Published: 05:00, 16 January 2022
One of the UK’s youngest vegan activists is urging others to “be kind” this month and take part in Veganuary.
Harry Bidewell, from Maidstone, completed the month-long challenge last year and decided to carry on the cruelty-free lifestyle ever since.
Five-year-old Harry Bidewell juicing carrots for his not-for-profit business the Vegan Squirrel
But the five-year-old’s efforts to reduce the amount of meat and dairy consumption doesn’t end there.
Harry runs his own not-for-profit vegan business and donates any profits to charity, such as his favourite, The Retreat Animal Rescue, at High Halden, near Ashford.
Named the Vegan Squirrel, it was set up by Harry in September with the help of his parents Mark and Jenna, grandparents, and aunt Lou.
The young entrepreneur makes and sells fresh carrot juice and also has his own range of merchandise.
His business has earned plaudits from many people connected to encouraging a plant-based world, including Veganuary founder Mark Glover and Formula One World Champion and climate activist Nico Rosberg, who sent him a signed picture.
Speaking about the business and his motives behind turning vegan, Harry said: “I want to get the money for the planet. I want to save the planet and animals.”
His father Mark was already vegan when his mother, Jenna, decided to take part in Veganuary in 2021.
Like most children, Harry, who was four at the time, had always loved animals and thought eating them wasn’t kind, so when his mum explained she was going to try and not eat any meat or dairy products for one month, it came as no surprise to his parents that he wanted to join in.
Despite there being a few tests throughout the month, which also saw dad Mark give a presentation on veganism to his son's Pennies Nursery, Harry made it to the end and the youngster decided to stay vegan.
Speaking about the challenges of guiding a four-year-old through Veganuary, Mark said: “Harry’s always said it’s not kind eating animals even at a very early age.
“Whenever we go through the supermarket he points at the meat aisle and says ‘not kind’.
“Although we have always protected him from anything graphic we have always been open with him about where food comes from, i.e. from the ground or from an animal.
“Harry loves the planet and all animals and knows being vegan helps both.”
Mark, who owns a print and signage business, admitted Harry has been on the receiving end of some “banter” from classmates saying he is “missing out” by not consuming meat and he should be eating it.
But, he also explained how the young activist hasn’t struggled with the change, seeing it as an adventure rather than a burden.
He added: “Harry’s never enjoyed eating meat. The only thing he used to eat meat-based was spaghetti bolognese but now has the Beyond Meat version instead which he loves.
“While we try and encourage a colourful healthy diet for Harry he still likes the chips, Oreos, cakes and crisps like any other normal child.
“For what it’s worth, Harry also absolutely loves ‘typical vegan stuff’ – Tofu, Tempeh, Kale, Spinach, peas, broccoli, sweet potato, baked potato, baked beans, butter beans, black beans, chickpeas – the vast majority he would have not eaten 12 months ago.”
Most people may think going out for a family meal may prove tricky, but when the gang, including younger sister Poppy, head out, they don’t have much trouble.
Usually, they head to their favourite place – Wagamama – which now has a 50% vegan menu.
Mark said: “We’ve learnt wherever possible to plan ahead, read menus and have a backup plan.
“We’ve been to the oldest, most traditional of places and been blown away by a choice of three or four vegan dishes per course, to restaurants that claim to offer vegan and don’t or the staff don’t understand and serve a full vegan dish with dairy butter or with eggs, milk and even meat.
“The reality of it is wherever you go people will either be open minded, phobic or just need to take time to consider different options before change or just supporting it.
“Some people are nasty and some people take time out to say well done.
“The UK’s oldest shoe retailer – The Golden Boot in Maidstone – didn’t stock vegan school shoes but they were prepared to find some for Harry and did.”
Veganuary spokesman Toni Vernelli said: “We are delighted that Harry had such a great time during Veganuary, and I am so proud that he has not only stayed vegan but become a vegan campaigner, too – perhaps one of the youngest in the country.
“It just shows that veganism is for everyone, and it can change lives for the better whether that person is four or 94.
Bahee Van de Bor, a specialist paediatric dietitian and a British Dietetic Association spokesperson, said it was not unusual to see more school-age children questioning why they are eating meat.
She said: "My own daughter was six and I'd taken her to the fishmonger and she realised fish is real fish and that certainly was a bit upsetting for her, so she asked asked if she could stop eating fish and chicken for a little while.
"As more grown-ups adopt plant-based diets, children around them listening to the conversations about animal cruelty, are probably also starting to take an interest in reducing their animal-based intake and adopting a plant-based diet."
Ms Van de Bor, who runs UK Kids Nutrition, said the key for any family considering a move like Harry's, is to ensure youngsters are consuming the right food groups and nutrients.
This includes protein, but also iodine, iron, zinc and vitamin B12, which may need to be given to children in a supplement as it can only be found in animal products.
Tips include having a calcium-based plant drink, fortified with iodine and many breakfast cereals are have added vitamin B12.
But, she says, even if someone is not ready to go fully vegan there are still small changes that can bring benefits.
She added: "You could switch your cows' milk to a calcium and iodine fortified plant drink.
"The other thing is, if you do make meat-based dishes, you can throw in beans, pulses and lentils so you're eating less meat at that meal and children can adjust to eating more plant-based foods and the fibre will fill them up.
"It's a good idea to gradually increase their fibre intake.
"Or, consider having a few days a week where you don't eat meat. I remember having vegetarian Thursdays and Fridays – we'd have a dhal, or chickpea curry, potatoes, flatbreads and spinach and tomato-based dishes, tofu.
"It's quite nice to try these things out in a different way or a different sauce – you can start with one meal a week and see how you go."
Research by BBC Good Food found that 8% of children in the UK aged five to 16 were following a vegan diet and a further 15% said they would like to.
You can find out more about Harry “The Vegan Squirrel” on Facebook here.