Death by Veganism: A Response to the NYTimes Article (Food Post III)

As many of you know, I am a wanna-be vegan. Not quite there yet, but making good progress. This is something my partner and I have researched and read quite a bit about. Wolfgang is practically a walking encyclopedia of vegan nutrition and animal and environmental facts. Thus, you can imagine our horror when we read a very poorly researched and irresponsible article about veganism in the New York Times titled “Death By Veganism. ” You can read it, in all its inaccuracies, here. Please also take the time to read the letters to the editor which respond well to the article’s problems.

Her argument is, in short, that “You cannot create and nourish a robust baby merely on foods from plants.”

I’ll respond to what I see as three main problems with the article:

First, as far as I can tell, she is not arguing against a vegan diet, but rather against vegetarian diet. On top of arguing (with no supporting evidence) that eggs and milk offer complete proteins, essential fats and vitamins (that, I assume she means you cannot get from plant sources) she argues that kids need fish to be healthy because of the Omega-3 fatty acids. First, tons of kids never eat fish anyway. I hated fish growing up and it just isn’t a regular part of lots of people’s or kids diets, especially in less developed places where people don’t fish and it can’t be imported. So if you want to make the argument that fish are essential, and that somehow ground flax seeds, flax seed oil, walnuts, walnut oil, canola oil, soy products, soybean oil, hempseed oil, and wheat germ are not adequate sources of omega-3 fatty acids (although I am not aware of any evidence that demonstrates that they are not), fine. But that seems largely unrelated to veganism and vegetarianism, and is more just a general question of what is and is not included in a healthy diet. (She also doesn’t mention the huge problem with fish being very contaminated and that children and pregnant/lactating women need to be careful about this). She also refers throughout the article to the need for things in meat. I suspect that she frames this in terms of veganism, and not vegetarianism, because vegetarianism is becoming more mainstream and accepted and she doesn’t want to step on the many toes of vegetarians that read the Times. I imagine “Death by Vegetarianism” would not be well received by many. Rather, she picks veganism because she sees it as a relatively easy target. People still see this as a bit extreme and she runs with that.

Second, I think her science is just wrong. She claims that “dairy and eggs” are needed “for complete protein, essential fats and vitamin.” She also says that “animal proteins and fats” contain “essential amino acids needed for life in the right ratio. This is not true of plant proteins, which are inferior in quantity and quality.” She writes that “soy inhibits growth” and finally sums it all up by saying, “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.” So there you go. But, I’m not really sure what studies she is referring to. You certainly can find studies that show a set of vegans lack a certain vitamin or this or that. But, um, you can find just as many showing that omnivores lack certain vitamins or enough of this or that. It isn’t like I would sacrifice my health, or the health of my future children, so I could eat a vegan diet. Nor would all the other very conscientious vegan families. As far as I can tell, children can do just fine with well-planned vegan diets (you can see lots of examples of them here). I think, perhaps, she confuses a vegan diet with a poorly planned vegan diet which, like any poorly planned carnivorous diet, can be harmful. (She also fails to mention the very direct link between the Standard American Diet (SAD) and a range of cancers and health problems. I mean, if you are so concerned about kids and their diet, the concern is that too many of them are overweight and suffer from childhood diabetes. The number of vegan children is minuscule compared to the number of kids with health problems because of eating a SAD diet. But I digress.)

Finally, the third problem is that she refers, very irresponsibly, at the beginning of the article, to a baby that died being fed only apple juice and soy milk and whose parents claimed to be vegan. However, feeding your baby only apple juice and soy milk has absolutely nothing to do with being vegan. These people were criminals who killed their baby by starving him. It is as if you fed your infant only hamburger meat and then when he died people said, “Well, see, a carnivorous diet kills babies.” And the author should have known this. I cannot imagine she didn’t. If she didn’t, it is another indication of how poor her research was. If she did know what she was talking about, and used it anyway, it shows her desire to portray veganism as something that it isn’t. One google search would have confirmed that this terrible death of a baby had nothing to do with veganism or the science/nutritional aspects of veganism.

Veg Family News has compiled a great collection of responses to this poor article, and also includes lots of links to medical articles from normal, reputable sources that affirm the health of vegan pregnancies, babies, and children. You can see it here: http://www.vegfamily.com/news/op-ed-nyt.htm

I didn’t plan for this to be The Weekend of Food Posts. I just have more time now that school is out and they sort of came up.

Yay for summer finally being here! Makes me so happy. More soon, I hope.

Much peace, Elizabeth

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13 Responses to Death by Veganism: A Response to the NYTimes Article (Food Post III)

  1. Lizard Eater says:

    I’m not a vegan, nor a vegetarian, but this NYT article is just baaaad. A parent who fed their baby cow’s milk would probably kill it, too.

    This reminds me of the story several years ago — also NYT — in which a baby starved to death because its drug-addled mother insisted on breastfeeding without following any of the basic parenting rules: check for wet diapers, get adequate well-baby care, weigh the baby. This, however, was twisted into a story about how dangerous breastfeeding is.

    Ye gods and little fishes.

  2. elizabeth says:

    Thank you. I agree. Just a baaaad article. For such a good paper, they do run regularly print bad articles. I have to refrain from blogging on every bad article. But there was one the other day something like “The Tyranny of a Second Home” about how tough it is on people with second homes – so much work. Oh, poor things. My heart just breaks for them.

    Anyway. Hope things go better with your church. Sounds like a tough situation. Although the way you blog about it is a little bit funny. I constantly tell people the whole transgender bathroom with a braille sign story.

  3. I was with ya, with ya, with ya… and then the SAD part came up, and the lament of the modern media.. the overweight “epidemic” especially in regards to children.

    If veganism is for you the right way to move in the world, fantastic, you should live according to your beliefs I applaud that, but to use SAD and the overweight epidemic myths as a reason for it… that I just cannot get on board with.

  4. elizabeth says:

    Hi Jaime. Thanks for the comments. When I say SAD (Standard American diet) I don’t mean an omnivorous diet. I mean the actual standard American diet which is just too high in fat and cholesterol and processed foods – just generally not good. I think you can have healthy omnivorous diet, a healthy vegan diet, vegetarian diet, raw diet, macrobiotic diet, and so on. But most people don’t seem to eat very healthy. Are you concerned with my implication that generally people don’t eat very healthily or did you think I was just referring to a omnivorous-based diet?

    When you say the overweight epidemic myth, I’m not sure what you mean. Do you mean that it is not the case that too many people in the U.S. are overweight? And that an increasing number of children are getting diabetes due to their eating habits?

    I don’t mean to imply that veganism is the only response to these challenges, but just that if the author of the article was concerned with the health of children, the health risks of a poorly balanced vegan diet don’t seem to be a good place to start.

    As for my lament of the modern media, I didn’t actually mean to lament the modern media, although I don’t think it is so great. But that is a whole separate post and has really nothing to do with veganism for me….

  5. Lizard Eater says:

    Re: nutrition and vegan/vegetarianism. A friend of mine, vegetarian, refers scornfully to “french fry vegetarians.”

    Which kind of sounds like french-fried vegetarians to me, and makes me giggle. But a good point, nevertheless.

  6. What a well-reasoned response to a ridiculous opinion!

    I too tend toward veganism, though I’m not sure I won’t ever get there completely. I think it’s the right choice for me.

    And the New York Times is such a rag. We used to subscribe, but it’s so awful so regularly.

  7. Speaking as a Newspaper Spouse, I think you have to consider a paper’s editorial page apart from the rest of the content (and perhaps apart from its web presence) to judge it fairly. But for what it’s worth, I trust “the wise masses” and my own judgment over an editorial page any more. Which is why, I suppose, I read so many blogs.

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