Veganism is Not Child Abuse

By Published On: 15 July 2014Last Updated: 9 May 2017

Mary Elizabeth Williams asks, is veganism child abuse? Evidence-based nutrition supports our answer: no, of course not.

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By Anya Todd, MS, RD, Guest Nutrition Expert

Holy guacamole! Can we all just stop the madness when it comes to ill-informed journalists claiming that vegan diets harm/kill babies? Every year or so, an article enters the world with huge inflammatory headlines and content about how dangerous a vegan diet can be for infants and children. A handful of years ago, it was Nina Planck and her New York Times article, “Death by Veganism,” commenting on how terrible it is to raise vegan children. This, because her extensive knowledge in evidence-based nutrition is, well, non-existent. This time around, it is Mary Elizabeth Williams and her Salon article, “Is Veganism Child Abuse?

Insert massive eyeroll gif here.

Williams’ article takes a look at a Florida mom and her 12-day old baby. The baby was dehydrated, and the mother refused to take baby to the hospital because she did not want baby given medicine derived from animal products. There is mention of a soy infant formula in the article—which if she was feeding it to baby—then the baby was certainly consuming animal-derived ingredients as there is no completely vegan infant formula on the market at this time. There were other factors too, the article mentions the mother’s desire for religious based treatments for her baby.

But instead of looking at the whole picture, the whole ordeal is being blamed on veganism.

I don’t know the health status of this baby. Many things can cause a newborn to be dehydrated, for instance diarrhea due to improper preparation of infant formula. The article seems terribly one-sided, however. I am not saying this mother has no fault, denying an infant necessary medical care isn’t a terribly smart thing to do.

One of the most heartbreaking stories I ever heard was about a couple whose infant son died because he was fed a diet of only apple juice and soy milk. That isn’t a proper diet for anyone, vegan or not. But, these are not a vegan issues. They’re issues of a misguided actions by otherwise caring individuals, as are all the examples Ms. Williams used in her article.

Granted, Williams does state that “diet-based neglect doesn’t have to mean deprivation of animal products.” (That sentence alone makes me laugh as it implies that veganism inherently is neglectful.) Then she goes on to talk about how childhood obesity is a form of medical neglect, which I have certainly seen it used as a way to remove children from their households.

So, yes. Let’s talk about that.

Childhood obesity affects eight percent of US children between the ages of 2-5 years old. Those stats only increase for children in older age groups. I have seen clients who feed infants coffee, soda and cow’s milk in bottles, along with fast food, at ages as young as 6 months old. Let’s talk about the millions of children partaking in the school lunch program where ketchup is considered a vegetable. Let’s talk about how many kids cannot identify common fruit and vegetables. Let’s talk about how the USDA states that most children eat well below the recommendation for fruit and vegetables, and when they do eat veggies, it is often in the form of fried potatoes. And when we speak of “most children” it is assumed these children are omnivores – as vegans comprise around 0.5% or so of the population and, therefore, are not contributing significantly to these numbers.

I find it pretty irresponsible that these journalists, who by nature of their work should be fully investigating their stories, consistently overlook the position paper of the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics in regard to a vegetarian diet. It states that a well-balanced vegan diet can support all stages of life, including infancy and childhood. Additionally, pregnancy is already a stressful enough time. Many vegan moms-to-be face plenty of (unnecessary) flack from OB/GYNs and family/friends. They certainly don’t need inaccurate articles like this one from Salon adding to the stress.

As a registered dietitian, I counsel plenty of vegan women throughout their pregnancies and post-partum.  I have witnessed healthy vegan babies thrive on diets based on a variety of grains, legumes, fruits, & vegetables. This is the norm.

Despite what the media wants you to believe.

Photo credit: Stéfan via Flickr


  1. sam December 18, 2016 at 1:23 pm - Reply

    dear daily vegan…

    that storm trooper has quite an impressive ‘naner.

  2. KD Angle Traegner July 11, 2016 at 6:30 pm - Reply

    Hey Iam Payingattention – That phallic imagery you are concerned about is a banana….which is a common fruit that can be found in almost any grocery store, produce stand, farmers market, and even gas stations.

  3. Iam Payingattention July 11, 2016 at 4:12 pm - Reply

    this is a disgrace the phallic imagery is totally inappropriate

  4. Kira July 11, 2016 at 3:03 pm - Reply

    Something to consider- many protein sources for vegans: tofu, tempeh, grains, and nuts- though nutrient dense- must be prepared specific ways to lessen phytic acid- which is considered an anti-nutrient, as it binds to other minerals in our bodies, and acts as a ‘preservative’ for those foods. My dad is vegan and is generally healthy, but many times I cook for him and he does have some obvious nutrient deficiencies- which show up mainly in his finger nails and energy levels. I’ve been wanting to insure he has adequate nutrition and discovered research about phytic acid, and have since changed the ways I prepare his grains- I think veganism can work for a lot of people, but for him, it needs to be supplemented- as before he was living with us, he was only eating canned food (mostly beans) and microwaving it, and not really eating a diverse enough diet. I’ve also met some vegetarians who aren’t really into vegetables, and instead eat a lot of cheese. So, there are healthy and unhealthy ways of approaching these diets, just like any diet.

  5. ShaneeQ July 11, 2016 at 12:23 pm - Reply

    Some parents probably have no clue what they’re doing, raising young children the vegan way. Hopefully these vegan parents will educate themselves thoroughly, before they start feeding their babies and young children a vegan diet, so their kids are not exposed to harm or danger.

    About and veggies: aren’t plants living creatures as well?? Haven’t heard one vegan ever talking about the poor plants and veggies they consume. I mean, they might as well be screaming like f*cking hell and beg to be spared and not eaten. Can you hear a dog whistle? Well, plants may be talking in that high pitch you’re unable to hear their suffering. Maybe vegans should start training themselves first to listen to their veggies before they commit murder to them!

    And yeah holy guacamole. I just had a royal plate with tacos. Asked the avocado first if it was allowed to eat it. Silence… I suppose it was already dead when I bought it! How yuck is that huh?
    And, I talk to ALL my food daily (meat, fish, poultry, veggies, nuts, eggs, fruit, seaweed, the lot!!) and I say how thankful I am, to have them for a meal, before I dig in and enjoy it all! Some may call it praying, but wasn’t raised religious! Still very Thankful to my parents for that. ;-)
    We really need to loosen up and RELAX more about food. Eat whatever you like (don’t eat fast food). Avoid endangering lives of young kids. Let’s get educated about our food.

  6. Jill Sanders July 11, 2016 at 9:13 am - Reply

    Yes, it is. We are animals that live in a world where living things eat other living things. One day another animal (or animals,
    or micro-organisms) will eat you. Everything and everyone gets a turn at being food. Get. Over. It. If you have a problem with the idea that you and I and everyone are something else’s food waiting to be eaten, that’s fine. But let your child figure out for themselves if they have the same hang-up when they are old enough. And please, do not tell me it’s gross to eat living things. People who eat regular homo sapien diets don’t eat living things. We eat dead things.

  7. Gertruda Yellowlove July 24, 2014 at 4:47 pm - Reply

    You used so much ableism in your language.We do notfight oppression with oppression. I am with you on how media reports on these deaths but using ableist slurs is uncalled for

  8. HereHere July 16, 2014 at 9:31 am - Reply

    Thank you for your educated thoughts on this subject. I’ve seen a lot of uneducated people making incorrect comments on several websites. Good to hear a professional voice address this bizarre and unfortunate incident.

    • Russell July 17, 2014 at 5:02 am - Reply

      Yes, thank you Anya – about to share this on FB for some of the less open-minded friends of mine. I agree with HereHere!

      • Anya Todd RD July 17, 2014 at 6:29 am - Reply

        Thanks to you & HereHere for the comments. And I appreciate the share, Russell.

  9. pixiemom July 16, 2014 at 5:27 am - Reply

    Awesome points all. Thank you for your voice! (I thought vegans were more like 2-3% of the population?).

  10. Phil C July 15, 2014 at 6:12 pm - Reply

    Found you through Andy Bellati’s feed. Keep up the work!

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HELLO! I'm KD Angle-Traegner.

Writer, activist, and founder of Four Urban Paws Sanctuary. I’m on a mission to help people live a vegan life. Read more about KD…