At a time when most of the Western world is battling childhood obesity, Italy is up against a different kind of dietary dilemma. A proposed law would ban parents from raising vegan children.
Parents could be seen as negligent if they serve kids under the age of 16 a diet "devoid of elements essential for healthy and balanced growth.” This would seem to include veganism, with its omission of dairy and meat.
While it seems extreme that the courts should stick their noses in the plates of modern families, the country's move is driven by some very sad, very real cases in which children were left malnourished at the hands of their loving, well-intentioned parents.
In Milan, a one year-old weighed as little as a three month-old baby, while a 12 year-old boy's growth was similarly stunted, purportedly from following a vegan diet.
“I have nothing against vegans or veganism as long as it is a free choice by adults,” Italian lawmaker Elvira Savino. “I just find it absurd that some parents are allowed to impose their will on children in an almost fanatical, religious way, often without proper scientific knowledge or medical consultation.”
If the bill passes, the penalty for vegan parents could be stiff - as in, jail terms of one year - or up to seven years for death owing to malnutrition.
The idea of the state being able to dictate what your kid does or doesn't eat makes me squirm. But the fact that such legislation is even on the table points to the fact that many parents out there unwittingly endanger their kids' health - sometimes with tragic, irreversible results.
We all want what's best for our kids, yet the reality is, we don't always get it right.
Veganism is a tricky one, because for many the diet involves far more than food; it's a lifestyle dictated by ethics and core beliefs. To serve your children what you yourself wouldn't eat may be a tall order for parents.
Point being, though, if you're determined that your family follows any kind of alternative lifestyle, it probably makes sense to at least check in and listen to the guidance of a qualified doctor or nutritionist.