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Posted at 01:59 PM ET, 04/26/2012

In an age of mad cow disease and pink slime, are young kids ready to read about veganism?

Mad cow disease? Pink slime?
(Justin Bua/Evolotus PR)

It’s not a good month for burgers.

Enter a ready-made alternative, and a ready-made controversy: A new children’s picture book published this week called “Vegan Is Love: Having Heart and Taking Action.”

The book, written by a California-based vegan activist named Ruby Roth, “is the first complete guide to the vegan philosophy and lifestyle for children,” according to its publisher, North Atlantic Books.

From the outside, it looks like a natural fit for a child’s bookshelf. Inside, it “explores complex themes of animal cruelty, big agriculture, world hunger, and environmental degradation.”

Among the illustrations of cuddly polar bears are also depictions of hunters and trapped, caged and bloody animals.

One line reads,: “… all animals raised for meat and dairy are captured and killed in the end. Their deaths are violent and sad.”

Why write a children’s book with such stark messages? Roth wrote me that she wanted to “explain what’s going on and how we can fix it, on the most basic and easy-to-comprehend level.

“When children have the information they need to make educated choices, they choose wisely — for health, animals, and the environment. This book is written for a new generation of people who will have to think, eat, and live differently if we are to solve the world’s most pressing issues.”

More of her explanation is in this promotional trailer for the book:

For years, the American Dietetic Association has endorsed a vegetable-based diet for children with caveats. Experts urge parents to vary food choices and ensure kids eat adequate amounts of plant-based protein.

Roth told the “Today” show in a segment about her book that aired earlier this month that she is raising her 7-year-old stepdaughter to be vegan. (Her stepdaughter, by the way, told an interviewer that her favorite food is kale.)

Raising children as vegetarians or vegans, which excludes all animal-derived products from a diet and often from a lifestyle in general, is rare in the U.S.

The Vegetarian Resource Group released a survey in 2010 that concluded as many as 3 percent of American children ages 8 to 18 are vegetarians, or eat diets without meat, poultry or fish.

About a third of that group or 1 percent of the total were classified as vegan, according to the poll.

These studies were taken before the recent, off-putting discovery of mad cow disease in California and the public recognition of the commercial use of a meat product known as Pink Slime.

The Post’s Dina ElBoghdady recently explained the origins of that substance and the issues surrounding its use.

Publicity surrounding both might tip some families into the vegetarian category. But will they lead a parent to sit down at bedtime and read about the cruelties of animal-testing?

Roth’s intent, beyond changing dietary habits, is for them to do so. She wants parents to introduce these difficult — some might say loaded, others might say misleading — ideas to the elementary school set.

“The more we can trust that [our children] can handle this information, than the better equipped they’ll be to love deeply, think critically and act responsibly,” she said..

What do you think?

When and how should children be exposed to the debate over eating meat? Have the recent news of mad cow disease and pink slime changed your family’s eating habits?

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By  |  01:59 PM ET, 04/26/2012

Tags:  Health

 
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