Parenting panic: Child veganism as a battleground between parents and experts

CPCS Forum, 19 May 2021, online

In most European countries, in contrast with North America, a vegan diet is not recommended for children. Public health experts and paediatricians warn about risks of deficiencies associated with a vegan diet, which they regard as especially worrisome for growing children. Meanwhile, more and more children are born or become vegans every year.

In this talk, I present early results from an ongoing qualitative case study of child veganism in Switzerland. A controversy in ongoing in Switzerland, as in many European countries. Whereas mainstream health experts, medical associations and government agencies advise against child veganism, vegan associations and parents plead for normalizing child veganism. I analyse conflicting discourses on child nutrition among health experts and vegan parents by collecting nutritional guidelines and conducting interviews with key health experts and vegan parents.

I argue that controversies on child veganism form a moral panic, where both experts and parents emphasize potential risks and moral values to advocate for or against a vegan diet. In contemporary parenting culture, parent-expert relations can generally be qualified as “delegated biopolitics”: a power relationship where parents are tasked with close monitoring of their offspring under expert guidance. The moral panic over child veganism, I argue, is fuelled by a mutual distrust between experts and parents and thus disrupts the usual mechanism of delegated biopolitics. I also ask whether and how child veganism reinforces the “intensive mothering” culture by translating into more work for mothers. Finally, I will reflect on the construction of children’s bodies as vulnerable and discuss its consequences in light of contemporary reproductive politics.

Speaker bio: Edmée Ballif is a postdoctoral fellow of the Swiss National Research Foundation and a visiting scholar at the Centre for Parenting Culture Studies (University of Kent) and the Reproductive Sociology Research Group (University pf Cambridge). Her research interests lie in the area of reproduction and parenting, social problems and social stratification based on gender, race, class or nation. She holds a BA in Social sciences and History of Religions, an MA in the sociology of religions and a PhD in social sciences.