Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Death - NOT by Veganism

Many of us have heard about this "Death by Veganism" article in The New York Times.

If you are outraged by this article, you can write a letter to the editor. Please listen to Erik's brief podcast for tips to have your response published. Also read Urban Vegan's post.

This blog is not political. This may be the only time I talk about such a controversial issue. But, this story saddens me. I am more upset about the suffering of this baby than I am about this article. This poor child dropped to 3.5 pounds at six weeks. Was this baby not observed/weighed by health professionals as is standard practice with newborns? I cannot understand or even try to explain why parents would do this to their baby.

As vegans, we talk endlessly about animal suffering. Well, this is a clear case of human suffering. Baby suffering. I am a vegan, but I am a mother first. I would never risk my child's health. It is a parent's responsibility to protect their child.

But this baby's death is not about a vegan diet. It's about inexplicable parental behaviour. Being vegan and raising healthy children are not mutually exclusive. See these links. This is what bothers me so much about this article. People read this and think that vegans are so staunch in their beliefs that they would put their child in an unhealthy - risky - situation, because they are 'extreme' vegans.

Bull. This is media sensationalizing a story for their own benefit. This baby's death is gut-wrenching, and this article is disgusting.

I wrote a letter to the editor. Not particularly polite or eloquent, but it's what I felt, like so:

Bravo, Nina! That is, if your intention with “Death by Veganism” was to generate publicity for yourself rather than write a story that represents the vegan diet in any truthful, factual light. Had you researched, you would know that a properly planned vegan diet is entirely healthy through pregnancy, infancy, and childhood. Baby Crown Shakur’s death is a tragedy. His parents, however, are to blame. Not a vegan diet. No sensible vegan would ever suggest feeding a newborn apple juice and soy milk. Any sensible vegan would tell you that a newborn (vegan or not) should be breastfed. Your story is irresponsible and perpetuates ridiculous myths about the vegan diet. By the way, did you know that DHA is readily available in vegan form? Obviously not. I do. But then, I am a vegan mother of two young children. Two vibrant, energetic, abundantly healthy vegan children.

Dreena Burton
Author of Vive le Vegan!, The Everyday Vegan, and Eat, Drink and Be Vegan

Go write a letter to the editor if you also want to have your say.


bazu said...

Bravo, Dreena. This article made me sad, outraged, then some more sad, then some more outraged. The very thought of a 3.5 pound baby brings tears to my eyes. The way veganism was caricatured and mischaracterized clenches my hands into a fist. I too wrote a letter to the NY Times. Really shameful. And really coincidental that Nina Planck's book is coming out in paperback soon, eh?

Sara said...

I am not a vegan but the way that article is skewered was very very wrong.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe the author of that article. Her standpoint truly disgusted me. Everything can be dangerous if you don't do it correctly. What about the people who feed their kids nothing but Big Macs and fries? That's pretty stupid, too. You have to do your research, and think about what you're feeding your children, no matter which lifestyle you choose to live.

I read an article about this sad family yesterday - I think it was in People magazine? - while I waited in a doctor's office. It said that the mother had no prenatal care, gave birth in her bathtub, and they shunned hospitals because they were afraid of germs. I'm not sure about the truth of that article, but that would explain why no healthcare professionals were involved.

Your letter to the editor was fantastic, Dreena. Thank you.

Vegan_Noodle said...

Thanks for posting your letter to the editor! I am planning on writing one as well. On a positive note....it is great to see the response from the vegan blog community to this outrageous article. Can't wait to see if some of the responses get published!

chanale said...

Thank you for writing this! After reading the NYT article, then some vitriolic and ignorant posts and comments that were hostile to vegans on other blogs, somehow I feel less alone knowing the vegan blog community is responding. I only hope people who saw the article get the real story.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dreena,

Thank you so much for addressing this issue. I will post here what I commented over at the Fat Free Vegan Kitchen blog:

It angers me when I read things like what was written in The New York Times - just like with that news story a few weeks ago, where the headline read something along the lines of, "Vegans starve child to death." So what are they saying; that if the parents ate meat, then it wouldn't "matter" if they didn't feed their child enough?! grr!! sorry for ranting, but I just wish that more people would take the time to research information about veganism instead of passing judgement. thanks again for addressing the issue, and for taking action!

- veggiegirl

Anonymous said...

i heard about this article a week or two ago... whenever it first was published i think. brent and i were talking about it, laughing because it was so ridiculous! u hit the nail on the head- it's great publicity for her! altho, we all know journalistic integrity has gone all to pot these days anyway!!

Everyday Superhero said...

Dreena, Thank you for responding to this story. I've been thinking about it for a few days and wondering if I should write about it on my blog. I didn't want to open a can of worms since I'm not very good at debating even if I feel passionate about a topic such as the well being of children. I hope you don't mind, I'm going to link your post on my blog.
After the birth of my first daughter we had extreme problems with breastfeeding and my daughter's weight gain since I had a very problematic labour my energy postnatal was spent on getting better. We had many lactation consultant and pediatrician meetings before we decided to resort feeding my daughter formula. I remember telling a stranger at a playgroup that I had to give my daughter formula and the stranger's response was, "Is your daughter eating and growing? Right now that's all that matters." That response always stuck in my head because it was true. The parents of that child were bad parents. This is a story of parenting not veganism. It's so true -- no one questions parents when they give their children a diet of junk. It just so happened that these neglectful parents were vegans so the media is now focusing on that very minor point.

Andrew said...

Hi Dreena. Like all vegans, I was simply agast that The New York Times of all papers allowed such falsehoods into print. Nina Planck simply does not back up anything see says and is not an expert on nutrition, either. I, too, wrote the Times. I submitted mine as an op-ed submission. I doubt very seriously it will get printed, but I tried. You can see my op-ed at my blog at http://southtexasvegan.blogspot.com/

urban vegan said...

Thanks, Dreena. Your two little cuties are living proof that vegan children are healthy & thriving. What's pathetic is that Planck uses this op-ed to boos her financial agenda.

urban vegan said...

And also kudos to you on your eloquent, persuasively written response. I hope they print it!

Ann said...

Your letter is great! I've joined the crowd in writing a letter to the NY Times- but 150 words is not enough to thoroughly contradict all the false claims in this piece. It is currently the number one emailed article from the NYT website, and tons of people are taking for gospel the lies it perpetuates. I hope that someone with nutrtional/ medical credentials submits an op-ed, and it gets printed. But what could be more sensational and catchy than a title like "Death by Veganism"? I'm so disappointed in the New York Times.

erica said...

That article makes me ill, I wrote as well. I have a neighbor whose three year old grandson is the height of a one and a half year old. They feed him McDonalds and candy, and let him stand directly in front of the exhaust pipes of cars grandpa is working on. They told me they said to the doctor that he is "just a late bloomer". It makes me sad for America as a whole; the failure to thrive problem is only growing, and yet vegans are pinpointed because of one example. It's like lashing out at all Koreans because of Virginia Tech. Just appaling.

Unknown said...

Awesome!!! I love ehwta you wrote.
I was very sad & angry when I first read about the baby's death. I wondered how parents of a newborn baby could not know that a newborn needs breastmilk exclusively for at least 6 months. I hadn't read the NY Times article till just now.

Unknown said...

I meant to say... I love what you wrote to the them.

Dreena said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, everyone, and also thanks to those of you that also wrote a letter to the editor on this story.

Much like Veggie Vixen, I am not normally one for debating either. It fatigues me rather than fuels me. And when it comes to educating and informing people about veganism, I do that with food whenever I can. For me, that is a much more successful (and fun) path to veganism than trying to defend my decision to be vegan and dispute minor points with people. This piece is so outrageous, though, that if I hadn't written a letter, and hadn't posted about it, I would have been ruminating over it for days or weeks. I couldn't sit and do nothing, even though I recognize that all this controversy unfortunately gives Nina Planck even more attention.

If any of you are still upset about this story and haven't written a letter to the editor, perhaps you should do so.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for encouraging everyone to write to the NY TImes about this appalling display of ignorance. I listened to Erik Marcus' Emergency Podcast and promptly wrote this letter to the NYTimes:
Dear Editor,

The fact checker for the New York Times had clearly taken the day off when Nina Planck's May 21 opinion piece was published. For all those in support of social consciousness and responsibility, Planck's article is cause for major concern. Had she consulted the American Dietetic Association, she would have read that "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." Vitamin B12 is not made from animals; it is a bacteria found in soil. DHA is abundant in flax oil. The human body is capable of building - from plant foods - all the amino acids it needs.
Where in your pages is the article about ignorant meat-eating parents, whose children grow up with high rates of obesity and diabetes?
The most ignorant, culpable individual in this article is its author.

Judy said...

I get really, really enraged reading articles like that. Good for you for responding in the way that you did.

Katie said...

Vegan parents jailed in Atlanta baby's death
By Greg Bluestein
The Associated Press
Article Last Updated: 05/09/2007 11:39:45 AM MDT

Atlanta - A vegan couple were sentenced today to life in prison for the death of their malnourished 6-week-old baby boy, who was fed a diet largely consisting of soy milk and apple juice.
Superior Court Judge L.A. McConnell imposed the mandatory sentences on Jade Sanders, 27, and Lamont Thomas, 31. Their son, Crown Shakur, weighed just 3 1/2 pounds when he died of starvation on April 25, 2004.

The couple were found guilty May 2 of malice murder, felony murder, involuntary manslaughter and cruelty to children. A jury deliberated about seven hours before returning the guilty verdicts.
Defense lawyers said the first-time parents did the best they could while adhering to the lifestyle of vegans, who typically use no animal products. They said Sanders and Thomas did not realize the baby, who was born at home, was in danger until minutes before he died.

But prosecutors said the couple intentionally neglected their child and refused to take him to the doctor even as the baby's body wasted away.

"No matter how many times they want to say, 'We're vegans, we're vegetarians,' that's not the issue in this case," said prosecutor Chuck Boring. "The child died because he was not fed.
Period." Although the life sentences were automatic, Sanders and Thomas begged for leniency before sentencing. Sanders urged the judge to look past his "perception" of the couple.
"I loved my son - and I did not starve him," she said.

When the judge told the defendants they could ask for a new trial, Thomas hung his head low.
"I'm dying every day in there," he said, "and that could take three years."

link to the story in the Denver Post:

Matt and Bobbie said...

Way to go Dreena! I completely agree with all your points. The death of this child is extremely sad and the way the media has used it to write this sensationalized story to bash veganism is disgusting.

Anonymous said...

Great comment. You are spot on. There is an interesting discussion of the Death By Veganism article in the following forum:


The ignorance behind the Death by Veganism article is appaling!

Julie said...

I love your response, Dreena. That article saddened me to no end. I was sad for the baby and sad for the vegan community. I wrote a letter as well and I hope many more people do. AND I hope many of them get posted, so those people who don't know quite as much about veganism will not be misled.