Behind the Headlines

The recent news of parents whose six-week-old infant died after they fed him almost exclusively a diet of apple juice and soy milk has been stirring up passionate debate on all sides. The parents claim that it was their own adherence to a strict vegan diet and their desire to raise their child as a vegan that led to their feeding decisions. And, of course, the vegan angle is the one that’s been picked up by most news outlets.

But of course not even the strictest vegan would begrudge his or her child breast milk (although “animal” derived, no animals were exploited to provide it; the parents of the late six-week-old claimed they supplemented the infant’s diet with breast milk) or soy formula. Instead of indicting the choice to be vegan, it might make more sense to explore how the parents were so cut off from support or society that they didn’t know that babies should not be given anything but breast milk or formula for at least three months. Or, given that apple juice and soy milk were the only foods found in the house when the police came to investigate the baby’s death, maybe the media could explore the challenges of parents living in poverty.

Today, the New York Times chimes in with an op-ed sure to fan the flames. Although it gives lip service to the fact that something other than dietary choice was going on with the parents, the headline “Death by Veganism,” and statements like:

An adult who was well-nourished in utero and in infancy may choose to get by on a vegan diet, but babies are built from protein, calcium, cholesterol and fish oil. Children fed only plants will not get the precious things they need to live and grow.

will surely create debate. After all, there are examples of responsible parents whose children are thriving on plant-based diets.

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