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November 2004
Vegetarian Advocate: Readers Who Make a Difference
By Jack Rosenberger

In my June/July column, I urged readers to write the Sara Lee Corporation because its print ads for Ball Park Franks suggested that “vegetarians are not only weird, but possibly un-American.” The ads are insulting, detrimental to the public image of vegetarians, and mean-spirited. Moreover, in a time when America is increasingly polarized and civil discourse seems a rarity, ads such as the Ball Park Frank ones have no place in our society. Due to Satya readers like Hilary Friedman, who complained to Sara Lee, the Chicago-based company has pulled the ads and trashed them. Thanks and congratulations to everyone who contacted Sara Lee.

As a minority, vegetarians are still striving for a seat at the adults’ table. (Though the laughter at the kids’ table often sounds like more unrestrained fun.) We need to be heard, understood, and our lifestyle must be appealing to others. That’s why letters and emails and calls to companies like Sara Lee are important.

Vegetarian protest campaigns, if orchestrated correctly, often have a positive, sometimes long-term effect on a company: they make the corporate management more aware.

My upbringing centered on the notions that “Everyone matters” and “Everyone can make a difference.” Henry Spira liked to talk of pushing the peanut forward—of creating a series of continuous small changes. That’s something all of us can do.

Aren’t You Glad You’re Not a Carnivore?
Scandals aside, former President Bill Clinton is well known for his lust for red meat, particularly spare ribs and Big Macs. Many Americans were caught off guard by the news that Clinton, only 58, was forced to undergo a quadruple heart bypass operation in early September to save his life. Clinton had complained of chest pains and shortness of breath to his doctors and subsequent tests disclosed that his heart arteries were clogged. In fact, during the course of the four-hour heart operation, the doctors discovered the blockage in some of Clinton’s arteries was in excess of 90 percent.

Let’s not mince words: the cholesterol buildup in Clinton’s heart is largely due to his meat consumption. Smoking and a lack of exercise are contributing factors, but it was Clinton’s meat-heavy diet that nearly did him in.

While I am glad Clinton received medical attention in time, I also feel sorry about the countless meat-loving, lesser-known Americans who have died from heart disease. Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death in America. One American dies from heart disease every 33 seconds.

The month before Clinton’s bypass operation, a team of Canadian medical researchers published a major study demonstrating that most heart attacks can be predicted by nine easily measurable risk factors that are identical in almost every region and ethnic group worldwide.

The Canadian study is a landmark event for it’s the first time researchers had conducted a large-scale study of risk factors for heart attack in major ethnic groups around the world. Previously, it was unclear if the risk factors were similar or different for varying ethnicities, regions, sexes and age groups.

The study of 29,000 persons in 52 countries included all of the world’s inhabited continents, found that nine factors can predict more than 90 percent of the risk of a heart attack. The leading factor? Abnormal cholesterol. What causes abnormal cholesterol? A diet high in saturated fat—i.e., meat and dairy products.

While the study showed that the leading risk factor is diet related, it hasn’t spurned calls for less meat consumption. (The other leading factors are smoking, abdominal obesity, depression and stress, high blood pressure, and diabetes.) The study’s lead author, Salim Yusuf, has suggested that food advertising be regulated.

Fast-forward a year: In a perfect world, Bill Clinton will recover from his heart operation, have taken the time to reflect on his life, and embraced vegetarianism. Yes, it’s a fantasy, but one I will relish for the moment. Is it possible? One encouraging factor is that Chelsea Clinton is a vegetarian and Hillary had veggie burgers served in the White House.

Also, Clinton might, after his near-brush with death, be more inclined to re-evaluate his Big Mac-infested diet. Is it likely? Frankly, no. But, in the meantime, while Clinton recovers, I will entertain the fantasy of Bill Clinton playing the dual roles of a recovering meat eater and a well-spoken advocate for vegetarianism on the world’s stage.


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