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Final Thoughts on Nina Planck

This isn’t going to win me any popularity contests, but I feel terrible for Nina Planck.

I’ll wait for you to stop screaming, or get up from the floor, or otherwise recover.

Imagine you tell the world, in writing, about what you genuinely believe is fact, and then perfect strangers spend the subsequent 48 hours writing you personally and writing about you to others, all with the intention of telling you you’re wrong, and chastising you for your beliefs.

Oh, wait, that happens to me every week.

And I bet it happens in some form or another to every vegan, writer or not, at least once a week (more like once a day for some). For this very reason, we should be compassionate and give the woman a chance to perhaps alter how she does things, or at least how she presents her opinions.

Here are the letters to Planck that The New York Times printed this morning.

Several people have asked me whether Planck gets paid by the meat and dairy industries, and I think that’s a reasonable question. So does she, and she responds, on her website:

I [do] not. I’m an independent food writer and I study the work of scientists and nutritionists. After much study, I’ve concluded that evidence in favor of diverse, omnivorous diets of traditional foods is overwhelming. I was a skeptic myself – until I did some homework about human nutrition.

However, part of what she does with her company, Real Food, is "operate outdoor markets for local and traditional foods in American cities." In addition (and from the same page), she "writes, speaks, and consults on best practice in farmers’ market management and how to develop the market for local and traditional food beyond farmers’ markets.  She is an investor in Farm to Chef Express, which delivers local food to top New York City chefs."

In other words, she is intimately involved and invested in the success of animal agriculture, although not intensive agriculture such as factory farming.

Finally, if you were on the dark side, you probably would’ve congratulated whomever came up with the title, "Death by Veganism." Though it’s irresponsible for the NYT as a headline, as it’s clearly incorrect, it would have been great for The Enquirer and its ilk. Planck’s articles are listed on her site, and she titled the one in question, "Vegan Babies at Risk." There’s plenty to be angry about in her piece, but the headline, as I mentioned previously, probably wasn’t her doing.

As for the NYT, let me say that I’m baffled as to why they published Planck’s opinion. Here’s some factual information about pregnancy and the vegan diet, in case the Times, or Planck, want even more of an education than they’ve been getting over the last 48 hours.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Dustin #

    I appreciate your very reasoned and compassionate response. Personally attacking this woman for her beliefs doesn't advance the case, and in the end we all end up appearing insane, extreme, out of touch. Yes, as vegans, it's good for us to remember not to do to others what every one likes to do to us: call us crazy ignorant idiots.

    So much of vegan activism is about presentation, isn't it? I often think of the anti-abortion activist who goes straight after the people who get abortions, and thus appears evil to those on the other side of this contentious debate. Would it not make sense, say, to advocate for easily obtained birth-control, or maybe comprehensive sex education in the school systems? (I know: this would offend some, too). The point is: One approach attacks people and the other systems, and when all of this turns so emotional, what does one achieve? In my mind, we must be careful in our advocacy, too, to not alienate people, regardless of their beliefs. I have spent at least half of my life believing that animal products were not only good but necessary; seems important to not forget that, even when our own indulgent self-righteousness is tempting.

    I still want everyone to write to The Times. However, let's make this about the issue, not the author.

    Thanks, Mary.

    May 23, 2007
  2. Ted Christopher #

    Hi Mary Martin,

    I pass on a few thoughts from the Planck episode.

    First, the NYT-dynamic. The day before they published an ed piece entitled "The Immigration Deal" which they must have known would bring heavy flak (and it did). I wonder if their publishing Nina's piece wasn't a kind of balancing act and also perhaps unconsciously a diversion. They should have expected heavy flak from the right for the immigration ed piece (though the issue and people's position are far from simple). In any case Nina's piece followed the next day and it went the other way. They must have had some misgivings on her article but I have seen some miserably non-objective filler-stuff in the past from NYT.

    The other end of the NYT dynamic is on the letter front. The 150 word ceiling is very tight. Dr. M did a very fine job of succinctly providing relevant objective insight under the length limit. As a relevant professional he should have had a good shot of getting his objective (sciency) letter accepted. Perhaps the footnote sunk it, though. The apparent preference for accepted letters is stories (not science), though. Fortunately, Amy Joy Lanou wrote in and her position made her piece's acceptance a given. The closing by a vegan parent was also important.

    Both Planck and the immigration piece had follow-up letters published two days later. (I sent in a note the night before) That is a loud clue that NYT was slamming the door shut on a deluge.

    I don't sympathize with Planck over possible e-mail'd flak. What matters is doing the right thing (and in e-mailing it is good to pause and extract the personal stuff before sending). What is sad is that a simple, easy, all-around good move – being vegan – is marginalized. I sometimes think if in the 1960's 99% of the adults in country's like our own had been smokers, there would still be 99% or so adult smokers today. The little scientific smoke-signals about possible problems with smoking would have gone nowhere since most of the scientists would have had to investigate against their own lifestyle. Adults are deeply change-challenged. The science of nutrition is limited and at its best should be largely empirically based (which should boost plant eating).

    I add a final point on the logic of Planck's piece which caught my attention. The underlying idea that we should follow the lead of indigenous and traditional ways is a bad one. Apparently underfeeding female infants and cannibalism were not uncommon in our past. Evolution did not make long term health or well-being a priority and this is reflected in many traditional problems – treatment of females, outsiders, and animals. People in the past have had rather limited eating options, as well. Doing what is best is a present tense challenge and being vegan now in many countries is a remarkably easy and efficient dietary solution.

    And how did our vast history on the planes of East Africa make fatty fish-derived DHA so important for the development of our brains?


    May 28, 2007

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