Under arrest

By Glauce Fleury

What’s behind the bill — proposed by an Italian politician — that wants to make it legal to arrest parents who serve vegan meals to their own kids?

I wish it was a joke. Member of the centre-right Forza Italia party, Elvira Savino said that plant-based diets are “devoid of essential elements for healthy and balanced growth.”

It’s curious. Other bills in Italy have tried to make vegan meals more easily available. The mayor of Turin, Chiara Appendino, has recently campaigned in favour of plant-based diets.

According to Chiara, who is member of the populist Five Star Movement, meat- and dairy-free lifestyles are important to protect not only the environment, but also our health and the animals’ well-being.

Elvira probably knows all that. But what prompted her to move on with her bill was the alleged four cases (in 18 months) of malnourished kids (who ate only plant-based meals) being hospitalized.

Let’s be clear. Everyone knows that poor nutrition affects millions of people across the globe either because of poverty (they don’t have access to healthy food) or lack of knowledge (they don’t know how to eat healthily).

What many don’t know is that vegan diets can be as healthy as any other, even for kids. The American Dietetic Association and the Academic of Nutrition and Dietetics confirm that.

The problem is that some meat-eaters, to excuse their lack of action to protect the environment and the animals, voice their opinions without proper research. They talk about what they don’t know.

In her bill, the Italian politician said that “the vegetarian or vegan diet is, in fact, deficient in zinc, iron, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and omega 3.” But if you go to the links above (dietetic organizations), you’ll see that this information is not completely accurate.

This blog’s columnist, nutritionist Amanda Tesser, says that, contrarily to what the proposed bill defends, a vegan diet can ensure the children’s correct growth and development.

“Parents only need to make sure that the nutrients found in animal products are being replaced correctly with plant-based foods,” she says. “They also need to know that children, because of their age, need more quantity of those same nutrients than adults.”

Amanda speaks from experience. With a decade of clinical work experience, she’s written articles to demystify veganism — and she’s not even vegan. She’s just passionate about nutrition and wants everyone to be healthy with their food choices.

Besides all the misleading argument, Elvira’s proposed bill is doing something really wrong: is taking parents out of the equation by restricting their rights to decide what’s best for their kids. This is their role, not the government’s.

According to the bill, offenders could spend up to a year in jail. This period could be longer if a child suffers any disease or permanent injury (4 years) or in case of death (6 years).

Instead of focusing on punishment, why can’t Elvira be proactive? Turin, for example, is expected to set up educational projects in schools to teach students about animal welfare and nutrition. Elvira could learn from them.

If it’s true that those cases of malnourishment are the result of a plant-based diet, it doesn’t mean this diet is bad. It means those families didn’t learn how to properly make the substitutions, as Amanda explained.

When I went vegan, I did my research to understand how to change my diet and still be healthy. That’s what many do. There are lots to learn, but I know I eat properly. My blood tests are better than when I ate meat.

Besides, I’m happy knowing that no animals are being tortured to feed me. Isn’t it a good thing?

Photo credit: http://www.houstondwiattorney.net via Flickr
Video credit: Bite Size Vegan

PS: Amanda’s next blog post will cover vegan diets for children. She’ll show you how to make this decision in a safe way. Stay tuned!

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