Diet From Hell

A valley vegan couple's fear of obesity was no picnic for their kids

The hospital staff found the kids intelligent and personable. Caleb tore through the books on the hospital library's shelves, and workers bought him more. Michaela turned 12, and the staff threw her a birthday party — the girl said it was her first ever.

The state eventually placed the children with Paulette and Larry Russell, a psychologist and dentist with children of their own. The couple seemed perfect to CPS; they're black, vegetarian and have a close family member who's a Seventh Day Adventist.

Paulette Russell testified that her family does not eat meat but does not eschew milk, eggs or products containing such ingredients, like bread.

Three-year-old Aaliyah "Lily" Parker died in 2001.
Three-year-old Aaliyah "Lily" Parker died in 2001.

Though the Parker kids were getting enough to eat, finally, they must have feared that the situation could change at any moment. At the hospital and at home with the Russells, the older children hoarded food. The Russells sometimes found a box of cereal or a bag of chips hidden in the children's room.

Under the Russells' care, Michaela gained 45 pounds, Caleb gained 28 pounds and little Zion gained 38 pounds.

Showing a picture of the new Zion to Russell and the jury, the prosecutor asked whether the girl was, in fact, now chubby.

"Yes, she's chubby," Paulette Russell said, smiling.

The jury burst out in relieved laughter — Zion was one of them now.

Although the Parker children apparently are recovered, they may still have health problems later in life stemming from malnourishment.

Jeff Hampl, an associate professor of nutrition at Arizona State University, says that if the body doesn't get the proper nutrients during a childhood growth spurt, it may never recover. The growing brain is particularly vulnerable to nutritional deficiencies.

Hampl, who hasn't examined the children, says that if their intelligence hasn't been affected by now, it probably won't be. But behavior problems and attention deficit disorder symptoms could manifest themselves. Sometimes, there is a deficiency in iron in malnutrition cases; iron is needed in the right quantity to carry oxygen to the brain. It's also probable that the kids will be underweight their whole lives, he says.

Many people impose veganism on their children without the kids suffering health problems. In the Parker kids' case, the food was vegan, but there wasn't enough of it.

The number of vegetarians in the United States may range from 1 to 3 percent of the population, but no one really knows how many kids are being raised vegetarian or vegan.

Hampl, a self-described omnivore, says most children start off as vegans, taking breast milk from their mother, then are weaned on whole-grain foods like Cheerios.

Hampl says parents don't need to be experts to raise vegan kids, but they do need common sense.

"You can get into trouble," Hampl says. "But [a vegan diet] can be done safely."

Lana Davis, 27, who recently moved from the Valley to North Carolina with her husband, says her 3-year-old son has never eaten an animal product. She says it's frustrating to hear veganism linked to the Parkers' and similar malnutrition cases in other states.

"Damien is proof that eating vegetables can make you strong, because he's very healthy," Davis says.

But it's not easy, she says of her boy.

"I don't get to crack open a macaroni-and-cheese box and have dinner that way," she says. "Unfortunately with veganism, it's not either cheap or fast when it comes to food."

One troubling aspect of veganism in young children is that parents (the Davises included) usually choose the diet because of concern for animal rights. Good health may be seen only as a side benefit. That can lead to tunnel vision when deciding what's best for kids.

Phil Parmenter, a 45-year-old Fountain Hills resident and IT worker, says he thought about that a lot when he became vegan four years ago and began putting his son, then 5 years old, on the diet.

Already a lacto-ovo vegetarian for 19 years, Parmenter decided he could be objective enough to make the right choices. For instance, he and his son get flu shots even though they are made with eggs. (He says he feels sad for chickens who sit in small boxes, barely able to move, at mass-production farms, but he allows the shots anyway out of concern for his and his son's health.)

"I wish there was another way," he says.

Nine-year-old Arion isn't a pure vegan. Parmenter is divorced, and his ex-wife feeds Arion a diet that includes meat when he's with her.

At one point during his interview with New Times, Parmenter asks the boy if he would rather eat meat.

Arion looks at his father for a long moment, shakes his head and says, "It's disgusting."

Parmenter says he believes he and his son get all the high-quality protein and amino acids they need from non-animal sources. "Some people would disagree with that," he says. "But they're wrong."

Meals at the Parmenter house consist of soy products (he calls them "meat analogs") and legumes, such as beans. Vegetables like spinach and broccoli are important. They eat their veggies fresh or frozen, usually cooking them in the microwave for a few minutes. They take a vegan multivitamin daily.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help

this caleb parker now caleb russell and i am healthy nowi weigh 138 pounds and am 6 ft 1


People so love using that story to bash on veganism, all angry & righteous as this article is, and it’s a LIE:


Here's a statement from the prosecuting attorney:

"The problem is not that Blair Parker or Kimu Parker fed these children a vegan diet, the problem is that they didn’t feed them. I’m sorry that the news has publicized this as somewhat of an attack on a vegan diet... I believe you can raise very, very healthy children on a vegan diet, but you can’t raise healthy children on the food that the Parkers were giving their children."


Parker obsessed about the children's bowel movements, gave them enemas that further impeded absorbing any nutrients.


"Vegan children who are fed properly grow," said Deputy County Attorney Frankie Grimsman. In fact, when the kids were placed in foster homes, they immediately began to gain weight - while still on vegan diets.



I of course meant "angry & righteous as this PhoenixNewTimes article is," not the linked linked article is very fair and honest.

Phoenix Concert Tickets