Dead vegan babies and rational responses

In Italy, a controversial proposal by a rightist politician would have vegan parents who raise their children as vegans to be put into jail.

In the BBC article the politician is quoted as saying that “there is no objection if the person making this choice is an informed adult. The problem arises when children are involved… ”


When the conversation is about parents raising their children vegetarian or vegan, the terms “forcing” or even “brainwashing” often come up. Vegan parents are thought to impose their own ideology and preferences on their children, who have not made that choice themselves, simply because they are not old enough to make conscious decisions on this (or any more complicated) topic.

As a parent, however, you cannot help but make certain choices for your children. Bringing them up as non-vegans is obviously a choice too, even though it may not seem so to many people, because meat eating is the norm today. There are no reasons however, including in the domain of health, why it should be like that. People of all age groups, including babies and young children, can thrive on a balanced vegetarian or even vegan diet. Conversely, roughly 1 in 3 children in Europe (and more in the US) are now overweight. That’s a direct result of this “normal diet” with which we raise them.

It would therefore be difficult to argue that bringing up children with animal products is in any way more valid, correct or justified than raising children without them. Hence we should have no real need for additional arguments in support of the vegan option (but of course we have them). Neither are there reasons to support the statement that children should be vegan only when they themselves have made a conscious decision to be vegans. Parents can make that decision for them.

Incidentally, my experience with vegetarian or vegan parents (I myself have no children) is that many of them do seem to have a bit of a flexible attitude regarding the diet of their babies or young children. The children will of course get information on why the parents do not eat meat, they won’t be served any meat at home and there won’t be meat on their sandwiches to take to school. But they will hear from their parents about what meat is, that other people eat it, and often that if they want to taste it out of the house, they are free to do so. Unfortunately vegan parents must constantly defend and justify their perfectly sound choices to their family, friends, teachers, doctors, etc.

It’s probably hard to give children this information in a neutral and objective way. But on the other hand: consider what parents tell their children when they spontaneously start to question meat (as many do, at a very young age). The parents will say that “the animals didn’t suffer”, that they were bred for this purpose, or that this is just the way the world is and that we have to eat meat. Is that objective information?

Eating animal products is not a neutral idea or custom. The author and psychologist Melanie Joy finds it problematic that a term such as veganism exists while there is no term for the norm (eating meat). Veganism needs to be explained, but the norm doesn’t. Melanie Joy points out that behind our habit of the daily and careless consumption of meat, there is actually also an ideology, which she calls carnism.

When we choose how to raise our children, the choice is not between the “normal option” (animal products) and the ideological option, but between veganism and carnism. Whoever tries to objectively analyze the pros and cons of both systems, may very well find that it makes more sense to raise children vegan, to give them the necessary information when they reach the right age, and then let them decide whether they want to eat animals or not.

When we respond, as vegans, to cases where a baby dies from malnutrition, we need, as always, to respond rationally. Responding emotionally or dogmatically will only confirm to politicians and others what they are already thinking: that vegans are an irrational bunch, feeding their babies an unhealthy diet for ideological reasons. A good response is a calm one, not an angry one (no matter how angry we may feel). A good response will also admit that vegan diets can indeed be unhealthy if not done right. A good response will not present a vegan diet as a panacea against all diseases of affluence, nor will it claim that vegans live umpteen years longer than meat eaters.

When it’s about children, we should be extra cautious with their diet. This applies to vegan as well as non-vegan parents. Vegan parents should be mindful of the potential pitfalls (vitamin B12 among others), and not assume that everything will be all right because veganism is just such a great and “natural” diet (the term “natural” is quite meaningless and misleading). We should also be aware that when we don’t do our due diligence in raising a baby vegan and something goes wrong, then not only is that bad for the child in particular, but also for the whole vegan movement and the image of vegan diets. Many people who eat animal products know that their diet is morally problematic and welcome any excuse to keep on eating what they are eating. The idea that not eating meat is harmful for health would, of course, be a great excuse for them. Let’s be conscientious and careful in the raising of vegan children, and not give them that excuse, for it is a false one.


If you want to read more on this topic, check out this article by The Animalist.




65 thoughts on “Dead vegan babies and rational responses

  1. I love this; very well put. I think that issue of choice is SO crucial, how we are told vegan kids aren’t given a choice, when the reverse is the case. They are given the choice to make informed decisions about what goes in their body and the effect their diet has. It is impossible to not make choices on behalf of your kid, or they would never eat or do anything! We have to choose what we think is best for our kids and then hope they will make good, ethical choices in their lives.

  2. This is just about the worse piece I’ve read here

    First of all, the issue with babies and children isn’t brainwashing, it is simply health. There is not enough science that a vegan diet is sufficient for children. If you take required amount of nutrients that are CURRENTLY considered essential and add things up, yes, it does look on paper as if a VERY careful vegan diet is adequate. But that takes a lot of things for granted. For example, it takes for granted that the child will make sufficient Vitamin A from betacarotene. There is evidence to suggest that the ability to make Vitamin A varies amongst individuals and may well be inadequate in some. This isn’t a problem in omnivore children – they will get sufficient Vitamin A as retinol in animal foods and via betacarotene. Children being overweight is a total red herring. First of all obesity is a complex issue. Secondly, it is unlikely, in terms of food within this complexity, that animal foods are to blame, more likely excessive fat, which can just as likely be vegetable fats, and excessive refined carbohydrates, which, since they come from plants, are completely vegan.

    Saying an omnivore diet is an equivalent ‘choice” because it is “the norm today” is completely specious. Humans eat omnivorously because we are omnivores and always have been. We don’t choose omnivory; it is the restrictions of omnivory, like veganism, which are the choices. As for Melanie Joy and “carnism” – so, its a problem there is no term for meat-eating? No it isn’t, because that’s just something omnivores do. Veganism is required to explain itself, but “the norm” doesn’t – that’s because omnivory is what omnivores do. The only things that need explaining is, for example, why Koreans eat dogs and Americans don’t, and that is a cultural question, not an ideological one.

    If vegans want to feed their infants and children a vegan diet without undue harassment, they should debate honestly. They should certainly avoid sounding like the diet equivalent of Jehovah’s Witnessses.

    1. “There is not enough science that a vegan diet is sufficient for children.”

      It’s your word against that of the American Dietetic Association which issued the below position statement. The Association (now known as the Academy of Diet and Nutrition) is the most prestigious science-based organization concerned with nutrition in the US and arguably worldwide. Their position is based on the sum of the available scientific evidence. Your opinion draws no water in comparison to theirs.

      You may focus on the word “well-planned” and make a big deal out of this. However, this also applies to omnivorous diets, doesn’t it?

      Take the vitamin A thing… you choose a random deficiency and seem to think this somehow provides decisive evidence. Are you aware that infant formulas are carefully supplemented with all sorts of nutrients, including vitamins that do not occur in these quantities or ratios reliably in “natural omnivore foods”? Omnivores, whether children or not, can and do also suffer from a variety of deficiencies such as B12 (sic) or iodine deficiencies. That’s why infant formulas and also products for adults such as milk (whether dairy or plant-based) are often fortified with these.

      Omnivores are animals that typically eat a mix of both animal and plant foods, the proportions of which in their diets vary widely. The animal part can play a rather diminished role, or a major role. Omnivores *can* survive and strive on a diet consisting entirely or almost exclusively of plants. That applies in particular to us humans. (Again, in case you’ve forgotten, look at the link I supplied above.)

      When we talk about choice, we of course mean an ethical choice. Since our physiology and modern science allow us to be healthy without eating animals, it *is* a choice we have. You are simply in denial about this like most others who post incensed comments like yours. You don’t want it to be so, so you conflate biological classification with moral reasoning.

      The only thing I can agree with you on is that the obesity argument is a bit of a red herring. Obesity does not need to follow from consuming animal foods, obviously. It follows from caloric surplus and/or a *poorly planned* diet rich in processed carbohydrates and fats. Such poorly planned diets are much more likely to occur in thoughtlessly raised omnivore children than in children raised by vegan parents who are typically much more aware and careful about their dietary choices.

      1. Yes! Obviously the ADA has zero motivation to advocate a plant based diet, but even they have to agree that it’s perfectly adequate for human health. And of course, many physicians would argue its superiority. I’m vegan, my family is plant based, and nobody is deficient in anything (or even close).

        Interestingly, my youngest daughter had iron deficiency before our family switched to a vegan diet. She disliked pretty much all meat, but she loves beans! Problem solved.

        1. The authors of the ADA position paper – Craig is a seventh day adventist vegetarian, Mangels is an ethical vegan.

          “…zero motivation to advocate a plant based diet”

      2. I did not present betacarotene/Vitamin A as “decisive evidence”. I presented it as an example of the complexity of nutrition. You are taking it as a deficiency problem – hence the baby formula. I presented as an inabilty to sufficiently convert betacarotene to Vitamin A. If vegans rely on betacarotene but some can’t convert enough that is serious matter. And yes omnivores can suffer from deficiencies but such deficiencies are the result of a poor diet, circumstances that impinge on diet, or physical problems. The vegan diet is inherently deficient (B12) and at a higher risk of being deficient because it is so restricted. Yes an omnivore diet requires some care. A vegan diet requires significant care and diligence and always supplementation (B12). Thus the vegan diet can never be proposed as the diet for the whole population – a national diet has to be as easy as possible to be sure all people can follow it well enough to get adequate nutrition – this is achievable with an omnivorous diet and some simple rules.

        SOME humans can survive on a plant only diet (or rather an omnivorous diet deplete of animal foods). There is not the evidence that this is a possibility of for all humans. That would require multiple studies of sufficient vegan sample groups within all human populations. Humans populations vary. For example, the long history of vegetarianism in India appears to have lead to a high occurrence of a genetic adaptation with regard to omega 3 that is rare in Europe.

        You simply can not posit that everybody’s physiology permits them to be vegan and therefore it is just an ethical choice. Because you see that is the difference between you and me. I have no problem saying some people can do fine on a vegan diet but you have to believe that everybody can be fine on a vegan diet. You accuse me of being in denial because I don’t want the vegan diet to be fine and dandy for everybody on earth. What kind of denial are you in? Denial of physiological, genetic variability and diversity. You say my comments are “incensed”. Well some some of your comments sound like fundamentalist delusion.

        And forget the “modern science” thing. The benefits of modern science is for those who can afford it. Perhaps you are an American with really good health insurance or work related health benefits. Perhaps this allows you to have regular “blood work” to make sure your vegan nutrition is going along nicely. Well, many people in the US are not so fortunate. And most people in the world aren’t. As well as everything else I’ve written, I am going to defend the omnivore diet for one extra reason – for the sake of poor people so that they have the breadth of choice to do what is best for themselves.

        1. You sure are making a big deal out of the vitamin A side show so I had the impression that you thought this was a somehow weighty argument in the overall discussion about veganism.

          Science works through falsifiable hypotheses. An example is “All swans are white”. If all the swans you see around yourself and in various other places are white and only white, then that hypothesis is a reasonable one to work with. Until a black swan is found, to the best of our knowledge, there are no non-white swans and we can work off that hypothesis. To say “We can’t be sure that there are no non-white swans in this world” is both a true statement and scientifically worthless. It isn’t a falsifiable hypothesis and contributes nothing of value. I can say something like that about pretty much anything. That’s what you are doing with your “We can’t be sure that all humans can live on a vegan diet.” This is true, and it is also irrelevant because as of now, nobody has discovered any humans that can’t. Our hypothesis is that all humans can if they take a Vit B12 supplement, and that is a reasonable hypothesis because when you look around vegan populations everywhere, whether in east Asia, or in Europe, or among Africa-Americans, an obligatorily carnivorous human (for whom a B12 supplement isn’t enough) has not been produced. It’s also reasonable because to imagine a human who JUST CAN’T no matter what is close to an absurdity. That would give us humans who as far as their digestive functions are concerned are as different from one another as cows are from cats. Maybe, maybe such a thing can really happen but I think we can disregard that for now.

          And no, I do not need my assumption to be true for everyone. Because even your fictional truly carnivorous sapient animal would still have ethical choices to make. How much animal matter to eat (stuff their faces, or eat just that amount that they really need?), from what species (mussels or pigs?) and how to obtain it (factory farming? “humane” farming? lab grown or other synthetic meats?).

          We have ethical choices to make in this regard, no matter what. We can choose to do our very best to reduce animal suffering and killing as much as possible, or we can do what you do and look for 1001 excuses.

          And no, I don’t need to be a rich person to make a vegan diet work for me. All I need to do is eat a well diversified diet of whole foods, and supplement B12. That’s all. Ideally, I should also take some algae-derived DHA/EPA which would indeed be expensive but that is optional. And again, as per the above, say we ‘re talking about a poor person in a poor country who has no access to even B12. Then they STILL have an ethical choice to make. They can limit themselves to a little dairy and/or eggs and/or mussels. Guidelines for how much is enough can easily be supplied. They do not need to thoughtlessly eat all the meat they can get their hands on.

          1. White swans, black swans and pigs might fly.

            We haven’t found a human who can’t – how hard have they looked?

            What is this obligatory carnivore human – what are you talking about? Nobody, not even Rhys Southan in his anti-vegan hey-day, claimed humans were carnivores, let alone obligatory carnivores. And as for B12 supplementation, there is evidence for a surprising amount of B12 deficiency among vegans who supplement.

            And B12 provides an example of how digestive functions do vary. Older people are at risk of deficiency because of a decline in the necessary enzyme. You don’t want to hear anymore about betacarotene conversion, fine. How about people who just can’t absorb enough of non-heme iron.

            But yeah, even YOUR weird carnivorous humans (cos I said humans are OMNIVORES) can make ethical choices. Listen up – lots and lots and lots of people in this world don’t have the privilege of choice, they need to eat what they can get.

            And I am going to keep making what YOU call “excuses” to defend poor people having the breadth of choice to do the best for themselves. And if you don’t like that, then do something about poverty.

            You don’t need to be rich, you just need a diversified diet? Never heard of food deserts, sunshine? Never wondered how even moral you would sustain your diversified diet if you were homeless with no refrigerator, no food storage, no cooking facilities?

            You see what really reveals your mindset is how you repeat a dichotomy between your moral vegan or the moral poor person eating the minimal amount of carefully, morally selected animal food (and only cos they can’t get a B12 supplement) and a gluttonous omnivore, stuffing themselves with meat. Yours is a black-and-world isn’t it?
            And that is why you can’t stand it when I say some people can be vegans but we can’t presume everyone can – it’s not black-and- white enough, not moral/immoral enough, not the saintly versus the disgusting reprobates enough.

            Your veganism is a dead end. The world doesn’t change because of moral campaigns. You’re living in global capitalism – wake up.

            1. If heme iron solved the b12 problem, it’s strange that doctors recommend b12 shots for (vegan and omnivorous) patients who don’t have the intrinsic factor. But they do. Shouldn’t they be asking their omnivore patients to eat more steak instead?

            2. Leone,

              Where is the evidence of B-12 deficiency in vegans that appropriately supplement? I haven’t seen such evidence and would find it surprising because we know the supplements work well in non-vegan populations.

              1. Mr Toad – going to withdraw that comment because I’ve been searching and searching and just find the reference and I don’t want to spend more time searching. Therefore since I can’t provide the link I think the decent thing is to withdraw the comment.

            3. Leone,

              The vegan philosophy does not demand of everyone on the planet, regardless of their circumstances, to abstain from consuming/utilizing any and all animal materials. The Vegan Society’s definition of veganism clearly states that this imperative only applies as far as “possible and practicable”. No vegan I know would demand of someone in a very poor country with no access to well diversified food choices and supplements to abstain from eating animal derived foods. And no vegan I know would demand that parents must bring their children up on a vegan diet. If someone feels there isn’t enough evidence and science-based guidance in this regard yet, and they feel safer feeding their children an “omnivorous diet”, then by all means, let them do what they think is right. But we also ask those vegan parents who are comfortable with not doing so are not coerced by the power of the state to act against their best knowledge and convictions. There *is* plenty of sound reasoning that if carefully executed, a vegan diet can work well for infants, too. There is no evidence that even a well executed vegan diet is dangerous for infants. So this is totally different from, say, parents refusing to vaccinate their children in the face of overwhelming evidence that that is a dangerous and unreasonable choice (although even in the case of vaccinating I am not sure governments should coerce people.)

              You have basically made two points here: one is that we are omnivores and there is not enough evidence that all members of our species can thrive on a vegan diet equally well, and so therefore the question of whether “to veg or not” is primarily not an ethical question but simple a question of physiology; and that many people do not have access to the sort of food choices, supplements and medical care that would enable them to live safely and well on a vegan diet.

              I disagree with your first point and think it’s mostly an example of a naturalistic fallacy. I agree with your second point as per the above. But – I, you and billions of others live in high and middle income countries where we do have that access. We can’t excuse your own choices with the fact that others elsewhere don’t have our means.

              But you do not seem willing to take moral reasoning with regards to non-human animals seriously. What you are willing to do instead is to grasp for every excuse you can find to avoid facing your own culpability, and the choices that you could and would have to make if you took this seriously.

              1. I will limit my reply to just two points (although I have responses to all your points).

                You state that no vegan would demand of someone living in a very poor country, etc, to abstain from animal foods and that you and I and billions of others live in middle or high income countries, etc. I have asked you before if you have heard of food deserts? This is a term used to describe certain conditions in, particularly, your high income countries. I am now going to ask you if you have heard of food banks? Are you aware that in the UK there have been instances of people returning food items to food banks because those items required cooking and the people couldn’t afford to turn the electricity on? Don’t try to palm off the issue of poverty to your “very poor” and lacking food diversity and supplements countries – poverty is around YOU in YOUR country. This is why I have stated that vegans like you are not allies to the poor – if you were you would have the poverty in your own country in the forefront of your mind. And I am going to repeat what I have said before with one amendment – I am going to defend the omnivore diet for the breadth of choice it gives poor people, INCLUDING those in HIGH INCOME countries, in making the best choices for themselves.

                And I do take moral reasoning about non-human animals seriously. There is nothing in what I have written that implies otherwise. What you are really saying is that I don’t see things exactly the way YOU do, and your vegan way of seeing things is the ONLY moral way of seeing things. And as for my “culpability” and grasping “for every excuse”, first of all, lay off the guilt-tripping. And secondly, you know exactly zilch about me – you can’t judge whether grasping at any excuse is an accurate or fair way to dismiss my thinking. But what I can say with validity is that you have revealed again your little black-and-white bubble – the moral vegan (with excuse for those in very poor countries which functions as an exception that proves the rule) against the immoral, gluttonous, grasping at any excuse non-vegan. You and vegans like you actually do a disservice to veganism, you make it look like an up-your-own-asshole, more-moral-than-thou, quasi-religion. But you don’t have to take anything I say seriously because you already know I grasp at any excuse, don’t you….

                1. Leone, you are not reading what I’m telling you. Of course the same limitations that I mentioned with regards to people in very poor countries also apply to anyone in rich countries who truly can’t do any better. I quoted the Vegan Society’s definition of veganism which applies universally. What I take exception to is that you appear to be using some people’s unfortunate circumstances as an excuse for everybody else. The problems poor people have to deal with do not absolve those who live more fortunate lives from doing the very best to reduce their part in the terrible abuses and the needless killing we inflict on many billions of animals annually. If I misunderstood you then please do set me straight.

                  Me and poor people – you put it well enough: you know exactly zilch..

                  1. “Me and poor people” If you are arguing that you may be poor and therefore my point is not well-taken, your argument is weak – you could be poor and yet, in terms of the way you think, not an ally to the poor.

                    It is interesting how you keep shifting. First of all it was the poorest in the world without access to supplements making very careful, morally stringent choices to eat just enough animal food to avoid B12 deficiency, then it is that it is acceptable for people per se in the poorest countries, where there is a lack of diversified diet and supplements, to eat animal foods, now it is “oh, of course” that exception also applies to those in rich countries who “truly can’t do better”. Are you making it up as you go along to stay in the argument?

                    And what does “truly can’t do better”? What’s the criteria for “truly”, and who is going to set it, vegans like you? My position, as I have said, is to defend the omnivore diet to give the poor the breadth of choice so that they can choose what is best for them. THEY get to choose. No need for “truly” because the choice is totally the prerogative of the individual. Your “truly” chimes in with the endless crap from vegans telling people that they can do this, they can do that and achieve a vegan diet. My position has nothing like that because the individual makes the decision according solely to their own reasons.

                    And my position is for vegans, vegetarians, omnivores, etc. Because in it, if the poor person chooses to be vegan, fine. My position means vegans and omnivores are equal. Your stance places omnivores as inferior, only allowed to be omnivore if they have a good enough excuse.
                    You, by constantly qualifying and attacking omnivory, make the omnivore inferior, and also sheduled for oblivion, because your vegan aim (probably and ideally) is the conversion of all to veganism, voluntarily, or ultimately,by compulsion. My position does not denigrate vegans like that.

                    1. Further.

                      Using some people’s circumstances as an excuse for everyone – that comes from your perspective, in which the poor have to have an excuse of being deprived enough to qualify for your “truly”. My position of defending the omnivore diet to give the poor choice without judgement has to accept the omnivore diet as a choice for everyone.

                      You see, your perspective sounds like classic individualist, moralist veganism. Thus I (because you assume I am not a vegan) am culpable, grasping at any excuse to avoid the moral necessity. The vegan movement grows as individuals accept the indisputable moral truth, and becoming vegan in at least diet. By their vegan boycott of animal foods they weaken these industries and set the course for their demise. And when the numbers of vegans reach critical mass this will bring about wholesale change, the legal abolition of all objectionable industries and practices.


                      I don’t believe in any of this. There has been no movenent that achieved major change that centred itself on individual consumption practices. No major change has come about from a moral crusade. Movements based on morality and behaviour are inevitably oppressive and reactionary.

                      The conditions of animals are embedded in the socio-political system. There can be no change for them until there is systemic change. Such systemic change can only be achieved through collective politics.

                      The conditions of animals will not be transformed by veganism. I reject veganism as a moral imperative. The only way to help them is, as things are now, welfare messages. Greater change only has a hope by embedding concern for animal in a political movement.

                      Perhaps you can grasp while your notions of personal culpability and individual morality cut no ice with me.

                  2. Axel,

                    The vegan society “definition” is vague and basically worthless….furthermore it was a post-hoc definition….they created it after they had already settled on their doctrine. The two obvious issues with the definition is that one needs to explicate just what acts count as “exploitation” and you need to provide a criteria for determining whether some act is “possible and practicable”. As the definition is written….its rather subjective…..yet to be counted as a vegan the criteria is rather rigid. You must avoid all the products deemed “non-vegan” by the vegan society.

                    And veganism is simply not about “during your very best”….if that were true vegans would work on their impact on wild-life, etc with the same zeal that they do avoiding animal products in their mouth. Veganism is about adhering to the lifestyle doctrine created by the vegan society.

                    1. Mr Toad, I merely mentioned the VS’s definition in order to illustrate to Leone that rather than demanding the same behavior of everyone, veganism is about doing what can reasonably be done. That’s what “possible and practicable” implies. No vegan that I know, and not the Vegan Society either, would demand of anyone to starve to death or to become malnourished in situations where animal foods are the only viable option to avert such fate.

                      BTW, the Vegan Society is not the Vatican of the vegan movement. They don’t have the power to dictate or excommunicate. A lot of vegans have never even looked at their website. The vegan movement is diverse and there are many voices. In the circles where I usually associate with other vegans, veganism is viewed by many as an ambitious form of “reducetarianism”.

                    2. Axel,

                      Your comment, like the others, isn’t very clear…..what precisely is meant by “only viable option”? Just how much inconvenience, extra costs, etc does one have to endure? This isn’t just about people in extreme poverty in some African village…many people would find it difficult to maintain a vegan diet long-term in developed nations.

                      I never suggested that the vegan society is the “Vatican of the vegan movement”…..instead I suggested that the vegan society created vegan doctrine, that is, veganism. And whether or not some individual vegan has heard of them is immaterial to their connection to the history of veganism.

            4. “And B12 provides an example of how digestive functions do vary. Older people are at risk of deficiency…”

              Exactly. Most people don’t know (or forget) that even those who consume animals are advised to supplement with B12 once they hit the age of 50, so I’d be supplementing right now regardless of what I eat.

          2. Axel,

            Your statement about the American Dietetics Association is little more than an appeal to authority, its a trade group….not a scientific body. Therefore its entirely legitimate to question their position paper and ask for the evidence. So where is it? Where are the studies? How can you expect parents to be comfortable with this dietary choice for their children when nobody can cite research that supports not only its safety….but shows that vegan children, in general, develop just as well as non-vegan ones?

            In terms of omnivore, your statement that omnivores can subsist on a diet almost entirely of plants is not accurate. Being an omnivore means that you subsist on both plants and animals, how dependent the respective omnivore is on plants or animals various greatly form animal to animal. Evolutionary are early ancestors ate mostly plants…..but that started to change 2~3 million years ago so its certainly possible that we’ve depended a dietary dependency on meat. Indeed, there isn’t a single non-agricultural society that doesn’t eat meat and its hard to see how any human society could subsist on a diet of wild plant foods. It is my feeling that the cultivation of grains and legumes allowed human societies to greatly reduce their dependency on meat……though this seem to initially come out a cost to people’s health. People in early civilizations were shorter, had worse bone health, etc compared to non-agricultural people.

            I’m confident that with technology we could engineer a plant-based diet that would be entirely suitable……but this requires that we know the details of the impact of vegan diets on human health and that information we almost entirely lack.

            1. Mr Toad,

              No, citing that position statement is not simply an appeal to authority because that statement is part of a substantial paper outlining the reasoning behind the position and citing numerous studies supporting the position. The position is based on a systematic review of the available literature. The paper is balanced and acknowledges the possible pitfalls of a vegan diet. The ADA (or rather, the AND now) is a science-based organization that publishes a well-regarded, peer-reviewed journal. I don’t know how you can downplay them as a “trade group not a scientific body”. Not everything they do is science, but a lot of it is, and everything they do is science-based.

              The fact that the authors of the position are themselves vegetarians seems in some folks’ mind to “say it all”, no further consideration needed. As if the studies cited in the paper lose all validity because they were cited by vegetarians. Even someone keen on uncovering possible dissent from other, non-vegetarian members of the ADA/AND, could only come up with the quotes given at below link.


              In sum, what all these quotes amount to is that it requires more planning and effort to be healthy on a vegan diet than on one that includes meat etc. Well, OK, that’s like saying it requires more planning and effort to be a healthy omnivore than an unhealthy one. Big deal.

              In practice, as a vegan of four years, I do not feel that much planning is required. I eat all sorts of grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts, tofu etc along with some very unhealthy junk foods as well as pasta and pizza etc, and feel in no way restricted or burdened by an undue amount of planning. And I am in good health.

              I have no children, partially because I think that not having them is one of the most important things anyone can do to help avert the destruction of our ecosphere. But if I did have children, I would gladly accept the additional needed planning and thinking to keep them healthy on a vegan diet.

              You say that we “almost entirely lack” knowledge of how vegan diets impact human health. I don’t know how you can say that. There are numerous studies that have looked at this from various angles. A summary from 2009 can be found at the below link and in the seven years since surely more has been published.


              Regarding my comment on what an omnivore is, you are right, the way I posted it, that is not true. I wish there were a way to edit comments here. Not too sure what I was thinking at that moment that led to that statement.

              It doesn’t matter though for the overall discussion. The point is: we humans can, with the help of a vitamin B12 supplement tick off most of our need to eat some animal foods. With the help of further supplementation, such as for DHA/EPA, vit D, iodine, and possibly calcium and iron (depending on circumstance) we can live healthy and happy lives. That’s all it takes to be able to no longer participate in the mind-boggling exploitation and cruelty that usually comes with eating meat, eggs and dairy.

              1. Axel,

                Describing them as a trade group isn’t down playing them, its an accurate description of what of the association. Its not a body of scientists, its a group that exists to promote a particular trade.

                The issue here is the lack of evidence, saying that their position is based on a “review of the available evidence” doesn’t mean much when we are lacking such evidence. I’m sure they did review the available evidence…..what I don’t understand is why they made such a firm statement despite scant evidence. But this has occurred with trade groups before, namely, recommendations based on scant evidence that were later changed.

                So, yes, I think what you’re doing is little more than an appeal to authority because you are asking others to believe what they say on the basis of being such and such association….and not the evidence. The available evidence is the only thing that matters, so as I asked before, where is it? What is at issue here just isn’t whether a vegan diet can be, in principle, sufficient…..but what practices need to be followed. I think issues of practicality should be included as well, even if we find that there is some vegan eating pattern that results in comparable development….if parents routinely fail to deliver it then one can hardly recommend vegan diets for children.

                Lastly….the article you cited (which I’ve read before) ends with “further research is needed”. That is hardly an endorsement of the idea that vegan diets are well researched. But my comment about the lack of research was specific to children, not adults, but the research on adults is by no means complete……we cannot yet conclude that vegan diets work for all adults. Nobody has studied how genetic variability impacts the tolerance of vegan diets.

                1. Thank you for mentioning practicality, Mr Toad.

                  A diet that requires four or more nutrient supplements (Axel’s view), and care like Vit C with iron and keeping calcium away and eating betacarotene-rich vegetables everyday, is not a diet that can be proposed for the general population. Any diet proposed for the general population has to be as easy as possible to ensure everyone is likely to do it well enough to get adequate nutrition. Such a diet the vegan diet ain’t.

                  1. Leone,

                    Yes… is fairly recently where the practicality issue has really started to settle in my thinking. I use to think this wasn’t so much an issue….than I realized my perspective here was meaningless. I have the education and leisure time to read about nutrition, etc……most do not.

                    What the vegan community needs to be doing here is promoting sound dietary practices by example……but what happens is almost the exact opposite. And for at least me personally, whenever I’ve tried to have a serious discussion about vegan nutrition its met with knee-jerk defensiveness……vegans what so desperately to promote the idea that vegan diets are “easy” and down play any need to think about sound dietary practices.

                    I think its a rather sad, yet telling, statement about the vegan community that there are so many groups and people out there trying to get people to become vegan and so few people out there actually educating people about how to maintain a balanced vegan diet….or even how to create balanced and tasty plant-based meals.

        2. Btw, Leone, Jains have been basically vegan for centuries. Strict Jains won’t even eat bread because they don’t want to kill yeast (this is “overkill” in my opinion, but to each his own).

          1. Jains are a religious community, not a society. Most Jains are vegetarians, it’s only the most religious/monks who go further. I know vegans are desperate for a historicall vegan society but there isn’t one.

    2. Leone,

      I’ve had the discussion about vegan diets and child development many times and they all end the same way…..vegans can’t cite any long-term study on vegan diets and child development and instead just refer to the position paper of the American Dietetic Association and say “that’s good enough for me”. I find this answer to be troubling….its little more than an appeal to authority to a trade group….a trade group that has relationships with all sorts of businesses.

      The point you made about nutrition “on paper” is, I think, precisely right…..just because some diet has all the nutrients “on paper” doesn’t mean they get absorbed or are otherwise well utilized… need to conduct studies to confirm this and not just rely on “on paper” nutrition. Unfortunately there is a critical problem in researching vegan diets……there are no persistent community of people that are vegan! Observational studies in societies that are, overall non-vegan, will therefore suffer from major survivorship bias.

      1. Thanks for your comments, Mr Toad – as has happened before you put things more calmly and more clearly than I do.

        Thanks for raising legitimate questions about taking the ADA position as beyond all query.

        I am not against vegans feeding their infants and children vegan diets: I am saying they should debate honestly about it. That honesty includes, as you say, that the evidence that vegan diets are adequate for infants and children is not there in the unquestionable way Tobias and Axel are asserting it is.

        Tobias titled his piece “rational responses” – it read to me like ideological polemic. This is why I said vegans shouldn’t come across like dietary Jehovah’s Witnesses. I was actually surprised that Tobias could write something like that because I’ve thought of him as a reasonable vegan. But his piece has really made me think that there is a large core within veganism that holds unquestionable “truths” and one of those truths is the universal adequacy of the vegan diet. Anyone who questions that is accused of just seeking excuses to wallow in their unethical, immoral gustatory pleasure (a la Axel). This is veganism as a religion. I now take more seriously the assertions of ex-vegans and non-vegans about the religious aspect of veganism.

        Axel’s “hypothesis” that everyone can be vegan up against the fact of hundred of thousands of years of universal omnivory is incredible.

        As you may remember I have stated before that a while ago I moved away from veganism – this discussion has helped to confirm that decision for me. More than that it has given me reason to view veganism more coolly, more cautiously, and even more critically. I know that this isn’t your bag at all but I am really developing a major political issue with veganism. Axel’s position about ethical choices and that even the poorest can choose to consume the smallest amount of animal food that will stave off B12 deficiency marks Axel out for me (and any vegans who thinks like him) as no ally to the poor. Furthermore, I am seriously developing a view that this whole ethical/moral vegan crusade thing makes veganism quite conformable for neoliberal politics of morality. In fact I predict a significant growth of right wing vegans now that veganism has emerged out of the (alleged) hippy shadows.

        1. leone, i haven’t stated my position explicitly here, but i think it’s quite reasonable to state it as follows: there is no proof at all that veganism is the best diet, but i believe we can safely say that vegan diets can be okay for any age.
          As for me being ideological, i’m probably not entirely free of it, though i try to be objective. This may be sounding like just returning the accusation, but it seems to me that you seem to be developing your own post-vegan ideology though.

          1. Tobias, you use the highly problematic ideas of Melanie Joy to render omnivory (the evolutionary eating adaptation of our species) as nothing more than an ideology, on par with veganism. You state the choice is between veganism and carnism. You do this in a piece about feeding infants and children – INFANTS and CHILDREN. If that isn’t ideological, I don’t know what is.

            Vegans trying to get round the fact that the human species is omnivorous by rendering omnivory as just an ideology (or claiming humans are really herbivores, or that originally omnivory was just an occasional survival strategy when times were tough) are being nothing but ideological. Neither you nor other vegans doing this sort of thing are in any way being “objective”, you are being ideologues.

            You now clarify that you think there is not proof that the vegan diet is the best diet but you believe “that we can safely say that vegan diets can be okay for any age”. First, if you truly mean that is your “belief”, I.e. something you have faith in rather than something you categorically state is a fact, then that is OK. If, when you use “can” you mean “can be but may not always be”, then that is OK. I would still dispute “safely say” because the situation is actually that it looks OK on paper but there isn’t enough evidence.

            Vegans honestly debating this issue is vegans acknowledging the greyness. I realise acknowledging the greyness is dodgy for vegans because they will be at risk of justifying their decision to feed their children a vegan when there is greyness. I also seriously think that there are many vegans who will never acknowledge the greyness because the universal adequacy of the vegan diet is a vegan “truth”, a religious-type truth.

            You say that your suggestion that I am developing my own post-vegan ideology might look like just returning the accusation. Yes, it does look like that. I am becoming more and more critical of veganism from what I read and see, so one could say I am developing a critique. But a critique is not an ideology, unless you think veganism can not be comprehensively critiqued and therefore criticising is just the manifestation of a counter ideology. I feel sure many vegans would see it that way.

            1. just reacting to the first point: obviously meat eating hasn’t always been ideologically inspired or needing an ideology. but when to justify eating meat today, when we have a choice to do otherwise, when we have the moral apparatus to recognize the problems involved in it, does involve a system of justification, i.e. an ideology.

              1. First of all, you say “we have a choice” – who is this “we”? I shall limit to western societies. There are people with medical issues and absorption issues for whom meat plays an important role in their diet. Then there is the rigours of substituting the nutrients meat gives. It makes a contribution to B12, and there is sufficient evidence that lacto-ovo vegetarians can be low on B12, so its contribution isn’t negligible. It most certainly makes a significant contribution to iron. It also provides zinc, which isn’t completely straightforward on a vegan diet. The substitutes to these are supplements (which includes fortified foods) – essential for B12 and perhaps useful for zinc, and practicing care and diligence, e.g. in the case of iron choosing iron rich options, accompanying them with a source of Vit C and keeping calcium away. Now let us return to the “we”. First supplements. Are supplements an option for everyone? That requires access to buying them and sufficient money to spend on them. Not everyone in western society has easy access to buying supplements or sufficient money to spend on them. For such people the rational choice is to get all nutrients from food – and meat, as well as providing B12, iron and zinc provides other nutrients as well. I will also say that the rigours exemplified in getting iron on a vegan diet can not sensibly be asked of everyone. So, you see Tobias, it can be well argued that your “we” is not, realistically, everyone. I would also remind you that you have asserted that a vegan diet “can” be ok for all ages, not IS ok, and the difference in one little word is important – and ofcourse here we come back to humans being omnivores and the question of whether everyone can be vegan.

                So, if veganism is not a realistic choice for everyone, what can we make of the assertion that eating meat is only justified by ideology. I would say it is valid to argue that such a position itself is ideological – it is ideological because it is leaving a lot of important, if not crucial, things out of the picture to establish its legitimacy and to advance its objectives.

                “Moral apparatus”. Here is a quote from the play ‘Pygmalion’ by Shaw (I probably haven’t got it verbatim) –
                Prof Higgins: Have you no morals, man?
                Alfred Doolittle: No guv’nor, can’t afford them.

                1. if you want, leone, consider under “we” just the people to whom these things apply, and let’s leave the rest of the people out of it. When i write we, i’m mostly talking about the people able to read this, do these things, etc. I have no desire to generalize or to say that everyone can and should do what I do right now. So i agree with you, but it’s a moot point and not really touching the core of the issue that i wanted to raise.

            2. What I find troubling about the whole “carnism” thing is that, not only is it a category mistake…..but I think its a fundamentally unhelpful way to frame the issues. When you think that people are eating meat due to some “ideology” and not because, well, they were raised in a community of people eating meat and are an omnivorous species……it significantly changes how you’d approach the issue today.

              A “system of justification” isn’t akin to an ideology, cultures have all sorts of stories for why they do what they do and those stories rarely are well rooted in any sort of fact. That is because some cultural practice may have been started at some point for a good reason…..but the reason for the practice is rarely retained in the culture and instead fictions about the practice are created that help ensure that it contains to practiced. But due to cultural lag, that is, the tendency of cultural practices to outlast their usefulness for the culture…’ll typically find some cultural practices that are counter-productive for the respective culture.

              My point here? Anthropology provides a very good framework for thinking about what is going on today. Today we are, counter-productively, raising cattle on grains, etc because we are adhering to cultural practices that have outlived their usefulness. And its not that people today have a different “moral apparatus”, its that the facts have changed. The scope of the issue has changed (from hunting wild animals, to raising animals on small farms, to raising animals like their vegetables in factory farms) and the dependency on animal foods has changed.

              1. Mr Toad – do you have any thoughts on veganism as a culture (or would subculture be the better term)? Do you think there are ways its “system of justification” is disjointed from facts? Are there ways that the culture of veganism is counter productive – I am wondering about an example of a predominantly vegan cafe I was in in April: the only ingredients in that cafe that could have been reliably locally sourced were the dairy and eggs, a lot of the other ingredients were imported and had to be imported because those things were either out of season or not commercially grown in the UK.

              2. Leone,

                Veganism, in itself, wouldn’t count as a culture because its not a total package and instead it exists on top of western culture….so, yeah, I think sub-culture is the correct way to think about it.

                In evaluating cultures I think the only meaningful, value-neutral, thing you can do is try to evaluate how the cultures practices contribute to the cultures success or lack of success where success is more or less defined in the same way as biological evolution. So I guess that would extend to sub-cultures, so then, how does adhering to veganism help such individuals (or the sub-group) succeed? But I’m not sure what to think here, you’d need a good ethnography of veganism….and few anthropologist study modern cultures/sub-cultures. In fact, that is one of the reasons I left the field in college…..I just couldn’t read another ethnography about some cultural group that no longer exists.

                But I think what you’re really asking is whether veganism is counter-productive in light of various western ideas of social justice, environmental protect etc and that is something I’ve just started to think about, in part, due to your comments.

  3. “The idea that eating meat is harmful for health would, of course, be a great excuse for them.”

    I guess there is a small mistake in this sentence and you actually mean “eating a vegan diet” 🙂

  4. I have two young kids that eat vegan diet. “Properly planned” vegan diets are considered perfectly acceptable according to the new US food guide (I’m Canadian and Dieticians of Canada also consider a vegan diet acceptable for children). As you alluded to in your article, Tobias, I let my kids make their own decisions outside the home.

    The instance in Italy sounds like outright neglect. In the past these parents would have been seen as monsters that starved their child. Now they use the ‘vegan’ label, but it’s a diversion from the fact that the caregivers were neglectful. Such a shame that this instance is being used against Veganism.

  5. ModVegan – hypothetical. If it was demonstrated that one of your children couldn’t make enough Vitamin A from betacarotene, would you give them animal food for the retinol?

    Here is a study that suggests variability in adults in making Vitamin A from betacarotene and that some don’t make enough from betacarotene –

    1. Of course if there was some sort of a medical reason my children couldn’t survive on plant foods, I would find a way to supplement their diet (again, this is about neglect – if your child will not thrive without supplementation then it would be neglectful, in my opinion, not to provide it).

      The new link you attached is also broken, unfortunately. I did notice that this article from the NIH argues that Vitamin A deficiency usually begins in infancy because children aren’t breastfed (I’m not a wild breastfeeding advocate, but it makes sense that some supplementation is necessary when infants don’t have access to breast milk).

  6. Vitamin A deficiency because of lack of breastmilk appears to be something quite different from not making enough Vitamin A from betacarotene.

    If it was well established* that individuals varied in their inability to make Vit A from betacarotene and some didn’t make enough, would you accept that it would be prudent to give *all* children animal foods so that they could get retinol as a safety measure?

    *I’m sorry the link didn’t work – it is a genuine study.

    1. I think it would make more sense to check children’s Vit A levels, because they can get too high as well. I’d be interested in knowing how common it was – the study I was reading made it sound rare, unless children just weren’t getting enough food period (which is a different issue). And no worries, I’m sure it’s a real study 🙂

      1. Would there actually be any need to worry about too much Vitamin A if the child was just given a normal omnivorous diet, so sources of retinol and betacarotene? If it was a safety measure for all children, and a normal omnivorous diet, would there actually be any need to check individual children’s Vit A level?

        One final attempt –

        1. So, Leone, if you advocate jailing parents who feed their children vegan diets, how many servings of which animal product would you make the legal minimum? Would a few servings of oysters a week be enough? A little fish? A few eggs? Would you make animal milk a legal requirement even though plenty of children thrive without it due to allergy, intolerance, or cultural tradition?
          Anne Dinshah, Seba Johnson, Adair Moran, and many others are lifelong vegans and thriving into their thirties and forties.
          Regardless, I favor in vitro meat and other synthetic animal products. That would solve this issue very well.

          1. What are talking about? Where have I said that I am in favour of jailing parents who feed their children a vegan diet? Just because I have criticised Tobias’ piece, and that piece refers to the Italian proposal about making it a legal issue, you go 2 + 2 = 45 and therefore I am in favour of jailing parents. Why don’t you actually read what people have actually written and engage your brain before putting fingers to keyboard.

            And your thriving vegans prove nothing – that’s little better than anecdote.

  7. Great piece, Tobias! Very much to the point! I like your “realistic” approach to communicating the benefits of veganism. Far too many vegan advocates present this diet as a panacea for all sorts of ailments. Of course this is wishful thinking.

    Physiologically speaking it’s probably not at all harmful to eat some meat or other animal product every once in a while. Denying this fact does not strengthen the case for veganism but undermines it. After all, it is an ethical choice that also has health benefits as long as it is well-planned.

    Many non-vegans seem to interpret the qualification “well-planned” as an indication of the deficiency of this diet. But that’s a misunderstanding. ALL diets need to be well-planned to avoid diet-related health issues. There is ample evidence all around us: diet-related health issues are going though the roof (diabetec, etc.) because people fail to balance their nutrition intake.

    If you have to do some planning anyway, there is little to be said against the fact that you have to plan your vegan diet too.

  8. Good job Tobias, wish these comments had stuck to the original thesis a bit more, but such as it is I will add 2 very simple points to this “argument” #1: Unfortunately the $ is on the side of justifying the *potential* inadequacies of a Vegan diet, hence no funding for scientific PROOF it works. Passionate and outspoken Scientists & Docs like Ornish, Pritken, Campbell, Furhman, Esselstein, Gregor,etc. have proven unequivocally the Health aspects on small scale w’no $$$ to do the properly funded, double blind, etc. scientific proof. #2: Seems to me quite a few Health Issues from Cholesterol in childhood and overweight kids are OBVIOUSLY the result of humans being put on “milk” that has MANY times the fat content of the aforementioned breast milk so blithely skipped over in the comments, and left on it foe YEARS in the name of “Childhood Nutrition”!

  9. I dont speak italian but I was told that the oficial text of the project of the law (it is still just a project) does not asks to prohibit vegan diet especifically; it only says that parents that deny their children acess to all the nutrients necessary to their full development can be legally charged. It includes any poor diet, including fast food. All here agreed that vegan diet CAN provide all the nutrients necessary to children´s full development, wether it demands extra care or not, it CAN be done, and there is no point in assuming in advance that the parents will not be careful. This would be a prejudice, and a violation of personal rights. But coming from a conservative and reacionary party, of course, it is reasonable to think the project we´re talking about was made with the aim to instrumentalize cultural and ideologic persecution. It seems to be unacceptable that someone wanted to feed her child in accordance with their moral convictions – even if it causes no harm to the child. Parents can feed their children according to their taste preferences, magical thinkings and according to their financial capacity – even when they dont earn enough to prevent the child from starvation -, and nobody has anything to say about it. But if you behave according to your moral convictions, it becomes a nuisance.
    I live in a poor, if not miserable country. I wonder about the absurdity of a law like that if it were to be created here. There are people completely unable to feed their children, not just proper food, but enough food of any kind. So they all would be sent to jail? So, the problem when it comes to discuss vegan diet to children  is only that the interests of non-human animals must always come later, in the hegemonic view. Is it easier to feed children an omnivore diet since this is the hegemonic practice? So be it. Lives of the animals cant matter more than the slightest human convenience. This is how people think. We know that if the world were vegan, it is unlikely there would be lack of food – unless the resources were not properly managed due to human failure -, because you can produce much more food, and with much less waste of water, taking the land used to raise caddle and turning it into vegetables farms.
    But this is not even the point. Animal abolition is not meant to suit human interests, and animals are not meant to solve human problems. Social injustice is an all human problem. Let non-human animals out of it, unless of course, you think their personal interests do not count.
    It is a tipical marxist discourse to say that the interests of non-human animals will only began to matter after a major turn in the core of human society and its political and economical organization. I dont see it coming.  Despite the exploitation of non-humans is technicaly very alike the inter-humans exploitation , I dont see how the abolition of human exploitation will bring within the animal abolition by itself. Those that claim for human social justice are claiming justice that favor themselves also; it has always even a minimal amount of personal interest involved.
    When it comes to non-human animals abolition, it is all about altruism. So it makes no diference if we live in a society intrinsicaly just or injust concerning humans, the call for justice towards non-human animals cant depend on that. Since marxist materialism does not put great faith in the good nature of humans, but in power relations,  it is a bit of a lie they´re telling when they say that animal abolition will come naturally after human exploitation abolition, because non-human animals detain no power at all and never will, at least at a divisible horizon. (Lets remember that the evolution of the species is a permanent process, it did not stopped when humans reached cognitive capacity and other species can acchieve it in the far future) Again, to be coherent under a marxist point of view, If moral is not a powerful enough force to promote changes in society, these are indeed bad news for non-human animals, as having no voice, they have no power, and no human society, no matter how equal toward humans will it be, can save them.
    I dont care too much on the bio-chemical and other practical aspects of the question, for one reason. Once non-animals interests began to really matter, science will do its part to research and provide all the means to turn abolition fully practical and possible. We have technology to do it, if we want. We built our civilization over animal exploitation, ever taking the easier way, exploiting animals, to provide what we needed. Maybe it was unavoidable in the begining, but the result is our speciest world; if exploiting animals as they were things were not an option since the begining, who knows what solutions humanity would have found to all their practical problems? So the question always begs the same, primal problem: are non human animals things or persons? If sentience is the parameter, they are persons, says the Declaration of Cambridge. And therefore, a parent is no more morally allowed to kill an animal to feed their children than they would be to kill another child to feed their children, or to kill another child to take their organs to save their child, and so forth.

    1. thx for this comment. i hadn’t checked the specifics and wondered if the media made more of it then it is.
      Re. limiting the impacts of ideologies in the feeding of children, if we put ourselves in others’ shoes (which i like to do 🙂 we can think of some examples where we would agree, i guess. When religious people or anti-vax people refuse to vaccinate their children, many of us more rational people would probably love to have a law installed to prevent children from being done harm that way…

  10. Thank you, Tobias. As far as I was told, veganism was indeed mentioned, but not in the oficial text of the project of law, just in its presentation. This is still bad – since it points to some kind of discrimination – but it is important to make it clear. And I agree that children must be protected from their parents irrational behaviour, no doubt about it… 😉

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