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ROBERT MacNEIL: Millions of Americans celebrated Thanksgiving today by feasting on turkey and trimmings. It`s a tradition that started more than 350 years ago, when the Pilgrims gave thanks for their first good harvest in the New World. But a growing number of Americans are celebrating this holiday without the turkey -- primarily because they`ve become vegetarians.
BEACH BOYS (Singing):I`m gonna be around my vegetables, I`m gonna chop down my vegetables, I love you most of all,
My favorite vegetable....
MacNEIL: Good evening. A few years ago you were a bit of a freak in this country if you didn`t eat meat. But interest in vegetarianism appears to be growing, for a variety of reasons.. Today, according to the Roper Organization, seven million Americans eat no meat at all; another thirty- seven million are limiting the amount they consume. So tonight, the Americans who chose not to eat turkey, or beef or any other meat this Thanksgiving, and why. We recorded this program in advance, so that we could have today off. Jim?
JIM-LEHRER: Robin, vegetarianism is not the pet rock fad of today some may think it is. It has a history that is long in time and sparkles with big names. Some vegetarian historians claim, in fact, that Adam and Eve, bidden only to eat the fruit of the trees, were the first true vegetarians. The documentation is much stronger, though, for people like Pythagoras, the Greek mathematician, who associated meat eating with barbaric animal sacrifices...or Plutarch, who said, "It is certainly not lions and wolves that we eat out of self-defense. On the contrary, we ignore these and slaughter harmless, tame creatures without stings or teeth to harm us." St. Francis of Assisi and Leonardo da Vinci agreed, da Vinci`s line being, "He who does not value life does not deserve it." Benjamin Franklin claimed to be a believer, but he fell off the meat wagon from time to time. His main no-meat rationale had to do with nutrition; Lord Byron the same, to keep his weight down. His fellow poet, Shelley, had political reasons; by using land to raise grain instead of graze cattle, the poor could be adequately fed. Leo Tolstoy, the Russian novelist, also had a political tinge to his vegetarianism. He said it helped soothe his conscience because the peasants couldn`t afford to eat meat. This motivation was aided by the fact that he had no teeth and couldn`t chew meat anyhow. One of the more prominent vegetarians from English letters was George Bernard Shaw. His reason: "A mind the caliber of mine does not need meat." Mahatma Gandhi swore off meat when he was eighteen, the same time he also swore off wine and women. On the other side of the political pole, Adolf Hitler also ate no meat. It prevented a nervous stomach during the war, and he believed it would make him live longer and that vegetarians were cleaner people than meat eaters.
And on and on the celebrity list goes. Show biz people like Gloria Swanson, Steve Martin, Cloris Leachman and Johnny Cash. Cash says it helped him lose forty pounds and he just feels better. Several sports
people, the best known now probably being basketball player Bill Walton. No list of famous vegetarians would be complete without the name of Johnny Weissmuller, the man who played Tarzan in the movies. The record is silent on the eating habits of Tarzan`s friend, Jane.
One thing the record does show clearly is that those who have gone the vegetarian route in the past have traveled for different reasons. The Roper poll says the same is the case now, more than half for health reasons, the rest for reasons of economics or ethics. Some of the present day vegetarians have also built, their lifestyle around their non-meat diet. Victor Sussman has done that. The author of a new book, The Vegetarian Alternative, he used to live and work here in urban Washington; now he lives on a -small farm in suburban Maryland.
VICTOR SUSSMAN: The whole thing started with having a pet white rabbit. And like most people who have pets, we loved her very much. She ran loose in the house like a cat, and she was house-trained.
BETSY SUSSMAN: She went to school with me.
VICTOR: She was just a very beloved animal, and she died one night, literally in our hands; and when she died we went down to eat dinner and looked at the meat on our plate and decided that it didn`t make sense any more to eat other animals when we had loved this one so much.
BETSY: No, because in Nora`s life was all life, and-you just couldn`t eat life.
VICTOR: I think the thing we celebrated in her we saw in other things, so we began experimenting with meals that contained no meat, no fowl, no fish. We tried it for a week, and then another week, and the weeks went on and we woke up one morning and said, "I guess we`re vegetarians." It wasn`t any kind of a conscious decision to make a change. But having animals now, having goats, which I suppose some vegetarians would criticize us that we have anything to do with animals, but I think you can have a relationship with animals as well as with people that`s not exploitative.
BETSY: And I think the animals sense and understand that when you are not eating meat that you are more -- at least I feel more -- a part of them, you`re more a part of the natural order of things.
VICTOR: The point is that the life process is going on all around you, no matter where you look, even in something as basic as a compost pile. Compost in fact is very basic, since we raise most of our own food. But a compost pile is a microcosm for all of life, because you`ve got in this pile life and death and in the decay new life coming out of that. So it`s a process, and you look at that process, and becoming; a vegetarian for us was a new way of looking at things. And then we called Betsy`s grandmother and we said, "Grandma, we`ve become vegetarians," and her reaction was, "What is this, some kind of a cult?" And I said, "Yeah, every night we dance naked around the sunflower seeds." But the point is, it isn`t a cult for us, it`s a philosophy, it`s a new way of looking at things, a way of seeking alternatives; and for us it`s a way of looking at that life process and trying to figure out where we fit in.
Where we fit in, we`ve determined, at least over the last eight and a half years, is not just a basic diet but getting back to basics entirely. So now we heat with wood, we cut and split our own wood, and I suppose the reason that we don`t eat animals is the same reason we don`t cut live trees, because we have an alternative. But there are inconsistencies; I mean, I wear leather shoes when I have to, and this wood was cut with a chain saw. But we never had any intention of getting back to the Stone Age. Betsy and I never intended to turn our backs on reality. What we were looking for was what constituted appropriate behavior and appropriate technology.
BETSY: I have a food processor which I use to make butter. I also use it in the summertime to process foods that come in from the garden. I have a blender and a toaster and an electric stove; I don`t have a hairdryer and I don`t have a dishwasher because I don`t want them. I want to feel like I`m using technology and that technology isn`t using me, which is why I like to knead my own bread, I like to take all the different elements and put them together and watch the yeast go and feel it come alive and work with that living thing in my hands and turn it into loaves of bread which we can then eat. Maybe that`s what it`s all about, is just staying with the basics.
VICTOR: I think this cabinet contains the best example of the evolution of our lifestyle. When we first got
it we put guns in it, of all things. And then we kept books in it, and then we kept knickknacks in it, and now it contains some of the food that we grow and preserve for use during the wintertime. But people ask us if we always intend to live this way. And really I hope we live this way even more so. I hope someday to have bees for our own honey, and to have sheep so we can raise wool, because Betsy is now involved with spinning and weaving; I`d like to raise our own hay, I`d like to raise our own grain, I`d like to have a woodlot, a solar-heated house. I don`t think there is an end to it, because for us we chose a vegetarian alternative, which was really a search for a simpler and more humane diet, and what it`s led us to ultimately is a continuing search for a simpler lifestyle.
MacNEIL: There are three main kinds of vegetarians, with really exotic names. Ovolactos, or lacto-ovos, eat eggs and dairy products along with their vegetables. Lactos won`t eat eggs because they consider them potential animals. The purists are the vegans, who eat only fruit and vegetables. Jay Dinshah is considered the founder of the vegetarian movement in this country. Ten years ago he started the North American Vegetarian Society in New Jersey. It now has fifty affiliated groups. Mr. Dinshah is a vegan. Mr. Dinshah, why don`t you eat meat?
JAY DINSHAH: Well, for all three reasons: the fact that we can feed several times as many human beings on the same land, which is a very big moral question today, and a very practical one; from the health standpoint I would be a vegetarian just the same; and from the ethical standpoint of reverence for life. I don`t think we as human beings have a right to keep animal slaves, to butcher them for our food and so on if it`s not really necessary.
MacNEIL: Why do you confine yourself only to fruit and vegetables, why no eggs or dairy products?
DINSHAH: Well, first off, vegetarian, even a total vegetarian, or vegan, does not mean just fruit or vegetables, it means the entire vegetable kingdom, which would include grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables and so on. But personally, I don`t use eggs or milk because of the abominable conditions in which they are produced; the fact that neither of them is necessary for human health or, for that matter, even desirable; and the fact that we do slaughter the chickens when we`re done, when they are at about half of their life span, when they can`t lay enough eggs for us any more; the fact that we are keeping these creatures as slaves; the fact that we have to breed a cow every year to have milk and kill the calf for veal, under rather abominable conditions again; and so on.
MacNEIL: How do you know that you are adequately nourished?
DINSHAH: I have had extensive medical testing, for example; I`m in excellent condition. I`m very unlikely to drop dead of a heart attack...
MacNEIL: Does a vegetarian need more frequent medical testing, just to make sure that he`s getting...
DINSHAH: No, not at all. It`s the other way around. Over fifty percent of our Americans are dropping dead of heart attacks, strokes and circulatory failure, according to the American Heart Association, and most of your nutritionists and doctors today would agree with Senator McGovern`s committee report that the Americans are eating far too much of animal foods, particularly the fatty meats and such, as well as the refined foods. No, it`s the other way around; I`m not concerned about my health, I worry for the average American.
MacNEIL: Good; we`ll come back. That`s the view of a vegan. Now an ovolacto. Janet Barkas, a criminologist by profession, has been a vegetarian since college. She eats eggs and milk products, and she`s the author of two books on vegetarianism, The Vegetable Passion and The Celebrity Vegetarian Cookbook. Ms. Barkas, why do you eat no meat?
JANET BARKAS: Well, my personal reason is ethical, but I would not do anything to my own body that would be damaging; so therefore I care about animals and that`s why I don`t eat them, but I also care about my self, and I feel that vegetarianism is as healthy, if not healthier, than a carnivorous diet.
MacNEIL: Bearing in mind what Mr. Dinshah just told us, would you consider yourself badly nourished if you did not eat eggs and milk products?
BARKAS: No, I wouldn`t. And I`ve gone for many periods of time without eating them. I find that it`s much more difficult than being a lactoovo vegetarian in terms of preparation of foods and going out to restaurants. But I think ideally it`s even a better way of eating than a mixed vegetarian diet.
MacNEIL: Do you have to watch that very carefully, the sort of nourishment factor? Do you have to measure it constantly to make sure?
BARKAS: Well, it`s interesting, because vegetarians, after a period of time, become more knowledgeable about nutrition than the average person. In a way it`s a good safety valve; you realize you`re ignorant and then you start to educate yourself. Exactly how much protein do I need, exactly how much of this vitamin, of this mineral. What most people don`t know about and take for granted the vegetarian learns, and then with that knowledge it`s very easy. We assume we need much more protein than the current researchers are finding out; we only need about thirty to sixty grams, and about three tablespoons of peanut butter will suffice. And if you can think up incredible peanut butter casseroles, which most people would probably find ridiculous, but it`s all culture, it`s all learning.
MacNEIL: Do you consider yourself part of a movement or a cult? A crusade?
BARKAS: No. Let`s go back. When I first became a vegetarian when I was sixteen, I thought I was the first person in the world to think of this idea, and of course I realized that there have been movements through history and lots of other people who were vegetarians. I don`t feel I`m part of a movement in terms of going to meetings or being active, but I know that there`s a growing feeling, among young people especially, that there is a better way. And I think through my writings and my speaking at colleges around the country that I am hopefully helping that movement. But you know, movement to me sounds a little too structured. I think it`s more an evolution in people`s thinking.
MacNEIL: Thank you. Jim?
LEHRER: Adding up all kinds of vegetarians still adds up to a minority. An overwhelming majority of Americans do eat meat, eat it regularly and enjoy every bite of it. One such happy meat eater is David Stroud, who has an additional special interest. He`s president of the National Livestock and Meat Board, an information trade group for the meat industry. Mr. Stroud, vegetarians generally believe that eating meat is bad for you. Are they wrong?
DAVID STROUD: Well, yes, I think they`re wrong. Adam and Eve notwithstanding, we`ve been consuming meat through all the millennium of man`s existence with no hazardous aftereffects.
LEHRER: You heard what Mr. Dinshah said, and there also have been various studies that have come out linking eating meat with cancer, heart disease, the most recent of course being that fried hamburgers can cause cancer. What do you think of those studies?
STROUD: The latter is Barry Commoner`s number. He said he keeps eating hamburgers, he said just don`t fry them very well done; and we even dispute that work. Most of this work is simply not conclusive. I don`t mean that as a hedging statement, I mean that as a scientific statement, that the link between meat consumption and cancer of the colon, cancer of the rectum primarily, fat consumption and breast cancer are so weak and so far- fetched; they are statistical linkages, they are not clinical linkages. And we, I might add, are every bit as interested in the results of that work as anybody is, because we feel we`ve got to know those answers.
LEHRER: What about the link to heart disease?
STROUD: Again, it`s a risk factor that simply is not established.
LEHRER: Are there any positive things about eating meat? You say it won`t hurt you necessarily; will it help you?
STROUD: Well, I feel every bit as robust as the two vegetarians who just preceded. I have no ill aftereffects of being an omnivore. I might add, incidentally, the little name that appears underneath our visage as we first come on, I hope it didn`t say "David Stroud, Meat Eater", I hope it said "Omnivore", because I eat all of the things that our other two guests consume, plus I also consume the red meats, beef, pork and lamb, and seafood and poultry, as well as eggs and milk. I am an omnivore.
LEHRER: It said "Meat Eater", by the way.
STROUD: Did it? (Laughing.)
LEHRER: Sorry about that. Are you concerned at all that the vegetarian movement might really catch on like wildfire and actually hurt the meat industry?
STROUD: Oh, I suppose it could. Am I concerned, is your question. Not really. I think that Americans -- all of civilized man, civilization has sought an animal food diet as it`s -- I use the term "risen" -- moved toward an animal food diet. I think that vegetarians have every right to make the decision to be vegetarians; the philosophy expressed prior to your guests coming on here was a very beautiful statement by the couple out on the farm.
LEHRER: Victor Sussman.
STROUD: Yes. I don`t hold it, but it was, for them, as individuals and their family, an unarguable statement about their decision to become vegetarians. And they apparently are taking care of themselves. Ms. Barkas made a very cogent statement about vegetarians frequently becoming more nutrition-conscious, more nutrition-aware, more nutritionally adequate themselves; I think that`s probably true. Although I as an omnivore also possess those because I am interested in food, that many vegetarians are making the commitment to become vegetarians, have to be what Ms. Barkas suggested, and that is more aware, because to go back to answer your other question, meat is a very handy nutrition package, it brings along a great many of the nutrients that one really has to work -- sometimes scratch for -- if one is going to maintain a strict vegetarian diet.
LEHRER: Mr. Dinshah, back to you. You heard what Mr. Stroud says, that the evidence is inconclusive as to whether or not meat eating actually hurts you.
DINSHAH: Well, I think it`s the same argument the tobacco lobbyists use against cigarettes and lung cancer, that it`s still hypothetical, it isn`t proven; and you can cut these people`s lungs out from now till kingdom come, but they`ll never admit that there`s any link. Now, the fact of not being clinical tests, I dispute this. The Seventh-Day Adventist sect, for example, has had tests run on them comparing them with the Mormon sect, neither of which smokes nor drinks, and they found that the Seventh-Day Adventists have about one half of the cancer rate of the Mormons. I would call this a valid scientific clinical test.
MacNEIL: They don`t eat meat.
DINSHAH: The Adventists, about half of them eat no meat and the others are very light meat-eaters, at the most.
LEHRER: Mr. Stroud?
STROUD: I simply must dispute Mr. Dinshah`s statement. That is not, in the first place, a clinical test, it`s an epidemiological test; it`s a population study, there are numbers of people. There is no relationship there. I understand the argument because I`ve heard it many times, but it`s not a good argument.
DINSHAH: I don`t know why it isn`t. Maybe I don`t understand English.
LEHRER: Ms. Barkas, let me ask you: do you feel that the vegetarian movement is going to continue to grow, and how big do you think it`s actually going to get? Is this something that, looking down the road, there may come a time when people won`t eat meat at all?
BARKAS: I think it`s going to grow if there is truth about the fact that, as the gentleman (unintelligible), that you have a choice; if anyone tries to make you feel that you must be a vegetarian or you must be a meat eater, this is going to really turn people off. Once people realize that you have a choice to be a vegetarian, that it`s healthy, that you could eat meat if you wanted to, then you`re going to see a growth in the movement. And I think because of the economics involved in producing meat, whether it becomes an ethical movement or one of economics, you`re going to see a very, very strong trend in this direction.
LEHRER: Do you agree, Mr. Dinshah?
DINSHAH: Yes, certainly.
LEHRER: Do you agree, Mr. Stroud?
STROUD: Well, I agree with the possibility, but we`re a meat-eating population in this country and I think mankind is a natural meat eater.
So I could agree and yet disagree; I don`t think it`s going to come around that way. I think people want to keep eating meat, and seafood and poultry.
LEHRER: All right, fine. Robin?
MacNEIL: Regardless of what you think about the value of a vegetarian diet, can it be as much fun to eat as dishes made with meat and fish? We asked the country`s best-known gourmet cook, Julia Child, what she could do with a vegetarian menu.
JULIA CHILD: Well, while I think doing a vegetarian meal is an interesting challenge for anyone who loves to cook, I think you have to consider that you have to have very, very fine, fresh ingredients because you`ve got to have all the flavor you possibly can. So I`m going to do an ovolacto Thanksgiving dinner -- that means that we can have eggs and dairy products as well as all the vegetables.
And I`m going to start with a fresh pumpkin soup. And with that I`ve made a very strong, fragrant base with chopped onions and carrots and celery, and then the pumpkin. And you see how good it looks when I serve it. And it`s got to look good, too, because I think that`s certainly one of the most important points of gastronomy, is beautiful-looking food.
And this pumpkin soup, I`ve left the vegetables just rather roughly chopped, because I don`t like everything all pureed like baby food; and it also makes it much more interesting to eat, I think. And then here are some buttered croutons that go on top; a few on the table as well. And a little sprinkling of fresh chopped herbs. There you are, a beautiful first course to start the meal.
And with the main course of our ovolacto Thanksgiving vegetarian meal I would serve a fine white Chardonnay wine.
Now for the beginning of the main course we have a beautiful vegetable platter here, and you notice how beautifully green this broccoli is because it`s properly cooked in the French manner. And then we have kidney bean salad and we have white bean salad and then steamed eggplant with a little dressing, a gazpacho sauce on top, and that makes a really splendid prelude to the main event, I think.
Now, here`s the main course, and this is a fresh corn timbale that`s baked with cheese and eggs and a bit of cream, and I`m going to unmold it here -- which I hope it will come out the way it should-yes, I can hear it go plunk. That`s all right, when that happens we can cover that up, because I`m going to have some Brussels sprouts here and I`m just going to cover that back end there. This is the kind of thing that happens a great deal in cooking. I probably turned that over too fast. But that`s one of those little problems. But you never apologize about anything that happens, particularly when you have beautiful Brussels sprouts like these that are beautifully green, and again these were cooked in the proper French manner. And then I also have some braised chestnuts which I`m going to put over all the Brussels sprouts.
The very important thing when you`re having a vegetarian meal is that you make sure that you have all of your proper proteins. And that`s the good thing about being able to use dairy products as well as vegetables and you always are sure that you have them. And the chestnuts, they`ve got a lot of protein in them, too. I think I shall mold a few chestnuts on that wounded end, and nobody will ever notice that. But never say to anybody for unloading something that didn`t quite work out, because you can always cover it with something and if worst comes to worst you can put the parsley to it. So there you are, I think that looks very nice indeed, and that`s now ready to serve.
There, here`s our beautiful main course. I think I`ll put just a little bit of parsley on that because the top looks a bit naked. What would we do without parsley, one often wonders.
And now for the finale, Robin. Here we`re going to have homemade vanilla ice cream, a great big gob of it -- will that be enough for you? And then a fresh cranberry relish...I had to get cranberries in here somehow, because it`s Thanksgiving. And then, in addition to the cranberry relish we`re going to have flaming meatless mincemeat sauce, and I`m going to flame it in dark rum... just pour in your rum there and let it get good and hot. And I think a lot of people think that mincemeat has meat in it, but it doesn`t; just look on the label, very few of them do. And that`s good and hot. There we are. Is that flaming? Yep, that`s flaming. And here we go, flaming on the other side of the ice cream. There. How`s that? How`s that for a meatless vegetarian finale? There, I think this is a marvelous example of a really fine Thanksgiving dinner, and also an example that you don`t have to wear a hair shirt just because you`re a vegetarian and not having turkey.
So, Jim and Robin, here`s a toast to you. A very happy Thanksgiving. Toasted in champagne... and bon appetit!
MacNEIL: (Laughing.) She`s got me dying of hunger already.
LEHRER: (Laughs.) Me, too.
MacNEIL: Thank you all very much. Happy Thanksgiving, Jim.
LEHRER: Thank you, Robin. Same to you.
MacNEIL: We`ll be back tomorrow night. I`m Robert MacNeil. Good night.
The MacNeil/Lehrer Report
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This episode of The MacNeil/Lehrer Report looks at the growing trend of vegetarian Thanksgiving dinners in America. Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer look at the history of vegetarianism, before interviewing different types of modern-day vegetarians and one hardcore meat lover about current American vegan statistics.
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