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March 5, 2001

Daughters, 9 and 5, starving on vegan diet, father claims

Ministry action urged: 'I would love to be able to take [them] to have an ice-cream'

Ian Bailey
National Post

Chek TV
A girl on a vegan diet is said by her father to be losing weight.

VANCOUVER - A Vancouver Island father says his two young daughters are suffering because their mother -- his ex-wife -- is starving them on a vegan diet while they are in her custody.

Kelly Muller said yesterday he will take his concerns to court to seek custody of the girls, aged nine and five, unless British Columbia's children's ministry deals with the situation.

"If the Ministry of Children and Families drops the ball, I am going to court," said Mr. Muller, a resident of Nanaimo. "Food will be the issue."

The ministry has already investigated the matter. A social worker found no neglect by the mother, Brenda Melville, but suggested "the need for you to make some adjustments to the girls' meal plan in order to optimize the intake of recommended nutrients."

Still, Mr. Muller of Nanaimo claims that his daughters -- whom he requested not be named -- are being underfed by their mother, who follows a strict vegan diet.

A vegan diet does not include dairy, meat or any other food materials made from animal products. It focuses on beans, soya, rice, and vegetables.

Mr. Muller also has a 13-year-old son by his ex-wife, Brenda Melville. The boy lives with Mr. Muller, but he has regular access to the girls.

The parents were together for 13 years until 1997. They have battled in court various times since then. Food cropped up as an issue in 1999 -- Ms. Melville was not vegan while they were together, but has since adopted a vegan approach to food.

Mr. Muller said he is under court order to feed the girls a vegan diet when he is caring for them.

But the former fisherman argues that Ms. Melville cannot properly administer a vegan diet due to her own bouts with anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder.

Mr. Muller says he is especially concerned about the health of the five-year-old girl, suggesting she is losing weight under the vegan diet at her mother's home.

She weighs 14 kilograms and has been showing signs of malnutrition. He also says she is too young for such a diet.

"At this point, I want the girls to be able to sit at a table and eat until they are satisfied," said Mr. Muller. "These children are starving. They are always hungry."

He added: "I would love to be able to take my daughters to Dairy Queen to have an ice-cream cone."

On Friday, Mr. Muller made a high-profile visit to Victoria, seeking action from the children and family's ministry. The ministry released a statement suggesting they are investigating the matter.

In January, a ministry social worker reporting to Ms. Melville on a review of the matter warned that a pediatrician found the young girl small for her age.

The social worker offers dietary advice based on an assessment of their girls' diet, suggesting the diet is inadequate in calcium, vitamin D and zinc and that "energy intakes were noted to be a 'bit below optimum.' "

Ms. Melville did not reply to three messages left for her in Nanaimo yesterday seeking comment on the case.

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