Hello and welcome to KidsEatPlants! My name is Ellen Storm and I am a plant-based paediatrician and aspiring academic with a particular interest in the complex relationships between diet and disease.
My journey began in a health-food shop in Lewisham, South London, at the age of somewhere between six and eight years. I picked up a leaflet about factory farming with a picture of a very unhappy cow on it, and made an instant and abiding decision to become vegetarian.
My mother then brokered a deal with me, offering the compromise that if I would continue to eat fish, the whole family would go “vegetarian”. I accepted this, and remained a fish-eating “vegetarian” for the rest of my childhood and teenage years. I called myself a vegetarian, and believed I was a vegetarian, and nobody ever challenged me on this.
My diet growing up largely involved replacing all red meat and poultry with eggs and cheese. My cheese-on-toast consumption was legendary, closely seconded only by toast smothered in peanut butter and honey. I did a fabulous line in fried egg sandwiches, Mars bars and jam doughnuts. Looking back, I realise that this kind of vegetarian diet is nothing short of a total health disaster
Fast forward to my late twenties. I have acquired a batchelors degree in biomedical sciences, a medical degree, and membership of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. I am doing a masters degree in public health and swanning around Bloomsbury in my ripped jeans, riding my bike and shopping at Planet Organic. I take a module on ‘Diet-related Chronic Disease’ and write an essay on the role of sugar consumption in childhood obesity. I learn some statistics and the meaning of the word “epidemiology”.
Then my mother has a heart attack. At the age of 52. The cardiologist who admits her is the same person who taught me cardiology at medical school. He says he will eat his hat if she has had a heart attack. He never comes back to tell us how it tasted.
I go vegan. For the first time. My mother goes vegan. For a bit. My partner does not go vegan. I look for support and start a blog and spend hours in the kitchen trying to replicate ridiculously complicated recipes full of strange and expensive ingredients. I give up. And then I have babies: two at once!
I wasn’t vegan when I was pregnant or breastfeeding (I breastfed for 13 months), but when my daughters were 18 months old I realised that whatever I chose to feed them then was going to set the pattern for the rest of their childhood, if not the rest of their lives. It would be much more difficult to change their diet when they were older and more set in their ways. So I took a deep breath and on 1st January 2012 I became vegan for the second time, and decided to raise vegan children.
As I am writing this I have two bright, beautiful, healthy, eight-year-old girls. They have clear skin, shiny hair and perfect teeth (no caries). They are somewhere between the 25th and 75th centiles for all their growth parameters. They cycle, swim, dance, do yoga, and run races. Neither of them has ever been admitted to hospital. They have barely ever been ill.
I am not telling you this to boast about my prowess as a mother or to big myself up as some kind of super mum… no seriously, please listen because this is so important. I am telling you this because I don’t believe it is a coincidence: it is not because of genetics, fate, magical superpowers or any other way that the health of my children might be dismissed as a random phenomenon beyond control or replication. I made certain choices for my children, and you can do the same.
Whether you are a parent or carer, a teacher or other professional who directly or indirectly feeds children, a healthcare professional treating children with diet-related disease and ill-health, or a policy maker and controller of the purse strings, you can start to make different choices for the children in your care right now. Start here. Start today. And please let me know how you are getting on!
With love and good scientific healing,
P.S. Oh and by the way, with my other hat on I write poetry and have an MA in creative writing from Lancaster University (2016). In case you are interested I blog about this here: www.ellenstorm.com