International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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6th European Vegetarian Congress
Bussolengo, Italy, September 21 - 26, 1997

Mother and Child Care - bringing up children
Luciano Proietti

Pediatrician, member of UNICEF Medical and Scientific Committee and member of AVI Scientific Committee

The history of mother and child care begins halfway through the nineteenth century with the industrial revolution. At that time women started working in factories, which had an unnatural effect on childcare. Women could not breastfeed because of the requirements of their jobs, and so began the search for a food substitute. Cow's milk was chosen because it was so easily available worldwide. People were not however aware of its different composition, and its use led to disasters: children died. The situation has gradually changed down the years, and this continues to this day, with babyfood and babycare very much the province of specialists such as the pediatrician, pharmacist and so on. Women turn to these experts as they have lost their instinctive understanding of growth, and no longer know when to wean their babies. There is enormous confusion, since methods have ceased to be passed on from generation to generation, and are communicated by the media instead.

This information though is not disinterested, and even apparently scientific and unbiased advice is manipulated - it is false advice, advertising. At AVI we have always sought to combat false information. Meat is not necessary, is not a source of selenium, is not a food to be taken daily, as this runs counter to guidelines for healthy eating and the recommendations of the European Code for Cancer Prevention; and meat is not essential for children to grow properly. The media however tell us the opposite, but often they have been forced to change their stance because of pressure from us. What happens when we follow advice from these sources? It's simple: it's like running on diesel a vehicle made for petrol - it goes for a while and then breaks down. The human body is like this. The obese child now symbolises a worsening pathology. Children eat the wrong food, overhigh in calories, and fall ill more and more often. It's easy to see the nature of the problem: how could it be otherwise when they eat so much junkfood? Cow's milk combined with meat, fish and cheese: what could be more damaging?

Characteristics of mammals include their love for their young, which is determined by brain development, and suckling of them. Feeding with milk from another species, treated to make it closer to that of the correct species, leads to dangerous counterindications. Human milk contains 1.2% protein, minus 0.3% non-proteic nitrogen, which leaves 0.9%. Of course the amount absorbed by the body is lower than this. Cow's milk contains 4 times as much protein; rabbit's milk, 10 times as much. Humans are mammals needing less protein, since we grow more slowly, over a period of 25 years, and sexual maturity is reached later. In the nineteenth century menstruation started around 18-20 years of age, whereas in the 1960s it had dropped to around age 14, and now first takes place at age 8-10. All this is closely related to diet, the most serious aspect being the speeding up of growth, as a result of hormonal stimulation. Human milk is high in glucose, which feeds the brain, but low in mineral salts.

The consumption of non-natural food causes the human body to be prone to more frequent illness, starting in the first months of life. New illnesses appear. A baby's biological needs are: prolonged breastfeeding with the mother's milk until at least two years of age, gradual weaning no earlier than six months, and indeed it may begin after the first year, the introduction of limited amounts of protein according to nutrient levels recommended by official bodies, a balanced distribution of protein, the elimination of cow's milk and cheese, saccharose and sweeteners. As soon as weaning is over, the main emphasis should be on fruit and vegetables, with the addition of cereals and natural seeds. As you can see, animal foods are unnecessary. To raise a child you need two arms and two breasts. The emotional "food" is the most important: touching, the proximity of the parents. We have distorted children's physiology, since when they need us, we keep our distance; whereas when they reach the age for independence, at 14-16, we try to hang on to them.

- translations by Hugh Rees, Milan - commissioned by Associazione Vegetariana Italiana (AVI)