She was proud to be a vegan and wanted her son to live like she did. But her family members said she took her food choices too far — her diet became a danger, in their eyes, something closer to an obsession than a healthy lifestyle.
When the 33-year-old woman from western Pennsylvania, Elizabeth Hawk, began feeding her 11-month-old child sparse meals of only fruit and nuts, however, that was beyond the pale.
The boy developed what the sister-in-law, Brandy Hawk, described as a severe rash. He seemed to have lost control of his motor skills, she said, rendering his hands useless. Elizabeth Hawk said allergies were the reason for his apparent malaise, not the diet.
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That argument did not convince Jerry Hawk, Elizabeth’s separated husband and the father of the child. He removed his son from his estranged wife’s care, taking the boy to a Children & Youth Services agency in nearby Fayette County. From there, reported Philly.com, the agency took the child to a hospital in West Virginia.
An attending physician said the lack of nutritious food, according to Pennsylvania’s WKBN, caused a “failure to thrive.” Malnourishment had hindered the boy’s ability to develop, and ignoring the skin condition could have led to septic shock.
It is not inevitable that a vegan-only menu would doom young children to sickness or starvation, as The Washington Post wrote in July. But a commitment to veganism can make raising a healthy child more challenging, as parents must ensure that a child ingests sufficient calories and the correct balance of nutrients. In 2001, for instance, a pair of vegetarian nutritionists published recommendations for vegan infants in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association:
“For the first 4 to 6 months, breast milk should be the sole food with soy-based infant formula as an alternative. Commercial soymilk should not be the primary beverage until after age 1 year. Breastfed vegan infants may need supplements of vitamin B-12 if maternal diet is inadequate; older infants may need zinc supplements and reliable sources of iron and vitamins D and B-12. Timing of solid food introduction is similar to that recommended for non-vegetarians. Tofu, dried beans, and meat analogs are introduced as protein sources around 7-8 months. Vegan diets can be planned to be nutritionally adequate and support growth for infants.”
The young boy now lives with his father. Brandy Hawk, the sister-in-law, told CBS Pittsburgh the child is “doing great” and has “turned completely around.”
Elizabeth Hawk faces charges of child endangerment and was released on her own recognizance. A preliminary hearing has been set for Nov. 14, Philly.com reported.