First, one wonders why a child so young was not being breast fed. Veganism, which involves avoiding all animal products, including meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy, does not in any way preclude breast feeding. In fact, one of the arguments in favor of veganism is that the milk of cows is best suited for calves, the same way that human milk is best suited for baby humans.
Second, even if the couple wanted to use a soy product instead, any pediatrician would have told them to use a soy-based formula, not soy milk. In fact, most soy milk products are clearly labeled as NOT being a substitute for baby formula.
Contrary to what the judge in this case apparently believes, there is nothing inherent in the vegan diet that should be dangerous for children.An online pediatrician’s guide explains how vegan babies and children can easily be kept healthy on a vegan diet. And most of the advice that’s relevant - breast feed for at least a year, and take your vitamins - would be given to vegans and carnivores alike.
It’s unfortunate that such misinformation about the vegan diet still abounds, even among otherwise educated people. People get particularly emotional at the idea of separating children of all ages from cow’s milk. In her enlightening book, Nature’s Perfect Food: How Milk Became America’s Drink. Melanie DuPuis looks into some of the reasons why. While many vegan activists and other followers of food politics correctly point to the heavy influence of industry - particularly the National Dairy Council - Du Puis discovered that the fervor for milk pre-dated even those forces. Specifically, the idea that milk is vital for children went hand-in-hand with the profound changes in the family brought about by the Industrial Revolution. With men leaving the home to work in city factories, women became pre-occupied with a new set of duties that went along with their new urban lifestyles, which precluded breast-feeding. Others were forced to also work outside of the home, which also discouraged breast-feeding. There were also pressures to abstain from breast-feeding in order to boost fertility.
In the early-to-mid 1800's, “experts” started to cast doubt on the competence of mothers to breast-feed their children. (It had only worked for millennia before then!) On a deeper level, discouraging breast feeding was a way of wresting control over a part of the economy previously controlled by women. As Du Puis puts it:
“Throughout the history and prehistory of the human species, breast milk provided the major sustenance for a person’s first year of life…. In other words, women’s breast milk production represented a significant part of the human food economy…. One does not have to be a member of La Leche League to understand that a significant economic change took place when women’s bodies were removed from food production.”
Sadly, Du Puis also points out that the switch to cow’s milk - especially before regulation and pasteurization - contributed greatly to infant mortality.
Which brings us back to today’s unfortunate story. From what can be gleaned from the AP story, it sounds like the couple was responsible for the infant’s death. But their mistake had nothing to do with their veganism.