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On NPR on Vegetarian Children and Culture

After all the brouhaha around Nina Planck, you’d think that the stories regarding raising vegetarian children would be of a better quality. In fact, I thought the debate was largely over. I found it odd, therefore, that Deborah Amos’ interview with Yale Medical School professor, Sydney Spiesel came short of saying that children raised on (what they called) purely vegetarian diets or vegetarian diets can grow up to be healthy adults. Dr. Spiesel notes that children have died of malnutrition on such diets (strict macrobiotic diets, he says), and he’s read of such things, but it has never happened in his practice. Probably because he makes sure the children are eating nutritious, well-balanced diets, properly supplemented with B12. In other words, it can easily be done right (as we all know). But he sure doesn’t present it that way.

There was no mention of any of the research clearly demonstrating that vegan children can be perfectly healthy, and what was more troubling, there was talk of food combining (to get complete protein, not to create optimal digestion), and we now know that the foods don’t have to be eaten together to get the benefits.  And he thinks diets with eggs and dairy are best, and it’s very difficult to get the kind of protein you need from vegetables (he says nothing of nuts, seeds, or grains, as if vegetarians eat only vegetables). If I didn’t know better, I might come away thinking: Hmmm, it sure sounds a bit dangerous and definitely complicated. It’s certainly better than Planck, but not nearly as informative as it could have been, and not the least bit inspiring.

Next, when Scott Simon says "Calling Cruelty a ‘Cultural Trait’ Doesn’t Excuse It," I, of course, agree, as I write about The C-Word frequently. He mentions a level of cruelty I hadn’t heard of regarding foie gras production, but I’ll let you decide whether or not you want to find out what it is, and of course he talks about Michael Vick. However, there is a nuance here that I am in the unfortunate position of seeing frequently. I have many people in my life from Haiti. These are all well-educated professionals who speak at least four languages each. And some of them don’t bat an eyelash about dogfighting. Yes, they do say it’s part of the culture. But the nuance is Cartesian in nature: there’s a disconnect. Most of the people don’t think of the dogs as feeling any of the pain. I know it sounds ludicrous, and the entire scheme is based on maximizing pain and enjoying the reaction to the pain, and I have a tough time understanding it. In fact, I hear the words, and I just don’t get it. But they say: You know how we now know that fish feel pain? Well, they’re still way back on dogs. And if there is a sense of pain, it’s not like me causing you pain because we’re human. They either don’t think dogs feel pain, or they think dog pain is qualitatively different from human pain.

Though culture is clearly the issue, I’m not sure that it’s intentional cruelty that’s cultural, or ignorance.

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