Hello and welcome to KidsEatPlants! My name is Dr Ellen Storm and I am a vegan paediatrician based in the UK. I’m also an aspiring academic and will be starting a PhD at Edge Hill University in October 2018. I also have a certificate in plant-based nutrition from eCornell (2014) and (just for fun) an MA in creative writing from Lancaster (2016).
My journey began in a health-food shop in Lewisham, South London, at the age of 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 mum 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’ve acquired a batchelors degree in biomedical sciences (BSc, 1997) and a medical degree (MB BS, 2000) from St George’s Hospital Medical School in London, and membership of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (MRCPCH, 2004). I’m doing a masters degree in public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (MSc, 2005) and swanning around Bloomsbury in my ripped jeans, riding my bike and shopping at Planet Organic. I take a module entitled ‘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 mum has a heart attack: at the age of 53. 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 (she eats brown bread and rides a bike). He never comes back to tell us how it tasted.
I go vegan. For the first time. My mum goes vegan. For a week. 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, 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. 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 (September 2018) I have two bright, healthy, eight-year-old girls. They have clear skin, shiny hair and “perfect teeth” (the dentist’s words, not mine). 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.
This is terribly important because there is so much spin out there: there are so many people willing to tell you that if you raise your children vegan they will get very sick, and possibly even die. I am here to tell you something different: to explain why we desperately need to change this narrative – because the truth is that a healthy plant-based diet is one of the best gifts we can give our kids if we want them to live long, vibrant, disease-free lives. Because right now we are in the middle of a dietary epidemic of epic proportions, and obesity is only the visible tip of the iceberg.
I don’t believe the health of my children is a coincidence beyond control or replication: I made certain choices for them, based on my reading of the evidence, 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.
I hope you find something helpful here 🙂
With love and good scientific healing,