Emily Sim, an Australian mother living in Hong Kong, has raised her son Henry as a 100% vegan since birth.“You’re doing well, aren’t you?” Emily says as she prepares home-made sushi as the evening meal for her vegan family, including son Henry. The Sim’s also avoid wearing animal-derived materials, like wool, silk and leather.
“There are some things you can never avoid, but we do the best we can.” Emily recognises that living that way isn’t always easy but she ensures she double-checks ingredients lists and only purchases cruelty-free products, such as baby lotions.
Sim runs a Facebook Group for Vegan Parents living in Hong Kong called Veg Parents, a group which she established after moving to Hong Kong in 2015 with her husband, (prior to Henry’s birth). In a busy city where meat, dairy and egg free menu-options aren’t always obvious, Emily is among the growing number families with children that are proving how they thrive on a vegetarian or vegan diet.
This Hong Kong Veg Parents group boasts over 350 members who share ideas, advice, swap information and arrange meet-ups for meat-less socialisation. According to Sim, “We have vegans, pescatarians, vegetarians … and many are still eating meat but are trying to give their kids more veggies.”
Emily adds, “Often, when people find out Henry is vegan, they’ll be shocked. There’s a misconception that he’s neglected and malnourished, but I tell people that organisations around the world, like the American Association of Dieticians, state that a vegan diet is healthy for all stages of life.” Twice a year, the Sim family see a dietician for a check-up, just like many modern families. However, Emily maintains her confidence in a vegan lifestyle and says the check-ups are merely for peace of mind. “I wouldn’t raise him vegan unless I was 100 per cent sure it was safe and healthy.”
After a recent outrage over the death of a Belgian couple’s seven-month-old, severely malnourished son, widespread debate was sparked within the vegan community and parenting groups that questioned whether it is actually safe to raise a child without consuming animal products. These parents were found guilty of neglecting to feed their infant sufficient calories and take him to hospital. While the baby’s diet wasn’t the sole reason for his death, media outlets picked up on how it was free of dairy, gluten and meat. As said by Stevie Go, who runs ‘Meat Free Hong Kong’ group: “Highlighting vegan parents in child-neglect cases has clickbait potential that doesn’t seem to exist for omnivorous parents.”
However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommend against processed meat consumption, with consumption of a primarily plant-based diet that is rich in vegetables instead. Also, doctors assure that it is perfectly safe, and possible, for babies to develop adequately on a meat-less diet but parents should check that the child is consuming sufficient nutrients.
Dr Fatima Cody Stanford, (obesity specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital in the US) said, that to ensure the proper development of a child’s brain, “Parents need to pay particular attention to adding vitamin B12, calcium, zinc, and high-quality protein to their child’s diet to ensure optimal nutrition and growth. If some nutrients aren’t easy to source, parents can use supplements.”
Support groups like this are great for people trying to raise their children in a way that’s often deemed wrong. Thankfully there are also resources to help parents through thriving as a vegan during pregnancy and nutrient-dense foods for parents and infants.