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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Finally, the Voice of Reason

I wrote a while ago about the irresponsible and idiotic editorial written by Nina Planck in the New York Times, which has had the vegan community in an uproar ever since it was published. I was happy to read this reply from The New York Times' Public Editor, Clark Hoyt, which was printed on Sunday.

The Danger of the One-Sided Debate
Published: June 24, 2007

The op-ed page of The New York Times is perhaps the nation’s most important forum for airing opinions on the most contentious issues of the day — the war in Iraq, abortion, global warming and more.

“We look for opinions that are provocative,” said Andrew Rosenthal, the editor of the editorial page. “Opinions that confirm what you already thought aren’t that interesting.”

But some opinions provoke more than others. Two very different columns by guest contributors, one last week and one last month, caused enormous reader outcries and raised important questions. Are there groups or causes so odious they should be ruled off the page? If The Times publishes a controversial opinion, does it owe readers another point of view immediately? And what is the obligation of editors to make sure that op-ed writers are not playing fast and loose with the facts?

[The first column that Hoyt addresses is not related to veganism or Nina Planck so I'm editing that part out in the interest of space-savings, but if you'd like to read his entire piece, it's here.]

Rosenthal and Shipley said that, over time, they try to publish a variety of voices on the most important issues...This wasn’t the case, however, with a May 21 op-ed by Nina Planck, an author who writes about food and nutrition. Sensationally headlined “Death by Veganism,” Planck’s piece hit much closer to home than Yousef’s. It said in no uncertain terms that vegans — vegetarians who shun even eggs and dairy products — were endangering the health and even the lives of their children. A former vegan herself, Planck said she had concluded “a vegan pregnancy was irresponsible. You cannot create and nourish a robust baby merely on foods from plants.”

Her Exhibit A was a trial in Atlanta in which a vegan couple were convicted of murder, involuntary manslaughter and cruelty in the death of their 6-week-old son, who was fed mainly soy milk and apple juice and weighed only 3.5 pounds. The column set off a torrent of reader e-mail that is still coming in — much of it from vegans who send photos of their healthy children or complain bitterly of being harassed by friends and relatives using Planck’s column as proof that their diet is dangerous.

If there was another side, a legitimate argument that veganism isn’t harmful, Planck didn’t tell you — not her obligation, Rosenthal and Shipley say. But unlike the Middle East, The Times has not presented another view, or anything, on veganism on its op-ed pages for 16 years. There has been scant news coverage in the past five years.

There is another side.

Rachelle Leesen, a clinical nutritionist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told me that Planck’s article “was extremely inflammatory and full of misinformation.” She and her colleague Brenda Waber pointed me to a 2003 paper by the American Dietetic Association, the nation’s largest organization for food and nutrition professionals. After reviewing the current science, the A.D.A., together with the Dietitians of Canada, declared, “Well-planned vegan and other types of vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence.”

Planck said she was aware of the A.D.A.’s position but regarded it as “pandering” to a politically active vegan community.

I won’t rehash the scientific dispute in a case in which Planck has her experts and the A.D.A. paper cited more than 250 studies, but I think The Times owes its readers the other side, published on the op-ed page, not just in five letters to the editor that briefly took issue with her.

I even question Planck’s Exhibit A, poor little Crown Shakur, who was so shriveled at his death that doctors could see the bones in his body. His death, she wrote, “may be largely due to ignorance. But it should prompt frank discussion about nutrition.”

Maybe, if by nutrition you mean a discussion about whether you feed a baby anything at all.

The prosecutor argued — and the jury believed — that Crown’s parents intentionally starved him to death. News coverage at the time said that the medical examiner, doctors at the hospital to which Crown’s body was taken and an expert nutritionist testified that the baby was not given enough food to survive, regardless of what the food was.

Charles Boring, the Fulton County prosecutor who handled the case, told me it was “absolutely not” about veganism. Planck and Shipley said they were aware of the prosecutor’s contention. Shipley said, “We were also aware, though, that the convicted couple continues to insist that they were trying to raise their infant on a vegan diet.”

But the jury didn’t believe them, and leaving that out put Planck’s whole column on a shaky foundation.

Op-ed pages are for debate, but if you get only one side, that’s not debate. And that’s not healthy.



JudyM said...

The sensationalism of statements and articles about the child's death being a result of a vegan diet really gets people's attention. It's good this additional article was written, but it's too bad that more people won't see or read it. I wouldn't have if you hadn't posted this and your earlier comments...thanks.
Love, Judy

vko said...

I'm so glad that you posted this- I read the NYTimes and I didn't catch this one.

Thanks for sharing this and I second that Hallelujah.

Adorned by Morgan said...

Seriously, what is wrong with people?

I think I'm going to post an Op-Ed article I had written a few years back for my college paper about being a vegan on my blog.

The most frustrating thing about our society is that so rarely do people even ask us our opinions. All that needs to be remotely mentiond in a social setting where people are about to eat is part of the word "veg--" and they're off! Rather than start an intelligent discussion, they assault us with prejudgment in their voices and staunch-yet-uninformed opinions in their heads. That's cool if you want to be ignorant and all, but then why are you harassing me at lunch if your mind is already made up? I mean my gold sesame tofu, fresh greens and vegan cupcake are waiting for me. Also, do you like it when your friends or family are nagging you while you eat? Because although I've gotten used to it, it's still hard to digest sometimes when there's someone particularly obnoxious at the table.

These people have zero interest in the lives we (joyfully) live; they are just looking for justification because they have weak personalities and need society to tell them they are "right."


Anyway, thanks for pointing out the article and its response.