Megnut

Is human breast-milk vegan? I'm having a tough time swallowing this argument being made by some over at Serious Eats, since humans are animals, after all.

There are 18 responses

It's consistent with vegan principles... while "eating no animal products" is the primary battle-cry of vegans, it is, in fact an oversimplification of their beliefs. Vegans usually argue that the only milk that's natural for humans to consume is breast milk, and so children of vegans would generally be breast-fed.

The other thing about humans consuming dairy milk, for vegans who start from an animal rights perspective, is that cows produce milk only after giving birth, and the calf that they produce is typically slaughtered. That's (generally) not a problem with human-produced milk, and therefore ideologically also not an issue.

That being said, I'm a vegetarian (non-vegan) by habit rather than ideology, and have never been an animal rights guy, so I'm therefore less concerned about such details, but I'd say that's a fair portrayal of the vegan way of thinking.

I think Jason's right. It's sort of cute to point out that Vegans should be naturally against breastfeeding, but it's fairly clear that's not what they actually believe (along those lines, vegans wouldn''t be allowed to French kiss, as it would be inevitably lead to consuming another animal's products).

The question is - what about wet nurses?

"As a vegan," I feel like Jason and Mikey do a pretty good job of capturing the point: no animals is the "rallying cry," but giving a child human breast milk seems to me to only superficially resembles the practices vegans actually oppose. Philosophically, the animal rights pillar of my veganism comes down to this: humans can give consent that is meaningful to other humans, animals can't. So I support breastfeeding (even from a wet nurse), blood transfusion, french kissing, etc., but oppose milk drinking, wool wearing, bestiality, etc. (not that those practices are equivalent - obviously they are all complicated by the other issues they raise).

Side gripe about Planck article and Levine's write-up: what sane person considers soy milk and apple juice a "vegan diet," let alone for an infant? At least one of those foods contains a prominent disclaimer "NOT TO BE USED AS INFANT FORMULA," and the other probably doesn't only because it would be obvious to anyone not in the market to kill their children. As was said in the comments on SE, the issue here isn't veganism, it's neglect or worse. Sorry, I know it's a little off-topic. This "story" just makes me mad.

As a food lover, great blog.

Just to be clear, and I'll add more tomorrow when I have time: I totally support vegans breast-feeding and wouldn't advocate any alternative. It just struck me as an odd statement that "breast milk is vegan," since it is an animal product. I guess it would make more sense to me if a vegan said, "well breast milk isn't technically 'vegan' but clearly it's a humane and proper solution for feeding by child." Or something.

Yes, the couple in question was clearly neglectful first, and vegans second.

I think veganism is a more complex belief system than "no animal products." Also, since veganism is a modern phenomenon and is partially a reaction to the modern agricultural practices, product is the operative word in the case of breast milk. (I know I'm the one who added the word product, but it's important). Mothers aren't, for the most part, productizing their milk. I suspect vegans would take issue with that, if it were happening. (Wet nurses aren't selling a product either, but they are providing a service).

As for me, I'm a fan of eating well first, and a vegetarian second :) In most cases it's possible to do the former while being the latter.

I enjoy food too much to be a vegetarian, although I'm by nature more a lentils' n' rice sorta gal than a meat-eater. I just don't want to limit my options for ideology or politics. Kudos to Planck for calling it like she sees it.

Humans are mammals. Mammals give milk. While not technically a "dairy product" it is still milk, therefore, not vegan.

The couple in question was clearly neglectful first, and vegans second

I agree, which is why I didn't link to the original article when I saw it. I'm much more interested in the idea of breast milk being vegan. And also the responsibilities parents have to nourish their children, and how that works with one's food politics. It seems like there's not a clear consensus on whether children can receive adequate nutrients with a vegan diet. I'd be happy to hear arguments on both sides.

Yes, it's vegan. Human breast milk is the best milk for human babies. Cows' milk is made for baby cows, who grow from 30 pounds to 230 pounds in a matter of weeks. Humans are not made to grow that fast, human breast milk has the right amount of growth-stimulating hormones for humans.

To put it all in perspective, imagine drinking dogs' milk or giraffes' milk. It's weird. Somehow drinking cows' milk has become normalized, despite the udder absurdity of it.

Udder absurdity... Come on! Laugh! But seriously, don't drink milk.

According to the American Dietetic Association: "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."

A well-planned diet is important for everyone. We all know people who refuse to eat vegetables or who seem to live on potato chips and coke. The question I take from this tragedy is, is our society doing enough to teach what a healthy diet is?

Meg, here's a possibly helpful analogy: Affirmative action programs clearly express a preference based on race, but most supporters of affirmative action (who I agree with, but you don't have to to understand the logic of the analogy) would reject any attempt to label that practice that practice racist because, for them, despite the facial resemblance it operates by a completely different logic (the legal argument is different, but political ones usually go something like this). An example from the other side might be Republicans who support small government but big spending on the war and the military in general. Critics call it a contradiction, but they see it as totally consistent.

If this only muddies the issue for you, feel free to ignore it. Only trying to clarify the issue at hand, not start a flamewar over the war or affirmative action.

This blog entry is more thoughtful and complete than most I've seen:

http://www.tigersandstrawberries.com/2007/05/22/nina-planck-stirs-the-pot-vegans-get-steamed-film-at-eleven/

Barbara also points to the Vegan Society (UK) position on child nutrition, which is very clear about breast milk being preferred for vegan infants.

http://www.vegansociety.com/html/people/lifestyle/families/parenting/vegan_children/breastfeeding.php

I'm baffled by people who claim breast-milk isn't vegan. Veganism is a lifestyle of compassion for sentient creatures, and vegans choose their foods in such a way as to avoid contributing to the death, suffering, or exploitation of animals. "No animal products" is merely a convenient shorthand for explaining dietary restrictions to non-vegans. Of course vegan mothers may breastfeed their vegan children. What could be more compassionate?

wow! are anti-vegans so determined to impose their beliefs that they are going to go as far as defining what is vegan(breast milk) and what is not(cow's milk)...it seems to me as another attempt to make look those who dont share their eating preferences looking 'kooky'....

unfortunately, this whole thing comes across not only as petty and small minded as it really is, but it is also becoming increasingly tiresome and those who are arguing this issue seem really silly.

are anti-vegans so determined to impose their beliefs that they are going to go as far as defining what is vegan(breast milk) and what is not(cow's milk)

Well I think everyone knows that cow's milk isn't vegan. And no one's imposing their beliefs here. I had never heard breast milk referred to as vegan before, and it struck me as odd. So we've been discussing it it, that's all.

it is rather difficult for me to believe that its a serious question. i still didnt get why you were having trouble swallowing the clarification at seriouseats. vegans defining what is vegan and what is not is good enough. afterall, it is their life and choices, no?

calichef is insisting that breast milk isnt vegan. apparently, there is some technicality involved too. hmm..why? the parallel dissection of this issue at seriouseats is surreal too. is it necessary to caricature another's belief system like this?

Well, as several folks state above, vegans have distilled their philosophy so us non-vegans can understand it. So when the message you get is all the time from vegans is "we don't consume animal products", then it might strike one as odd to hear a vegan say, "breast milk is vegan." So I was wondering about it, which was the point of *this* conversation. Whatever's happening over at Serious Eats is a separate discussion. Please don't conflate statements made on that site with those made on this one. No one is caricaturing anyone's belief system here.

Frankly, I don't give a damn whether breast milk vegan or not. It's clearly a great way to feed an infant and give them a healthy start, and I'm all for as many people breast feeding as possible, whatever their dietary belief system may be.

Since the driving principle behind whether or not a food is vegan is that said food must not come from a non-consenting animal source, human breast milk IS vegan so long as it is supplied consentually. It would NOT be vegan if it was harvested from a human who did not wish to provide it. Likewise, if a baby is taken in by a wolf mother in the wild and that wolf mother breast fed the baby, that wolf breast milk would also be vegan. There is a myth within the Buddhist tradition about a man who was lost in the wild and starving to death. Strong and resourceful animals went out and gathered what they could for him, a bear bringing him a fish from a nearby river, a fox bringing him berries. The rabbit was neither strong nor resourceful, and couldnt bring him anything, yet felt he must give him something to save his life. He gave him the ultimate gift, the gift of his own life, by jumping into the man's fire, so that he might eat of his flesh.

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