President Bill Clinton’s passion for fast food was a running joke throughout the 1990s. One of our favorite Saturday Night Live skits was one in which Phil Hartman did an imitation of the President taking a “jogging” break by stopping off for a quick public meet-and-greet at the local McDonalds, where he finds excuse after excuse to gobble down the other patrons’ food. “Intercepted by Warlords” has become a standard shtick in our family and every time one of us steals something from another—a French fry, the TV remote control, a comfortable chair—we yell “Intercepted by warlords!” If you could have told us twenty years ago that Bill Clinton would someday become one of the most high-profile spokespeople for a vegan diet, we simply wouldn’t have believed it. But he has.
We have never approved of our movement’s obsessive cult of celebrity. When Hollywood stars—notorious for their fickleness and narcissism—decide to give the vegan diet a try, it is usually big news. But tragically, it is even bigger news when they fall off the wagon. And rare—in fact non-existent—is the celebrity who fesses up to lacking the fortitude to stick with it. More often than not they pull a Natalie Portman, undermining veganism’s public perception by professing a dishonest and self-serving “need” for animal foods (at the expense of the animals!) by arguing that their psychological or physical health suffered as a result of the vegan diet.
Because vegan foods by definition do not contain cholesterol and are generally lower in saturated fat, a balanced vegan diet is healthier than one based on meat, milk, and eggs. In fact, vegans have a reduced chance of developing lifestyle disease states, such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Read any book on the negative effects of a meat-based diet (a diet laden with fat, cholesterol, hormones, antibiotics, and higher pesticide residues) and you’ll see that claiming your health suffered as a result of veganism so you had to resume eating animals is akin to admitting that you had to start smoking again for your health.
Natalie Portman lost the will to do right by the animals, pure and simple. If she had any integrity, she would have kept her failure to herself or owned up to the fact that the failing was her problem and not the vegan diet’s. Perhaps she thought that her stated “need” for eggs and dairy products as a result of her pregnancy would shield her from judgment, reasoning that anyone who would publicly chastise a pregnant woman merely seeking to meet her nutritional needs would come off looking like a heel.* What a betrayal to the animals, and one that our movement furthers when we accept, rather than challenge, such absurd claims or pave the way for them with our own incessant drum beat about the importance of vitamin supplementation.
Recently, Ginny Messina, a well-known vegan author, wrote a blog to President Clinton offering advice with his vegan diet. Her advice was as follows:
- Eat nuts every single day
- Take a vitamin B-12 supplement
- Choose added fats wisely
- Take a DHA supplement
Granted, Messina’s blog admitted that Clinton is better off eating vegan than not eating vegan, regardless of whether he follows her other advice. But why must such discussions within the vegan community so often approach veganism from the nutrition supplementation angle? As Messina even admits, the advice she is giving could just as well be given to meat-eaters. They, too, could use more DHA, more B12, and more “good” fats. But the fact that vegan experts continually bring them up in relation to veganism creates the impression that the vegan diet is somehow suspect, and must be approached with more caution than eating meat.
Given that an animal-based diet is widely regarded as one of the greatest causes of our nation’s most pressing health problems, and the vegan diet is widely regarded as one of the healthiest diets, this obsession with vitamin supplementation is counter-productive. And given that it may scare or confuse people considering veganism, it is unfair to animals. Of course, in addition to being a vegan, Ms. Messina is also a nutritionist, and so it is perhaps little wonder that she see the world as one big vitamin deficiency waiting to happen. As the saying goes, when you are holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Since embracing a vegan diet, the President has lost weight. He has stated that he never felt better. He is, quite simply, thriving. Rather than imply that simply abstaining from meat, eggs and dairy isn’t enough, that he should also follow specific rules about various vitamins and fats, how about offering him practical, down-to-earth advice that will help him to sustain his success?
The reality is that most vegans who fail, fail for two reasons: they miss the foods they used to eat and they found veganism to be a hassle. In a world dominated by animal-based foods, in a world in which being vegan often requires planning ahead, and in a world in which well-known “vegan experts” constantly equate veganism with unappealing health foods and make veganism seem harder than it actually is, it should come as little surprise that two out of three vegans fail. If that is to ever change, then our movement’s outreach to the American public has to change first. Right now, veganism has an unappealing public image, and, at least in part, we have ourselves to blame for that.
That advice on veganism to a former junk food junky would include the admonitions to take vitamins, eat nuts and choose added fats with care feels, to us, like a missed opportunity. Bill Clinton is, after all, a man whose hearty appetites have, on more than one occasion and in more than one area, gotten him into some serious trouble. Since he is a southerner known to love junk food, fast food, and BBQ, there is plenty of advice that he could be given that would help him succeed at a diet that, on first impression, seems to shun all of these things. Instead of flooding him with unnecessary advice and fear-mongering about vitamins, how about advice on how to make vegan food as tasty, easy and as familiar as possible?
So far, Clinton’s message to the public has been a positive one that has helped the vegan cause. But if he fails, what might he say to people about why he did so? Will he pull a Natalie Portman? We hope not! We thus need Bill Clinton to succeed—not just because of the animals saved as a result of him not eating them, but because, quite literally, the whole world is watching.
And so, in that spirit, and with the hope that he will continue to succeed, we offer our own advice to our former Commander-in-Chief, advice tailored to make the vegan diet delicious, simple and appealing, knowing that when it comes to taste, he is in every way your typical red-blooded, American male:
- You can eat anything in the world, anything at all, so long as there is no meat, eggs, dairy, or honey. That means hamburgers, hot dogs, BLTs and sloppy Joes.
- Eat the things you used to eat and love to eat, but veganize them first. Think vegan analogs.
- Don’t treat your new diet as one of denial and asceticism. Satisfy those cravings, vegan-style.
Bon appétit, Mr. President.
* Two vegan pregnancies and several years of breastfeeding behind me as well as witnessing six other uneventful, uncomplicated vegan pregnancies of good friends, this author has little patience with the “pregnancy-made-me-do-it” excuse.