“Don’t drink your milk! Don’t eat your meat!”
Surprising advice from the world’s most famous doctor? Not if you know Benjamin Spock. Vegetarian. Peace lover. Animal-rights activist. Since writing the best-known childcare book of all time in 1946, Spock has rarely said what people thought he should say.
But when he said recently that everyone - including children - should embrace vegetarianism and give up milk, many parents shuddered.
Spock, 91, joined colleagues in the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in calling for demotion of two of the basic food groups to condiment status on American tables.
Milk and meats, say the group’s new proposed dietary guidelines, should no longer be part of the national daily diet. Instead, the doctors would move meats and all dairy products into a new “optional” category, not recommended for daily consumption.
Critics from the dairy and meat industries rushed to call the proposals “extreme,” “unrealistic,” and, as a nutritionist for the dairy industry put it, “just another case of fatty-food phobia.”
“Children need milk to grow on and that is that,” said Carl Miller of Dairy Management Inc., formerly the National Dairy Council.
“This is nothing more than an animal-rights group gone too far,” added C.J. Valenzicino of the National Live Stock and Meat Board. “Meat is more than fat. It’s an excellent source of B vitamins, iron and zinc. Doing away with two entire food groups is not realistic. People love their cheeses. They love their beef - 75 million people eat beef every day.”
But that, argue Spock and others, is what’s killing people.
Spock credits a macrobiotic diet with saving his life when he was seriously ill four years ago.
“Death from coronary arteriosclerosis from cancers and from stroke keep increasing,” he said, “and there is no question these diseases are linked to high-fat diets, particularly animal fats from meat, chicken, fish, eggs and dairy products.”
While Spock agrees that babies and toddlers should not be deprived of milk and other dairy products, he said he is convinced that “after the age of 3 or so, they do not need to drink milk and eat dairy products every day.”
Spock’s landmark parenting guide, “Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care” (Pocket Books), does not reflect his dietary conversion. The next edition, he promised, most certainly will.
“Food preferences are formed early in childhood, and they tend to persist throughout adult lives,” says Spock. “I am very aware how difficult it is for parents to change their own views on this, and I know there is still controversy about forgoing milk for children.
“But I believe the research shows that a non-dairy vegetarian diet provides sufficient fat and other nutrients for children after age 2 or 3, as alarming as that may sound to some.”
The current U.S. Department of Agriculture dietary guidelines, endorsed by such prestigious groups as the American Dietetic Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, calls for two to three daily servings from the meat group and the milk group.
The recommendations delivered to the USDA early this week by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine will be considered during the agency’s fiveyear review of its Recommended Daily Allowances.
The doctors group, which includes such high-profile heart researchers as Dr. Dean Ornish and Dr. William Castelli of the famed Framingham Heart Study, has been involved in animal-rights projects as well as dietary reforms since its founding in 1985.
Most recently, the organization paid for parents of children who had died after eating hamburgers tainted with E. coli bacteria to testify in Washington, D.C., about unsafe meat processing.
“The obvious danger of meat consumption in this nation is yet another reason we should rethink what we eat and what we feed our children,” said Dr. Neal Barnard, Physicians Committee president.
Adopting a diet where meat and milk would be reduced to “something on the order of condiments” will likely make him some enemies, Spock conceded.
“When I first came out against corporal punishment, against any spanking of children, I know many people stopped listening to me,” he said. “I hope that doesn’t happen now.”