Standing on a Shaky Planck

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I suspect everyone with a veg-themed blog will be thwacking this terrible NY Times op-ed piece.  I know Erik has, though I haven’t had a chance to listen yet and Isa took a good shot that I read earlier this morning.  Here’s what I’ve got to add, with apologies for repeating any arguments you may have read elsewhere.

Nina Planck is the author of “Real Food: What to Eat and Why.”

I wanted to start with the byline.  Please note that this was written by somebody with something to sell.  She has no formal training in nutrition (note: neither do I, but I’m not writing books about the subject).  Just saying.

I was once a vegan. But well before I became pregnant, I concluded that a vegan pregnancy was irresponsible. You cannot create and nourish a robust baby merely on foods from plants.

This is purely anecdotal evidence, but everyone I’ve ever met who was “once a vegan” either a.) really wasn’t a vegan or b.) did it for a couple weeks for health purposes (never mind that veganism is an ethical way of life and not just a diet).  I’d like to hear a little bit more about her stint as a vegan.  I’m really curious because she must have been doing something pretty wrong in her own diet to conclude that it was “irresponsible” to be a pregnant vegan.

There are no vegan societies for a simple reason: a vegan diet is not adequate in the long run.

Source please?  I suspect it’s less a reason of a vegan diet’s adequacy and more a reason of availability, control of food production, or reliance on historical/cultural precedent.  Our current world is much different than it was even 100 years ago.

Besides, if she says a vegan diet’s not adequate in the long run, she might want to read up on Donald Watson.  I’d say mid-90s classifies as the “long run.”  And what’s interesting is that I’m still trying to find these vegans with deficiencies.  It’s a lot easier to find omnis suffering from excesses.

Protein deficiency is one danger of a vegan diet for babies. Nutritionists used to speak of proteins as “first class” (from meat, fish, eggs and milk) and “second class” (from plants), but today this is considered denigrating to vegetarians.

I believe that this idea of “first class” and “second class” proteins goes along with the outdated notion of protein combining en vogue in the 1970s.  As long as you’re eating a varied diet of primarily whole foods, protein’s not an issue.  Back in 1982, Francis Lappe updated her classic Diet for a Small Planet to note that “In all other diets [other than fruit-based, tuber-based, or junk food-based], if people are getting enough calories, they are virtually certain of getting enough protein.”

A vegan diet may lack vitamin B12, found only in animal foods;

A lot of this is due to the pesticides we use when growing vegetables, which makes them unsafe to eat unless they’re thoroughly cleaned.  However, a simple supplement takes care of this without much problem.

usable vitamins A and D, found in meat, fish, eggs and butter; and necessary minerals like calcium and zinc. When babies are deprived of all these nutrients, they will suffer from retarded growth, rickets and nerve damage.

Vitamins A and D as well as calcium and zinc are easy to get in a vegan diet.

Yet even a breast-fed baby is at risk. Studies show that vegan breast milk lacks enough docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, the omega-3 fat found in fatty fish. It is difficult to overstate the importance of DHA, vital as it is for eye and brain development.

Most people can properly convert the Omega-3s in flax seed into EPA and DHA, but even for those that can’t, there are a number of vegan sources.

A vegan diet is equally dangerous for weaned babies and toddlers, who need plenty of protein and calcium. Too often, vegans turn to soy, which actually inhibits growth and reduces absorption of protein and minerals. That’s why health officials in Britain, Canada and other countries express caution about soy for babies. (Not here, though — perhaps because our farm policy is so soy-friendly.)

Again, I’d like to see a source quoted here, but I’m willing to bet it’s somehow tied to the dairy industry (as most anti-soy studies so far have been).  John Robbins has some useful info about mineral absorption and soy:

It is true that soybeans are high in phytates, as are many plant foods such as other beans, grains, nuts and seeds, and it is true that phytates can block the uptake of essential minerals, and particularly zinc. This would be a problem if a person consumed large amounts of phytates; for example, if they ate nothing but soybeans or wheat bran. But the phytic acid levels found in a plant-based diet including a serving or two of soy a day are not high enough to cause mineral absorption problems for most people eating varied diets. Furthermore, when soy products are fermented – as they are in tempeh, miso, and many other soyfoods – phytate levels are reduced to about a third their initial level. Other methods of soy preparation such as soaking, roasting and sprouting also significantly reduce phytate content.

While phytates can compromise mineral absorption to some degree, there is absolutely no reliable evidence that vegetarians who eat soyfoods “risk severe mineral deficiencies.” The complete adequacy of vegetarian diets is now so thoroughly proven and documented that even the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has acknowledged the legitimacy of meatless diets. In an official statement, these representatives of the beef industry declared, “Well planned vegetarian diets can meet dietary recommendations for essential nutrients.”

Back to Ms. Planck:

Historically, diet honored tradition: we ate the foods that our mothers, and their mothers, ate. Now, your neighbor or sibling may be a meat-eater or vegetarian, may ferment his foods or eat them raw. This fragmentation of the American menu reflects admirable diversity and tolerance, but food is more important than fashion. Though it’s not politically correct to say so, all diets are not created equal.

‘Tis true, but take a look at a whole foods vegan diet versus any of the fad diets and you’ll see one major difference: a vegan diet is sustainable for a lifetime while most others aren’t.

An adult who was well-nourished in utero and in infancy may choose to get by on a vegan diet, but babies are built from protein, calcium, cholesterol and fish oil. Children fed only plants will not get the precious things they need to live and grow.

I think someone needs to make a t-shirt based on the quote “Babies are built from protein, calcium, cholesterol and fish oil.”

Pieces like this one by Nina Planck seem to exist not to foster any sort of serious discussion about nutrition and diet, but for other purposes (selling books, selling papers).  Without citing any sources, it’s hard to take any claims that Planck makes seriously.  If you go out there and do the research, you’ll find that a well-planned vegan diet can be every bit as healthy as a well-planned omni diet.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:

We all need to look at what we eat.  It’s not a “vegan thing.”  If you shovel food down your gullet and don’t have any concept about what’s good for you, it doesn’t matter if you’re omnivore, vegan, or breatharian — you’re going to have problems.

I’d challenge Ms. Planck or anyone else looking to cash in on the latest “VEGAN PARENTZ KILL BABY, OMG~!!” headline to debate with a dietician like Vesanto Melina or a vegan nutritionist so people can make up their minds based on facts rather than a piece of marketing fluff masquerading as an op-ed piece.

At Jamba Juice, Non-Dairy = Dairy

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Now we all know about the farce that is non-dairy creamer, right?  For whatever reason, non-dairy creamer is allowed to contain, um, dairy.  Makes total sense.  Something silly about removing the fat and then, voila, it’s no longer dairy.  Uh-huh.

Well, The Consumerist has uncovered the ingredients that are part of Jamba Juice’s proprietary “non-dairy” formula:

Water, Grade A Nonfat Dried Milk, Grade A Whey, Grade A Whey Protein Concentrate, Splenda, Sodium Alginate, Maltodextrin, Pectin, Carrageenan, Sodium Citrate, Sodium Hexametaphosphate, Natural Flavor, Annatto.

Feel free to contact Jamba Juice and let them know that this ain’t cool.

My New Year’s Wish

There are a lot of great companies out there, large and small, that are making products with sustainability and ethics in mind. A lot of them started small and got acquired by larger companies, which causes some justified concern about the integrity, ongoing direction, and ultimate intentions of the company going forward, but we’ll leave that aside for now.

My New Year’s wish is directed at those companies, big and small, that are “nearly vegan”… companies that have always made products without meat, that market themselves to vegetarians, and make it very clear which of their products are vegan. There are a lot of these types of companies, but for no reason other than their visibility, I’ll single out two: Amy’s Kitchen and Endangered Species Chocolate. Both companies are well aware of vegans and make it clear which of their products are vegan-safe, which is great. But here’s the question: why not go all the way?

While Amy’s doesn’t come right out and mention ethics or animal rights in their mission statement, but they hint at it. Endangered Species, though, uses animals as their primary focus. They donate a percentage of their profits to animal-related charities and they use only “ethically traded” cocoa. Shoot, their mission statement even starts off: “Here, our core value is Reverence for Life…”

Why, then, do both companies use dairy-based ingredients in their products? It’s been well-argued by Erik Marcus and others* that dairy is an even worse ethical choice than beef, so it’s not ethically consistent for pro-animal companies to involve themselves in any sort of animal exploitation, let alone something as egregiously exploitative as dairy.

Amy’s: you already leave out eggs. Your recent deal with Follow Your Heart means you can ditch the dairy and non-vegan soy cheese. Your spinach and soy cheese pizza on rice crust is incredible. So, c’mon, just do it! And Endangered Species: everyone knows that milk chocolate is inferior to dark chocolate. Why not go all the way and offer strictly dark chocolate, sans dairy?

* Beware the second-to-last paragraph in that linked article–it’s garbage.

My letter to Wegmans

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Hello.

I’ve been a customer of the Dulles, VA Wegmans store for several years now. I enjoy the selection of foods that you offer, particularly with regards to produce and specialty convenience foods. I’ve spread the word about Wegmans and have turned a number of people onto the store and they’ve become loyal customers as well.

However, last year, when Compassionate Consumers released their video shot inside your egg farm, I was disheartened. I wasn’t necessarily surprised at what I saw, since these types of atrocities happen every day at factory farms around the world. Rather, I was disheartened and embarrassed by your public response to the footage. Rather than acknowledge there was a problem, you used crafty language to insinuate (with absolutely no evidence) that some of the footage wasn’t shot at your facility. Then you mentioned the concern about the health risk when it’s been shown that factory farmed chicken and eggs are the reason that avian flu has spread so quickly in the first place.

That said, I continued to shop at your store, thinking that you’d come around and would work to make changes like Trader Joe’s and other similar companies. (You may say that you’re “full-service supermarket, not a specialty food store,” but come on… regular supermarkets don’t develop cult followings.)

But with the most recent news of Adam Durand’s sentencing, I can no longer spend money at your store in good conscience. Adam admitted to the misdemeanor he was charged with, but despite the fact he had no previous record, the judge saw fit to comply with your request for a jail sentence. A jail sentence. For a guy who helped sick and dying birds that your egg farm wouldn’t.

I spent a couple hundred dollars a month at Wegmans purchasing produce, vegan convenience foods, and pet supplies. Because of your reaction to the Compassionate Consumers’ movie and your pushing for a jail sentence of Adam Durand, I’m hereby boycotting your store. The money I would have spent at your store will instead go to smaller, local health food stores and to Adam Durand’s defense fund. I’ve also taken time to spread the word on vegblog.org and will be posting a copy of this letter there, as well.

I hope that you reconsider your stance and work to make a change. You have it within your power to do so. You’re recognized as a great place to work for your human employees. Why not try and make it a little less painful for your non-human employees as well?

… Ryan A. MacMichael
Virginia

CSPI vs Palm Oil

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The Center for Science in the Public Interest (best known as “those guys that fought to get trans fat listed on nutritional labels”) publish a newsletter called Nutrition Action. It’s a good read with solid scientific information about diet and health, often debunking or questioning claims behind supplements. It’s far from vegan, as they are often recommending dairy and meat, but that sort of makes sense since they’re focused solely on health. They never speak against a vegan diet, but I suppose they know their readership is primarily non-vegetarian.

However, in May 2006 I was very surprised to see a full-page ad for their campaign against palm oil. Palm oil is very prevalent in processed foods and isn’t exactly healthy, so it’s not unusual that they’re speaking out against it, but what surprised me is the angle they’re taking. Their main ad reads “DYING FOR A COOKIE?” and underneath says, “Palm oil production is killing orangutans and other endangered wildlife.” Their full report talks about palm oil’s detrimental effect on health, the environment, and wildlife. This is the first time that I can remember that the CSPI has made note of the animal suffering associated with any food product.

One danger they note is that with the new trans fat designation on nutrition labels, many companies are looking to switch away from partially hydrogenated oils. The danger is that they might move to palm oil.

If companies replaced the 2.5 billion pounds of partially hydrogenated oil used annually in foods needing a solid fat with palm oil, U.S. palm oil imports would triple over the 2003 level. Such an increase would require about 1,240 square miles of new oil palm plantations—an area that represents rainforest habitat for up to 65 Sumatran rhinos, 54 elephant families, 65 Sumatran tigers, and 2,500 orangutans.

Good job, CSPI. Let’s see more of it in the future and it wouldn’t kill you to start mentioning vegetarian diets a bit more, would it?