Advocate: Redbook Disses Vegetarianism
By Jack Rosenberger
If you want to read a not-so-bright article about
vegetarianism, open the May issue of Redbook and flip to page
28 for a quick scan of "Will Going Meatless Slim You?" The
article offers two take-home messages: 1) vegetarians are not skinnier
than nonvegetarians; and 2) "[a] vegetarian diet is not necessarily
a bad health move."
The "Body & Mind" article says when "researchers
at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver compared vegetarian
women with meat eatersnearly 200 women in allthey didnt
find any difference in body weights. Total calorie, fat, and carbohydrate
intake was similar for both groups. Why arent the veggies skinnier?
Mostly because they were eating more nuts and oils than their carnivorous
counterparts, and the meat eaters were making low-fat meat and dairy
choices." The articles main gist, which appears as a caption
accompanying a color photograph of a presumably vegetarian woman (who
is chewing a carrot and standing on a bathroom scale) is "Vegetarians
are not skinnier."
This article should be a case study on how to write a shoddy bit of
health news. Redbooks main message"vegetarians
are not skinnier"is based solely on the University of British
Columbia study which has obvious limitations. The study is small (only
200 participants), highly localized (restricted to British Columbia
residents), and short-term ("participants completed a multiple-pass
24-hour dietary recall and a questionnaire"). This is hardly a
broadbased, in-depth, long-term medical investigation. Hell, my daughters
kindergarten class is larger.
What Redbook neglects to tell its readers is that the British
Columbia article has yet to be peer-reviewed and published in full.
Or that the first sentence of the abstract on which Redbook based
its article, reads: "Many population-based studies report that
vegetarians have healthier diets and lower relative weights than nonvegetarians."
If Janet Bailey, the author of the article, had bothered to visit the
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicines website, www.pcrm.org,
she would have uncovered nuggets like these:
"Previous studies have shown that people who switch to a
vegetarian diet become, on average, about 10 percent leaner.
"Dr. Dean Ornishs study using vegetarian diets to
reverse heart disease also yielded an impressive 22-pound average weight
loss per person in the first year.
"Dr. Andrew Nicholsons diabetes study found that a
vegan diet knocked off an average of 16 pounds in 12 weeks.
and "a new study confirms that meat-eating encourages weight
gain. Researchers from the American Cancer Society studied 70,236 young
and middle-aged men and women, measuring their diets in 1982 and again
in 1992. Those who ate more than three servings of meat per week were
much more likely to gain weight as the years went by, compared to those
who tended to avoid meat. The more vegetables the participants ate,
the more resistant they were to weight gain."
Is Vegetarianism Irrelevant?
Sadly, the Redbook article concludes
with the British Columbia researchers assertion that a "vegetarian
diet is not necessarily a bad health move." I guess Bailey or any
other member of the Redbook brain trust didnt visit the
American Dietetic Associations web site, www.eatright.org,
and bother to read the first sentence of the ADAs position paper
on vegetarian diets: "Scientific data suggest positive relationships
between a vegetarian diet and reduced risk for several chronic degenerative
diseases and conditions, including obesity [!], coronary artery disease,
hypertension, diabetes mellitus [due, in part, to vegetarians
"lower body mass index"], and some types of cancer."
(my emphasis). The aforementioned types of cancer include cancer of
the lungs, breast, cervix, colon and bladder.
Naturally, Redbook didnt bother to produce a balanced article
and, say, interview a doctor who is pro-vegetarian. Such a person might
have mentioned the recent British Medical Journal article that followed
6,000 vegetarians and 5,000 equally healthy nonvegetarians for 12 years.
It found that the vegetarians were 40 percent less likely to die from
cancer than the nonvegetarians and about 20 percent less likely to die
from any reason during the study period. Reduce your risk of cancer
by 40 percentyeah, I think that qualifies as "not necessarily
a bad health move."
I attempted to interview Bailey for this article, but she declined.
Contact: Lesley Jane Seymour, editor-in-chief, Lesley@hearst.com,
Redbook, 224 W. 57 St., New York, NY 10019.
FARM ANIMALS AS CUTE, HAPPY VICTIMS
Millions of Americans have seen the advertisement
of the Grammy Award-winning Dixie Chicks posing with a black-and-white
baby cow as part of the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Boards
never-ending "milk mustache" campaign. (The ad can be viewed
How a human animal perceives the ad depends on her or his depth of sensitivity
toward nonhuman animals; I suspect carnivores see a cute calfand
smile; ethical vegetarians recognize the calf is a victim. An animal
Assuming the calf is a farm animal, if the calf is male, he is probably
now dead as his flesh fetches a pretty price as veal. If the calf is
female, she will be imprisoned on a farm for a few years until her production
of milk ebbs. Then shell be slayed. Afterwards, the Dixie Chicks
may encounter the calf again. This time as a hamburger.
The Dixie Chicks milk mustache ad reminds me of a similarly deceptive
illustration in the New York Times that accompanied a recipe for brined
chicken (12/22/99). In Lisa Haneys illustration, a chicken was
lying on his back in a cooking dish and, with a salt shaker clutched
in his right wing, happily sprinkling salt on his chest. Sure.
The milk mustache ad presents the baby cow as a cute object; the Times
illustration presents the chicken as a happy, willing victim. Both images
ignore the horrific reality of the animals lives and their unpleasant
fates. Given the fact that millions of cows and chickens are mercilessly
slaughtered every day in this country, both images are dishonest and
We must change how carnivores perceive "food animals." One
way to accomplish this goala lifetime challenge if there ever
was oneis to attack and expose false images like the previously
noted ones. Doing this wont stop everyone from eating animal flesh,
but it will make some carnivores more sensitive, with the laudable result
that theyll eat fewer animals or go vegetarian.
Perception is everything. Speaking of the Vietnam War, Robert Altman,
who directed the original film M*A*S*H, said, "You dont change
peoples ideas through rhetoric but by altering their way of looking
at things. You will only get rid of war when you get rid of the pageantry
The Dixie Chicks are Emily Robison, Natalie Maines and Marti Seidel.
Contact them via their business manager: Al Hagaman, 1025 16 Ave. South,
Suite 202, Nashville, TN 37212; Tel. (615)-320-5291; Fax. (615)-320-5651.