DawnWatch: Responses to "Death by Veganism" — 5/21-5/23/07

May 24th, 2007 10:29 pm by Kelly Garbato

If you’re interested in reading more veg*n responses to the insipid “Death by Veganism” missive, do check out…

May 23, 2007 Vegan Outreach e-Newsletter:: An Irresponsible Attack

The Veg Blog» Blog Archive » Standing on a Shaky Planck

isachandra: Meat Eating Parents Starve Baby!

FYI, you can always keep up to date with my reading list via delicious: http://del.icio.us/easyvegan. You know, just in case I don’t already pass along enough reading material.

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: DawnWatch – news [at] dawnwatch.com
Date: May 24, 2007 3:39 PM
Subject: DawnWatch: Responses to “Death by Veganism” — 5/21-5/23/07

Most of us have heard about the sad case of Crown Shakur, a baby born three months premature, whose parents starved him to death on a diet of only soy milk and apple juice. Unfortunately, we have also heard that his parents are vegan, as that has been announced in every headline about the case. If the boy had starved on cows’ milk and apple juice (as a premature baby might, if not given human breast milk or formula) I doubt the headlines would have announced “Omnivores convicted of Manslaughter.”

The worst headline, garnering the most attention and thereby heading up the most emailed story of the day, was the “Death by Veganism.” That phrase headlined food author Nina Planck’s rant on the Monday, May 21, New York Times editorial page. The page editors, not the author, are responsible for op-ed headlines, and Planck’s article, while including some misleading statements against the vegan diet, did not quite match the headline. The article wasn’t 100% bad (only 95%) — it did include some important points about B12 and Omega 3s. But contrary to Planck’s claims, some of the world’s most renowned doctors (including the late Dr Benjamin Spock in the last edition of his book before his death) recommend vegan diets for children as far superior to standard diets.

I did not rush to send Planck’s article out on DawnWatch as I knew it was being responded to widely and competently from within the vegetarian community. Today, along with the article, I can share six letters that appeared yesterday in response to it, four of them commenting positively on vegan diets. Below them I will share a particularly strong column from a non-vegan food writer who was appalled by Planck’s piece.

First, a brief overview and link to Monday’s “Death by Veganism” New York Times op-ed:

Planck writes, “I was once a vegan. But well before I became pregnant, I concluded that a vegan pregnancy was irresponsible. You cannot create and nourish a robust baby merely on foods from plants.”

Planck suggests that the new-found popularity of plant-based proteins is related to political correctness, with nutritionists fearful of denigrating vegetarians. That suggestion seems particularly outlandish given the climate is still such that a newspaper with a world class reputation is willing to print the misleading and inflammatory headline “Death by Veganism.”

You can read Planck’s full op-ed on line at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/21/opinion/21planck.html.

The good news is that the following six letters were printed in the New York Times on Wednesday, May 23. (The are on line at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/23/opinion/l23vegan.html.) How wonderful to see the intelligent veggie community out in force!

The Vegans and Their Children (6 Letters)
Published: May 23, 2007

To the Editor:

Op-Ed Contributor: Death by Veganism (May 21, 2007)
Re “Death by Veganism,” by Nina Planck (Op-Ed, May 21):

I am a nutritionist who testified as an expert witness for the prosecution in the criminal trial of the parents of Crown Shakur. As the lead prosecutor in this case told the jury, this poor infant was not killed by a vegan diet. He was starved to death by parents who did not give him breast milk, soy-based infant formula or enough food of any kind.

Well-planned vegan diets are healthful for pregnant mothers and their infants, as well as for older children, according to a large body of scientific research. Contrary to Ms. Planck’s assertions, there are healthy plant-based sources of docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA; calcium can be absorbed about as readily from soy milk as from cow’s milk; and soy does not inhibit growth.

Studies have found that vegan children are within the normal ranges for weight and height, and I personally know vegan mothers and vegan children who are healthier than many of their omnivorous peers.

Amy Joy Lanou
Washington, May 21, 2007
The writer is senior nutrition scientist, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

To the Editor:

Nina Planck’s article touches on a particularly important topic. Her use of the term food “fashion” is appropriate: many people today do not make informed choices about their diet; rather, they are influenced by trends, advertising and the political correctness of food.

Many adults do not understand the difference between feeding a baby, a child and themselves. Babies and young children who do not receive a balanced diet, with complete proteins, fats and vitamins, face potential lifelong developmental and cognitive delays. The medical journal Lancet recently published findings showing that children who are not adequately nourished in the first five years of life sometimes never catch up to their peers.

A diet that may be adequate for an adult is not always good for a baby or a child. Feed your children properly now; they will thank you later.

Ross Smith
New York, May 21, 2007

To the Editor:

I am shocked by the ignorance of the recent outcry against vegan diets in the media, most recently Nina Planck’s article about the dangers and irresponsibility of vegan diets during pregnancy and infancy. What these naysayers consistently neglect is that vegan diets, as with all other restricted diets, must be well planned.

It is not enough to simply cut animal products (or carbohydrates, or calories) out of one’s diet. Without a concerted effort by the consumer, restricted diets of any kind may fail to provide adequate nutrition.

Generalizing from a handful of ignorant vegans to the entire vegan population does a disservice to those of us who have spent years educating ourselves on human nutritional needs and how to meet them on a plant-based diet.

Well-planned vegan diets have been shown repeatedly to be sufficient, and even beneficial at all stages of life, including during pregnancy and infancy.

Nicole Speer
Boulder, Colo., May 21, 2007

To the Editor:

“Soy milk and apple juice” is not a vegan diet. Such a regimen would jeopardize anyone’s health, whether infant or adult.

Although vegans do not eat foods derived from animals, we do eat everything else — and enjoy a delicious array of high-nutrient foods, including grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits and herbs prepared in tantalizing combinations and textures. It is well settled that a balanced diet of these foods provides the same essential amino acids that Nina Planck finds in an egg.

I’ll leave the question of infant care to the physicians, but I know firsthand that an adult vegan can enjoy robust physical health without contributing to the cruel suffering of animals on today’s factory farms.

Lynette C. Kelly
New York, May 21, 2007

To the Editor:

Thank you for publishing Nina Planck’s excellent article, “Death by Veganism.”

It’s appalling that anyone would think that a diet based on a dubious morality would build a human infant. Children need protein.

George Mazzei
St. Petersburg, Fla., May 21, 2007

To the Editor:

“Death by Veganism,” by Nina Planck, strays far from the truth about vegan diets. I’ve raised a vegan child since conception. Although I am a 5-foot-1, 98-pound woman, and my husband is 5-foot-8 and 145 pounds, both of us having grown up on meat and dairy, our son was a long 22 inches and 8 pounds 9 ounces at birth.

His pediatrician marveled at his outstanding health. She warned us to expect him to have colds and fevers regularly once he started day care, but he got sick only once during his first three years of life. He’s now 13 and remains healthy and strong.

Yes, vegans need to ensure that their children get proper nutrition, including vitamin B12 and omega-3s, but this is easy to do. What’s harder is having a child who eats the typical American diet stay healthy.

Zoe Weil
Surry, Me., May 21, 2007

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Finally, I will summarize a piece by food writer Barbara Fisher, who writes a blog at http://www.TigersAndStrawberries.com.

Fisher opens with:

“You know, I used to like Nina Planck.

“Now, I am not so sure.

“I wrote a review of her book, Real Food, when it came out in hardcover last year, and although I noted it was not perfect, I mostly agreed with her premise and information. I did and still do have reservations about some of her facts, because some of them come from outdated sources, but in general, I agree that the best diets for humans include mostly unprocessed whole foods, with emphasis on fresh vegetables, grains, fruits, nuts with some pastured dairy, meat and wild-caught fish.

“But, I have to say that her diatribe against vegan parenting from the May 21 edition of the New York Times Op Ed pages is not only mean-spirited and filled with scare-mongering opinions, she plain old gets many of her facts wrong. Prompted by the sentencing of two vegan parents in Atlanta for the murder of their six week old infant whom they fed on soymilk and apple juice, Planck goes on the warpath against vegan parents, using this case of obvious parental neglect and abuse as an excuse to vent her ex-vegan spleen against a group of people, who on the whole, do their best to feed their families ethically and well.

“And as far as I am concerned, that is just uncalled-for, in large part, because the fact that these parents were vegans was not the issue. The fact was that they had no clue how to feed an infant was the issue, and they starved him to death. Even the prosecutor in the case said, “No matter how many times they want to say, ‘We’re vegans, we’re vegetarians,’ that’s not the issue in this case. The child died because he was not fed. Period.”

“The prosecutor knew the truth, which is that no responsible vegan parent in the world would feed an infant, who was born three months premature, a diet of apple juice and soy milk. (Note–have you ever looked at a carton of soy milk? Somewhere on every carton of soy milk I have run across is a statement something like the following: ‘Not to be used as an infant food.’ One cannot easily misunderstand that, unless of course, one is illiterate, stupid, or a murderer.)

“The prosecutor got it, but Nina Planck did not, and she used this tragic case of parental ignorance, neglect and cruelty, to step up on her soapbox and paint all vegan parents as irresponsible kooks.”

While Planck slams the use of soy, Fisher writes:
“Actually, let’s hear what the ADA, The American Dietetic Association, has to say about the suitability of a vegan diet, which can include soy formula for babies who are not breastfed, straight from their own website.

“The ADA’s official position on vegetarianism reads thusly: “It is the position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada that appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.…This position paper reviews the current scientific data related to key nutrients for vegetarians, including protein, iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin D, riboflavin, vitamin B-12, vitamin A, n-3 fatty acids and iodine. A vegetarian, including vegan, diet can meet current recommendations for all of these nutrients. In some cases, use of fortified foods or supplements can be helpful in meeting recommendations for individual nutrients. Well-planned vegan and other types of vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence.”

Fisher reminds us:

“Planck doesn’t cite her sources.

“And that, my friends, is why I am pretty well steamed, even if I am not a vegan.

“I am steamed, and I stand with all those steamed vegan parents who are rightfully huffing about Planck’s opinion piece, because she is not only not a nutritionist or a pediatrician, she is stating her opinions as facts, and is not backing up her assertions.”

Fisher writes:

“I’m sorry, but since she has made one blatantly fallacious statement, which is the crux of her argument, that being that a vegan diet is completely inadequate to feed infants, I am not going to just give her the benefit of the doubt on the existence of her sources.

“I mean, if a writer is going to go against the ADA’s official stance, it behooves her to get her facts straight on the issue she is on her soapbox about.

“The fact is, Planck is full of it on this issue….”

Fisher notes that the first sentence on the Vegan Society’s webpage on infant feeding says “Breast is best” not, “Apple juice and soy milk is the way to go.”

And Fisher writes,

“The fact is this: no responsible parent, vegan or omnivore, would feed their infant child a diet consisting of apple juice and soy milk. Such a diet is not recognized by anyone as adequate or preferable, so why is Planck trying to scare the New York Times readers into thinking that vegan parents are a bunch of irresponsible dimwits who don’t know how to feed their kids?

“Well, I hate to say it, but she probably did it to sell more copies of her book, which is coming out in paperback next month.”

Fisher’s blog is on line at http://tinyurl.com/369k8k.

She takes comments on that page. As she is not a vegan defending her own choices, but simply a responsible writer, she particularly deserves appreciative notes from responsible vegan parents. Please take just a moment to send her some thanks.

The New York Times has been flooded with responses. But the story has appeared in many other papers, with the eating habits of the parents presented in the headlines, as if their veganism is truly relevant to the abuse case. I find myself thinking of other irrelevant facts that have historically appeared in crime headlines in similarly discriminatory ways. Please take a moment to send a note to your local paper, reminding readers that Crown Shakur died from abuse, not veganism, and perhaps sharing the ADA statement (quoted above from Fisher’s blog).

If you have any trouble finding the correct address for a letter to your editor, don’t hesitate to ask me for help. And I am always happy to edit letters.

Always include your full name, address, and daytime phone number when sending a letter to the editor. Remember that shorter letters are more likely to be published.

Yours and the animals’,
Karen Dawn

(DawnWatch is an animal advocacy media watch that looks at animal issues in the media and facilitates one-click responses to the relevant media outlets. You can learn more about it, and sign up for alerts at http://www.DawnWatch.com. You may forward or reprint DawnWatch alerts if you do so unedited — leave DawnWatch in the title and include this parenthesized tag line. If somebody forwards DawnWatch alerts to you, which you enjoy, please help the list grow by signing up. It is free.)

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