Satya has ceased publication. This website is maintained for informational purposes only.

To learn more about the upcoming Special Edition of Satya and Call for Submissions, click here.

back issues


June/July 2004
Vegetarian Advocate: Sara Lee’s “Weird” and “Possibly Un-American” Vegetarians
By Jack Rosenberger

Before discussing the Sara Lee Corporation’s vegetarian-thrashing full-page advertisement, let’s chew on a few recent medical studies about the dangers of eating hot dogs. As an appetizer, let’s start with a 1994 study, “Processed Meats and risk of childhood leukemia (California, USA),” published in Cancer Causes and Control, which studied the dietary habits of 232 young leukemia patients and their parents. When children ate more than 12 hot dogs per month, the study found, their risk of childhood leukemia increased by almost six times. When a child’s father consumed more than 12 hot dogs per month—regardless of how many hot dogs his child ate—the child faced a similar high risk of childhood leukemia. (A similar maternal correlation is not evident.)

Likewise, a study by the Harvard School of Public Health collected dietary information from 42,504 men and found that the men who frequently ate hot dogs, bacon and other processed meats were 46 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than men who ate less processed meat. “The effect is dose related—the more you eat of these foods, the higher the risk,” reports Dr. Frank B. Hu, the senior author of the 2002 study, which was published in Diabetes Care.

Finally, a comprehensive review of 500,000 men and women in Europe found that an adult who ate the equivalent of a jumbo hot dog—two ounces of processed meat—a day has a 50 percent increased chance of colorectal cancer than an adult who ate no preserved meat. (Also, those with a high fiber diet reduced their risk of lethal cancer by 40 percent.)

Given the health risks of eating hot dogs, is it right for Sara Lee to entice people to eat them? Sara Lee’s full-page ad for its Ball Park Franks shows a pot-bellied man, whose name is (of course) Frank, standing behind a black grill, staring at the camera. In the color photo, it’s springtime and Frank’s wearing khaki shorts, a light blue T-shirt and a checked short-sleeve shirt. One of the first things you might notice about Frank is he’s rather, rather overweight. Due to Frank’s protruding belly, neither of his shirts is tucked in and the checked shirt is unbuttoned, to better disguise the shape of his enormous stomach.

“What is it with people nowadays?” asks Frank in the full-page advertisement. “It’s like everyone’s walking on eggshells, afraid to say what they really think. Well, not me. I’ll tell you exactly what I believe.

“I believe in red meat and big trucks with big tires.

“I believe in tailgate parties, baseball and the red, white and blue.

“I believe there should be a cable channel devoted entirely to bowling.

“I believe vegetarians are not only weird, but possibly un-American.

“I believe in cold beer, red-hot charcoal and good friends.

“I believe in big franks.

“I believe in plump dogs. And that’s why I believe a Ball Park Frank with ketchup and mustard might be the closest thing to heaven on earth.

“Oh, by the way, I’m Frank. Nice to meet you.”

Feeling Good About Bad Food
Not only is it wrong to bully and try to make vegetarians feel as if they are “weird” and “possibly un-American,” but the ad perpetuates a common prejudice and lack of respect. Sara Lee wouldn’t create an ad that’s derogatory toward any other distinct group, by gender (women), ethnicity (African-Americans), or religion (Catholics), in the way this ad attacks vegetarians.

Of course, the Sara Lee ad isn’t about vegetarians, but about carnivores who need to be reassured about eating potentially unhealthy food. The ad is baldly manipulative: it’s not trying to persuade consumers to buy one brand over another, but to purchase a food that, if consumed too often, causes deadly diseases such as diabetes, leukemia, and cancer.

The ad is cynical in that Sara Lee is trying to manipulate an audience, represented by the proudly blue-collar Frank, who often lack the socioeconomic background and education to make better-informed eating decisions. (Of course, wealthier people also eat too much meat, but they have a better ability to have disease detected sooner and access to better treatment.)

In recent months the American Civil Liberties Union has run a series of different “Scrapbook for Freedom” ads using well-known Americans—mostly actors, authors and musicians—to persuade people to join the ACLU and to counter the prevailing notion that all patriotic Americans must support the Bush administration’s ruinous invasion of Iraq. A two-page ACLU ad in the New Yorker (May 17, 2004) features Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, who proclaims “I am not an American who confuses politics with patriotism. I am an American who loves our country because we are all guaranteed the freedom to disagree with government decisions. I am an ACLU member because no one does more than the ACLU to defend the rights of all of us to be heard, and to sing out loud when we feel it.”

Who in the vegetarian community will produce a similar public ad campaign that uses vegetarians to promote our lifestyle and values and the ethical, environmental and health advantages of vegetarianism? Such an ad campaign is needed badly.

Meanwhile, be frank with Sara Lee. Contact: C. Steven McMillan, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, Sara Lee Corporation, Three First National Plaza, 70 West Madison, Chicago, IL 60602. Sara Lee offers a “Contact us” address at:



All contents are copyrighted. Click here to learn about reprinting text or images that appear on this site.