Rais­ing a ve­gan baby: Par­ents say abuse cases give bad rap

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FOOD - By Kris­ten De Groot The As­so­ci­ated Press

PHILADEL­PHIA >> There’s a right way and a wrong way to raise a baby on ve­gan food. Those who get it wrong, par­ents say, give the re­spon­si­ble ones a bad name.

A Penn­syl­va­nia mother claim­ing to be ve­gan was charged this month with child en­dan­ger­ment for feed­ing her baby noth­ing but small amounts of nuts and berries. In Italy, after a num­ber of ve­gan ba­bies re­quired hos­pi­tal­iza­tion for mal­nour­ish­ment, a law­maker this sum­mer pro­posed a bill that would make it a crime to feed chil­dren un­der 16 a ve­gan diet.

Those cases are not about ve­g­an­ism at all, but are in­stead about ne­glect, say par­ents who are rais­ing their chil­dren ve­gan. Pin­ning bad par­ent­ing on ve­gan di­ets, some say, un­fairly stig­ma­tizes those who have done their home­work and are safely rais­ing their ba­bies without feed­ing them an­i­mal prod­ucts like meat and dairy.

“They stress the el­e­ments of ve­g­an­ism in th­ese sto­ries, but it’s not that th­ese peo­ple aren’t giv­ing their chil­dren the right kind of food, it’s that they aren’t feed­ing them,” said Ful­via Serra, of Fort Collins, Colorado. The na­tive of south­ern Italy is rais­ing her 1-year-old son ve­gan, and her 12-year-old daugh­ter is veg­e­tar­ian.

“To get a child to the point of star­va­tion, it means you are ig­nor­ing him and his cry­ing all the time,” she said. “It’s ne­glect.”

The Amer­i­can Academy of Pe­di­atrics’ book “Pe­di­atric Nutri­tion” de­votes a chap­ter to veg­e­tar­ian and ve­gan di­ets. It de­scribes how, with sound nutri­tion and di­etary plan­ning, “it is pos­si­ble to pro­vide a bal­anced diet to veg­e­tar­i­ans and ve­g­ans.”

“For chil­dren in gen­eral you can have a safe ve­gan diet, but it has to be in con­sul­ta­tion with a pe­di­a­tri­cian or health care provider,” said Sheela Magge, an en­docri­nol­o­gist at the Chil­dren’s Na­tional Health Sys­tem and a mem­ber of the Amer­i­can Academy of Pe­di­atrics’ com­mit­tee on nutri­tion . “Th­ese are crit­i­cal times in brain devel­op­ment, and it has to be done care­fully.”

The ideal first food for ba­bies is breast milk, Magge said. Many ve­gan moms opt to breast­feed, but for those who can’t or don’t, the only other op­tion is a soy-

based for­mula.

Key nu­tri­ents for ba­bies are Vi­ta­min B-12 and Vi­ta­min D, as well as iron, zinc and cal­cium, Magge said. Get­ting enough B-12, which comes from milk and eggs, is a spe­cific con­cern in the ve­gan diet, since a short­age can lead to neu­ro­log­i­cal prob­lems.

As ba­bies nurse less and start con­sum­ing more solid foods, par­ents need to make sure all the nu­tri­ents nec­es­sary for proper devel­op­ment are be­ing pro­vided. A pe­di­a­tri­cian can help guide par­ents and of­fer sup­ple­ments if needed.

In the Penn­syl­va­nia case, El­iz­a­beth Hawk was charged Oct. 4 with en­dan­ger­ing her 11-month-old son by re­strict­ing him to a diet of small amounts of fruit and nuts. Hawk, 30, of Farm­ing­ton, be­came “ob­sessed” with a ve­gan diet, prompt­ing her es­tranged hus­band to con­tact Fayette County child wel­fare work­ers, ac­cord­ing to a crim­i­nal com­plaint.

Doc­tors de­ter­mined in Au­gust that the baby had de­vel­op­men­tal de­lays and couldn’t crawl be­cause he was mal­nour­ished, ac­cord­ing to the com­plaint. The mal­nour­ish­ment also wors­ened a bad rash, the com­plaint said.

Calls seek­ing com­ment from Hawk, her for­mer hus­band and the pub­lic de­fender’s of­fice weren’t re­turned.

Sto­ries of ve­gan par­ents be­ing ar­rested for mal­nour­ished chil­dren pop up ev­ery few years in the U.S., and the cases in Italy have made in­ter­na­tional news.

In Ari­zona, Kimu Parker was ar­rested in April 2005 for nearly starv­ing her three chil­dren with a diet she and the chil­dren’s fa­ther called ve­gan. She was sen­tenced to 30 years in prison; the fa­ther, Blair Parker, got 15 years.

In Florida in 2005, Joseph and Lamoy An­dres­sohn got pro­ba­tion for ne­glect in the death of their 6-month-old son, who was fed only wheat grass, co­conut wa­ter and al­mond milk.

BRENNAN LINSLEY — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ve­gan mother Ful­via Serra car­ries her 1-year-old baby, Se­bas­tiano, at home in Fort Collins, Colo.

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