Vegan Children: A lifestyle choice under social scrutiny

By Alexandra Refenes


There is a certain kind of appeal that surrounds veganism as an alternative lifestyle choice. Excluding the consumption and use of all animal products, this plant-based diet appears to be growing exponentially in popularity. Not only does it offer a healthier lifestyle alternative, veganism is also characterized by its ethical regard for animals and a cleaner world.

Click here for more information about veganism from The Vegan Society.

However, current media representations have placed this lifestyle under intense scrutiny following a number of worldwide cases where babies raised on a vegan diet have been hospitalized due to malnourishment. Is it safe to raise a BABY as a vegan? Experts reveal whether the plant-based diet can be healthy for young children by Stephen Matthews, An Italian baby raised on a vegan diet is hospitalized for severe malnutrition and removed from parents by Mary Hui, Italian baby kept on vegan diet taken into care after being found malnourished by Josephine McKenna and a Vegan mum who allegedly fed baby only fruits and nuts charged published by, offer different perspectives regarding this societal issue.

The general consensus portrayed by news stories in the media is that veganism for children is unethical. Sparking moral debate, media articles question parenting skills and raise concerns about the absent intake of key nutrients that are essential for infant growth and development. Amongst these negative representations, however, there are few opinions that advocate a vegan diet. Some people argue that veganism is not the problem; it is neglect that leads to child malnourishment. Thus the contentious issue of vegan children remains.

In the first article Stephen Matthews offers insight into both perspectives, which positions the reader to consider either side of the argument. At first, Matthews alludes to the negative representation of a mother from Pennsylvania who “was charged with endangerment for feeding her baby nothing but a small amount of nuts and berries”. He couples this with the recent court decision in Italy where feeding children a vegan diet under the age of 16 has been criminalised “after a number of vegan babies were hospitalized for malnourishment”. By appealing to comparison, Matthews is propagating the generalized stigma, which surrounds vegan children. In most media stories, vegan children are perceived as victims whilst their parents are reviewed as unfit guardians. These are assumed representations that have significantly influenced societal opinions regarding the administration of vegan diets for children.

In contrast to this view, Matthews additionally discusses how the media can often create unfair representations in relation to this social issue. Drawing upon the authorial opinion of nutritionist Reed Mangels from Massachusetts, news stories that describe vegan children as malnourished “can be stressful for parents who have done their homework and have to defend themselves time and time again”. Further inclusion of academic opinion from The American Academy of Pediatrics promotes veganism for children by describing how, with dietary planning and research, “it is possible to provide a balanced diet to vegetarians and vegans”. The use of the word possible creates hope for veganism as a positive lifestyle choice for young children. By inviting the reader to consider the authorial opinion of academic sources, Matthews is implicitly influencing his readers to consider other viewpoints. This is a common technique that many authors appear to use through out various media representations in order to remain neutral in their opinion. By including both sides of the argument, this allows the reader to reach their own conclusion about the social issue of vegan children. Although many articles predominately oppose vegan diets for children, they still offer debate that perhaps there are other plausible causes, which could lead to malnourishment. However, the general consensus represented by the media still remains that this lifestyle choice inhibits the welfare of children.

Author Mary Hui from The Washington Post offers further insight into the debate of vegan children in society. Reporting on the hospitalization of a 14-month-old baby from Italy, she writes how the infant was found severely malnourished after being raised on a vegan diet.

“The baby, whose parents allegedly kept him on a vegan diet without providing dietary supplements, was found severely malnourished, suffering from dangerously low calcium levels. Complicating matters, the baby had to undergo an emergency operation because of a congenital hear condition, which was aggravated by his low calcium levels”.

Appealing to emotion, Hui includes words and phrases such as shocked, harrowing, suffering and dangerously low to invoke audience reaction. Painting a negative picture, these linguistic devices used by Hui position the reader to oppose veganism as a dietary option for young children.

The inclusion of an authorial voice in the above statement also creates a relation between the reader and author. Hui asserts her opinion through descriptive language, which essentially influences the reader to share a similar view. Through the use of transitive analysis, this is a passive clause that describes the baby as the affected, the parents as the agent and malnourishment as the process. By including this analytical perspective, Hui is promoting the generalized view that once again, children fall victim veganism as a result of poor decision-making from their parents.

Despite these negative viewpoints, Hui additionally alludes to social misconceptions that surround veganism for children. ‘“Holy guacamole – can we all just stop the madness when it comes to ill-informed journalists claiming that vegan diets harm/kills babies?!’ said a broadside in the Your Daily Vegan. ‘Every year or so, an article enters the world with inflammatory headlines and content about how dangerous a vegan diet can be for infants and children’” she includes.

The explicit language used in this quote attests to the moral and ethical debate that surrounds this issue in society. The use of the phrase can we all also creates a relation between the text and the reader by positioning them with majority of society who seem to oppose vegan diets for children. By referring to articles with inflammatory headlines and content about how dangerous veganism can be for children, Hui highlighting the general view of media representations. The media tends to promote negative perceptions of this social issue, which positions members of society to disagree with this lifestyle choice.

Furthermore, Hui juxtaposes negative perceptions of vegan diets for children by appealing to authority. By including a statement from The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, she seeks to promote what appears to be a minority view in the media – that veganism can be healthy for infants and toddlers. This invokes attitudinal assessment by positioning the reader to trust academic sources in relation to this debatable issue.

In a similar manner, Josephine McKenna from The Telegraph also reports on the Italian baby who was found malnourished as a result of a vegan diet. The association between these two stories illustrates the negative correlation between most news articles that are published by the media. By appealing to consequence, these articles illustrate that most cases of vegan children shared by the media communicate negative consequences, rather than positive impacts of this lifestyle choice.

Negative media representations appear to scrutinise the skills of vegan parents, which has essentially become a major issue in society. Including the authorial opinion of Luca Berndardo, director of paediatrics at Milan hospital, McKenna alludes to the idea that veganism does not offer sufficient nutrient intake for young children. In her article, she describes the Italian baby as “severely malnourished with calcium levels barely adequate to survive”. A quote Bernardo suggests that from the moment of birth, the young child “should have had support in this case with calcium and iron levels”.

This is another societal issue that surrounds vegan children. According to The Youngest Vegetarians, “key nutrients whose adequacy should be monitored in vegetarian/vegan diets include vitamin B12, calcium, vitamin D, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, and zinc (Mangels, 2012, pg. 8)”. However, many media representations communicate that veganism does not offer such nutrients to young children, which are optimal for growth and development.

McKenna further alludes to comparison by referencing other vegan cases that resulted in negative consequences. “It is not the first time that vegan diets have provoked alarm in Italy. Four children have been hospitalized within the last 18 months and a malnourished toddler spent several days in intensive care in a Genoa hospital last month”, she states. By including other cases of malnourished vegan children, the author is highlighting the severity of this situation. This essentially provides the viewer with substantive evidence that perhaps veganism for children should be disapproved. have additionally published a news article that shines a negative light on veganism as a lifestyle choice for young children. Drawing parallels with the first article composed by Matthews, this media text offers negative perceptions of the discussed social issue.

In accordance to court records, the estranged husband of Elizabeth Hawk became concerned after their son broke out in a rash as a suspected result from the baby’s strict diet. Police said that the mother, who had subjected her child to a vegan diet, had “had not fed the child enough for the baby to thrive”.

Representations of the mother through out the article and other similar news stories are severely negative. By including the opinion of a paediatrician who examined the child, this article sees the mother’s actions as “inhumane”. This particular description ignites emotional reaction in the reader and positions them to review all vegan parents in a negative manner. Media representations tend to label vegan parents as neglectful and incompetent, which seems to influence the establishment of societal views regarding this issue.

Court records, which describe the child as unable to ‘“crawl as a result of the malnourishment,’ which also left him developmentally delayed” are grim perceptions that influence the readers opinion of veganism for children.

In addition, the article also states, “Brandy described her sister-in-law’s views on nutrition as extreme, adding: “She was going to live on water and sunlight”.

This statement, which describes the eating habits of Elizabeth Hawk, is testament to majority of media representations that people regard about veganism. As a dietary choice that excludes all animal products, many people in society are under the assumption that veganism involves very little choice in terms of food sources.

Furthermore, Elizabeth Hawk was charged with endangering the welfare of her son after failing to provide him with sufficient food. The extremity of this case promotes societal judgement, as people continue to review veganism for children as a poor parental choice. The legal implications involved in this case also heighten negative connotations that media tend to attach to this societal issue.

Through the journalistic analysis of the articles above, it is evident that media representations of vegan children provoke inevitable public debate. The conclusions reached by each author are subject to personal opinion, which essentially influences the engaging reader. By comparing linguistic devices and the use of authorial opinions, it is clear that each text promotes varying perceptions of vegan children in their own way. Whilst the general consensus may regard veganism as a negative lifestyle for young children, there are still opinions that think otherwise. As this plant-based diet continues to grow in trend, the debate shall continue in relation to determining how young is too young for children to follow this strict diet.


Matthews, S (2016) ‘Is it safe to raise a BABY as a vegan? Experts reveal whether the plant-based diet can be healthy for young children’, The Daily Mail Australia,

Hui, M (2016) ‘An Italian baby raised on a vegan diet is hospitalized for severe malnutrition and removed from parents’ The Washington Post,

McKenna, J (2016) ‘Italian baby kept on vegan diet taken into care after being found malnourished’ The Telegraph,

Author unknown, (2016) ‘Vegan mum who allegedly fed baby only fruits and nuts charged’,

The Vegan Society, (2016) ‘Definition of veganism’,

Mangels, R (2012) ‘The Youngest Vegetarians: Vegetarian Infants and Toddlers’ in Childhood Obesity and Nutrition, vol. 4, no. 1, pg. 8-20.








Vegan Children: The moral debate

Alexandra_Refenes_z3463041_MDIA2002_F10A_Assessment Task Four Step One

 Assessment Task Four: Media Analysis Article Two

Preliminary Proposal

The following proposal briefly summarizes my analysis of several journalism articles regarding vegan children. It is my intention to compare and identify how they position the reader to either favour or oppose this contentious issue. In addition, I shall analyse how different characters are portrayed in each text as either negative or positive influences with respect to my chosen subject.

Veganism is an alternative, plant-based diet that excludes the consumption and use of all animal products including meat, dairy, eggs and honey. Growing in popularity, this lifestyle choice has recently been placed under scrutiny as many parents are choosing to raise their young children on this strict diet. Moral and ethical debate has inevitably sparked in society regarding the health and welfare of children, whilst questioning the parenting skills of many.

I have found four particular articles online that provide comparative views of this social issue:


Published in October this year, article number one reports how “a vegan mum who allegedly fed her baby only fruits and nuts has been arrested and charged”. The father of the child took the 11-month-old to a local Child and Youth Services organisation in Pennsylvania. A pediatrician claims that the child was suffering from a severe rash and in risk of septic shock. This article shines a negative light on the mother whilst the child is seen as the victim.

The second article from The Washington Post was published in July this year and discusses the hospitalization of an Italian baby who has been removed from parental custody after being raised on a vegan diet. Similar to the above article, administering a vegan diet for young children is reviewed as an unfit lifestyle choice. The author draws upon professional medical advice to support their argument that veganism is not appropriate for children, as they do not receive necessary vitamins and nutrients that are vital for growth. The article also includes columnist advice from different sources that approve plant-based diets in general can be good for children. Providing that parents have undertaken adequate research to ensure that their children are getting the calories and nutrients that they need.

The third article specifically discusses the news story of the Italian baby who was fed a vegan diet by his parents and taken to hospital for malnourishment. Published in July this year, it includes specific facts about the case and mentions the hospitalization of other children in Italy over the past 18 months.

Finally, the fourth article, also published in October this year, is titled “Is it safe to raise a baby as a vegan? Experts reveal whether the plant-based diet can be healthy for young children”. This particular news story discusses the contentious issue by including information for and against the chosen lifestyle choice. It alludes to the hospitalization of vegan babies in Italy (as discussed in the above articles) and draws upon the story of Pennsylvania mother Elizabeth Hawk who was charged with endangering her 11-month-old son by restricting him to a vegan diet. This story provides both for and against argumentation regarding vegan diets for children by drawing upon professional opinions.

With respect to this data, I anticipate that each author will rely on authoritative opinion and facts to back up their given viewpoint. It is my intention to draw upon such conclusions and compare how different media outlets portray various social issues and people. The overall layout of my analysis will begin by introducing the topic and then proceed to individually dissect each article to determine how the authors position the reader to agree with or disapprove the discussed issue. I will then conclude by drawing upon similarities and comparing differences between each text.

Alexandra Refenes_Media Analysis Article 1_F10A

Gender Dysphoria in Children: An Ethical Debate

By Alexandra Refenes

The contentious issue of gender dysphoria has recently intensified in Australia following the case of a four-year-old preschooler who has begun to transition. There are infinite complexities surrounding transgender identity amongst children, leading to ethical debate right across the nation. Gender dysphoria is a condition where a person’s “subjectively felt identity and gender are not congruent with his or her biological sex”, as summarised by The Media Journal of Australia. Although contemporary morality implores that we must achieve diversity and inclusiveness, concerns have been raised as to whether or not children should undergo processes of gender transition at such a tender age. Recent media coverage has revealed the demarcation of varying opinions surrounding this debate of transgender children in Australia. Two particular opinion pieces attest to this ethical divide. The first is an editorial article titled ‘Take careful steps on kids’ gender journey’, published in September this year by The Daily Telegraph. The second article entitled, ‘Rethinking how we represent transgender children in the media’, was composed this year in August by authors Damien Riggs and Clare Bartholomaeus from The Conversation. Analysis of both texts reveals dichotomous attitudes toward this issue. Each author is under the assumption that the ‘average reader’ either agrees or disagrees with his or her primary claim whether or not a child should receive treatment for gender dysphoria. They are appealing to an audience who they believe, share a similar worldview as their own.

Whilst The Daily Telegraph article remains sensitive and supports a child’s right to transition, it clearly scrutinises the age at which children undergo treatment. This opinion piece is strongly critical of young children transitioning and assumes that the average reader is aligned with this principle claim. It is persuading the reader that although we are ethically obliged to assist children suffering from gender dysphoria, at what age remains debatable. In contrast, Riggs and Bartholomaeus assume that their audience is in favour of gender transition as they comment on the importance of transgender representations in the media. Addressing episodes of Australian Story and 60 Minutes, this piece strongly argues that transgender children should be supported. Both opinion pieces have been composed in such a way that assumes the readership agrees with the primary claim being stated.

Firstly, it is interesting to point out that the editorial article ‘Take careful steps on kids’ gender journey’, appears to initially favour gender transition as it adopts empathic personalization through the statement:

“Few of us will ever know what it’s like to feel trapped in the wrong body. To see yourself as the opposite gender to the one you see in the mirror”.

The use of pronouns here such as “us” and “you”, is a clear indication of the assumed general audience that the article is addressing. The underlying assumption is that the reader agrees with this ideology and experience. Describing gender dysphoria as a “very serious condition” that can have “tragic consequences” and additionally supporting the role of transgender figure Catherine McGregor, the text argues that this condition must and should be treated. However, the turning point in the article, which attests to the strongly opposed opinion against young children transitioning, is found in the following quote:

“However, it is self-evident that no child, let alone a four-year-old, is in a position to make potentially irreversible life-changing decisions, even vicariously via their parents or the state”.

This statement explicitly supports the primary claim that children should not transition. It appeals to consequences where the irreversibility of this decision is obviously bad and it appeals to ethics and social norms, as the author suggests it is abnormal for children to “be in a position” to make such a life-changing choice. The underlying logic here is that children are too young to be making serious decisions that will alter their life. The strong argument against gender dysphoria presumes that the quote is a factual claim, however, it is a recommendation. The article is attempting to convince the audience and gain their agreement on the assumed belief that “no child” has the capacity to make such decisions about their gender identity. Here, The Daily Telegraph is operating under the assumption that their average reader agrees with this underlying logic.

Another explicit example of the author’s opinion is the appeal to authority as the text references the US Declaration of Independence. The Daily Telegraph’s underlying assumption is that their readership considers the US Declaration of Independence as a reliable source, which therefore makes the nature of the argument factual.

“Imposing change upon them or setting them on a course that may not be the right one is often fraught with danger. It is worth remembering here perhaps the two most important tenets of freedom and care. The first is from the US Declaration of Independence, which upholds an individual’s right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness””.

This particular statement highlights the core values of freedom and care, which the article assumes are foundational worldviews. By appealing to authority, it persuades the audience of the warrant that universal declarations are reliable sources and should be believed. In reference to the primary claim, the author implicitly suggests that by “imposing change upon them [children]” or guiding them toward a decision that “may not be the right one”, is morally wrong. The author of the article is under the assumption that the audience agrees gender dysphoria robs children of their rights to freedom and care. The author justifies their statement by additionally appealing to consequence, revealing that gender dysphoria is “often fraught with danger”, insinuating the recommendation that it should therefore be opposed.

The following excerpts additionally highlight the ethical debate surrounding transgender children and their right to transition. In this opinion piece, The Daily Telegraph invokes their argument against the issue by stating the following:

“The message of both is clear: When in doubt, leave people be”.

“Generally speaking, surely the best rule of thumb is to just let kids be kids. They will explore, they will experiment and they will change. And when the time comes they should be supported in their choices”.

The informal fallacy of either-or-argumentation in the first quote suggests that if in doubt, the only other option is to “leave people be”. The underlying assumption here is that the audience agrees with the generalized message that children should be left alone and not coerced if there is any overshadowing doubt regarding gender identity. However, this interferes with the declarative right that all people, including children, have the right to pursue happiness. By abstaining from the child and relying on this either-or-argumentation, this collides with the above declaration, thus exemplifying a flawed argumentation that is unfair and dishonest.

In the second excerpt, the hasty generalization that “the best rule of thumb” is “to just let kids be kids” illustrates the choice of linguistic devices that the author uses to support their opposing argument toward gender transitioning.

Analysis of this text thus reveals the authors operating assumption that their audience opposes gender dysphoria treatment in young children. The Daily Telegraph strongly asserts their opinion that gender transition in children is unethical and surmises that the average reader will share this view. The main principle claim that children should not undergo transgender treatment is continuously embedded through out the text. The employment of various argumentative techniques to support this primary claim is testament to The Daily Telegraph’s attempt to persuade and convince the audience of their stated opinion. In essence, this article is an amalgamation of opinion and argumentation as the author provides supporting evidence to cement and standardize their claim as a shared belief by their assumed audience.

The article ‘Rethinking how we represent transgender children in the media’ on the other hand, provides evidence of support that gender dysphoria in children should be treated. The central claim introduced by the authors is that the Australian media should positively represent and support the rights of transgender children.

“Such representation is valuable as it allows other young people to see affirming images. Some young transgender people report better understanding their own experience after seeing others who are similar”.

The causal argument represented in the above excerpt approves of gender transitioning amongst children as the authors highlight the underlying logic that “such representations are valuable”. The word “valuable” here is most important as the authors assume a readership that agrees with the belief that encouraging discussion and representations of gender dysphoria in children and teens, will have a positive impact on others who are undergoing the same experience. The text additionally advocates causal argumentation through the following quote:

“Children who are supported are more likely to have positive mental health outcomes”.

Bordering along more speculative rather than argumentative, this quote is designed to convince the reader that the first event (supporting children) will result in the second event (positive mental health). The underlying warrant that the authors assume their readers to agree upon, is that children who do not talk about their gender dysphoria, suffer from negative mental health. Here, both Riggs and Bartholomaeus operate under the assumption that their audience agrees with the universal belief that igniting positive mental health in children will combat issues of identity crisis. Essentially, it is the ethical decision to assist (particularly children) rather than “leave people be” as suggested in the first article ‘Take careful steps on kids’ gender journey’.

The authors also appeal to authority in order to promote their primary claim. The assumed notion here is that the average reader reviews clinical and legal procedures as precedent, thus appealing to authority.

“Certainly, receiving a clinical diagnosis (and presenting to the Family Court) is mandated at present. Our concern, and one shared by Australian Story, is when narratives of clinical diagnosis or court authorization aren’t treated as something that can and should be changed”.

The underlying presumption that the authors are imposing upon their audience here is that gender dysphoria is a treatable condition that should be clinically and authoritatively recognized. They are assuming that their audience agrees with their implicit opinion that Australian processes need to be updated and improved in order to correlate with ethical viewpoints on behalf of young Australian children.

In addition to this, the article appeals to emotion through the combined causal and evaluative claim as follows:

“Referred to as ‘deadnaming’, transgender people have clearly outlined why disclosing birth names is marginalizing: it can be shaming and can undermine the person’s gender”.

Through the stipulative definition of “deadnaming”, the authors are appealing to their assumed audience by invoking emotional reactions. The words “marginalizing”, “shaming” and “undermining” all attest to the additional claim that ignoring ethical cries of gender dysphoria will result in a lack of morality. Essentially, Riggs and Bartholomaeus rely upon the assumption that their average reader values the same ethical views as themselves. Their presumption of their readers is that they will feel an emotional connection to the topic and oppose any marginalization that will essentially demote positive images of transgender children in Australia.

Considering these arguments above, the authors are supporting and backing up their opinion regarding gender dysphoria in children. They assume a largely likeminded readership that agrees with the underlying logic that children at any age, should be able to express themselves in order to feel included and accepted by others in society. This particular article does include opinion-based statements, however, the use of evidence asserts argumentative foundations.

After critically analysing both articles, it is discernible that the authors do not cater for their audience, rather assume that the average reader shares similar ethical views as those, which are discussed. Both The Daily Telegraph and co-authors Riggs and Bartholomaeus, inject their opinions within their texts, however, they provide argumentative evidence to back up their claims. This particular evaluation applies more to the second article rather than the first, as The Daily Telegraph has produced a piece that is more opinion-based. While these two articles undertake opposed positions in relation to the discussed topic, the contextual layout of each text operates under the assumption that their audience is in agreeance with their primary claims regarding gender dysphoria in Australian children. Essentially, both texts attest to the ethical divide that is riddling people right across Australia.

MDIA2002: Alexandra Refenes_Preliminary Proposal

Media Analysis Article 1: Preliminary Proposal

By Alexandra Refenes

The following proposal briefly discusses and summarizes the Syrian refugee crisis, which I have chosen to analyse for my views journalism analysis piece. Providing text-analysis based conclusions, it is my intention to compare and contrast alternative views that are for and against the influx of Syrian refugees seeking asylum, particularly in Australia.

The civil war in Syria has become an international phenomenon, as millions of people remain displaced from their homes. Fleeing from Islamic State militants, these people are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. However, controversy has sparked as to whether refugees should be accepted as ISIS members are using the migrant crisis to infiltrate different nations and cause worldwide terror. This debate between humanitarian action and the refusal of asylum seekers forms the foundation of my views journalism analysis.

There are two particular articles that I found online that support my evaluation of this topic. The first article “Australia Can And Must Do More About The Migration Crisis”, was published this year in August by Helen Szoke. The article can be found on the ‘Huffington Post’ online website:

This particular article seeks to criticize that Australia should do more to help Syrian refugees. It provides an argument for the refuge and asylum of war-torn citizens.

The second article that I found contrasts this view by opposing the migration of Syrian refugees in Australia. Composed by political reporter Dan Conifer, “Terrorists could be among Syrian refugees, senator Cory Bernardi says” was published in November 2015. Despite being published one year previous to the first article, it is still relevant to the ongoing refugee crisis. This article can be found through the reputable online website, ABC News:

The overall thesis for my supposed analysis is that all human life matters, including those who are suffering from the refugee crisis in Syria. It is my intention to use both articles to compare and analyse differing opinions that are currently circulating through out the media. I shall evaluate how each author portrays their personal opinion and what type of argument they adopt to convince their assumed audience. In reference to the first article, my primary conclusion is that Australia should do more to assist those involved in the crisis. As a nation, we have enough resources to provide aid funding and support those seeking asylum. Failure to help Syrian refugees will fall short of our moral obligation. In contrast, the second article opposes the influx of Syrian refugees in Australia. In my opinion, the main point of this text is that Australia should not provide asylum for refugees, as it will also allow terrorism to infiltrate. Overall, my analysis shall interpret and evaluate how different arguments relating to the Syrian refugee crisis discuss the implementation of values, morals and worldviews. I shall also anticipate how each author presents their argument in order to persuade their intended audience.