PCRM Sets the Record Straight About Vegan Child-Rearing
The headlines were certainly attention-grabbing: “Vegan parents kill baby” and “Infant dies from vegan diet.” But they were also entirely misleading. PCRM’s senior nutrition scientist, Amy Lanou, Ph.D., helped to set the record straight about the tragic death of Crown Shakur.
This May in Atlanta, two parents were convicted of intentionally starving their six-week-old child to death. As part of their defense, Crown’s parents claimed that they are vegan, meaning that they do not consume meat, dairy, or other animal products.
However, Crown was not killed by a vegan diet; rather, he died of complications from starvation. His parents had fed him the wrong food—soymilk and apple juice—for any infant, vegan or not. But the real problem was that he was not given enough food of any sort.
Dr. Lanou, the author of Healthy Eating for Life for Children, was an expert witness for the prosecution at the trial of Crown’s parents. Dr. Lanou said that vegan diets are not only safe for babies, but they’re healthier than ones based on animal products. The best food for infants is mother’s breast milk, and the only viable alternative for the first six months of life is infant formula. Many nutrition experts recommend soy-based formulas.
The trial and conviction of Crown’s parents created a firestorm of media coverage. A few individuals even used the case to question the adequacy of a vegan diet for children and pregnant and nursing mothers. The misleading media coverage was capped off with an opinion piece by author Nina Planck called “Death by Veganism,” which was published in The New York Times.
In this article, Planck asserts, “You cannot create and nourish a robust baby merely on foods from plants.” Dr. Lanou, along with other nutrition experts and several parents raising children on vegan diets, wrote letters to refute that statement and to share the facts of how a well-planned vegan diet can nourish children even better than the diets of their omnivorous peers. On June 24, The New York Times’s public editor wrote an article criticizing the publication of Planck’s piece. Clark Hoyt criticized the newspaper for printing only one side of the story in its editorial pages and pointed out the misinformation in Planck’s article, including her failure to mention the American Dietetic Association’s approval of a vegan diet for children and adults.
In early June, Dr. Lanou wrote an opinion piece that was published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Health by Veganism: A Question of Responsibility” explains that vegan diets—rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes—are healthful for all stages of life, including pregnancy, infancy, and childhood. Well-planned vegan and vegetarian diets not only provide all the nutrients necessary to support growth, but they also promote good health in childhood and start disease prevention early.
This is not the first time that a PCRM nutritionist or dietitian has been called on to act as an expert in a high-profile legal case involving nutrition. In the early 1990s, for example, PCRM president Neal Barnard, M.D., testified for the defense in the legendary McLibel trial in which McDonald’s sued two environmental activists for criticizing the company, in part for selling unhealthy food. More recently, in 2002, PCRM provided expert testimony in another headline-generating case about an undernourished baby—this time in New York. In that case, Dr. Lanou testified for the prosecution against the Swintons, a couple who refused to breastfeed or provide baby formula for their infant daughter. PCRM continues to be a leading expert voice for nutrition and health issues throughout the world.