Vegan mum Sarah Spence has re-written the words to a well-known nursery rhyme for the benefit of her son Maximillian.

"I don't sing three little piggies go to market," says Sarah. "I sing three little piggies go to Brighton."

At five months, Max is too young to know the fate of many real little piggies but Sarah says she will tell him the truth when the time is right.

"I'm passionate about animals and animal welfare,"

says Sarah, 27, who has five cats. "It started when I got a pet rabbit as a child, then I joined the RSPCA. I think it's so wrong to kill animals. I can't bear to think of them being slaughtered.

I've been to an abattoir and it's disgusting."

Such beliefs led Sarah to become vegetarian 16 years ago. Two years later, she became a vegan, which meant she had to give up eating dairy products and eggs as well as meat.

She says: "I believe cow's milk is for their calves. Anything else is exploitation."

Exact figures for the number of vegans in Britain are hard to pin down but the Vegetarian Society says surveys suggest at least five per cent of households in the UK contain a vegetarian, and one per cent a vegan.

Sarah insists she is not missing out on good, tasty food by choosing a vegan lifestyle. She says she can find animal-free alternatives for staples such as meat, bread, milk, cheese, butter, yoghurt, and ice cream in the local supermarket.

"People think I just eat lettuce leaves. But I love rice and pasta. I make spaghetti bolognaise and shepherd's pie with soya mince. For breakfast, I have soya milk with my cereal and for lunch, something like beans on toast.

"Bread and potatoes feature largely in my diet -

they fill me up - and lots of vegetables."

Besides eating with a clear conscience, she says a vegan diet brings with it huge health benefits. "The Government says you should eat five portions of fruit and veg a day. I eat about ten.

"A vegan diet is also low in cholesterol and only includes the right sorts of fats. It's great for your skin, too. I just feel really healthy."

Husband Daniel doesn't appear to have suffered from following a vegetarian and vegan diet: He's a strapping 6ft 4in-tall police officer. And baby Max is also thriving on this unusual diet.

Sarah says she had no doubts she would produce a healthy baby on a vegan diet - and neither did her GP.

"My doctor didn't bat an eyelid," says Sarah. "She just told me to remember to eat my greens."

Sarah sailed through her pregnancy. Her petite 5ft 2in frame ballooned as she put on four stones during the nine months. And when Max arrived by Caesarean, he was a healthy 8lb 3oz.

Sarah says she made a speedy recovery from the operation and was up and about and back at home within days. The excess weight fell off and she soon had her figure back. She puts all this down to her diet.

Max is continuing to thrive. He was breastfed and is now being weaned on a vegetarian diet of pulses, vegetables, fruits, baby rice, pasta and formula milk made from soya. He can also have yoghurt made from soya. He is at the top of his weight and height range for his age and is wearing clothes for babies of nine to 12 months.

What is more, Max is happy and contented child and quickly settled into sleeping through the night.

She believes their story should prove once and for all that a vegan diet is a wise rather than a wacky one.

"There is a lot of ignorance around the vegan and vegetarian diet. When people think of vegans, they think of Spider from Coronation Street or somebody with dreadlocks and a kaftan.

We're just normal people and it's just our way of life.

"Max is doing well but am going to monitor him and if I think he is lacking in anything, I''ll address it then.

"But I think this is the healthiest way to be and everybody wants what is best for their child."