this is a hard blog post for me to write, but i’m gonna woman up and do it.
for over five years now, i’ve been a committed and passionate vegan, as has my whole family including my kids. one went vegan as a toddler; the other was born vegan. they love their veggies – my eldest likes broccoli best of all – and all things beany.
last year we found out my eldest has an iron deficiency. all his other levels were great, including folates (thanks veggies!) and B12 (thanks fortified toothpaste!), and we were initially told to just up the iron in his diet. out came every cruciferous vegetable you can think of, usually paired with chickpeas, all doused in buckets of lemon juice. plus of course fortified foods, and a snack i made for awhile consisting of cashews, pumpkin seeds, and raisins covered in melted dark chocolate and allowed to harden. called ’em iron bombs.
but, his deficiency persisted, so he did a course of ferrous gluconate to get his levels up. he started looking healthier, but just to double-check, we had his bloods done again recently, a couple months after the course was finished.
although his blood count was up, for some reason his iron was even lower? how does that even bloody work??
his iron vitamin gummies have once again been swapped for tablets before every meal, and his next blood test will also check for coeliac. but, as a parent, i had to question: was non-heme iron enough?
some people can better absorb plant iron than others. lots of vegan kids don’t develop an iron deficiency, but it is a common problem amongst vegetarians and vegans of any age. when it’s your kid, and you’ve tried all the tricks in the book to up non-heme absorption including supplementation, you do have to consider whether there’s an ethical way to get more easily bioavailable heme iron into your kids’ diet.
and, while there’s passionate debate on this, some people believe that an ethical source of animal iron, not to mention zinc, omega-3, and B12, does exist. these people believe that rope-grown bivalves such as oysters and mussels, which feel no pain, require no food, and purify the waters in which they’re grown without the negative environmental impact of dredging, are ethical produce.
yup. somewhat awkwardly given the title of this blog, my family is newly ostrovegan.
to be honest the ethical arguments for ostroveganism have been bouncing around my head for a few years now, but i didn’t run out and buy loads of shellfish for two reasons. 1) barring a compelling health reason, i didn’t see the need to reincorporate bivalves into my family’s diet. almost every essential vitamin can be found in a vegan diet, and supplementation covers the rest. and 2) i found the idea of chewing the flesh of any animal repulsive, whether sentient or not.
but here i was, facing down my son’s iron deficiency after all plant-based options for rectifying it had been exhausted. what do?
so reason #1 has been overturned. there’s now a compelling health reason to eat farmed bivalves. but…reason #2 remains. after over 5 years of eating delicious plants, selling my picky eldest (and myself) on bivalves is proving immensely difficult. they taste fucking rancid.
but we’re plodding through it…i’m trying to find a reliable way to get him to eat them. managed to garner some tepid interest with smoked oysters shredded and mixed with vegan cream cheese and spread over a bagel like lox, and i found these smoked mussels online that have been line-grown down in cornwall which might be more to his taste and are more local than the oysters we tried.
i’m treating this like a medical remedy so won’t be posting bivalve recipes. i do still think that most people can and should be vegan. but, if like my family you have problems with absorbing some of the vitamins found in plants, know that there is an option that’s more ethical than dairy (and more environmentally friendly than ahimsa dairy, which is at least trying to be ethical).
honestly? it hurts. i did treasure my vegan purity. but hey, now i get to champion an even *more* obscure diet! plus, yknow, potentially more effectively combat my son’s iron deficiency, but in an ethical and environmentally friendly way. so that takes away the sting a little.