Telegraph writer Becky Dickinson went vegan – sort of – with her family for a week to see what all the fuss was about. I was curious, having very much enjoyed reading about Guardian foodie, Jay Rayner’s week of veganism back in 2008. It was a funny and honest account. Vegan food is slowly becoming more mainstream and I hoped that it wouldn’t be approached as some alien matter in 2015. I was wrong.
I am sure that Becky Dickinson did her research for the article before committing to a week of a new diet, as you would expect anyone to do when entering a new diet. She had certainly contacted the Vegan Society as a first point of call and made contact with a nutritionalist; whose comments I will address later. Although it doesn’t seem like she has talked to any vegan families about what they eat, how they transitioned. Or if she did then she went into this with her mind set that it would be awful that there was really no point in her doing it.
“What’s more, I’ve always harboured a secret view that those who abstain from major food groups, often under the guise of self-diagnosed intolerances, are at best a tiny bit annoying, at worst, neurotic.”
I am very aware of public perception of vegans but it is important to say that people chose to not eat meat and dairy for many reasons, not just ethical and health ones.
If you’re going to get your family to change your diet for a week, you have to plan, adapt food from what they already like. Get a few cookbooks for a start and find out what easy oven dishes are available.
Of course kids can be tricky eaters at time. My own son had started to refuse onions in everything. This makes for some interesting meal concoctions at times. But the thing about vegan cooks is they love sharing what they do, they want to celebrate the wonderful food they are making so you don’t have to be creative. Just check out Vegan Dad or the PPK for starters.
What you don’t do is try replace fish fingers and chips with quinoa. It is setting the whole thing up for failure. It read to me as though the writer simply googled ‘what do vegans eat?’ and got the answer ‘lentils and quinoa’. Sure, not everyone’s child will eat lentils because they’ve probably not tried them before. It takes time to introduce new food. Why make life hard for yourself? And why reference the much discredited Gillian McKeith?
If Becky Dickinson had truly wanted her kids to give the vegan trial a go, why not start simple? Linda McCartney sausages with chips or mash. Fishless fingers, or some of the other great vegan frozen food that the major supermarkets and smaller health stores are producing these days. Ease into it before plating up the “frog spawn”. If the writer herself was going to be negative about the food, then the kids really weren’t going to get behind the whole thing.
Then there was the quote from Dr Eva Detko:
“Putting growing children on vegan diets is not the best idea and I certainly wouldn’t do it to my child.”
It is almost a step away from saying a vegan diet is a danger to a child. This is certainly not the case. I have two very strong, healthy, well-developed children raised on a vegan diet fully for one and in the majority for the other. If humans couldn’t grow and develop on the plants around them then why are some cultures across the globe who exist on a plant-based diet still in existence? Or putting it in more scientific terms than I can, read up on two doctors who can explain why a vegan diet is healthy over at Forks Over Knives.
These comments just remind me of the eternal conversation I have with my health visitor over my very healthy vegan daughter. I will be asked where she gets her dairy from if not from animals. I respond that she is still breastfed and gets all the dairy she needs but perhaps the question to be asked is where she will get omega-3, calcium, iron, protein. If meat eaters get theirs from animals, where do the animals get their nutrients from to produce it in their bodies for us? Okay that is putting it in very simplistic terms but it is worth thinking about. Plants give enough nutrients for humans to live and thrive.
When my son was younger and still vegan we needed to take him into hospital. He had blood tests taken to check what was wrong with him and his nutrient levels came back as perfect as could be. His vegan diet was helping him thrive.
As I had been stewing over the article all day and the missed opportunity it was I realised that this is what most people think when going vegan. They go to extremes to crack and give up. They don’t understand the point of meat replacements (erm, it is not meat), and a week of being vegan probably would be hell. I just wish that Becky Dickinson had gone into this with a bit more positivity and planning.
So here is my day of being vegan with my daughter and the tasty, nutrient-packed meals we ate to help her grow and have a great relationship with food.
We eat as a family so the kids get a version of what we are eating in the day. It helps them try new things. My lunch today was a bean burger made with vital wheat gluten, which give it a meaty texture and look. I got the recipe from a vegan athlete blog. It was served with a potato salad and a green side salad with alfalfa sprouts. The kids grow the sprouts a few times a week, it’s fun and they like eating what they have grown. Sprouted beans help the body absorb vitamins and minerals.
Friday night is pizza night in our house. Often I make tofu ‘ricotta’ from a recipe, occasionally buy fake cheese or if I am being lazy just use olive oil and nutritional yeast. It tastes cheesy and contains the illusive vitamin B12.
We love our food and we love trying new things. I just wish the Telegraph had given the article to someone who seemed more positive about a week long trial. It might have opened a whole new world of food to them as it did to me when I took the plunge 10 years ago. I still miss cheese and cheap chocolate but I love the great choice of vegan food I get these days. Even in my little market town out of London.