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Vegan Couple Sentence to Prison for Baby's Death

Looking for The Lactivist? She's retired. But you CAN still find Jen blogging. These days, she's runs A Flexible Life. Join her for life, recipes, projects and the occasional rant.

Friday, May 04, 2007

If this doesn't just fall into the "why, oh WHY?" category, I don't know what does.

From the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

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.

Wow...just wow.

The sad thing about this is that like with other stories, people will read it, make sweeping assumptions about vegans and blame the lifestyle for this death.

Now I understand that breast milk is technically an "animal product" but could any of my vegan readers please clarify that it's still just peachy to breastfeed? If not, is there any reason that organic soy formula couldn't be used?

Tragic. Absolutely tragic.


  1. Blogger Damien McKenna | 3:07 PM |  

    Breastmilk is made by a momma for their baby, it isn't exactly cruel to animals or anything (unless the baby accidentally chomps..). So, pardon my ignorance, but why on earth would a vegan refuse to breastfeed their child - you'll have to excuse the generalization but I figured vegans would be more "crunchy" and more "crunchy" mommas breastfeed than "non-crunchy" mommas? And no, I don't have any friends who are vegetarian, which is why I honestly am confused by this.

  2. Blogger Nevanna | 3:26 PM |  

    This just makes me cry. I can't say much else on it, without devolving into vulgarities directed at the parents. :(

  3. Anonymous soont2bmomto2boys | 4:07 PM |  

    There's a vegan mom on a messageboard I frequent and she breastfed both of her kids long past a year.

    How could it be "animal cruelty" when it is a substance from your own body and not an animal? And why the hell couldn't they just get some soy formula?

  4. Blogger Sarahbear | 4:15 PM |  

    Would it depend on the reason that people were vegans? Are they doing it because they disagree with exploiting animals for our own advantage or because of a healthy food choice?

    If it's because of the exploitation thing then they could breastfeed because they would be consenting to they baby drinking their milk(where a cow can't really consent). If it's for health choices, I dunno.

    Soy formula should have been a perfect option for them though. I think the article said they had a home birth as well so maybe they didn't get much prenatal care or any pediatric care after the baby was born and didn't know what he should be eating.

    I know someone who had her baby taken away from her because her boyfriend was feeding it pedialite while she was working. Another woman I know was feeding her baby beer in it's bottle (5 months old). It's amazing the things that people will do to their children. Though, I don't know that the couple who's baby died did it on purpose.

  5. Blogger The Fluffy Ewe | 7:11 PM |  

    Homebirths don't always indicate a lack of prenatal care, usually it indicates a preference.

    I have a vegan friend who BF'd 4 of her 5 kids, 2 of which I know was BF'd for atleast 3 years. Unless these people are ignorant and think all milk is the same then I would think she would be all over breastfeeding. But then again vegans are usually pretty smart about this kind of stuff as you need to know what to add into your diet to make sure you are not lacking protein, vits and minerals. This also leaves me uber confused.

  6. Blogger Ahmie | 7:25 PM |  

    seriously, these people were morons and give fodder to the "stupid people shouldn't breed" folks. If ever there was a case for strongly encouraging sterilization. If they're vegan because of animal creulty/compassion/whatever - um... yeah, mom's technically a member of the animal kingdom but she doesn't exactly count as putting the child to the breast is an act of consent that a cow isn't capable of... if they're vegan for health reasons, they should have known that breastmilk was the healthiest thing that their child could drink - apple juice and soy milk?! they thought THAT was a healthy diet for a newborn?!? *headdesk*

    Seriously, did the lack of protein in the parents diet kill of so many braincells that it lowered their IQs to lower than that of your average rodent? Breastmilk from a vegan mother is vegan... the question of whether breastmilk is vegan or not is only when the milk provider ISN'T vegan - I had this discussion with a vegan friend of mine once, since I'm not vegan technically my milk isn't vegan (just like there are different compositions of vegan vs vegitarian vs omnivore compost). She tried some of my EBM in her coffee anyway as a lark (I had too much in my freezer and it was approaching expiration, I was happier to see her drink it that way than dump it down the drain). Since I was able to consent, and it was her personal decision, she decided it was "vegan enough" even tho I eat meat. Then she decided she didn't like the taste enough to repeat the experience - didn't go well with the coffee I guess (it WAS greasy spoon diner coffee, that could have been the problem).

    It's just a shame that there will be folks that take these sad idiots to be representative of vegans and possibly homebirthers (yes, the full article said the baby was born at home). Most members of either category would have been concerned well before "minutes before the baby died" that their kid was lighter than your average throw pillow. Seriously, they didn't notice the baby was ONLY THREE AND A HALF POUNDS?!? "Hmm... the baby weighs less than this half gallon of apple juice, you think we should be worried?"

    That's seriously showing a lack of mental capacity to a greater degree than your average "oops, I didn't realize I was pregnant and I gave birth to my baby at prom" teenager. Their lawyer should have gone for not guilty by reason of diminished mental capacity.

    Urg. I just hurt for my vegan friends, I can only imagine the kind of fallout they're going to have to deal with and I'm so angry.

  7. Blogger heidi | 7:26 PM |  

    This case has NOTHING to do with being vegan, and everything to do with being ignorant neglectful parents. I can't stop cringing every time I see the huge OMG They Were Vegans!! Feaks!!!!! headlines everywhere.

    To clarify: Vegans quite rationally believe that drinking another species' milk is gross and unhealthful. Why? Because milk is for babies, and mammals make milk for their own young. Ergo, cow milk = for calves, human milk = for our babies.

    I have heard my friends endlessly debate whether human breast milk can be defined as vegan. It is a stupid debate of semantic. Yes, an animal created it. But it is perfectly acceptablew for vegan consumption so it is vegan-approved even if it doesn't fit the strictest definition.

    Yes, many many vegans are crunchy moms who wear their babies, cosleep, and nurse until child-led weaning occurs. Not all of them do, but a lot fit the hippy-ish AP profile of parenting.

    I'm dying to know more about this case... I just can't imagine a vegan who is so nutritionally undecucated they would do this. All the vegans I know have researched nutrition like crazy.

    So, that's the vegetarian/vegan wannabe lactation happy mama P.O.V.

    Bless the living children who lost their sibling and I hope they find good healthy homes. It's such a tragedy, and it seems like these people thought they were doing right. So very sad.

  8. Blogger Jennifer | 7:29 PM |  

    I think this incident is a prime example of why you can't take one incident and assign it to an entire subculture.

    The single person is not always representative of the larger belief system.

    I'll second the comment about having a home birth doesn't mean lack of prenatal care, though. Even people that have unassisted home births often do their own prenatal care.

    I think there are probably a lot of strange things going on here, none of which are indicitive of problems with home births or veganism.

  9. Blogger JudyBright | 8:49 PM |  

    Are we assuming that they didn't breastfeed because they were vegan? That's not said explicitly in the article.

    Maybe they didn't or couldn't breastfeed for some reason and then were ignorant about baby nutrition when making formula decisions.

    Of course something else clearly went on to be able to let your baby get to 3 1/2 lbs and still do nothing about it.

  10. Blogger Sarahbear | 9:23 PM |  

    I'm sorry, I don't mean that I believe people who choose home births don't take the appropriate steps when they need medical help with things. I meant that since people who choose home births generally want less medical intervention than hospital births that maybe they(the couple whose baby died) didn't have the appropriate medical attention.

    Any pediatrician would have admitted that small of a newborn to the NICU immediately.

    Of course the news has to dramatize it (as if a newborn death by starvation isn't sensational enough) so they are going to find some extreme reason to blame the babies death on to draw more attention to the article. If people have something to defend and/or argue about it will keep the news a hot topic for a few weeks.

  11. Blogger Jessica Yanow | 9:27 PM |  

    I've been a vegetarian for the past 15 years, and I cringed when I saw the headlines. This situation has nothing to do with the fact that the parents were vegan and everything to do with the fact that they were horribly neglectful. What bugs me is the way it has been framed in the media gives people fodder for thinking that vegans and vegetarians are freaks that are willing to harm their babies due to their belief systems...which is so not true.

  12. Anonymous Lil | 9:30 PM |  

    ...what in the freaking world? The POINT of veganism is largely because animal products are unhealthy for humans because _they are not designed for human consumption_.... Which means breast milk is the ideal infant food for a vegan child.

    The secondary point is that it's cruel and exploitative to animals to steal their baby's food and kill them. Again, this does not apply to breastmilk. Or soy formula.

    What in the world went through their heads?

  13. Blogger JK | 9:32 PM |  

    Theoretically, she was pregnant, right?

    Her body nourished the baby while the baby was inside of her. How could she not see it was normal/logical to continue to let her body nourish the baby while it was on the outside? Good grief.

  14. Blogger Christy | 6:18 AM |  

    Wow, that is truly horrible. I've lived as a vegan (briefly because it was too hard) and as a vegetarian. The idea is supposed to be all natural. Which would be breastmilk or secondly soya formula. Heck, you can even purchase breastmilk if you are gungho on being natural and can't produce breastmilk.
    The only thing that can make this healthly lifestlyle turn dangerous is lack of research. If you are going to be a vegan or vegetarian (and especially if you have children) then talk to your doctor, read, research, meet with other vegan parents and ask what they fed their children. When it comes to nutrition you can't just wing it and hope for the best.
    What a tragedy.

  15. Anonymous radical mama | 7:21 AM |  

    I am personally annoyed at the way this has been spun: The VEGANS killed their baby!

    Starvation is not vegan.

    Breastmilk is perfectly fine, and highly encouraged, in veganism.

    Vegans recognize that babies need milk but that it is highly unnatural for humans to drink the milk of OTHER animals. After the age of 2 or 3, humans do not need animal milk.

    A vegan who knows what they are doing would never give apple juice or soy milk to a child so young.

    This has nothing to do with being vegan and everything to do with being stupid.

    The baby weighed 3.5 pounds when it died at 6 weeks old. Even first time parents would know that there was something seriously wrong with such a tiny child. I can only imagine how lethargic and weak it would have been as well after so many weeks of slowly starving.

  16. Anonymous Julie | 7:32 AM |  

    I am Vegan & am currently a breastfeeding mama of my 10 month old son. I wouldn't have it any other way & there was never a doubt in my mind whether my breastmilk was classified as vegan. That's ridiculous.

    My main worry prior to having my baby was whether we would be successful at nursing & what I would do if we couldn't. Soy formula or possibly finding a breastmilk donor was considered but luckily I didn't have to worry about it. This is a terribly sad story about ill-informed parents but there a plenty of Vegan parents who do raise wonderfully healthy & thriving babies! Just as with any diet, you have to be informed. This is just another example that will be used in defense of non-vegan lifestyles & to maintain the Freaky Vegan label!

  17. Blogger elderberry jam | 7:51 AM |  

    I would be willing to bet that this couple has other issues than being vegan. Maybe the mother tried to breastfeed and couldn't, and instead of seeking help, took it upon herself to try her own thing. A judge decided this was purposeful. Not that I have much faith in judges being indiscriminate across the board, but these days, in health care, simply not seeking help when help is needed can be deemed malicious - even if it isn't. I heard of a pediatrician who threatened to turn in a mom to children's services for refusing antibiotics during labor when she was Strep B positive. I have a problem with the legal system, and doctors - and with people who are just angry - equating ignorance with malice. That in itself deters people from seeking help.

    There IS a connection with being vegan and this baby dying - an indirect one. That is that many vegans, and home birthers, and even breastfeeding mothers, sometimes rebel against the status quo, often to the degree that their pride is more important than their child. In some instances it is to the detriment of feeling they can seek help and distrusting those who might offer it. I've been in some groups for a while, and have seen such an attitude fostered. Most of us aren't like that; and someone who is, probably has some underlying psychological issues. But maybe people who have these underlying issues are attracted to such causes as veganism and home birthing too, and receive support for this sort of attitude there.

    Those of us who breastfeed and would (and do) seek help when we fail - which is most of us who are online - feel threatened by this sort of thing, and rightfully so.

    The question at hand is, how do we save a baby like this when such a person is among us? I'm sure there are more. It is okay to ask for help, even from those we disagree with. I have been flamed in a home birthing group for suggesting going to a doctor when a woman was having misgivings. I was also accused by the moderator of using scare tactics. Babies do die, and I'm sorry, but those who foster the attitude of not seeking help from "the establishment" don't have clean hands, so far as I'm concerned. We need to be mindful that when someone says they are having problems, the problems might be a lot worse than we imagine.


  18. Anonymous janisfan | 8:02 AM |  

    Someone posted a follow up to this story...apparently the couple had been breastfeeding and supplementing with soy formula in addition to the apple juice crap.

    These people wer not vegans they were child abusers.

  19. Blogger Cagey | 8:14 AM |  

    Thanks goes to Heidi for writing the comment I wanted to write, but now don't have to. ;-)

    I am not vegan, nay, I LOVE meat, cheese and milk (although, I drink soymilk instead of milk). However, I have total respect for folks who have different eating preferences. The headline alone disturbs me because it puts the blame on the "vegan" part of their lifestyle. Somehow, it's usually not acceptable to refer to a person's lifestyle in such a case if it mentioned other things - like their race, or socioeconomic class, but because they were vegan, that is somehow okay.

    On a personal note, this does disturb me because my husband and I have gotten criticism for what we feed OUR son. My husband is Indian, my 19 month old son eats what WE eat - fish curries, spicy stuff and other ethnic foods that we enjoy. Folks are horrified that we aren't shoveling bland oatmeal down his gullet. The kid HATES boring food - what else am I supposed to do? Sigh. Don't even get me started on what my doctor said when I "confessed" that we do soymilk and not milk (we drink milk occasionally, but it's a treat and not part of our diet).

    Anyway, it's a shame that this story will just lend ill-begotten negative credence to the various misconceptions surrounding the vegan lifestyle.

  20. Anonymous Brenda Zizolfo | 9:25 AM |  

    Wow- that story is sooo sad. I agree that this has absolutely nothing to do with being vegan- All the vegans I know breastfeed as well- the 2 usually go hand in hand-- and most vegans are usually more cautious about what goes into their children's mouths and more nutritious than alot of meat and dairy eaters. I personally am not vegan, or even vegetarian- but this was obviously not a case of veganism gone wrong- it was a case of horrible neglect and starvation and I'm very curious what kind of case they will try to prove. I can't imagine being their attorney and trying to defend them- It's just so horrible what that poor baby went through- Ok, i'm crying now so i have to stop typing......Just sad

  21. Blogger Bethany | 12:48 PM |  

    I wanted to find the full article on this so I did a search. I actually found an article with a video here http://www.wsbtv.com/news/13245543/detail.html that gives the father's point of view.

    It sounds like the baby died not necessarily because of what he was fed (although I'm sure it had something to do with it) but more because of how little he was fed. I don't know about the rest of you, but when my baby was a newborn she sure let me know when she wanted more to eat. There's now way these parents could have been clueless that their baby was getting too little nourishment.

    By the way, this is not an isolated incident. Do an internet search for the title of the article and you will be amazed at how many different cases of vegan parents accused of starving their children there are. I in no way claim to be vegan or even vegetarian, but I have many friends who are. I hate to see ignorant people giving my friends a bad reputation, and giving people an excuse to judge them even more so than they already are.

  22. Anonymous Anonymous | 2:10 PM |  

    As others have said, this was not about vegan/non-vegan.

    They showed photos of the parents' kitchen. The shelves were literally bare. There was only soy milk and apple juice in the refrigerator. They had only one baby bottle.

    This is about neglect. Vegans have any number of ways to feed their children--breastmilk, soy artificial milk, etc. It is not about lack of knowledge. The parents must have known the baby was losing weight. But they didn't take him to the doctor or ask if soy milk, apple juice, etc was an appropriate diet. It isn't about lack of money--any number of places (churches, gov't programs, etc) would have assisted with formula. It was about neglect. Neglectful parents killed the baby, not a vegan diet.

  23. Blogger Melissa | 6:04 PM |  

    I am in Atlanta, and I have to say that I have heard several people talking about this story (even the guys I work with) and I haven't heard any of them discussing the Vegan aspect of it, so much as they are saying, "Why didn't she breastfeed?" (and for the most part I work with clueless single guys- if they know that, shouldn't these parents, who presumably read something, anything on child rearing?)

    I just don't get it.

  24. Blogger Heather | 7:14 PM |  

    The vegan thing was just latched onto by the journalists for sensationalism. The baby didn't die because the parents were vegan... he died because they were completely heartless morons who starved him to death.

    They should be starved. Seriously. They should be forced to live on exactly as much as they gave their baby, because they STILL deny any wrongdoing.

    I wish people like that has to undergo mandatory sterilization as part of their punishment. Because they should never be allowed to breed again.

  25. Anonymous Vox | 1:35 AM |  

    Have you see this video? http://brownfemipower.com/?p=1389

    An immigrant woman describes being separated from her child, and how breastfeeding mothers were called "cattle" and forced to show that they were lactating before they could return to their breastfeeding children.

    It seems like another "Why, oh WHY?" moment, but for all that a lactivist recently compared herself to a civil rights advocate on your blog, I haven't seen you or your guest bloggers say anything about the women of New Bedford, many of whom were separated from breastfeeding children against their wills. At least one child was hospitalized because of it. This seems like it should be just as important as the vegan story, or as hospitals putting formula in baby care kits.

    Shouldn't lactivists be defending the rights of ALL breastfeeding mothers, and the rights of ALL children to breastfeed, especially when you're appropriating the Civil Rights Movement to support your arguments?

  26. Blogger Jennifer | 5:25 AM |  


    Just got back into town this morning and was gearing up to post about this. (Should be up by this afternoon, earlier if the kids don't go crazy on me.)

    If you search the archives, you'll see that I covered this story when it was breaking news. I'll dig up the link and include it in my post this afternoon.

    (And yes, it's a Why oh Why moment...actually, I'd say it's a "write your congressment/senator/news station moment" but more on that later.)

  27. Blogger Amy | 11:49 AM |  

    I'm not a vegetarian, but I do drink soymilk because of a dairy allergy. Every carton I've ever bought says right on the packaging Not to be used as infant formula. Assuming the couple could read, they should have known immediately they were doing something ill-advised.

  28. Anonymous Anonymous | 12:04 PM |  

    Sorry, I know its a generalization, but this is the SECOND baby to die such a death in the last year. The vegan lifestyle IS harming children. Vegan mothers' milk is lower in protein, carbohydrates, and fat than a normal omnivore (UCLA study, 1997)
    And fat is ESSENTIAL for developing children. If a vegan mother is breastfeeding (and she MUST...soy products will kill a child) she should supplement the baby's diet with additonal animal fats in some form...goats milk is the best.
    Dr. Johannes

  29. Blogger Jennifer | 5:31 PM |  

    Two babies died last year in hospital births, hospital births harm children!

    Sorry, but this is patently false.

    The vegan lifestyle does not harm children, parents that make poor choices harm children.

    Let's not go generalizing about an entire group based on the actions of a few.

    The few vegans that I've known are more educated about nutrition and dietary needs than most doctors are.

    And to note, while I'm very skeptical of soy and am dissapointed at how many parents jump to soy formula so quickly, could you please explain how soy kills children? Because last I checked, soy formula was life saving for those babies that can't tolerate cow's milk formula and whose mother's can't breastfeed.

  30. Blogger Sarahbear | 9:06 AM |  

    I have to agree. It was poor choices by the parents. There are a few women who already spoke up that they are vegan/vegetarian and breastfed. You just have to research to find what you need to eat to make up for the animal products that you aren't eating.

    Two of my boys had milk allergies and had to be on soy formula (after breastfeeding didn't work out).

  31. Blogger Eilat | 11:08 AM |  

    I do hope that Dr. Johannes is not a medical doctor. After all, breastfeeding is not covered in medical school and so would not make a medical doctor an expert on breastfeeding, though lots of doctors are happy to dole out (bad) advice on breastfeeding.

    "Studies have shown that even malnourished women are able to produce milk of sufficient quality and quantity to support a growing infant. Most cases of low weight gain are related to insufficient milk intake or an underlying health problem in the baby."

    (LLLI: Common Breastfeeding Myths

    http://www.llli.org/NB/LVAprMay98p21NB.html and references therein)

  32. Blogger Melissa | 12:13 PM |  

    The parents were sentenced to life in prison yesterday.

    http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/metro/atlanta/stories/2007/05/09/0509metvegan.html (registration required, but it's a super short article)

  33. Blogger momofagreatathlete | 1:34 PM |  

    This baby's death has nothing to do with parent's vegan lifestyle. This child died beacuse he was not fed. Period. I am vegetarian and breasfed my babyboy over a year. He is 9 now and I am still fixing him tons of servings of food because that is what mom's do...

    These people were ignorant, lazy and very cruel.

  34. Anonymous Anonymous | 2:53 PM |  

    The parents should get the death penalty by starvation. An Eye for an Eye. The poor baby didn't have a chance in this world and it is horrible that the people who were supposed to love and take care of him neglected him in this way. You cannot tell me you did not notice your child wasting away. Any mother would have had the instinct to protect her child. I am sick of hearing the excuse was because they were vegan. You still had a responsiblity to feed your child and there are such products of soy formula and even the soy milk container says "not to be used as a substitute for baby formula". I may be wrong but apple juice causes diarreah in children and it is supposed to be given very watered down, I have never heard of apple juice being given to a child at 6 weeks of age. This whole thing sounds intentional to me and nothing more than a selfish act. Totally unnecessary death.

  35. Anonymous MaryAnne Terrell | 7:23 PM |  

    This event isn't about being vegans - it's about making very poor choices, ignorance perhaps, but very clearly, from the moment they even chose to have their child at home, these two people went over and beyond the common sense factor and systematically saw to it that their baby had no chance whatsoever. At the very least, if they wanted to live a lifestyle free from doctors, animal usage/products, whatever, they could have very easily gone to the library/bookstore/free clinic and obtained info so they would see to it that they did the things necessary to bring and raise a happy, healthy child into this world. They obviously didn't care that much. With the verdict and sentence they recieved I'm thinking there is much more to this story that we don't yet! I'm thinking this may be on 20/20, Dateline, shoot even a lifetime story soon.

  36. Blogger Jennifer | 4:49 AM |  

    from the moment they even chose to have their child at home, these two people went over and beyond the common sense factor

    From that snippet, I'll assume that you know little beyond what the every day American knows about the subject of home birth.

    There is nothing even remotely lacking in common sense about having a baby at home with a trained attendent.

    I had my own son at home with the assistence of a midwife that had attended more than 500 births. (That's more than the doctor that delivered my daughter in the hospital.)

    I'd encourage you to read up on the issue. Most vegans and home birthers are far more educated about birth and nutrition than the average American.

    This baby died from neglect, the same way that babies of moms that give birth in the hospital and have "average American diets" also sometimes die of neglect.

  37. Anonymous Anonymous | 10:47 AM |  

    I read many instances of this article that explained that the women was indeed breastfeeding. Which begs the question of why the baby was fed anything additional to that. Breastmilk is a complete food and babies shouldn't be fed anything else, with the exception of formula supplimentation if milk supply is low, and later cereals and simple fruits. I would even question appropriate the juice was with the sugar being hard on a new digestive system.

    Did they let the baby get too much before seeking help? Absolutely.

    Does it warrant life in prison? C'mon, they weren't cruel, they were just stupid.

  38. Anonymous synfk1dd | 11:34 AM |  

    This is really interesting, after ages of ploughing through the internet looking for both some quality reporting of the issue and some intelligent and informed discussion in response to it, i've found a page worth reading. Cheers to all of you for your contributions, as a vegan and nutrition fanatic i was naturally very alarmed when i heard of this case (and others similar to it).

    Although i am aware of the extent to which the media manipulates issues like this (and especially alarmed by the vitriolic and crusading nature of the American media reports), the fact that I am a 20 year old gay male with no brothers, sisters, close younger relatives or any plans for children in the near future means i, quite understandably, dont know much at all about conventional parenting and childcare, let alone vegan or "crunchy" (not quite sure what this means, but i'm guessing its just like into alternative/ethical/green/natural living) parenting.

    As for sharing my opinions on the subject, i think pretty much everything has been said here many times over - i dont think I really need to go any further.

    Thanks Again! Keep posting...

    Alex, London, UK xxx

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