Today, nobody can deny that a varied, meat-free diet is much healthier than the typical Western, meat-containing diet. Numerous studies have found that the consumption of meat is conducive to many Western lifestyle diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, allergies, heart/circulation ailments, high blood pressure and cancer, so it is no wonder that vegetarians have also been shown to exhibit a higher life expectancy. Typical fears about vegetarianism, frequently spread by the meat industry and those in its orbit, have long since been found out for the myths that they are: vegetarians don’t have to be experts in nutrition, nor do they have to perform complicated calculations to prevent malnutrition. They don’t suffer from iron deficiency any more than meat-eaters, and a lack of protein is practically impossible if you consume enough calories.
Like other key organisations such as the British Medical Association and World Health Organisation (WHO), the American Dietetic Association (ADA; since 2012: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics) takes a positive view of vegetarianism. In a position paper published in 2009, it stated that “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” and that they are “appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.”
A balanced, meat-free diet for children is therefore not only suitable but also positively recommended because it offers a range of health benefits and promotes healthy eating habits at an early age. One of the ultimate beneficiaries of this is society at large – after all, the cost of treating Western lifestyle diseases associated with, or promoted by, the consumption of meat is borne by the taxpayer.
So where does this leave the meat-containing diet, which is so widespread today? In light of food scandals over recent years, the realities of meat production and the current available evidence, the question arises of whether – purely in terms of health – it is responsible to feed children meat at all. At the latest since October 2015, when the WHO announced on the back of more than 800 studies that red meat was “probably carcinogenic” and processed meat such as sausage was “carcinogenic”, hardly anyone can now be unaware of just how harmful to health meat in general can be. On top of this, in the UK, 80% of chickens, 45% of laying hens and 75% of breeding pigs are factory farmed, meaning that this meat is also contaminated with the residue of antibiotics, tranquilisers, psychopharmaceuticals and other substances administered on a large scale in the livestock industry. Over the years, these residues accumulate in the bodies of those who consume these animals, which also explains why the breast milk of long-term vegetarians has been shown to contain much fewer contaminants. The organic livestock industry also permits the use of, say, antibiotics to a degree. And while even toxin-free meat (which in fact hardly exists in reality) does not contain any nutrients that can't be easily obtained from a balanced, meat-free diet, it still always contains potentially harmful substances such as saturated fatty acids and cholesterol.
Factory farming is on the rise in the UK, as everywhere else, to meet the demand for cheap animal flesh, so this issue is only going to get worse. Also, the UK, which prides itself on being a nation of animals lovers and its comparatively high animal welfare laws, imports huge amounts of meat (at least one quarter of all meat and about 60% of pork sold in the UK in 2010) from countries with much lower production and welfare standards, such as Germany and the US for instance, where about 98% and more than 99% respectively of all meat is produced under factory farm conditions.
As parents, we are responsible for our children’s diet and should be aware that the foundations for healthy eating patterns are laid in infancy. Anyone who still believes that meat is vital either doesn’t know any better, so is simply uninformed, or stands to gain from the uncritical acceptance of this assertion. Knowledge is power and only those armed with the requisite knowledge are in a position to make informed nutritional decisions.
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