Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Veganism in the Media

Earlier this morning, I read yet another "news" article ("Is veganism safe for kids?") conflating veganism with malnutrition and conveying that raising a child as a vegan is dangerous -- perhaps even leaving vegan parents at risk of having their children removed from their custody. At the top of the article is a photo of a young girl guzzling milk with the caption: "Full-fat dairy produce has health benefits for under-fives." The writer starts off discussing a case in England where social workers attempted to remove a child "who appeared to have rickets" from the care of his parents, claiming that the parents were vegan. As it turns out, the parents weren't vegan -- they ate fish. They did, however, avoid dairy products for health reasons and won their legal battle to keep their child. Nonetheless, with the "v-word" dropped, the tone is set: Restricting your kid's diet might lead to the intervention of authorities!

One such authority is Helen Wilcock, a naysayer and pediatric dietitian who -- uh -- confirms her lack of bias when she states that she "tries not to be judgemental about the rights and wrongs of vegan diets for young children" (can someone please explain this assertion to me?). She goes on to warn that
"Vegan children can be deficient in vitamin D, calcium, iron and possibly vitamin B12, so they need supplements."
Furthermore, according to Wilcock, vegan diets aren't very calorie-dense (because vegans only eat raw fruits and vegetables?) so she recommends "adding oil to their food". What about nuts, seeds and nut-butters? What about soy milk or other soy products? What about avocado? Nope -- just add oil. And a multivitamin.

The pediatric dietitian goes on to say that -- wait for it! -- protein is an issue for vegan children, because you can only get complete amino acids by eating meat. I wonder how many decades ago Wilcock obtained her certification, since it is now widely known and confirmed by health professionals that the whole myth of "protein combining" is bunk. A healthy diet with a good variety of plant-based foods is all you need to worry about to obtain your protein. Read more about it here. Yet, according to Wilcock, it's a problem and "when a vegan diet starts to go wrong, the first symptom is usually that the child fails to thrive or grow properly. It's the shortage of calories and protein that kicks in first."

Thankfully, the article presents other view that balance out Wilcock's fear mongering. A representative from the British Nutrition Foundation is quoted saying that nutrition can be an issue with any child, vegan or not, when parents feed that child a diet that is too low-fat and too high-fibre. Amanda Baker from the Vegan Society takes this even further by pointing out that vegan parents tend to inform themselves better about nutrition and cook at home more often, with many relying on healthy whole foods and avoiding processed foods. Baker also states that too often, the problem is, in fact, that "many people, doctors and health workers to social workers and other parents, are badly informed" about veganism.

8 comments:

Allison, The Busy (Happy!) Vegan said...

I'm so glad to see that they showed both sides for once. As a vegan parent of a vegan child, this issue is a particularly contentious one for me. It's especially frustrating when people point out all the things my daughter must be "missing" nutritionally, when in fact, she likely ingests and absorbs more vitamins, minerals, nutrients, iron, and good fat than any kids I know, because she eats so many plant-based whole foods. She's a very talkative, smiley, sociable, stubborn, well-rested, active, happy, and adorably chubby 21-month old, who loves to eat. Her favourites are pasta with veggie & tomato sauce, blueberries, hummus, and soygurt. Please keep informing people on the health BENEFITS for vegan children, and the joy that vegan parents experience in knowing that their kids have lived a life free of cruelty to animals.

Paola said...

It's really sad how much ignorance there is about the benefits of veganism. People are so afraid to anything new :( so much education is needed!

Erica Hanna said...

It always astonishes me how people act like a vegan diet requires so much careful planning but the Standard American Diet filled with processed food and gobs of meat and cheese is just hunky-dory with no ill effects. Just don't pay attention to our ever increasing waistlines and rates of Type 2 diabetes!

And don't even get me started on the naturalistic fallacy about vegans needing supplements so it must be a bad way to eat. Much food in America is heavily supplemented with Vitamins A, D, Folic Acid, etc. I have celiac disease and was once cautioned of the importance of taking a multivitamin since I won't be getting my Vitamin D from my bread. Since Vitamin D is a pre-hormone that we make in our skin from sun exposure, it is a bit ridiculous to say that it is more "natural" to get it from supplemented bread.

I'm sure that I am just preaching to the choir here, but I get so frustrated with this type of reporting.

Lucas said...

No matter how many healthy vegan children there are in the world apparently there will always be people who deny that it's possible to raise vegan children.

Niki said...

This article was endlessly irritating. It wasn't a balanced view - it was an ignorant vs educated view.

Anyone can feed their kid an unhealthy diet. Assuming vegan parents are less able to prepare a balanced meal and don't know much about nutrition infuriates me - particularly as, just based on the comments in this article about deficiencies, it's the omni dietician who appears clueless about even the basics such as protein.

It's always the same questions from omnis "Where do you get your protein/iron/calcium?" which just highlights the fact that they are the ones who haven't educated themselves on diet and don't know which foods provide which nutrients.

Enough of the assuming vegans are stupid and haven't thought about these things.

Vanilla Rose said...

Asking if vegan children can be healthy is a bit like asking if aeroplanes can really fly.

Mylène Ouellet said...

Here's why articles like these get particularly problematic. They end up reproduced, and their more sensationalist parts are emphasized:

http://www.mediplacements.com/article-19734019-dietician_issues_veganism.html

Mylène Ouellet said...

Here's another called "Vegan diets may not be healthy for kids":

http://www.nydailynews.com/lifestyle/health/2010/04/21/2010-04-21_vegan_diets_may_not_be_healthy_for_kids.html

Snippets from the article:

- It's not clarified that the parents in the original court case were, in fact, omnivores who ate fish.
- "When you take away dairy food, you have to worry about how the child will get calcium and vitamin D." And while it's possible to ensure that a child gets these nutrients from other sources, it's hard - unless your kid absolutely loves vegetables.
- Another risk with a vegan diet is that a child may not get enough protein - or at least the complete protein that is offered by meat and dairy products.
- Other nutritional deficiencies that can crop up with a vegan diet include not getting enough iron or omega 3s, Gans points out. Those omega 3s are essential for cardiovascular health as well as brain development, she says.

While a vegan diet can work for an adult, a child's growing body requires many nutrients if he or she is to thrive, Gans says. "If the family knows what they are doing, works with a professional and gets the proper supplements, the needs could be met," she says.
- In general, kids on vegan diets tend to be a little smaller than other kids.