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June 2000
Vegetarian 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 eaters—nearly 200 women in all—they didn’t find any difference in body weights. Total calorie, fat, and carbohydrate intake was similar for both groups. Why aren’t 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 article’s 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. Redbook’s 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 daughter’s 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 Medicine’s website,, 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 Ornish’s 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 Nicholson’s 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 didn’t visit the American Dietetic Association’s web site,, and bother to read the first sentence of the ADA’s 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 didn’t 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 percent—yeah, 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,, Redbook, 224 W. 57 St., New York, NY 10019.


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 Board’s never-ending "milk mustache" campaign. (The ad can be viewed at How a human animal perceives the ad depends on her or his depth of sensitivity toward nonhuman animals; I suspect carnivores see a cute calf—and smile; ethical vegetarians recognize the calf is a victim. An animal slave.

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 she’ll 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 Haney’s 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 insensitive.

We must change how carnivores perceive "food animals." One way to accomplish this goal—a lifetime challenge if there ever was one—is to attack and expose false images like the previously noted ones. Doing this won’t stop everyone from eating animal flesh, but it will make some carnivores more sensitive, with the laudable result that they’ll 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 don’t change people’s 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 surrounding it."

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.

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