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