The Food Issue

A listener to Tom Dunne’s morning show yesterday got in touch to detail a problem. Her nine year old has decided to stop eating meat because meat comes from animals – which are God’s creatures.

A flurry of texts ensued, with many people giving their suggestions on how to cope. A problem is a problem if it is perceived as such, so I am not about to dismiss this parent’s situation as not being problematic – because it obviously is for her.

Most of the world is vegetarian and it’s not that hard. In Ireland, there is a perception of vegetarians as being ‘picky’, ‘difficult’ and ‘awkward’. There is also a misperception that a vegetarian diet is somehow lacking. Honestly, this is just ignorance, with a bit of laziness thrown in.

It is not my intention to convert anyone to vegetarianism, nor am I about to expound on my own reasons for being vegetarian. I have done my research and believe that a vegetarian diet is the healthiest option – and research is key. It is the only way to make an informed decision; indeed, it is the only way one can claim to have made a decision at all.

Choosing a vegetarian diet means learning about food. It means looking at the food purchases you make. It means reading the back of packets of food you buy. It means educating yourself and engaging with food. But wait a second! Shouldn’t you being doing that anyway? Shouldn’t you be aware of what goes into your body no matter what diet you choose?

A notion abounds in Ireland that only meat provides adequate protein. This is incorrect. How much protein do people think they need anyway? What makes  people think they can only get it from meat? There are many sources of protein. Apart from what my kids call ‘pretendy meat’ – like Quorn and other substitutes – lentils, tofu, dairy products (we’re not vegan) nuts, legumes, rice, wholegrain cereals and vegetables all provide protein. Eating more protein than you need is not ‘better’ for you than eating an adequate amount. Unlike fat, the body does not store excess protein – it excretes it.

It is actually very easy to be vegetarian and it’s very easy to raise vegetarian children – you just have to make an effort and educate yourself about food, so you’re aware of what you’re putting into your mouth. Balance is key in any diet and is easily achieved on a vegetarian diet (our diet was reviewed six months ago by a dietician at Crumlin Children’s Hospital, who couldn’t find fault with it).

Feeding my kids well on a vegetarian diet is not hard. What is proving tricky is the learning curve I’m on since last Monday – when I learnt that my youngest is allergic to gluten and dairy and has other food intolerances. Excuse me while I go off now and educate myself some more.