published Sunday, July 21st, 2013

Some kids are raised in homes free of meat, dairy, fish and poultry

(Clockwise from the far left) Sarah Adams, her visiting cousin Gavin O'Neal and Luke Adams sit down for a vegan lunch Wednesday in Chattanooga. The Adams family eats an all-vegetarian and mostly vegan diet.
(Clockwise from the far left) Sarah Adams, her visiting cousin Gavin O'Neal and Luke Adams sit down for a vegan lunch Wednesday in Chattanooga. The Adams family eats an all-vegetarian and mostly vegan diet.
Photo by Maura Friedman.

Vegan or Vegetarian?

• Vegetarians do not eat meat, fish or poultry.

• Vegans do not eat any animal products including meat, fish, fowl, eggs, dairy or honey. Most vegans do not use any animal by-products either, such as leather, wool, fur or cosmetics.

• A lacto-ovo vegetarian does not eat meat, fish or fowl but does eat dairy and egg products.

• An ovo vegetarian does not eat meat, fish, fowl or dairy products but will eat egg products.

• A lacto vegetarian does not eat meat, fish, fowl or eggs but will eat dairy products.

Source: Vegetarian Resource Group

10 Famous Vegans

• Alanis Morissette

• Carrie Underwood

• Ellen DeGeneres

• Emily Deschanel

• Jenny McCarthy

• Joan Jett

• Michelle Pfeiffer

• Olivia Wilde

• Tobey Maguire

• Woody Harrelson

Source: HappyCow.net

At 11 years of age, Lilyann Adams is already accomplished in the kitchen. She says she has mastered bread pudding, pancakes, smoothies and biscuits topped with a cashew-based gravy.

Lilyann's culinary training at her mother's side isn't just preparation for adulthood and independence. Lilyann and her siblings are being raised on a vegan diet by their parents, Chris and Brian Adams of Cleveland, Tenn., who made the decision to change their own food habits while in college.

"We don't eat really strange -- like a lot of people think we just eat salad all the time," jokes Chris Adams. "But I make burritos, lasagna, pizza, beans and cornbread, eggplant, veggie lasagna. We eat like everybody else, we just use soy milk instead of dairy milk.

"My husband and I were not raised vegan," explains the mother of three. "We both changed over to vegan diets during college on our own before we met. It was definitely a process over an extended period of time as we learned more about the health benefits."

Health, environmental or ethical reasons as well as advocating humane treatment of animals are all reasons people choose to be vegan, according to the Vegetarian Resource Group, a national advocacy group based in Baltimore. The group's national studies show the number of vegan children in the United States is growing.

In 1994, about 1 percent of children and adults in the U.S. were vegan, according to VRG. In 2010, that number had risen to 3 percent. A 2012 Harris poll commissioned by VRG showed more growth: 5 percent of adults and children claiming vegan diets.

VRG estimates that 1.4 million youth in the U.S. are vegan, while 3 million say they just don't eat meat.

Britta Rusk, a pediatric dietitian at Erlanger hospital, says that, while there are pros and cons to the vegan diet, she advocates it, speaking from both personal and professional viewpoints.

Her three siblings are all vegan, she says, and their children eat healthy. Professionally, as many as 98 percent of the children she counsels have diabetes caused by poor diets and obesity.

"I am for a vegan diet because I see the opposite side of it. I would love to see more young people eating whole grains, more plant-based diets. Kids I have interacted with, who are vegetarian or vegan, do very well," says the dietitian.

"In most cases, vegans have more varied diets, more healthful food choices with an emphasis on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat protein sources such as soy and beans," explains Rusk.

"Also, we can assume that children who have grown up eating vegan won't lapse into junk food later," she says.

PROS AND CONS

The diet's drawback has the potential for deficiencies in calcium, protein, iron and vitamin B12. Calcium is critical for bone growth; lack of iron can lead to anemia. Rusk offered recommendations for essential food sources.

• Calcium: Tofu, kale, spinach, collard greens, turnip greens, sesame seed butter, fortified soy milk and fortified orange juice.

• Protein: Dried beans, any kind of soy protein. Beans with a high iron content include chickpeas, pinto beans and black-eyed peas.

• Iron: Watermelon, spinach, broccoli and blackstrap molasses.

"If you eat an iron food with vitamin C, it increases absorption of iron into the blood stream," she advises, "so we always emphasize adding a vitamin C source with iron."

• Vitamin C: Citrus in juice or fruit form, tomatoes and broccoli.

• Vitamin B-12: "Vitamin B-12 is only found in animal sources, so vegans are not getting B-12 unless they get certain foods that are fortified."

The best sources: fortified soy milk, fortified breakfast cereal, nutritional yeast and "fake meat" (meat product made from soy).

Rusk states there is 50 percent of the recommended daily intake of B-12 in one cup of almond milk; two cups and you're good for the day.

Breastfeeding is the recommended choice for infants until they are old enough to introduce solid foods.

SCHOOL ISSUES

The Adams children are homeschooled, so packing school lunches is not an issue. However, provisions are made for vegan children in local school systems.

Daily menus are posted on the Bradley County Schools website, notifying parents in advance of several vegetarian entrees and sides included in the lunch menus. Additionally, students are offered fruit or chilled fruit and vegetable groups at every meal.

"We offer different options every day and several times they are vegetarian," says Kristen Nauss, dietitian with the Hamilton County Department of Education. "We have to offer a meal that has a meat alternative. Peanut butter is offered every day; children also have the option of fruits and vegetables."

In Georgia, Catoosa County Schools offer a variety of fruit and vegetable choices each day, says spokeswoman Marisa Brower. Georgia doesn't have an overarching policy dictating what must be provided for vegan and vegetarian students, she says, but there are laws that require choices for students with disabilities such as diabetes or food allergies.

GOING VEGAN AS A TEEN

Kelly Barker, daughter of Scott and Jolene Barker of Cleveland, was a senior in high school when she decided to go vegan.

"I read the book 'Skinny Bitch,' and thought it (going vegan) would be a nice challenge to try. I ended up loving it and have been vegan since," says Barker, now 22. She graduated in May with a degree in communications from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

The book by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin promotes healthy lifestyles through consumption of fruits and vegetables to feel "clean and pure and energized." Barker concurs that's the result she has gotten.

"The best thing about being vegan is how it makes me feel. I feel lighter, more energetic and overall happier," she says.

ADVANCE MEAL PLANNING

Chris Adams says she doesn't shop at chain groceries, and instead visits produce stands, not just for the freshest product she can find but to support local growers as well.

"I buy what's fresh each season, and we freeze a lot for later. I put up a lot of produce in the fall," she says.

This advance planning will help carry her family's meals through winter months. Last fall, the Adams family joined two others for a trip to Apply Valley Orchard in Cleveland, bringing home nine boxes of apples. The three moms spent a day making applesauce.

"We put up 225 quarts total and divided it three ways," says Chris.

Chris says she makes a lot of the family's food from scratch: granola, homemade bread, smoothies from produce in her freezer.

Lunch, the family's main meal, consists of lots of raw veggies, she says, such as cucumbers and carrots with a hummus dip, perhaps soup or a veggie sandwich.

Chris says that, although her parents and Brian's parents aren't vegetarian, family gatherings aren't awkward.

"Our family usually makes spaghetti or taco salads with hamburger for them to put on theirs and beans and veggies for us to build our own. At Thanksgiving, there are plenty of sides, so we just eat sides."

While she admits the occasional slips -- to let the kids have ice cream at a birthday party, for example -- "we definitely don't eat any meat," she says.

"The thought of eating something that was alive is so foreign. We might see someone eating fried chicken in the mall, and the kids are just grossed out by it."

Contact staff writer Susan Pierce at spierce@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6284.

about Susan Pierce...

Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...

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