Book Review: New Vegetarian Baby
Testimonials never really do it for me.
As a historian, I am constantly skeptical of bias, which means I spend much of my time reading between the lines. I usually never agree with someone 100% or wed myself to one book or philosophy. In my AP US history class, we spend the first day discussing the bias in their book, with attention to the exclusion of facts in order to sway a reader. Because the Texas school system is the largest purchaser of textbooks, they usually dictate curriculum, which is a particularly dangerous problem. In my classroom, proving the textbook wrong earns you extra credit.
So, in an attempt to be a well-informed parent, I looked for a book on vegetarian cooking. The classic baby books such as What to Expect in the First Year and Dr. Spock, both support raising babies and children vegetarian, and even discourage the early introduction of meat. However, I needed more. I needed a book to supply me two types of information: 1. How to nutritiously raise my daughter so that she gets all the appropriate nutrients at the right time. 2. How to raise her in a society where we, and she, will have to navigate skeptical questions about being vegetarian. Looking at books, it appeared many of them are now targeted to vegan families, which I respect, however we are not going to be vegan, so I needed dairy to be a consideration in the meal preparation. After reading tons of reviews, New Vegetarian Baby by Sharon Yntema and Christine Beard appeared to be the choice of many parents. The second edition of the book includes an “updated” approach, but being published in 2000, it might be already out of date.
Like all food books, I found it to be a really quick read, with a good reference section. I tabbed areas that discuss the vitamin/mineral makeup of various foods, as well how to combine and cook them to an optimal method. Additionally, it has various menus for different months, to help parents understand how much and what type of variety to provide a baby. I flagged the sections, and put the book next to my cookbooks for a quick reference. Additionally, the authors give a very thoughtful consideration on why certain families experience a “vegetable war.” They emphasize not talking about vegetables in a positive or negative light, or the classic “eat them because they are good for you” approach. If vegetables are diverse, in season, and the staple to the diet, kids won’t feel compelled to fight you. Vegetables need to become the defacto, not the exception in a meal. Exposing children to a variety of veggies and cuisines is important to an early acceptance of diverse foods. This section made me think of my niece, who growing up in East Africa, eats Indian food. Due to the Indian Diaspora in East Africa, because of British Colonialism, Indian is as common as burgers in America, and LG welcomed all sorts of cuisines. Her flexibility had to do with a casual exposure to a variety of foods, and I hope we can reproduce the same ease in eating that her parents provided.
Where I struggle with the book is its lazy use of evidence; the researcher in me starting roaring. They conducted an informal study to prove vegetarian children grow at the same rate of omnivore children, but it is shoddy at best, which is not necessary. Much of the proof reads as testimonials from friends, and the emphasis was on raising a child vegan. Additionally, the authors give a heavy push for breastfeeding, which tends to rub me the wrong way. They allow for formula feeding when there is a medical reason for the mother, but say mothers should exclusively breastfeed. This brings up all sorts of issues, like class– where women who work long hours/ multiple jobs in public environments are less likely to be able to breastfeed, even when pumping is an option. It also ignores the basic reality that not everyone can breastfeed. The formula feeding/breastfeeding debate is an extremely alienating issue in American parenting. In order to include more future vegetarian readers, because it really is not related to being vegetarian, it is best the authors leave it alone.
Between the breastfeeding emphasis and the testimonials, the book read a little touchy-feely. I kept thinking about the arguments against the authors instead of for the authors, and I am someone who wants to raise my daughter vegetarian. I can only imagine what the skeptics think. There is science behind raising children vegetarian, and the authors should use it. Perhaps a more recent addition of the book might correct these issues? After the explosion of the slow food movement, pop books/ movies revealing the problems with the meat industry, retailers like Whole Foods and Trader Joes, as well as the explosion of vegetarian consumers in the past decade, one would think there is more evidence than the testimonials of a few mothers.