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Death by veganism?

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If you ever watched the show Friends, you might recall that the Phoebe Buffay character was a vegetarian and deeply interested in animal rights. She wasn’t a vegan, but she mostly didn’t eat meat. She gave up her non-meat eating ways when she became pregnant with triplets because she felt that the babies craved meat. She felt it was in their best interest to give them what they nutritionally wanted/needed.

Because it’s TV we don’t really need to get into how exactly she knew this, but if it weren’t, Phoebe’s story might be a good example to support Nina Planck’s op-ed piece in the New York Times yesterday. With the dramatic headline “Death by Veganism,” the article points out that several vegan parents (at least three in the past few years) have been convicted of charges like involuntary manslaughter and cruelty after starving their infants/children. The death of a 6 week old boy from starvation prompted the piece. His parents “fed him mainly soy milk and apple juice.”

The article goes on to express that it is irresponsible to have a vegan pregnancy and that children raised in this manner will most likely have various vitamin, mineral and protein deficiencies. It doesn’t imply that all vegan parents are as unfortunately ignorant of good nutrition as this poor child’s parents were, but it does say that because vegan diets may lack certain nutrients (largely because of the ignorance), children may suffer for it. Reading into those “mays“, we can assume that vegans who do take care of their diets are able to live healthy lives.

The thing that the article doesn’t express is that simply having an omnivorous diet does not guarantee good health or proper nutrition. It may increase the odds over a severely restricted diet, but it is a nutritionally balanced diet – vegan, vegetarian, omnivorous or otherwise – that is the key to good health. This is why we, as well as children, need more than just apple juice in our diets, but cannot eat steak and cupcakes alone.

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  • Sabra
    May 22, 2007

    I have been so frustrated by the labeling of these latest famous child abusers as vegans, as if that had a blessed thing to do with them starving their son. Breastmilk, as anyone with knowledge can tell you, is vegan. Most vegan mamas nurse or use soy formula.

    I don’t personally believe that veganism is the optimal diet for humans (or even that vegetarianism is, for that matter), as it lacks natural sources of too many nutrients. But to try to blame a child’s death from abuse on veganism does a grave disservice not only to vegans but also to survivors of abuse.

  • Marleigh
    May 23, 2007

    Annoyed as I am by Planck’s article, what really gets me is the vast amount of misinformation out there about diet in general. Because people at large don’t know that plant foods are natural sources of 99% of nutrients (where, after all, do the animals get them except from the plants they eat?), stories like this not only do a disservice to the real issue here—which is bad parenting above all—but they highlight the fact that most people are sadly lacking in nutritional information about ALL diets, not just the various forms of vegetarianism.

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