Kids Say Veg of Allegiance

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Kids Say Veg of Allegiance

By Kara Jesella on NYPost.com
March 2010

She’s hardly an anomaly. According to a 2007 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 200 Americans under 18 are opting out of eating meat, poultry and fish.

A couple of Thanksgivings ago, Mary Rives Fowlkes, now 5, asked the inevitable question: “Does turkey come from a turkey?”

“I said, ‘Yeah,’ and she said, ‘I don’t want to eat that,’ ” says her father, Paschal Fowlkes. “From then on, meat was an animal and she didn’t want to eat it.”

Fowlkes and his wife, Katherine Dore, who live in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, thought that Mary Rives would eventually lose her resolve.

“We kept thinking, ‘She won’t be able to resist bacon,’ ” he says.

But she has. Since that day a year and a half ago, Mary Rives has been a vegetarian.

She’s hardly an anomaly. According to a 2007 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 200 Americans under 18 are opting out of eating meat, poultry and fish.

David Wong, the general manager of Gobo, a vegetarian restaurant with locations in the West Village and on the Upper East Side, says he sees them all the time.

“Yesterday, a girl, maybe 5 years old, told her mom, ‘I want to do my birthday at Gobo,’ ” he says.

Some of these kids are led down the tofu trail by vegetarian parents. But John Cunningham, consumer research manager for the Vegetarian Resource Group, believes more kids, like Mary Rives, are quitting meat on their own.

“Once they are old enough to understand that the food on their plate comes from the animal in their storybook, it can be very upsetting,” says Cunningham, who notes that the number of vegetarians in the US has roughly doubled since 1994.

Dave LaPointe, of Curly’s Vegetarian Lunch in the East Village, echoes that many a meatless moppet is going veggie of their own accord. “We get a lot of kids who bring their parents in,” he says.

For Linda James, the vegetarian debate can turn into a battle. Her husband and younger son, Jason, are vegetarians — and she is not. Jason, 11, she says, will “see me eating something like chicken and say, ‘Mom, why are you doing this? I want you to live a long time.’ ”

When her older son was in kindergarten, he told the kids in his class not to eat meat because it wasn’t good for them.

“All the kids came home and told their parents they were no longer eating meat,” James says.

Joy Pierson, co-owner of the upscale, meat-free eatery Candle Cafe on the Upper East Side, says kids have become increasingly knowledgeable about what happens to cows and chickens before they end up on a dinner table.

After a surge in requests for meatless versions of kids’ favorites, she now serves a children’s menu that features foods like bite-size pieces of seitan, a meat substitute made from wheat gluten. At a recent benefit at a school on the Upper East Side, Pierson says, “I had an 8-year-old, Max, asking me about factory farming.”

Film director Catherine Gund, a SoHo mom with a 13-year-old daughter and three sons — 10-year-old twins and a 5-year-old — made a documentary for kids, “What’s on Your Plate?,” now playing at film festivals. She says that the film represents “a conversation going on around younger people” about food.

Her daughter Sadie, who became a vegetarian at age 9 because she didn’t like the taste of meat, was the inspiration for the film.

“My school is in Chinatown, so I have to walk by the markets and see ducks hanging in the window, and it looks really gross,” says Sadie.

Gund now serves more meat-free dishes for everyone in the family. Sometimes she makes chicken or fish — the entire household has given up red meat — and she offers Sadie tofu. Her sons, who aren’t vegetarians, don’t seem to mind.

But some think a veggie diet for kids can be unhealthy or even dangerous.

Nina Planck, the author of “Real Food for Mother and Baby,” says more NYC parents than ever are talking to her about whether they should feed their children a vegetarian diet because it’s “greener and cleaner and better” — but it’s also harder to obtain quality fat, protein and certain vitamins.

Beef has iron and B12; without them, kids are in danger of becoming anemic, Planck says. She also notes that omega-3 fats, which are crucial to brain development, are found in fish, and that many families rely too heavily on soy products, which can stunt children’s growth.

“What we need to hold back on is processed junk, not meat and fish and eggs,” she says.

But that won’t stop veggie kids — or the parents who’ve chosen vegetarianism as a way of life.

One mom, Victoria Cadogan-Rawlinson, doesn’t eat any meat or fish, “nothing with a mother or a face,” she says, and she is raising her 7-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son the same way.

“I eat a lot of vegetarian food,” confirms her son, Jack. His rationale is simple: “It’s good.”

Still, Cadogan-Rawlinson tries not to be too strict with her kids. “We haven’t forced them to read ‘Fast Food Nation,’ ” she says. “They are allowed to eat as they like. That means the occasional nasty hot dog in the park.”

Meanwhile Mary Rives, the 5-year-old who still won’t eat a Thanksgiving turkey, has proven herself to be a model eater. At family dinners, her 8-year-old brother eats his pasta first, “then forces the vegetables down cold at the end of the meal,” dad Paschal says.

But with his daughter, he says, “veggies are the first thing she eats.”