You know, I used to like Nina Planck.
Now, I am not so sure.
I wrote a review of her book, Real Food, when it came out in hardcover last year, and although I noted it was not perfect, I mostly agreed with her premise and information. I did and still do have reservations about some of her facts, because some of them come from outdated sources, but in general, I agree that the best diets for humans include mostly unprocessed whole foods, with emphasis on fresh vegetables, grains, fruits, nuts with some pastured dairy, meat and wild-caught fish.
But, I have to say that her diatribe against vegan parenting from the May 21 edition of the New York Times Op Ed pages is not only mean-spirited and filled with scare-mongering opinions, she plain old gets many of her facts wrong. Prompted by the sentencing of two vegan parents in Atlanta for the murder of their six week old infant whom they fed on soymilk and apple juice, Planck goes on the warpath against vegan parents, using this case of obvious parental neglect and abuse as an excuse to vent her ex-vegan spleen against a group of people, who on the whole, do their best to feed their families ethically and well.
And as far as I am concerned, that is just uncalled-for, in large part, because the fact that these parents were vegans was not the issue. The fact was that they had no clue how to feed an infant was the issue, and they starved him to death. Even the prosecutor in the case said, “No matter how many times they want to say, ‘We’re vegans, we’re vegetarians,’ that’s not the issue in this case. The child died because he was not fed. Period.”
The prosecutor knew the truth, which is that no responsible vegan parent in the world would feed an infant, who was born three months premature, a diet of apple juice and soy milk. (Note–have you ever looked at a carton of soy milk? Somewhere on every carton of soy milk I have run across is a statement something like the following: “Not to be used as an infant food.” One cannot easily misunderstand that, unless of course, one is illiterate, stupid, or a murderer.)
The prosecutor got it, but Nina Planck did not, and she used this tragic case of parental ignorance, neglect and cruelty, to step up on her soapbox and paint all vegan parents as irresponsible kooks.
In her essay/article/screeching rant, entitled, “Death by Veganism,” she states in her final sentence, “Children fed only plants will not get the precious things they need to live and grow.”
She also said, “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.)”
Actually, let’s hear what the ADA, The American Dietetic Association, has to say about the suitability of a vegan diet, which can include soy formula for babies who are not breastfed, straight from their own website.
The ADA’s official position on vegetarianism reads thusly: “It is the position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada that appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.…This position paper reviews the current scientific data related to key nutrients for vegetarians, including protein, iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin D, riboflavin, vitamin B-12, vitamin A, n-3 fatty acids and iodine. A vegetarian, including vegan, diet can meet current recommendations for all of these nutrients. In some cases, use of fortified foods or supplements can be helpful in meeting recommendations for individual nutrients. 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.
Did you notice that the ADA website specifically mentions that the Dietitians of Canada concurred with their position? So, uh, which Canadian health officials are expressing caution against the use of soy in infant diets?
We’ll never know, because Planck doesn’t cite her sources.
And that, my friends, is why I am pretty well steamed, even if I am not a vegan.
I am steamed, and I stand with all those steamed vegan parents who are rightfully huffing about Planck’s opinion piece, because she is not only not a nutritionist or a pediatrician, she is stating her opinions as facts, and is not backing up her assertions.
She is not an authority on nutrition or health, so her argument, unless she appeals to a qualified authority, is unsupported.
When she does appeal to authority, such as the unnamed British and Canadian health officials, she does not cite her sources, so we can do some fact checking, in order to see if they really said what she says they said.
If you go to her website, Planck does tell us that talked with “many sources” in order to write her op-ed piece.
But she gives us no names; instead, she says, “Some readers asked about my sources. Among many sources for this piece, I interviewed a family practitioner who treats many vegetarian and vegan families. The doctor’s comments were useful but too long for the Times. Here they are:
‘The most significant issue with vegan infants is growth. I have seen cases of severe anemia and protein deficiency in vegan infants resulting in hospitalization and blood transfusion. Most breast-fed vegan children will do okay until solids are introduced, as long as the vegan mother is well nourished. Most commonly you see Vitamin B12 and iron deficiencies in vegan children. Vegan families must place close attention to protein sources, calcium, Vitamins D and B12, and iron. Often this can be achieved via fortified foods, but I’ve seen that not all vegan parents want to choose these types of foods. Most vegan families I’ve met don’t understand the importance of fat intake in the cognitive development of the baby.’ The doctor also reiterated what informed parents know: that soy milk is ‘completely inadequate’ for babies.”
This unnamed physician could be a great source of information; he could have done research that has been written up in a peer-reviewed journal that supports Planck’s assertions. However, we have no way of knowing that, because he is not named. We cannot look him up and see if he really is on the up and up, or is just some quack whom Planck happens to know.
In fact, we don’t know how many of her “many sources” she talks about are really qualified authorities.
In fact, we don’t even know if they are real or not; we just have to take her word for it.
I’m sorry, but since she has made one blatantly fallacious statement, which is the crux of her argument, that being that a vegan diet is completely inadequate to feed infants, I am not going to just give her the benefit of the doubt on the existence of her sources.
I mean, if a writer is going to go against the ADA’s official stance, it behooves her to get her facts straight on the issue she is on her soapbox about.
The fact is, Planck is full of it on this issue. She is making it sound like -all- vegan parents are as misinformed, incompetent, negligent and cruel as the parents of Crown Shakur, the baby who starved to death in Atlanta. She is making it sound like all vegan parents are feeding their babies soy milk from cartons which specifically state that it is not a proper infant food. She is making it sound like all vegan parents are criminally negligent, just like the two who have been sentenced to life imprisonment for murder, when the truth is, most vegan parents go out of their way to feed their infant children the best food in the world for them: breastmilk.
What does the first sentence on the Vegan Society’s webpage on infant feeding say?
“Breast is best.”
Not, “Apple juice and soy milk is the way to go.”
Apple juice and soy milk don’t even make it to the second sentence, or the third, fourth of fifth. The next best choice cited by the Vegan Society is soy-based infant formula, which is also deemed an acceptable second-best to breastfeeding by none other than the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The fact is this: no responsible parent, vegan or omnivore, would feed their infant child a diet consisting of apple juice and soy milk. Such a diet is not recognized by anyone as adequate or preferable, so why is Planck trying to scare the New York Times readers into thinking that vegan parents are a bunch of irresponsible dimwits who don’t know how to feed their kids?
Well, I hate to say it, but she probably did it to sell more copies of her book, which is coming out in paperback next month.
Okay, maybe I am being too cynical.
Maybe Planck really believes that there are a bunch of vegan parents out there starving their kids to death and she wants to warn everyone to be on the lookout for babies being fed on diets of soy milk and apple juice. Maybe she thinks she is doing some good by giving the people who may never have met a vegan in their lives the idea that they are all baby-killers. Maybe she thinks some vegan parents will read her work and see the light and stop eating such a kooky, faddish diet.
Or, maybe, she is just a bit of a kook herself.
I think I will go back to my first, albeit cynical, thought because I don’t like to think that she is a kook or a vegan-hating bigot.
Planck is just out to sell some books by engaging in a provocative bit of yellow-journalism by slinging some mud at an easy target.
The problem is–at least in my eyes–is she aimed mud at the vegans, but splattered herself thoroughly in her own muck by not citing sources for her “facts” and for stating easily discovered fallacies as truths.
I hate to say it, but I don’t think that I will be reading her next book, Baby Food, which she is researching now, on the subject of real food for babies, a subject which all of my readers -know- I am interested in.
I’d love to read it, but I just don’t think I could stomach it.
Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.