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Letters to NY Times Urgently Needed to Counter Damaging Article on Vegan Nutrition!!!

From: veganvet
Sent on: Monday, May 21, 2007 12:08 PM
Hi everyone,

Zoey of this group brought my attention to an op-ed piece entitled "Death by Veganism" that appeared in the NY Times today which tarnishes a vegan diet as nutritionally inadequate due to the tragic death of a baby who was not fed properly by his vegan parents. It's clearly a case of negligence and ignorance on the part of the parents, not an indictment of the vegan diet. However, the author puts a very biased spin on it, making false claims that a vegan diet is inappropriate for infants and small children. This assertion is simply not true. There are hundreds if not thousands of healthy kids who were vegan since birth. Vegan Outreach has a section on their website profiling dozens of such vegan kids. Here are some links with great info on complete vegan nutrition for pregnant women, infants, and young children:

This article has done a lot of damage to the vegan movement and we need to make our voices heard by flooding them with letters to clarify the facts. Please take a few minutes to write the NY Times and help set the record straight. Send letters to [address removed]. Include your full name, addresss, email, and phone number if you want the letter to be published. Short letters are more likely to be published, so try to keep it no more than 150 words.

Here is the text of the article and below it is the letter I emailed to the NY Times:

Death by Veganism

Published: May 21, 2007

WHEN Crown Shakur died of starvation, he was 6 weeks old and weighed 3.5 pounds. His vegan parents, who fed him mainly soy milk and apple juice, were convicted in Atlanta recently of murder, involuntary manslaughter and cruelty.

This particular calamity ? at least the third such conviction of vegan parents in four years ? may be largely due to ignorance. But it should prompt frank discussion about nutrition.

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.

Indigenous cuisines offer clues about what humans, naturally omnivorous, need to survive, reproduce and grow: traditional vegetarian diets, as in India, invariably include dairy and eggs for complete protein, essential fats and vitamins. There are no vegan societies for a simple reason: a vegan diet is not adequate in the long run.

Protein deficiency is one danger of a vegan diet for babies. Nutritionists used to speak of proteins as ?first class? (from meat, fish, eggs and milk) and ?second class? (from plants), but today this is considered denigrating to vegetarians.

The fact remains, though, that humans prefer animal proteins and fats to cereals and tubers, because they contain all the essential amino acids needed for life in the right ratio. This is not true of plant proteins, which are inferior in quantity and quality ? even soy.

A vegan diet may lack vitamin B12, found only in animal foods; usable vitamins A and D, found in meat, fish, eggs and butter; and necessary minerals like calcium and zinc. When babies are deprived of all these nutrients, they will suffer from retarded growth, rickets and nerve damage.

Responsible vegan parents know that breast milk is ideal. It contains many necessary components, including cholesterol (which babies use to make nerve cells) and countless immune and growth factors. When breastfeeding isn?t possible, soy milk and fruit juice, even in seemingly sufficient quantities, are not safe substitutes for a quality infant formula.

Yet even a breast-fed baby is at risk. Studies show that vegan breast milk lacks enough docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, the omega-3 fat found in fatty fish. It is difficult to overstate the importance of DHA, vital as it is for eye and brain development.

A vegan diet is equally dangerous for weaned babies and toddlers, who need plenty of protein and calcium. Too often, vegans turn to soy, which actually inhibits growth and reduces absorption of protein and minerals. That?s why health officials in Britain, Canada and other countries express caution about soy for babies. (Not here, though ? perhaps because our farm policy is so soy-friendly.)

Historically, diet honored tradition: we ate the foods that our mothers, and their mothers, ate. Now, your neighbor or sibling may be a meat-eater or vegetarian, may ferment his foods or eat them raw. This fragmentation of the American menu reflects admirable diversity and tolerance, but food is more important than fashion. Though it?s not politically correct to say so, all diets are not created equal.

An adult who was well-nourished in utero and in infancy may choose to get by on a vegan diet, but babies are built from protein, calcium, cholesterol and fish oil. Children fed only plants will not get the precious things they need to live and grow.

Nina Planck is the author of ?Real Food: What to Eat and Why.?

Dear Editor,

Nina Planck?s piece "Death by Veganism" (5/21/07) contains flagrant misinformation about the nutritional adequacy of vegan diets. Crown Shakur died of starvation because he did not receive the calories and nutrients he needed. It is tragic that his parents were misinformed about providing a healthy diet for their baby. However, this does not mean that a well-planned vegan diet could not have provided the necessary nutrients. On the contrary, the American Dietetic Association?s position statement on vegetarian diets states: ?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.? Planck?s article implies that fatty fish are the only source of omega-3 fatty acids, which is not true. These essential fatty acids are plentiful in plant sources such as walnuts and flaxseed oil. DHA supplements can be sourced from microalgae, which is how fish get DHA.

Armaiti May, D.V.M.

Thanks for taking the time to act on this important issue!! I'd like to see letters people send, and we can talk about this more at the next meetup. This really underscores the importance of becoming knowledgeable about vegan nutrition, so consider attending the Healthy Vegan Lifestyle Expo in Burbank coming up June 1-3 (learn more and register at


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