Vegan diets aren’t dangerous. However, people with irrational ideas about nutrition are. The stories of vegan parents who starved their babies because of mistaken beliefs about infant feeding are clear proof of that. It is horrible and it’s heartbreaking. But it has nothing to do with veganism.
Why is it that journalists can’t figure this out? Mary Elizabeth Williams’ article in Salon was another attempt to tie the actions of a handful of misinformed parents to veganism. She made the case that some babies in vegan families have suffered because they were fed inappropriate diets. And, then, she suggested that “whatever a parent’s personal beliefs, they must be continually adjusted and evaluated based on a child’s needs.”
I can’t argue with either of those observations. I’m just wondering what they have to do with the safety of vegan diets.
Both the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Academy of Pediatrics say that appropriate vegan diets are safe for babies. (And in case you’re wondering, omnivore diets for babies need to be appropriate as well.) Williams could have shared some balanced perspective by contacting a nutrition expert on vegan nutrition. Instead, she tossed in a quote from anti-vegan Nina Planck. You may remember that Planck is a food writer who fancies herself an expert on nutrition but has neither the credentials nor knowledge to back up those beliefs.
I see two issues here for vegan activists. First there is no shortage of bad nutrition information floating around the internet. It creates the potential for people to make poor choices for themselves and their children.
Second, veganism is still pretty unusual in our society. Our diets are regarded with some suspicion and they give rise to lots of questions. This means it’s always more news-worthy when a vegan child gets sick than when a child in a meat-eating family develops deficiencies.
The fix then, seems obvious to me. We can change this situation by promoting evidence-based nutrition information. And by doing everything possible to move veganism into the mainstream. That’s how we can make these stories go away for good.