'Kids these days,' as the lament goes, 'don't even know milk comes from a cow.' Well, the jig is up and thanks to our friend, the Internet, kids not only know where milk comes from, but they are discovering where cheeseburgers come from - LOLcats not included. The result? A rise in the number of young vegetarians and vegans.
"This has been a steadily growing trend over the years. With the environment getting more attention in the media and pop culture, kids are making decisions about their identities and exploring not eating meat or even going completely vegan. The meat culture is less ingrained in kids, so they're more open to this evolution."
--Elizabeth Turner, editor-in-chief, Vegetarian Times
Earlier this year, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a new study on vegetarians under the age of 18. One in 200 kids in America call themselves vegetarians and the numbers are growing. According to new figures from the School Nutrition Association (SHA), more U.S. schools are offering vegetarian options to accommodate.
Mind you, the changes didn't come without some green, leafy foot stomping. In 2008, the US Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service received over 10,000 comments demanding increased vegetarian options in schools. Nearly two thirds (63.9 percent) of school nutrition programs now offer vegetarian lunches on a regular basis, up from 22.3 percent in 2003. SHA's 2009 Report also found that 20.5 percent of school nutrition programs als offer vegan meal options (no meat, dairy or animal products).
"Compassion for animals is the major, major reason. When kids find
out the things they are eating are living animals - and if they have a
--Richard Schwartz, president of Jewish Vegetarians of North America
Examples of vegetarian school lunches include entree salads and veggie pizza with whole grain crust as well as beans and rice, chef salads with yogurt and sunflower seeds, cheese stuffed shells, vegetable hoagies (with two cheeses, red and green pepper strips, cucumber, lettuce, and tomato) and lentil sauce with pasta. (Dang. I'm getting hungry.)
Many cite the availability of graphic animal slaughter videos on YouTube, usually posted by PETA and other animal rights organizations. Growing up, we certainly knew that the cute cows in the fields eventually became beef for the table but we didn't have Google at our fingertips to illustrate precisely how that happened.
These days, kids are more informed about the food industry and the environment - probably because they are inheriting a mess. Some may call it a 'trend' while others call it a heightened ethical awareness; either way kids are making the vivid connections between live chickens and the resulting McNuggets, for better or worse.
The challenge is now with the parents and school systems, rushing to adapt to these new dietary demands. In light of this country's childhood obesity problem, one could see this as good news.
"A lot more kids are using the Internet. They're curious about stuff and trying to become independent and they're trying to find out who they are."
--Nichole Nightingale, 14, became vegan after being exposed to a YouTube video from PETA showing the graphic details of how chickens are slaughtered for meat
There are already plenty of kids being raised as vegans or vegetarians but this is mostly a House Rules scenario, with the caveat that when the kids get older, they can make their own eating choices. (This is how I was introduced to religion: "ClizBiz, meet God. God, meet ClizBiz. You two make nice until college, then work it out on your own.")
A great example is Dina Aronson, blogger and mother to Ben, over at Vegan RD:
"He understands he is a 'vegetarian' and we don't eat 'real chickens or real cows' or 'milk from a cow.' A small part of me fears that, ironically, he will be somehow damaged by being the odd man out. But fortunately he is a very laid back kid who has a natural love for animals and can't understand why people would want to kill and eat them. He brings up the topic quite a bit, and I tell him that we don't eat animals but that 'when you're a big boy, if you want to eat animals, that is your choice.'"
A former child vegetarian - she's 30 now - speaks to the issue on NitwitOddment:
"My brothers and I were raised on a purely lacto-ova vegetarian diet, and we have remained vegetarians in adulthood. One brother is 6'1" and the other is 6'4". We are all healthy and mentally acute (well most of us anyway!). We did not eat vitamin pills or supplements to get here, and we did not suffer significant social stigma in the lunchroom. Our mother fed us healthy, fresh, planet-based meals with a few dairy products on the side. I have never, in all my blood donating years, failed an iron test."
Finally, Drewry Hanes, "a strict vegetarian since the age of 12", tears into PETA for its "amazing misinformation" regarding kids and vegetarianism. I highly recommend reading this. Drewry dig deep in her post, 'PETA is Here to Save Your Soul':
"Beyond the dubious authors they quote on the site and the questionable sources they take their information from, it also seems like there might actually be someone sitting behind a curtain fabricating anything that might encourage someone to lay off the animal products. Where it really gets me is the section where they spin lies about kids who are vegetarians. Oh let the fun begin..."
A terrific 'Vegetarian Kids Checklist' from Delicious Living.
Studies on WebMD on the vegetarian/vegan diet.
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