It was a horrific crime. Last month in Atlanta, two parents were
convicted of intentionally starving their six-week-old child to death.
As part of their defense, the parents of Crown Shakur claimed that
they are vegan, meaning that they do not consume meat, dairy, or other
animal products. Their conviction has brought international attention
to vegan childrearing.
As a nutritionist who testified as an expert witness for the
prosecution in this trial, I want to clear up some disturbing
misunderstandings about this case. Vegan diets are not only safe for
babies; they're healthier than ones based on animal products.
Unfortunately, not everyone talking about Crown's death is getting the
facts right. Some are even misusing this tragic and confusing case to
question the ethics and adequacy of vegan nutrition during pregnancy,
lactation, infancy, and childhood.
Yet one thing about Crown's death is very clear. He was not killed by
a vegan diet. As the autopsy report stated, Crown died of
complications of starvation. I was in the courtroom when the judge and
jury were shown photographs of Crown right after he was pronounced
dead on arrival at the hospital. The infant was literally skin and
bones. His parents had fed him the wrong food for an infant--soymilk
and apple juice. But the real problem was that he was not given enough
food of any sort.
Just think about the advantages of raising a child on a diet rich in
fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes. Limiting or avoiding
consumption of fish sticks and tuna sandwiches reduces mercury
consumption and the resulting risk of cognitive and behavioral
problems. Choosing non-dairy milks such as rice, soy, or oat milk
significantly lowers consumption of saturated fat and growth hormones
given to cows to increase milk production. Substituting vegan sausage
for bacon or pork sausage increases healthy fiber and sidesteps
fattening and artery-clogging animal fats.
That all sounds pretty darn responsible to me.
How else can we responsibly promote the health of children? We can
embrace the efforts of parents who are finding creative ways to
provide healthy, nutrient-rich foods to their children. We can support
government policies that limit foods from animal sources and promote
the consumption of whole or less processed foods, especially fruits,
vegetables, grains, and legumes. And we can demand that our medical
system provide high-quality care to everyone, including people
choosing a vegan lifestyle.
Amy Joy Lanou, Ph.D., is a senior nutrition scientist for the
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and an assistant
professor of health and wellness at the University of North
Carolina-Asheville. She is also the author of Healthy Eating for Life