Dr. Spock’s last kindness
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 1998:
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
C a r e 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 unAmericanism,
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 counteroffensive,
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
C a r e 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.
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 t h a n
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
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
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 animalassisted
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
Novelist Susan Cheever recounted
the typical trauma in her June 6 “Mothering”
column for Long Island Newsday.
“Last week,” she began, “my eightyear-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
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 posttraumatic
stress syndrome. As recently as the
end of the Vietnam War, recognition of posttraumatic
stress syndrome did not yet extend
to victims of individual violence.
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.
• Benjamin McKinley, 12, of Red
Wing, Minnesota, was electrocuted on June
22 when he tried to hit a bird’s nest with an
aluminum baseball bat, and struck a power
line. His cousin, Thomas Bishop, 14, of
nearby Mansfield, was badly burned in
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 (see page one):
• 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-anda-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