potatoes and cheese every lunch-time."

Amber and Sasha are both vegetarian.

Peer pressure

Our survey results show that although peer pressure, feeling awkward and even being bullied can be a problem for veggie children, it is rarely bad enough to persuade them to start eating meat. Still, no vegetarian children should ever be ridiculed because of their choice of diet. If ridicule and bullying does take place, it is the obligation of the school authorities to remedy the situation. Children and parents have the right to have their beliefs and dietary choices respected, just as they do their choice of religion.

What parents say:

"The main problem is that Martin regards himself as 'different' from his meat-eating friends and so is embarrassed to reveal his vegetarianism."

Jeff - Nuneaton, Warwickshire, whose son Martin is 13

"Because of peer pressure, our oldest two ate meat to begin with but they changed back to being veggie when they were old enough to know better. Now they are very pleased to have been brought up veggie and say they will never eat meat."

Carol - Angus, Scotland, whose children Sarah, Matthew, Rachel and Hannah are now 15, 22, 25 and 29

"Michael has had friends light-heartedly trying to tempt him back into eating meat but as most of his friends are veggie and he converted his girlfriend too, he is no longer in the minority."

Sheena - London, whose son Michael is now 19

Animal Aid believes that if all children were properly educated about vegetarianism and veganism, teasing and bullying levels would decrease. Bullying typically stems from ignorance and a feeling that something is 'different or 'weird'. If different belief systems are integrated into a child's consciousness from an early age, they cease to be concerned about any difference. In fact, a group of children with differing food preferences can educate and inspire each other in the same way as a multicultural group can do so.

"The school told Seamus not to be so silly when he refused to eat a donut containing egg. They called me in to say they were concerned about his emotional health because he cried in Asda when he saw dead chickens."

Mary - West Midlands, whose son Seamus is 6

"My five year old daughter is a passionate ethical veggie and berates staff behind the fish and meat counters given half the chance. The film Chicken Run swung it for her and she is already spreading the word at primary school, where staff have been supportive."

Tristan - Hampshire, whose daughters Sennen and Asha are 5 and 3

"The only problem I had at school when Amber (aged 9) and Sasha (6) became vegetarian was a dinner lady pressurising Sasha to eat meat at lunchtime despite her expressing the fact that she didn't eat it! Thankfully, she stood her ground and refused. There is a vegetarian meal option, but they much prefer to take a packed lunch!"

Jennie - Newcastle under Lyme, Staffordshire

Animal Aid's Vegetarian Guidance Notes for School Caterers features delicious meal ideas, supplier contact details and practical advice on cooking without meat and dairy products. A PDF version is available to download here.

In the third section of Building a Veggie Future, we look at the problems eating in and eating out and find out what improvements veggie parents would like to see in the supermarkets.

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