Children and Animals

From: Animal People July/August 1998

Dr. Spock’s last kindness

NEW YORK––Humane childrearing advocate Benjamin Spock, M.D., left some of his most important advice for last:

“We now know that there are harmful effects of a meaty diet,” he stated in the seventh and last edition of Baby And Child Care produced under his direct supervision. “Children can get plenty of protein and iron from vegetables, beans, and other plant foods that avoid the fat and cholesterol that are in animal products.”  Spock also rejected milk.

“I no longer recommend dairy products after the age of two years,” the new edition of Baby And Child Care advises. “Other calcium sources offer many advantages that dairy products do not have.”

If parents are reluctant to become vegetarians or vegans, Spock urged them “to explore vegetarian meals and to serve as many meatless meals as possible.”

The new edition of Baby And Child Care was published in May, just weeks after Spock died, on March 15, 1998, at age 94. Remembered by New York Times health writer Jane Brody as “arguably the most influential pediatrician of all time,” Spock centered the last 52 years of his life around assembling and then continually updating Baby And Child Care, which is now second only to The Bible in total numbers of copies sold, and might be ahead of the Bible in copies sold to private individuals.

Spock’s most notable accomplishment may have been convincing parents to give their children unstinting affection and encouragement, a sharp break from the “Spare-the-rod-and-spoil-the-child” views of the previous best-selling advice-givers.

Spock rejected domestic violence as so-called discipline; energetically urged breast-feeding; opened discussion of childhood sexuality and sexual curiosity; recommended ecumenical tolerance in teaching children about matters of life, death, and religious faith; taught against racial and ethnic stereotyping; advised against smoking tobacco; prescribed cautious moderation in introducing children to alcohol; and warned parents against dismissing bullying and cruelty toward animals as just “boys being boys.”

Each new edition of Baby And Child Care stirred controversy at release, rippling around the globe as translations appeared. Utterly non-threatening in appearance and mannerisms, Spock was nonetheless denounced from extremist pulpits as the alleged Anti-Christ, lynched in effigy several times, investigated for purported un-Americanism, and bitterly attacked by the makers of war toys, liquor, and cigarettes. Yet each new edition of Baby And Child Care seemed moderate, even conservative, by the time the next edition appeared, typically seven to eight years later.

The rattled meat and dairy industries lost no time in launching a typical counter-offensive, emphasizing conventional advice from conventional advisors, of notably less achievement and charisma. A focal point of the counterattack was the role of Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine founder Neal Barnard, a psychiatrist, in drafting the section of Baby And Child Care on nutrition.

But Spock’s widow, Mary Morgan, indicated that Barnard chiefly helped Spock to organize his arguments. “Ben had a hand in every part of the book,” Morgan told Brody, and was “very committed” to the vegan diet, after giving up meat and dairy products himself in 1991 during recovery from several disabling illnesses. “It enabled him to revise his book before he died, which was his most important goal,” she said. Spock had to fight Baby And Child Care co-author Steven J. Parker, M.D., a Boston Medical Center behavioral pediatrician, to take as strong a position as he did. Parker confirmed that Spock himself had declared his desire to be “in the forefront” of promoting recognition of the links between animal-based food consumption and disease.

“He believed you should try to inculcate a taste for plant foods early, and not acquire a taste for saturated fats, salt, etc.,” Parker told Brody. Advance copies of the 1998 edition of Baby And Child Care rolled off the presses concurrent with the March 27 publication of a study by Tim Key and colleagues at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund’s Cancer Epidemiology Unit at Oxford, England, which pooled the findings of five separate public health surveys done in the U.S., Germany, and Great Britain to discover that among 76,000 persons whose health was monitored for an average of 11 years apiece, the 28,000 who were vegetarians for at least five years were 24% less likely to die of heart disease, and 45% less likely to die of heart disease under the age of 65.

Semi-vegetarians, who ate meat or fish no more often than once a week, were 22% less likely to die of heart disease.

Psychological effects

The physical effects of a meatless diet have been medically indicated for more than 40 years. The psychological effects of meat-eating are by contrast just beginning to attract attention––and may be greater. Anthropologists have noted for even longer that warlike indigenous tribes tend to be big meat-eaters; peaceful tribes usually consume little or no meat.

Rates of violent crime also tend to be higher among meat-eaters. The U.S., for instance, eating more meat per capita than any other nation, has nine murders and 41 reported rapes per year per 100,000 residents; India, eating less meat per capita than any other nation, has only four murders and one reported rape.

Trying to interpret such numbers relative to diet is confounded by other cultural differences, including access to weapons and the extent to which rape victims are blamed and stigmatized.

But again, U.S. access to weapons is closely associated with meat-getting as a purported goal of sport hunting; and if the men in a society are more inclined to commit rape, a crime of modus operandi and psychological motivation akin to that of hunting, it is also perversely possible that in perceiving the victims as trophies, men might be somewhat less likely to see them as active and therefore culpable participants in bringing on rape.

Be that as it may, as investigators of child psychology discover the value of animal-assisted therapy and the import of violence toward animals as an indicator of proclivity both to abuse humans and to be an abuse victim, an inescapable reference point seems to be when and how children learn where meat comes from.

Novelist Susan Cheever recounted the typical trauma in her June 6 “Mothering” column for Long Island Newsday.

“Last week,” she began, “my eight-year-old son had an amazing and dreadful moment, a moment in which he made the connection between adorable baby cows and his all-time favorite food. It was not just a loss of ignorance. It was a real loss of innocence. It was bedtime and my son was in his frog pyjamas. Suddenly, his face crumpled; he began to sob.”

ANIMAL PEOPLE publisher Kim Bartlett recalled her own similar trauma, more than 30 years earlier, in a 1990 essay for the journal Between The Species:

“My brother announced that what I was eating had once been a cow. I didn’t believe him––not at all––and asked my mother to make him stop saying it. Instead, she startled me with the truth,” which so shocked and numbed her, as it does most children, that she hid it away in a “locked room” in her mind. This response is now also recognized as the typical self-protective measure of young children against severe abuse, women to rape, and war veterans to combat. Yet the locking is insecure. Post-traumatic stress syndrome occurs as repressed memories resurface, and is now understood as an underlying major source of a wide range of conduct both destructive to the self and damaging to others. Likewise, the post-traumatic stress occasioned by discovery of the origin of meat may underlie common social ills.

Entertainments such as rodeo and bullfighting are fairly obvious ritual desacralizations of meat, but the full range of response could include much more. Only artists, creative writers, and philosophers so far seem to have considered the possibilities in depth––but before World War II, only artists, creative writers, and a handful of philosophers had explored post-traumatic stress syndrome. As recently as the end of the Vietnam War, recognition of post-traumatic stress syndrome did not yet extend to victims of individual violence.

Self Improvement Through Riding Education

Children’s choices

The relationship children would prefer to enjoy with animals would seem to be best defined by their personal choices, in the rare cases where they perceive choice. The choices, often unconsciously reflecting the values of communities where adult males commonly kill animals for fun, can be appalling:

• In Gresham, Oregon, several West Gresham Grade School students on June 8 chased a buck and doe around a playground at recess until the buck broke his neck and the doe broke a leg in futile attempts to jump the fence. About 100 students saw the incident.

• Thomas Bishop,  14,  of Mansfield,  Ohio,  was badly burned on June 22,  1998,  when he reportedly tried to strike a bird’s nest with an aluminum baseball bat and hit a power line.  His cousin Benjamin McKinley,  12,  of Red Wing,  Minnesota,  was fatally electrocuted while attempting a rescue.
But other news items recently reaching ANIMAL PEOPLE have been much more encouraging. In addition to the efforts of Mina Sharpe, 16, on behalf of the dogs of Taiwan and Thailand:
• Twenty students at Topeka Collegiate School in Topeka, Kansas, got a bill to ban rattlesnake roundups as far as the Kansas House Agricultural Committee before Rep. Joann Flower (R-Oskaloosa) killed it.
• In Savoonga, Alaska, identified by Rosanne Pagano of Associated Press as a tribal whaling village, elementary school children were motivated to achieve perfect attendance records this past school year by offering them the chance to briefly hold and release one of six spectacled eiders on May 21. The eiders, members of an endangered species, were rehabilitated locally after collapsing due to malnutrition during spring migration.
• Adam Boucher, 10, of Westminster, Colorado, went with his mother Kathy to look at a prairie dog village on May 21, researching a school report. Discovering the prairie dogs had recently been poisoned, they excavated and rescued three starving babies, one of whom survived in the care of wildlife rehabilitator Tyna Mendenall, and organized a Sunday protest outside the Pillar of Fire church, which owns the property.
• Students and alumni of Hemet High School in Hemet, California, in May and early June staged a vigil against the school’s 60-year-old tradition of raising, shooting, and butchering livestock on campus as part of a Future Farmers of America program. Agricultural instructor Howard Wilson told United Animal Nations he would erect blinds around the killing zone to keep nonparticipants from seeing the bloodbath.
• Letter-writing by 75 first graders at Cooley Elementary School in Waterford, Michigan, paid off on June 3 when the Oakland County Road Commission put up warning signs to protect ducks who try to cross a busy local road.
• Kathryn Baugus, 18, of Flower Mound, Texas, on June 4 earned her Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest Girl Scouting honor, by collecting 350 donated items for the Operation Kindness shelter in Carrollton.
• Fourth graders at Marin Primary & Middle School in Larkspur, California, on June 11 refused to kill 60 non-native leopard and African water frogs they had raised as a classroom exercise, who could not legally be released. Parent Dave Knego is reportedly taking care of the frogs at his home until the students approve an alternative.
• Justin Barker, 16, of Elk Grove, California, on June 23 handed the Folsom City Council $25,000 he raised in a three-and-a-half-year campaign to build new quarters at the Folsom Zoo for the bears Brutus and Ursula, whom he found marooned at the defunct and flood-damaged Royer Park Zoo in 1995. Barker’s work inspired others to donate the balance of the $243,000 project expense.
• Tatem Elementary School students in Haddonfield, New Jersey, on June 24 contributed $2,400 they raised themselves, in a month of effort, to help rebuild the Cape May County Zoo reptile house, razed in a May electrical fire. ––M.C.
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