While well-intentioned, "Vegan is Love," a new picture book by author Ruby Roth, reads more like animal rights propaganda than a children's story. "It's clear we can't rely on our leaders, CEOs, or major companies to fix anything - the environment, our food, the economy, or our health," Roth told ABCNews.com. "Instead of worrying or 'occupying,' I decided to write a book for a new generation who will need to think, eat, and treat the environment differently if we are to solve the most looming health and environmental issues. With vegan choices, we can affect every major industry and reach every corner of the world."
Roth preaches a message of global love, but does so in a frightening manner that judges anyone who isn't already a vegan convert. It's a world where people who hunt and fish are "cowards" and those who eat meat and dairy from the local farm are in denial about the animal's "violent and sad" deaths.
"Vegan is Love" includes illustrations of animals, often wounded, in laboratory cages, being hunted, and being abused at circus and aquatic shows. Roth contrasts bright fields of happy living creatures with cold, gray and red illustrations of cases of sickly meat, fish, and fowl dripping with blood. It's not exactly bedtime fare for the little ones.
The book, which will be available on Tuesday, April, 24, has already caused controversy amongst nutrition experts. "Adults are too willing to turn a blind eye to the way our animal-based diets are achieved," Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale Prevention Center told ABC. "The torture and maltreatment of animals are real, whether or not we acknowledge them. Adults can make the conscious choice not to look there, to help protect a lifetime of dietary preferences. Kids are more malleable and impressionable. Maybe childhood is the best time to create awareness and change behavior accordingly."
Others are concerned that it glosses over a complex health topic. It can be hard to provide kids with enough protein, calcium, iron, iodine, and Vitamin D on a vegan diet. Without supplements, they won't be getting enough Vitamin B-12, which is found only in animal sources. Health writer Chris Kessler says "the effects of B12 deficiency on kids are especially alarming. [They include learning and developmental disorders]. Studies have shown that kids raised until age 6 on a vegan diet are still B12 deficient even years after they start eating at least some animal products." Writing for the New York Times, Nina Planck, author of the Real Food series and The Farmer's Market Cookbook, says, "For babies and children, whose nutritional needs are extraordinary, the risks [of a vegan diet] are definite and scary."
"Vegan is Love" does make a number of valid points about the environmental impact of eating meat and the mistreatment of animals. But, beyond her oversimplification of the nutritional complexities of a healthy vegan diet, Roth's literary approach is about is subtle as an industrial slaughterhouse. Her book made me long to re-read Shel Silverstein's "The Giving Tree," a beautiful, simple story of a boy and an apple tree with a devastating message of environmental neglect.