Is Veganism Safe For Our Children?

By Jasmine Mahar.

baby
Sourced from https://unsplash.com/

Veganism has gained
momentum in recent years, with Australia having the third fastest growing vegan market in the world. At a dietary level, vegans do not eat meat or any other animal products, including dairy, eggs and honey, while also excluding any other lifestyle products that have exploited animals, including certain beauty products, clothes and furniture.  This global trend has garnered large amounts of media attention surrounding its ethics and its validity as a nutritionally complete diet. More and more national dietary guidelines are condoning this way of eating, including the American Dietetic Association, who stated in 2009 “that
appropriately planne
d vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits…”  Yet while a carefully planned vegan diet can meet all an adult’s nutritional needs (excluding the vitamin B12), the question remains: is veganism a safe for children?

Though not an unheard-of practice, parents raising vegan children have been scrutinised by the media this year after several events in Italy that gained international attention. In July, a fourteen-month-old Italian infant was taken to hospital by his own grandparents and deemed to be severely malnourished, a condition caused by the strict vegan diet his parents had placed him on. An article from The Washington Post details this, as well as previous cases of malnutrition and even infant death after living on a vegan diet without supplements. Only a month later, Elvira Savino from the centre-right Forza Italia Party proposed a bill to parliament that would see parents jailed if proven to be enforcing a vegan diet on children aged sixteen and under. Both The Washington Post article, and this BBC article outlining Ms Savino’s proposed bill, explore the question of whether children can thrive on a vegan diet, but these are not the articles I will be discussing today. This article will explore three pieces, published by both popular news outlets and a health and wellness magazine, all of which portray parents raising vegan children in a positive light, positioning the reader to view them in a researched way which considers several stipulations. These include the parents being well educated, providing their child with a carefully planned, nutritionally complete diet (with supplements if needed), and working collaboratively with a paediatrician or dietician.

On the 21st of October, 2016, CBS News published the uncredited article “Can you raise a healthy vegan baby?” supplied by the Associated Press. CBS News is a US based news organisation, that, though experiencing a recent decline in audience trust, is still found by many American readers and viewers to be largely credible.  This news piece, while in part presenting a factual argument overall, becomes largely evaluative. The central claim is made immediately explicit in the leading line, in part answering the question posed in the headline: “There’s a right way and a wrong way to raise a baby on vegan food. Those who get it wrong, parents say, give the responsible ones a bad name.” Though citing “parents” isn’t the most reliable of sources, the rest of the CBS article works to prove the central claim that vegan parenting is safe and healthy, only given a bad name by the minority who don’t work to create a balanced diet for their children. The repeated use of words such as “neglect,” in relation to an already emotionally charged topic (children), create appeals to emotion. Mentioning previous cases of reported malnourishment in vegan children, including those in Italy, it is stated: “Those cases are not about veganism at all, but are instead about neglect, say parents who are raising their children vegan. Pinning bad parenting on vegan diets, some say, unfairly stigmatizes those who have done their homework.” The emotionally charged word “neglect” is used again as the piece quotes Fulvia Serra, a mother choosing to raise her children on a vegan diet, as she says that “to get a child to the point of starvation, it means you are ignoring him and his crying all the time… It’s neglect.” These emotional appeals begin to emphasise the positive portrayal of the majority of vegan parents.

The factual element of the article “Can you raise a healthy vegan baby?” comes first from reference to the book “Pediatric Nutrition” from the American Academy of Pediatrics. “It describes how, with sound nutrition and dietary planning, ‘it is possible to provide a balanced diet to vegetarians and vegans,’” giving a researched basis to the expressed ‘fact’ that a diet free from animal products can provide complete nutrition to a child. Further appeal to facts comes with quotations from Sheela Magge, an endocrinologist at the Children’s National Health System and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ committee on nutrition. Magge states: “For children in general you can have a safe vegan diet, but it has to be in consultation with a pediatrician or health care provider,” furthering the stipulations of the CBS article’s central claim, that veganism is safe for children only with adequate research and medical opinion. The article, though based in fact, becomes increasingly one sided through using a collection of real-life examples of poorly executed vegan parenting. “In Florida in 2005, Joseph and Lamoy Andressohn got probation for neglect in the death of their 6-month-old son, who was fed only wheat grass, coconut water and almond milk…” is one such extreme example. By using several similar examples, CBS vilifies the minority of bad vegan parents, characterising them as being stupid and neglectful, but also relies on the warrant that readers are already quite positive towards the vegan lifestyle, as the pro-vegan argument has thus far been minimal.

In concluding the article, CBS reiterates the central claim, which is closely linked to their portrayal of parents choosing to raise vegan children. Quoting the nutritionist Reed Mangels, who raised two vegan children now in their twenties, the article states: “’The problem is not the vegan part of the diet, but it’s the inadequacy of the diet,’ she said of cases that make the news.” This final appeal to authority positions readers to view vegan parents in a more positive light than the media may usually portray, as only the few who do not make the effort to make a vegan diet nutritionally complete for their children cause health problems for their kids.

The next article I will look at, published online by SBS, makes a very similar claim. The SBS is a trusted national news outlet in Australia, the multiplatform news outlet being known for providing factual and reliable information to the public. Written by Louisa Matwiejczyk and published on the 17th of March 2016, before the Italian infant made international headlines, “Are there any health implications for raising your child as a vegetarian, vegan or pescatarian?” explicitly states the central claim in the byline of the article, which reads: “Children who are raised as vegetarians grow and develop at the same rate as meat-eaters, writes Louisa Matwiejczyk.” Matwiejczyk uses a factual argument to come to the same conclusion as the previous CBS article, that being that a carefully planned vegan diet, along with the input of a medical professional, is nutritionally sound for developing bodies, and therefore also positions readers to view vegan parents in a positive light.

veggie-bowl
Sourced from United States Dept. of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service. Photo by Peggy Greb.

After addressing widespread public concern that excluding meat and other animal products will not allow children and teenagers to garner adequate nutrients and calories, an appeal to facts is made, as it is stated that “research shows that children who are raised as vegetarians grow and develop at the same rate as meat-eaters. They receive mostly the same amount of protein, energy and other key nutrients that children need.” This is furthered through supporting quotation from the American Dietetic Association, an appeal to authority, stating: “Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence, and for athletes.” Coming to this conclusion, though factual, causes the rest of the argument to become slightly evaluative, reporting only the positive factors of veganism. It does, however, acknowledge that diets omitting animal products must be “well planned.” The rising number of vegetarians and vegans is also addressed, but not given a factual basis, creating an informal fallacy, in particular an ad populum argument: “In high-income countries, ethical reasons [for not eating animal products] are more common – and the trend for vegetarianism is increasing.” This statement works to normalise people in society choosing to eat this way, again placing vegans in a positive light, backed up by the fact that the exclusion of meat, eggs and dairy does not necessarily cause nutritional deficiency at any stage of life.

More facts that place vegan parents in a positive light are immediately given after the aforementioned informal fallacy, as Matwiejczyk states that “Research shows that being vegetarian as a child does not contribute to disordered eating. And adolescent vegetarians tend to have a healthier weight and healthier attitude towards eating than their omnivore counterparts.” This overt appeal to facts (though the source is unnamed) also works as an appeal to emotion, stating only beneficial aspects of raising vegan or vegetarian children. The article “Are there any health implications for raising your child as a vegetarian, vegan or pescatarian?” continues to be overtly positive, factually proving that vegan and vegetarian diets provide adequate and abundant nutrition through a dietary breakdown of foods that afford the same nutrients and vitamins of animal-sourced produce. Another appeal to authority points out that “According to the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating, a cup of cooked legumes is equivalent to a serve of cooked meat in energy and comparable nutrients.”  Again, the challenge presented by veganism and total boycott of animal products is addressed in a factual manner, as Matwiejczyk admits it is difficult “for meeting B12, iodine, calcium and vitamin D needs.”

 

It is reiterated, though, that vegan children can thrive, yet this will not occur through a simple exclusion of certain food groups. “Vegan children need to take a regular B12 source and have their diet reviewed by an accredited practising dietitian,” Matwiejczyk states. While this is an evaluative presumption, using the imperative “need” without offering any form of factual or authoritative support, it neatly summarises the both factual and evaluative central claim and nature of the argument, which is then repeated:

“The take-home message is that with careful dietary planning it is very possible for children to be vegetarian and healthy.

In fact, vegetarians enjoy more health benefits compared to meat-eaters. Although there aren’t any guidelines as such, it is useful to have children checked by their GP every six months and, if vegan, to take a regular source of B12 and to visit an accredited practising dietitian.”

While addressing certain stipulations that come as part of feeding a child a vegan diet, that it must be well planned and reviewed by health professionals, the SBS piece “Are there any health implications for raising your child as a vegetarian, vegan or pescatarian?” by Louisa Matwiejczyk positions readers to view parents raising vegan children in a positive light, by proving that this diet can be nutritionally sound. Not unlike the previously discussed CBS article “Can you raise a healthy vegan baby?” facts and appeals to authority dominate the evaluations of this emotional subject.

Similarly, an overtly factual approach is taken in the final article I will be examining. Published by SELF Magazine, a women’s health, wellness, beauty and style magazine, on the 16th of August 2016, the article “Is it safe to put a child on a vegan diet?” poses the same question as CBS and SBS, made clear in the title. Written by Haley Goldberg, the article is extremely factual in nature, with little authorial opinion in the way of evaluation, instead using the opinions of professional dietary experts and healthcare providers. The central claim, answering the question posed in the headline, is also exactly that of the previously discussed articles; vegan diets are safe for children only if the proper attention to nutrition is given and approved by a dietician or paediatrician. Therefore, again, readers are positioned to view parents raising vegan children in a controlled positive light, as we are encouraged to move away from antiquated thought patterns that condemn diets containing no animal products, but realise that veganism must be undertaken only with the appropriate knowledge and planning.

A factual tone is immediately adopted by Goldberg in this article, through a brief discussion of the events in Italy earlier in the year which led to Elvira Savino proposing the bill to make it illegal for parents to limit children under the age of sixteen to a vegan diet, referring to The Washington Post through a hyperlink. Brief evaluative authorial intervention describes the July case of the hospitalised fourteen-month-old as “shocking,” admitting that it is one of four similar recent incidents in Italy alone. A quote from Savino first introduces us to the article’s central claim, as she is reported to have stated: “I just find it absurd that some parents are allowed to impose their will on children in an almost fanatical, religious way, often without proper scientific knowledge or medical consultation.” Proper scientific knowledge and medical consultation are viewed as an imperative aspect of raising vegan children, part of the central claim which is supported by facts throughout the remainder of the article, which seeks to answer its own question, “Is putting a child, especially an infant, on a vegan diet unsafe?” In short, this is answered with an appeal to authority: “According to experts, the answer is no.” The central claim is then explicitly stated, as Goldberg continues: “A vegan diet can be healthy for a child—if it’s done properly. And that means monitoring the vitamins, calories, and minerals a child is or isn’t receiving from their diet, and providing supplements when necessary,” the hyperlink to Healthy Children providing support an appeal to both facts and authority.

Appeals to authority are continually made through “Is it safe to put a child on a vegan diet?” as way of supporting the main conclusion. Jill Castle is the first specifically referenced authority, as registered dietician and nutritionist as well as childhood nutrition expert.

“There are certain nutrients we know in the very early years of life that are very critical to normal brain development and normal growth of an infant or a young toddler… And those nutrients can be missing or compromised if a parent were to use a vegan diet without good knowledge of the diet and good knowledge of the food they need to be using to make sure a child gets all the nutrients that they need.”

This, along with the following appeals to facts and authority, positions the audience to take a positive, yet wary stance towards parents raising their children on a vegan diet. Next resourced is Sheela Magge, an endocrinologist at the Children’s National Health System, who is paraphrased stating the position of the American Academy of Paediatrics, that “the AAP generally rules that restrictive diets aren’t unsafe, but they need to be followed in consultation with a pediatrician to make sure children and infants aren’t missing out on crucial nutrients and minerals,” also referencing the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics through hyperlink. These supporting arguments work to educate readers. They continuously prove that while a child can receive complete nutrition through a diet free from animal products (most probably with certain supplements), parents choosing to raise their children this way must be extremely well educated about their actions. Parents who do not educate themselves on their child’s nutritional needs are therefore characterised as neglectful.

Based upon the former appeals to fact and authority, as well as others I do not have time to mention, Goldberg comes to a conclusion which again succinctly repeats the central claim, that “the issue isn’t children on a vegan diet itself, then, but a lack of knowledge and vigilance when putting children on a vegan diet.” Jill Castle is again drawn upon, as she states that laws banning veganism are not what we need. Rather, society would benefit through more education for parents opting to choose a vegan lifestyle for their children.

“You look at the media and children doing very poorly on the vegan diet, it really does stem from a lack of knowledge on the parent side and a lack of monitoring on the healthcare side,” Castle says. “If a family decides to go this path, everyone needs to be wide-eyed and watching and monitoring and making sure that family has everything they need to support that child well and be able to step in early if things aren’t going well.”

mums
Sourced from https://www.flickr.com/. Photo by Owen Lucas

Overall, here we see three articles published this year, all by credible sources of news (both in a conventional news format and health and wellness format) that, through repeated appeals to facts and authority, find that veganism is safe for our children. In doing this, the Associated Press article “Can you raise a healthy vegan baby,” the SBS article “Are there any health implications for raising your child as a vegetarian, vegan or pescatarian?” by Louisa Matwiejczyk and SELF Magazine’s article “Is it safe to put a child on a vegan diet?” by Haley Goldberg all position readers to take a more positive view towards parents choosing to raise vegan children. The audience is, throughout all three pieces, encouraged to put aside antiquated prejudices against veganism and its supposed nutritional lack, and accept that while raising children on such a diet takes copious amounts of knowledge and planning, it can be done successfully, providing and nutritionally adequate and abundant diet for growing bodies. The only parents characterised as being neglectful, therefore, are those who choose not to educate themselves or work with a health practitioner, putting their children’s health at risk.

Media Analysis 2 Proposal: Mahar, z5059357, H12A

IS VEGANISM SAFE FOR OUR CHILDREN?

For my second media analysis article I will be looking at recent articles exploring the idea of whether veganism is nutritionally safe for children. A case of a malnourished vegan infant in Italy, and the recent proposed bill to jail parents enforcing veganism on their children garnered worldwide media attention, and these stories have been a catalyst for a slew of articles examining whether veganism is a nutritionally viable diet for children.

I will explore articles published this year by both popular news and nutritional news outlets and by websites endorsing a vegan lifestyle. I anticipate that my key conclusions will be that while there are articles both for and against raising vegan children, many more endorse an ‘ethical’ childhood, as long as it is carefully structured and optimised for a growing body.

Sustainable Farming: Is It Worth It?

Climate change has been attributed to many human activities. Deforestation, natural resource mining and agriculture have all come under fire on scientific channels and as a result, in the media. Sustainable farming practices have been the topic of much debate, as it becomes more obvious that the current agricultural systems are depleting natural resources such as water at an astronomical rate, as well as disrupting ecosystems and causing tremendous amounts of pollution. Sustainable methods of agriculture recognise that the food industry is absolutely indispensable to  the welfare of humans and the economy, and so proposes to use farming techniques that will maintain and increase levels of production yet promote environmental preservation, the protection of public health, the upholding of animal welfare and the sustaining of employment and safe working conditions.

Here you will find a short analysis of two opinion pieces, featured in prominent online publications, respectively titled ‘Sustainable Farming Can Feed the World?’ and ‘Why Organic Isn’t “Sustainable.”’ Both of these articles are making a distinct comment on the notion of sustainable agriculture and the positive and negative effects of this practice, yet they take diametrically opposite viewpoints.

 

Mark Bittman, a journalist who has had over one hundred pieces featured in The New York Times Opinionator, published ‘Sustainable Farming Can Feed The World?’ in The Opinionator on March 8 2011. It is immediately obvious that Bittman is very much in favour of sustainable farming practices. The central claim of the article is fourfold, as it is argued that the current agricultural system is detrimental to the economy, the environment and human health, but sustainable agriculture is achievable and will, in time, reverse the negative effects of the industrial system. This is explicitly stated in the opening of the piece, as Bittman states:

“Increasing numbers of scientists, policy panels and experts (not hippies!) are suggesting that agricultural practices pretty close to organic — perhaps best called ‘sustainable’ — can feed more poor people sooner, begin to repair the damage caused by industrial production and, in the long term, become the norm.”

These claims can be seen to be both factual, as it is rooted in the academic opinion of scientists and experts, and recommendatory, as the soon to be discussed justifications show Bittman is hoping to spur on action.

 

First we shall discuss the claim that the current agricultural system is having a negative effect on the global economy. When justifying this, Bittman appeals to facts, establishing himself as a well-informed and reliable source of information to the reader. At the time of publication, the Global Food Price Index was at a record high, a fact Bittman attributes to “industrial agriculture [not] working perfectly.” A later appeal to authority sees Bittman quote Olivier De Schutter, the United Nation’s (now former) Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, stating Agro-ecology immediately helps “small farmers who must be able to farm in ways that are less expensive and more productive.” While through these examples Bittman briefly justifies his stance that the current industrial agricultural system is having a negative effect on the economy, his piece focuses far more on the detrimental environmental effects of the system, proving that he assumes a readership who are predominantly interested in environmental preservation and protection, rather than the economical failings of the current system.

While extensively discussing the negative impacts of the current agricultural system on the environment, as well as the positive changes a sustainable system would bring, Bittman again uses the authority of Olivier De Schutter. “[Sustainable farming] decelerates global warming and ecological destruction,” two very real results of non-sustainable practices. Current agricultural methods are proven to be destructive through the following fact:

“Industrial (or “conventional”) agriculture requires a great deal of resources, including disproportionate amounts of water and the fossil fuel that’s needed…. This means it needs more in the way of resources than the earth can replenish. (Fun/depressing fact: It takes the earth 18 months to replenish the amount of resources we use each year. Looked at another way, we’d need 1.5 earths to be sustainable at our current rate of consumption.)”

Again, Bittman bases his conclusions in fact and authority, as the hyperlink is to a report from a trusted scientific source, Business and Biodiversity Campaign. By using the play on words “fun/depressing fact,” the point of view that these statistics are saddening is brought forward, proving again that Bittman is firmly against an “Industrial (or “conventional”) agricultural system.” Yet the article does not continue in this factual tone, as Bittman uses informal fallacy, stating: “Anyone who opens his or her eyes sees a natural world so threatened by industrial agriculture that it’s tempting to drop off the grid and raise a few chickens.” This evaluative presumption shows that Bittman believes that anyone who understands the damage industrial agriculture causes the environment will be tempted to take immediate action, in this case by distancing themselves from commercial agriculture, highlighted by the value-laden word “threat” and the colloquial phrase “drop off the grid.”

At this stage the article becomes extremely recommendatory, yet still maintains its basis in factuality and authority. Again De Scutter is quoted:

“’We have to move towards sustainable production,’ he said. ‘We cannot depend on the gas fields of Russia or the oil fields of the Middle East, and we cannot continue to destroy the environment and accelerate climate change. We must adopt the most efficient farming techniques available.’”

The inclusive pronoun “we” solidifies the recommendatory angle of the piece, as Bittman explicitly calls all readers into action with the imperative language. Mark Bittman’s piece ‘Sustainable Farming Can Feed the World,’ while at times presumptuous and based on personal opinion, largely provides a well-rounded argument based in facts and research. Constant references to trusted sources of information regarding the environment and studies prove this to be a fair and well-formed argument, though it does operate under the pretence that readers also have strong positive feelings toward environmental preservation. Therefore, this provides the conditions under which the piece is most persuasively effective: on audiences who may not be well informed, but believe in climate change and therefore want to foster positive change in our behaviour.

Arguing an entirely contradictory point that is clearly seen in the title, ‘Why Organic Isn’t “Sustainable”,’ an article by Henry I. Miller, a contributor to the Science & Technology oeuvre of Forbes, attempts to prove that sustainable agriculture is not what it says it is (ie. ‘sustainable’). Published on November 19 2014, Miller assumes throughout the majority of his article that sustainable farming must be entirely organic, a misconception that inevitably already places his argument on shaky ground. While certainly evaluative and attempting to be factual, Miller makes the central claims that sustainable (organic) farming is unachievable, actually detrimental to the environment and unable to support a growing human population. A negative approach towards sustainability is immediately perceived:

“But as with many vague, feel-good concepts–“natural” and “locavorism” come to mind–it contains more than a little sophistry. For example, sustainability in agriculture is often linked to organic food production, whose advocates tout it as a “sustainable” way to feed the planet’s expanding population.”

Miller immediately adopts a sarcastic tone when speaking of sustainable and organic practices, often inserting them in quotation marks, as seen above with “natural” and “locavorism,” making his evaluation on the topic before taking the time to prove that his stance is viable and factual. Informal fallacy comes into play as Miller almost immediately makes an evaluative presumption about sustainable systems:

“According to the Worldwatch Institute, ‘Organic farming has the potential to contribute to sustainable food security by improving nutrition intake and sustaining livelihoods in rural areas, while simultaneously reducing vulnerability to climate change and enhancing biodiversity.’ This is wishful thinking, if not outright delusion.”

Without providing any evidence for why this vision of sustainability is “wishful thinking, if not outright delusion,” the author simply uses this value-laden language to make his initial point, under the warrant that the reader will agree. Furthermore, he is abruptly disagreeing with a definition laid out by a credible source of information regarding environmentalism, the Worldwatch Institute.

In support of his central claim that sustainable farming practices are not of any benefit to the environment, Miller uses methods of distraction by discussing the greenhouse gas emissions caused by composting, failing to view environmental damage in a global sense. Miller does, however, appeal to facts through reference to findings from the Journal of Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, a trusted scientific outlet:

“The journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences found that the potential for groundwater contamination can be dramatically reduced if fertilizers are distributed through the irrigation system according to plant demand during the growing season.”

His further arguments seeking to justify the claim that sustainable agricultural practice is of no benefit to the environment do not base themselves on a similar solid foundation. Stating:

“Another limitation of organic production is that it disfavors the best approach to enhancing soil quality–namely, the minimization of soil disturbance (e.g. no plowing or tilling), combined with the use of cover crops.”

This appeal to consequences sees Miller making the claim that organic production will result in poor soil quality, though he does not actually prove to the reader that organic farmers do in fact participate in greater levels of soil disturbance or that this is a negative act. In justifying his final claim, that sustainable agriculture will be unable to meet the production demands of a growing global population, Miller again shies away from academic justification, instead using potentially unreliable facts and large amounts of his own personal opinion:

“Organic farming might work well for certain local environments on a small scale, but its farms produce far less food per unit of land and water than conventional ones. The low yields of organic agriculture–typically 20%-50% percent lower than conventional agriculture…”

With no scientific backing, this argument operates under the warrant that the reader believes Miller himself is a scientifically suitable and correct source of information. Again, Miller shows a vested interest in maintaining current agricultural standards, seeing no need for change and assuming a reader that holds this same opinion. The argument laid out in ‘Why Organic Isn’t Sustainable’ therefore operates on the belief that humans must continue to forge paths of mass production, and that this is the only way to feed the population and continue to grow in an economic sense.

Miller’s opinion piece ‘Why Organic Isn’t Sustainable’ is therefore extremely evaluative, building its argumentative foundations upon opinion that is given little backing from exterior scientific sources. It cannot be said that this is an extremely fair or well-formed argument, as it relies on informal fallacy and blind acceptance of this from the reader. The article is, therefore, persuasively effective when dealing with an audience that is willing to take the given opinions at face-value, is resistant to change in the current, seemingly effective system and potentially those who don’t believe in the immediacy of climate change.

It can be found, in conclusion, that Bittman’s article ‘Sustainable Farming Can Feed the World,’ though moralistic and harbouring an element of straight description, is much more reliable than Miller’s ‘Why Organic Isn’t Sustainable.’ Providing factual and academic justifications to all claims and opinions, although most probably relying on an audience who believes in climate change and global warming and that these issues must be tackled. Conversely, with absolutely minimal scientific or academic backing, and repeated use of persuasive, value-laden language, Henry Miller delivers an argument based solely on opinion. Little factual or academic foundation is given to his central claims, portraying an assumed readership that have the same economically-driven value system and scepticism towards climate change.