Italy is considering jailing parents who make their kids go vegan

Step away from the sausage.
Step away from the sausage.
Image: Reuters/Herb Swanson
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For a diet based on the principle of ’do no harm’, veganism is getting a pretty bad rep in Italy.

A legislative bill (pdf in Italian) under consideration by the government’s 630-member Chamber of Deputies would slap parents who feed their children a vegan diet with up to one year in jail, and more if the diet led to a child’s illness. Proposed by Elvira Savino, a member of the right-wing Forza Italia party, the draft bill characterizes the diet as “reckless” and lacking essential nutrients children need, including iron, zinc, calcium, and vitamin D. If the anti-vegan bill makes it past committee-level debates, it would be considered by the full Chamber of Deputies, likely later this year.

Fueling the bill are recent news reports in Italy about a handful of cases of children who became malnourished and later hospitalized after being fed a vegan diet, which eschews consuming animal-based products, including meat, dairy, eggs, and honey. As more health and environmentally-conscious people have adopted the diet, which has Indian and east Mediterranean roots, more food companies and governments are weighing the pros and cons of encouraging the trend.

In Italy, three rival bills to Savino’s have been proposed to promote vegan and vegetarian diets throughout the country, especially in Italian canteens, the BBC reports. Adding to those are local efforts to encourage more plant-based eating.

Health advocates have said well-planned vegetarian and vegan diets are healthy diets, even for children. In a 2009 statement supporting plant-based diets, the American Dietetic Association said:

It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the lifecycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.

But the vitriol remains, especially in countries with strong food traditions of eating meat-heavy dishes. Acclaimed chef Anthony Bourdain once characterized vegetarians as, “the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit.” He called vegans a “Hezbollah-like splinter faction.”