Junkfood Science: Teaching our children with care

May 04, 2007

Teaching our children with care

Food fears hurt people, especially the most vulnerable among us. Nothing illustrates that more powerfully and tragically than the story in the news this week. A baby was starved to death by parents who said they were adhering to a vegan diet.

Vegan parents guilty in infant murder

The parents of a baby that died of starvation after being fed a vegan diet have been found guilty of malice murder, felony murder and first degree cruelty to children. Jade Sanders, 27, and Lamont Thomas, 31, will get an automatic life sentence for the death of their 6-week-old infant, Crown. After being fed a diet largely consisting of soy milk and apple juice, he weighed only 3 1/2 pounds when he died....

Prosecutors said it was a chilling case of murder by starvation, a painful and prolonged death. Attorneys representing Sanders and Thomas told jurors the first-time parents did the best they could while adhering to their vegan lifestyle. Vegans typically live free of animal products.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has been following this case and reported that the baby had been born at home, just across the street from Piedmont Hospital, but that the parents never took him to a doctor “because they feared hospitals were infested with germs.” The father said: “We're against animal cruelty. So why would I be cruel to my son? We're against animals being burdened.”

The idea that parents could get to this degree of fear at first seemed inconceivable. But perhaps we shouldn't be surprised at the extent of some of their concerns when we realize what young people encounter. In another news story this week:

Seventh-Graders Forced to Vote on Animal Slaughter During Field Trip

According to news reports, the students [seventh-graders from Birch Kirksey Middle School] were taken to Heifer International’s Global Village in Perrysville, northwest of Little Rock. When it came time for dinner, the students were forced to make a choice: kill a rabbit or have no meat. Some of the students expressed their feelings about this event, and their parents complained.

PETA distributed its Vegetarian Starter Kits, saying that “the students who saw someone breaking the rabbit’s neck and decapitating the animal are likely traumatized and could benefit from making the easy transition to a humane and healthy vegetarian diet.” According to the PETA news release, “PETA has also asked [Principal Roger] Hill to begin a dialogue at the school about what killing animals for food entails.”

The PETA Vegetarian Starter Kit given to the children includes the following “facts:”

* Pigs in factory farms are confined to concrete-floored stalls and are castrated and have their tails cut off without any painkillers.

* Chickens are drugged and bred to grow so fast that many become crippled under their own weight. At slaughter, they are still conscious when their throats are slit, and many are scalded to death in defeathering tanks.

* Vegetarianism is healthier than eating meat. The consumption of meat and other animal products has been conclusively linked to heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, obesity, and various types of cancer.

It’s unknown how many parents have seen the instructional materials geared towards their school-age children, as I never imagined anything like what I discovered. Here are a few examples. There’s a website for kids and one for teens and college students. Young people are encouraged to watch “the goriest video of all time,” and can earn points towards prizes for activism. The lesson plans for teachers, called TeachKind, are taught in schools around the country that have mandated for humane education. PETA’s information warns: “Every time you eat animal products, you are ingesting known carcinogens, bacteria, and other contaminants that can accumulate in your body and remain there for years.”

And there’s a new comic book for kids, which according to PETA says:

PETA Comics presents... “Your Mommy Kills Animals!"

Kids will see the bloody truth behind their moms’ pretentious pelts. Accompanied by graphic photographs of skinned carcasses and animals languishing on fur farms, children will read: “Lots of wonderful foxes, raccoons, and other animals are kept by mean farmers who squish them into cages so small that they can hardly move. They never get to play or swim or have fun. All they can do is cry-just so your greedy mommy can have that fur coat to show off in when she walks the streets."

Trading cards are handed out in schools, such as “Don’t be a Chicken Chump,”series which feature “Cruel Kyle, Sickly Sally and Tubby Tammy and say:

Eating chicken parts can make you fat and sick!... Most chickens in stores have germs on them—which are often nothing but chicken poop. Gross! These poop-covered chicken pieces are disgusting, and they can make you hurl. And if you’re eating buckets of greasy, fatty drumsticks and nuggets, don’t be surprised if your belly gets so big that you can barely zip your pants!

And the “Don’t be a Milk Sucker” trading cards tell children that milk gives them pimples, gas, and a throat full of phlegm, and makes them fat. So, they’re told, they should “ trade it in—for delicious and nutritious soy!”

They offer a site for new parents, too, saying dairy products have been linked to “colic (stomach cramps), autism, chronic ear infections, insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (type 1 or "juvenile-onset" diabetes), acne, obesity, flatulence, constipation, mucus, and a variety of other ailments.” A mother is quoted as saying:

“Cow's milk is poison for kids! My children love healthy, vitamin-fortified soy milk-and they NEVER have ear infections or any of the other health conditions associated with cow's milk."

How many parents and consumers know that the Healthy School Lunch Campaign “to protect children’s health and reduce childhood obesity rates by increasing the availability of healthy plant-based foods in schools;” and those annual School Lunch Report cards evaluating the “healthfulness” of school lunches, are sponsored by an animal rights organization? They lobby the USDA, schools and policy makers calling for the discontinuation of beef, pork, chicken, butter, cheese, processed meats, and other foods rich in saturated fat, because these foods “contribute to obesity, heart disease, and cancer.” To “make the grade,” schools must: serve nondairy vegetarian (vegan) entrées daily, less than 30% of calories from fat and less than 10% from saturated fat and cholesterol-free; make a nondairy beverage available to all students; provide nutrition education in the cafeteria, as well as offer programs that promote healthy eating. Children are taught that “healthy” eating means plant-based diets. According to their review process resources, low-fat vegan foods “offered children on a regular basis will help them acquire healthy eating habits that will keep them slim and prevent a host of chronic diseases.” Finally, three points are given to school districts that offer incentives to students who choose healthy meals.

For years, from preschool through college, young people have faced such frightening images and inaccurate messages about their food, bodies and health. Is it any wonder that many come away with misconceptions and fears with such tragic consequences?

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