An open letter To Teachers in response to anti-meat rhetoric in speech competition

A concerned parent writes a letter to school faculty in response to a speech competition that permitted threatening, harmful, and false anti-meat speeches.


* Names & identifiers removed for anonymity

Dear Teachers:

I am writing regarding the recent speech competition. Overall, it was a fantastic and well-organised event. It's so important for children to learn public speaking skills. The teachers supported and encouraged the children beautifully, and I felt lucky to be one of the parents that were able to hear these speeches.

However, I would like to raise a few concerns and questions, particularly about a speech that called the children MURDERERS for eating meat and threatened them with cancer. I feel it was a significant error of judgment to allow this type of language.

Is argumentum ad hominem (shame, fear, and attack) a tactic we want our children to use?

Shame and guilt might be persuasive, but would it be acceptable for one of the children to give a persuasive speech on being Catholic, and the repeated catchphrase be 'you are going to Hell if you don't believe in God''? I guess that probably wouldn't be allowed, and neither should calling the children murderers because they eat meat.

In our house, spiders are to be re-homed not killed. While I wash the lettuce, snails are rescued and taken back to the garden to snail hotels the kids have built them. I even get told off by the children for killing ants.

Can you imagine how they felt after this speech?

Simplifying the discussion to you're a murderer if you eat meat, and you're not if you eat plants is not true. Everything we eat will cause death in some form and have environmental, economic, and health consequences. I agree it is important that we teach our children where our food comes from. And to consider these important issues, but it is also important to recognise there are divergent views. For example, this article analyses some of the central moral issues, and this talk by Professor Frédéric Leroy explores the shifting narrative around the place of red meat in society.

Are veganism and vegetarianism even acceptable topics for persuasive speeches in this age group?

Pre-pubescent 9-11-year-old children are a vulnerable, easily influenced audience, being told a one-sided message without any balance of opinion, facts, or context. There is so much detail involved in this topic, and it is controversial. Not everyone will agree. It should be the 'parents' choice for their family if they wish their children to eat meat or not. Another parent's opinion/choice should not be voiced through their child in a persuasive talk. I consider this to be a topic, along with religion and politics, to be inappropriate in persuasive speeches to children of this age.

Is it nutritionally safe to scare pre-pubescent children away from eating meat?

From my extensive reading on this topic, I consider it to be irresponsible to scare children away from meat, especially at puberty, when they need extra protein and nutrients. It is more complicated than just eating broccoli instead of steak as was suggested and may put their health in jeopardy.

Meat is a complete protein and contains all nine essential amino acids that the body can't make. The body needs omega-3 fats in the forms DHA and EPA. Plant foods provide ALA. As is the case with so many nutrients (retinol, D3, K2, heme iron, zinc), animal foods provide the form that the body wants, plant foods don't.

A well-formulated vegan diet might be healthier than a standard processed food diet but is not advisable for children. It needs to be carefully planned and supplemented. It is my view that any diet requiring supplementation should not be pushed onto growing children.

If serious topics are selected, should fact-checking be done of the research and claims?

The speech also included the line "do you wanna get cancer? because you're gonna soon if you keep eating meat." Categorically telling the children, they will get cancer if they eat meat is unfounded. There is also research comparing health-conscious vegans with health-conscious omnivores showing no difference in lifespan, cancer, or cardiovascular disease events. You can read an example of the most recent study on PubMed here.

There was some misleading information included in another speech. Diabetes was highlighted as the primary health reason for eating organic meat as opposed to non-organic meat, and this is not accurate. Type two diabetes is a chronic condition that affects the way the body processes blood glucose. Because carbohydrates turn immediately to glucose in the body, it is the only macronutrient of concern in relation to high blood glucose, meat is not a carbohydrate.

The tone of the speech on vegetarianism was less scaremongering. Unfortunately, some of the facts may not be from credible sources. For example, "livestock contributes to climate change more than all transport, cars, planes, and boats.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC, (which is responsible for identifying and monitoring human activities responsible for climate change, and is considered the gold standard agency to get this information from) estimates that direct emissions from transport (road, air, rail and maritime) account for 6.9 gigatons per year, about 14% of all emissions from human activities. These emissions mainly consist of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide from fuel combustion. By comparison, direct emissions from livestock account for 2.3 gigatons of CO2 equivalent, or 5% of the total. They consist of methane and nitrous oxide from rumen digestion and manure management.

Again, it is important for children to be aware of environmental issues but they are also complex. An important role for educators is to teach children to consider where they retrieve information from. It is unclear how much of this was a factor in the preparation of these speeches.

I know this has been a long email, but I wanted to highlight the contentious nature of these topics. In the future, I hope the school gives greater consideration of the topics allowed, style of argument and language used, and verification of facts presented.

Kind regards,

A concerned parent