More Peas Please

October 27, 2011 by · Comments Off 

BEYOND THE BUBBLE

By Katie Simpson
ksimpson@smu.edu

On the outside, Elias Schroeder may look like a typical 12-year-old kid, but in reality he lives a lifestyle that many people would otherwise dodge. Elias, an avid football player from Swiftwater, Pennsylvania, is a strict vegetarian. This means no meat and no fish. Although Elias refrains from eating certain foods, he says he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Hurting an animal is just like hurting a person, they both have feelings,” said Elias.

Some experts say the switch to vegetarianism for many kids and teens appears to be a trend.

According to a nationwide survey by the Vegetarian Resource Group in 2010, 3 percent of American youth, or about 1.4 million people between the ages of 8 and 18 are vegetarian, indicating they never eat meat, poultry or fish. This number is up 2 percent from 10 years ago.

A study published by Vegetarian Times shows that 3.2 percent of U.S. adults, or 7.3 million people, follow a vegetarian-based diet. Fifty-seven percent of these people have followed a vegetarian diet for more than 10 years.

While research points to an upward trend, some nutritionists believe going vegetarian is nothing more than a stage of exploration for some kids. Many times they learn about something in school, which then sparks their interest.

“Kids seem to go through it temporary, they realize ‘Oh my gosh I’m eating a cow and I love my dog’”, said Angela Lemond, a registered dietitian in Plano with a specialty in pediatric nutrition.

Some children like Elias have been brought up vegetarian from birth, usually following the lifestyle of their parents.

“Being vegetarian is so normal for us and does not take a conscious effort. At home it is very easy as we cook and eat all non-animal products. Elias is always very careful to question if something does or does not have meat in it,” said Cristine Schroeder, Elias’ mother, who is Director of Internal Communications at Sanofi Pasteur, a pharmaceutical company.

Lauren Taylor, an SMU graduate who now lives in New York City, has been a vegetarian since she was 5. After seeing several documentaries on factory farming and the meat industry, Taylor said her mom stopped cooking meat and fish in the house. That’s when Taylor stopped eating it.

“She didn’t push it on me, she just said she was doing it and I decided to also. I didn’t like seafood to begin with and I only ate turkey and chicken nuggets so it wasn’t hard for me to cut it out,” said Taylor.

Whether children follow in the footsteps of their parents or decide to become vegetarian on their own, experts say that as long as the diet is planned well, kids and young adults can maintain a healthy lifestyle and still get their recommended nutrition.

For the Schroeder family the decision to become vegetarian was less about the nutritional aspect and more about animal rights.

“We absolutely love animals and struggle very much with the production of animals for consumption,” said Cristine Schroeder.

While being a vegetarian can be very beneficial to ones health, many people question whether converting so young could have negative consequences.

“Whether or not a vegetarian’s nutritional needs are met depends on their overall diet,” said Kim Blum, a registered dietitian in Dallas with more than 10 years experience.

While cheese pizza and spaghetti may top a child’s favorite food list, they alone are not enough to maintain a growing adolescent’s nutritional needs. It is important that vegetarian kids and teens make sure they are consuming all the key nutrients that may be lacking from a meatless diet. These include: protein, n-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, iodine, calcium, and vitamins D and B-12.

Blum says that it is possible for a vegetarian to meet recommendations for these nutrients, but should consult with a registered dietitian to make sure they are consuming a well-balanced diet.

Experts say that becoming a vegetarian can not only be beneficial to their health, but can even aid in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.

“I rarely get sick, my immune system is really strong and I feel healthy,” said Taylor. “I believe that it’s really important to be mindful of what you put in your body, so if my mom hadn’t started being a vegetarian, I’m sure I would be by now.”

While Elias says his favorite food is Eastern Indian cuisine, other kids may not be so diverse in their food choices. Lots of children can be picky and even though they have made the decision to become vegetarian it can still be a struggle to get them to eat their vegetables. This can make mealtime a nightmare for both parents and children.

“There is a lot of creativity you can have with cooking to make food taste good,” said Lemond.

She suggests cooking certain foods a different way or adding seasoning to make vegetables taste less bland.

Taylor says she cooks a lot of her own meals because she likes to eat organic foods, but she also has many recommendations for kids who prefer to eat out.

“In Dallas there are tons of options. If someone wants Mexican, the veggie fajitas at Mi Cocina are great. Central Market has good veggie burgers and vegan tacos and Royal Thai also makes tons of vegetarian dishes,” said Taylor.

Although Elias doesn’t have any friends that are vegetarian, he says that won’t stop him from continuing to rule out meat.

“The thing I like most about being a vegetarian is that I can look back and see I have never hurt an animal,” said Elias.