Yesterday afternoon I was fortunate enough to be a guest on HuffPost Live speaking about vegan parenting in a segment called Is Veganism Safe For Babies? There were several things that I wanted to say that I didn't get a chance to. Like how much my son loves being vegan, how he never feels left out because we plan well, how he loves talking about loving animals to others, and more. But mostly I wanted to talk more about weight stigma. Now, I know it had nothing to do with the segment but Chubby Vegan Mom (Amanda) just had to go and bring up "CHILDHOOD OBESITY BOOGA BOOGA". Can we please stop talking about fatness as an epidemic? Epidemics are for infectious disease, not human beings and their body shape or size.
I was disappointed to say the least. Even now, thinking about that conversation lays heavy on my heart. From a self proclaimed chuccy/thick woman as she calls herself came so much hand wringing about the children and their body shape. She called it an epidemic and pretty much ignored my argument that body size is not a proxy for health. That there are skinny unhealthy people and fat healthy people. She just kept saying she agreed BUT THE CHILDREN. I guess we should just ignore the fact that eating disorders and poor body image among youth is far more prevalent than any lifestyle related illness. And, of course, I say lifestyle instead of weight because weight is not a proxy for health.
Of course, the omnivore mom then went on to argue that weight was absolutely a proxy for health (though not the only one) despite being told that we needed to stop talking about it as we had gotten off topic. I wish I'd had the chance to respond, but I respected Nancy Redd's request to stay on topic about vegan parenting. But it's worth discussing the fatphobia that seems to prevalent in veganism and how it impacts vegan children.
One big risk for eating disorders is internalized fatphobia. Literally a fear of becoming fat. Children and Teens who are "overweight" are at a larger risk for eating disorders to try to lose weight. More than 90% of girls want to change their appearance with weight at the top of that list. Think about that for a second- 90%! If you have a daughter then this is a horrifying statistic. So how many children (boys and girls) fear becoming fat? About 80%. That's the same number of 10 year old girls who have dieted by the way. They're more afraid of becoming fat than they are of losing their parents according to one poll.
The list of statistics on body image, dieting, and eating disorders goes on. So what happens when you're already on a restrictive diet and your vegan parents are obsessed with weight and are instilling fatphobia in their kids? There are no statistics on vegans and body image, let alone vegan children and body image so I can only speculate on the consequences. And with the rise of Orthorexia and Bigorexia (the obsession with eating healthfully and exercising) I can't say that I'm not worried about the future of veganism and it's followers. I think it's immensely important to have body positive vegans.
Let's be honest here, veganism isn't going to cure childhood or adult "obesity". It's not going to make everyone thinner. Though I encourage healthy eating (although health is NOT the focus of veganism which I don't think came across in the interview), it does not equal thinness nor is it an obligation. Most parents do the best they can and we can't ignore the parents who work too many hours for not enough pay and who can barely afford the boxed mac and cheese they serve their kids for lunch. The interview included a lot of what I thought was definite food policing. There was a lot of talk against processed foods for example. Nevermind that they're often much easier to prepare for those without the time or energy to make huge meals from scratch. They also help vegan kids (and adults) feel less left out at events.
I wish we'd had much more time and I do hope that I can go back on HuffPost Live at some point to discuss these issues with veganism, fatphobia, and food policing.