The New York Times talks back to Nina Planck

Nina Planck is a “food writer” without any known credentials in nutrition or medicine.

Back in May, Planck published an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times about the starvation death of an infant in Atlanta. Planck did not mention in her editorial that Charles Boring, the Fulton County prosecutor for the case convinced a jury that the parents intentionally starved the infant. Instead, Planck blamed the death on a vegan diet, claiming that it was not safe for children or pregnant mothers.

Below are some quotes from a new New York Times Op-Ed piece by an editor for the New York Times who comes pretty close to claiming that Planck’s earlier piece was BS


The Public Editor
The Danger of the One-Sided Debate

Published: June 24, 2007

THE op-ed page of The New York Times is perhaps the nation’s most important forum for airing opinions on the most contentious issues of the day — the war in Iraq, abortion, global warming and more.

“We look for opinions that are provocative,” said Andrew Rosenthal, the editor of the editorial page. “Opinions that confirm what you already thought aren’t that interesting.”

But some opinions provoke more than others. Two very different columns by guest contributors, one last week and one last month, caused enormous reader outcries and raised important questions. Are there groups or causes so odious they should be ruled off the page? If The Times publishes a controversial opinion, does it owe readers another point of view immediately? And what is the obligation of editors to make sure that op-ed writers are not playing fast and loose with the facts?

< snip >

Op-ed pages should be open especially to controversial ideas, because that’s the way a free society decides what’s right and what’s wrong for itself. Good ideas prosper in the sunshine of healthy debate, and the bad ones wither. Left hidden out of sight and unchallenged, the bad ones can grow like poisonous mushrooms.

Rosenthal and Shipley said that, over time, they try to publish a variety of voices on the most important issues. Regular op-ed readers have seen a wide range of views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and have a lot of other information to help judge Yousef’s statements.

This wasn’t the case, however, with a May 21 op-ed by Nina Planck, an author who writes about food and nutrition. Sensationally headlined “Death by Veganism,” Planck’s piece hit much closer to home than Yousef’s. It said in no uncertain terms that vegans — vegetarians who shun even eggs and dairy products — were endangering the health and even the lives of their children. A former vegan herself, Planck said she had concluded “a vegan pregnancy was irresponsible. You cannot create and nourish a robust baby merely on foods from plants.”

Her Exhibit A was a trial in Atlanta in which a vegan couple were convicted of murder, involuntary manslaughter and cruelty in the death of their 6-week-old son, who was fed mainly soy milk and apple juice and weighed only 3.5 pounds. The column set off a torrent of reader e-mail that is still coming in — much of it from vegans who send photos of their healthy children or complain bitterly of being harassed by friends and relatives using Planck’s column as proof that their diet is dangerous.

If there was another side, a legitimate argument that veganism isn’t harmful, Planck didn’t tell you — not her obligation, Rosenthal and Shipley say. But unlike the Middle East, The Times has not presented another view, or anything, on veganism on its op-ed pages for 16 years. There has been scant news coverage in the past five years.

There is another side.

Rachelle Leesen, a clinical nutritionist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told me that Planck’s article “was extremely inflammatory and full of misinformation.” She and her colleague Brenda Waber pointed me to a 2003 paper by the American Dietetic Association, the nation’s largest organization for food and nutrition professionals. After reviewing the current science, the A.D.A., together with the Dietitians of Canada, declared, “Well-planned vegan and other types of vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence.”

Planck said she was aware of the A.D.A.’s position but regarded it as “pandering” to a politically active vegan community.

I won’t rehash the scientific dispute in a case in which Planck has her experts and the A.D.A. paper cited more than 250 studies, but I think The Times owes its readers the other side, published on the op-ed page, not just in five letters to the editor that briefly took issue with her.

I even question Planck’s Exhibit A, poor little Crown Shakur, who was so shriveled at his death that doctors could see the bones in his body. His death, she wrote, “may be largely due to ignorance. But it should prompt frank discussion about nutrition.”

Maybe, if by nutrition you mean a discussion about whether you feed a baby anything at all.

The prosecutor argued — and the jury believed — that Crown’s parents intentionally starved him to death. News coverage at the time said that the medical examiner, doctors at the hospital to which Crown’s body was taken and an expert nutritionist testified that the baby was not given enough food to survive, regardless of what the food was.

Charles Boring, the Fulton County prosecutor who handled the case, told me it was “absolutely not” about veganism. Planck and Shipley said they were aware of the prosecutor’s contention. Shipley said, “We were also aware, though, that the convicted couple continues to insist that they were trying to raise their infant on a vegan diet.”

But the jury didn’t believe them, and leaving that out put Planck’s whole column on a shaky foundation.

Op-ed pages are for debate, but if you get only one side, that’s not debate. And that’s not healthy.

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14 thoughts on “The New York Times talks back to Nina Planck”

  1. I’ve heard that her only “nutritional” experience was as a director of some farmer’s market, a position from which she was fired after 5 months.

  2. Too many people don’t respect nutrition credentials and will believe anything that makes them feel special. This is particularly bad in the veg*n community.

    It is that kind of attitude that lets people like her without any education in what she is talking about, get as far as they do.

    It is past time for people to get into the habit of challenging nutrition mavens on their educations.

  3. Yeah… I’ve met far too many nutrition majors, who, while eating some hugely unhealthy meal of fried fatty meats (judging by their size, they eat that regularly), will question me about being a healthy vegan >_

  4. I think it is a reasonable idea that while someone may not look healthy that s/he can know things about getting healthy. For example “eat less, move more” is just as true if a fat person tells it to you as if a fit person tells it to you.

    However, I think it looks bad when people give health and fitness advice when they do not look so healthy.

    People will ask ” if that advice works and is practical, then why has not the speaker followed his/her own advice?”

    That isn’t quite fair…..or rational, but people will do it.

  5. Yeah, I know they can have some good info… but it really is odd to have them telling me I shouldn’t be healthy, when I’m in shape/ healthy and they’re not. I always want to point that out to them, but… (then again, i’m a little out of shape now, so I shouldn’t be talking ;o)

  6. Yeah…

    I just got an email from someone in Portland who went to her book tour… there were a few vegans there; one asked if she had any credentials as a nutritionist, and she admitted having none; another asked her why, if she professed herself a journalist with integrity, that she would choose to ignore accepted published studies showing vegan diets are appropriate alongside other facts. A parent also brought his vegan baby and stood right near the table she was signing books, telling people how the doctor was amazed at his baby’s health. I think she’ll prolly be getting similar reactions for the rest of her tour.

  7. oooo… in 3 locations! pass it on to your DC friends…

    Saturday, June 9
    Washington, DC
    Mount Pleasant Local Food Market (Saturdays, 9 AM to 1 PM)
    Mount Pleasant Street, NW (at 17th & Lamont)
    Book signing 9 AM – 11 AM, FREE

    Sunday, June 10
    Washington, DC – Two events!
    Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market at 21st & P Streets, NW
    From 11 AM to 12 NOON, I’ll talk about Real Food.

    Candida’s World of Books
    Shop at your local independent bookshop in the wonderful neigborhood of 14th and U (which now has a Saturday farmers’ market)! At 2 PM, I’ll talk about Real Food and sign books. See you at Candida’s, at 1541 14th St, NW.

  8. Nina Plank is a skanky bizoch. I’d totally tofu cream pie her….with logic.


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