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Reader Questions

A Question About the Amish
Monday, August 30th, 2010

Dear John,

The kind of lifestyle you advocate isn’t just Spartan, it’s downright masochistic. Your way of life seems more like a prison to me. It’s only for the Amish, or others who make self-denial into a lifestyle. I think people like you are crazy.

Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

Each of us are responsible for our own choices. I understand that eating with more restraint feels like too much for you right now. Who knows? Maybe at some point down the line you might feel more interested in the benefits you could obtain. Or maybe not.

But could I ask that you not judge others so harshly for making different choices than you wish to make? What for you feels like self-deprivation may feel very different to someone else. One person’s tyranny is another person’s discipline — and another person’s freedom.

I’m reminded of a time that my son, Ocean, was 12, and a relative mocked him for not eating meat. “You don’t know what you’re missing by not eating chicken,” he was told. “That’s true,” he smiled. “I don’t. But you don’t know what you’re missing by eating chicken.”

Just as you can only truly see the stars when you turn out the electric lights, sometimes there are treasures that are only ours when we forego certain things.

You mention the Amish. These are people who came to America with little more than the clothes on their backs, and who make some of the finest hand-crafted solid wood furniture in the world — including my family’s own kitchen table. It is true that they forego many things (including computers, electricity, and automobiles) that most Americans take for granted and couldn’t imagine doing without. But their way of life offers rewards that most Americans can only dream about. For example:

  • Virtually every adult in the Amish community has an independent livelihood as the owner of a farm or a business.
  • There is almost no crime, no violence, no alcoholism, no divorce, and no drug-taking.
  • They accept no government help with health care, old age assistance, or schooling after the 8th grade. (They were forced by the government to accept first through eighth grade schooling.)
  • The success rate of Amish in small businesses is 95%, compared to the U.S. rate of 15%.
  • All Amish children are offered an expense-paid sabbatical year away from Amish life when they arrive on the verge of adulthood, so they can see the world and decide for themselves if they want to remain in the community and follow its ways. Eighty-five percent of all grown children choose to remain in the community.
  • The Amish are extraordinary neighbors. They are the first to volunteer in times of crisis and need. They open their farms to ghetto children and frequently rear handicapped children from the non-Amish world whom nobody else wants.
  • They farm so well and so profitably without chemical fertilizers or pesticides that Mexico, Canada, Russia, France, and Uruguay have hired them as advisors on raising agricultural productivity.

If you don’t want to make any such sacrifices, that is certainly your privilege. But please don’t put others down for making choices they find fulfilling. My experience is that there are pleasures in life that are healthy and life-affirming, that enhance our ability to experience joy and gratitude. And there are also pleasures that, the more we indulge in them, the less able we become to enjoy life. The first kind of pleasures give us life; the second kind drain us. I think that wisdom has something to do with being able to tell the difference.

Your friend,
John

Hitler a Vegetarian?
Sunday, April 18th, 2010

Dear John,

You people who say that we would all be more peaceful if we ate a vegetarian diet always seem to forget that Adolph Hitler was a vegetarian. That pretty well destroys your belief system, doesn’t it?

Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

The belief that Adolph Hitler was a vegetarian is widespread, and you are certainly not the only one who carries it. But that doesn’t make it true.

Robert Payne is widely considered to be Hitler’s definitive biographer. In his book, Hitler: The Life and Death of Adolph Hitler, Payne says that Hitler’s “vegetarianism” was a “legend” and a “fiction” invented by Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Minister of Propaganda. According to Payne:

“Hitler’s asceticism played an important part in the image he projected over Germany. According to the widely believed legend, he neither smoked nor drank, nor did he eat meat or have anything to do with women. Only the first was true. He drank beer and diluted wine frequently, had a special fondness for Bavarian sausages and kept a mistress, Eva Braun… His asceticism was fiction invented by Goebbels to emphasize his total dedication, his self-control, the distance that separated him from other men. By this outward show of asceticism, he could claim that he was dedicated to the service of his people. In fact he was remarkably self-indulgent and possessed none of the instincts of the ascetic.”

Rynn Berry is historical advisor to the North American Vegetarian Society and is on the Advisory Board of EarthSave. Publisher’s Weekly wrote of his thoughtful essay, “Why Hitler Was Not a Vegetarian,” that it “lays to rest the myth that Adolf Hitler was a vegetarian.” In the essay, Berry writes of the famous chef Dione Lucas:

“Dione Lucas was a sort of precursor of the popular television ‘French’ chef, Julia Childe. One of the first to open a successful cooking school in the United States, Lucas was also one of the first chefs to popularize French cuisine on television in the 1950s and 1960s. During the 1930s, prior to her coming to the United States, she had worked as a chef at a hotel in Hamburg, where Adolph Hitler was one of her regular customers.”

Indeed, Dione Lucas often cooked for Hitler. In her book, The Gourmet Cooking School Cookbook, she makes it clear that this despot was by no means the vegetarian Goebbel’s myth would have us believe. Writing of her recipe for stuffed squab, for example, she says:

“I learned this recipe when I worked as a chef before World War II, in one of the large hotels in Hamburg, Germany. I do not mean to spoil your appetite for stuffed squab, but you might be interested to know that it was a great favorite of Mr. Hitler, who dined at the hotel often. Let us not hold that against a fine recipe, though.”

Not only did Hitler eat meat, he went so far as to outlaw organizations that advocated vegetarianism, and harshly rebuked all proposals to ease Germany’s food shortages that involved reductions in meat consumption.

So the whole story that Hitler was a vegetarian is simply a myth, invented by the infamous Joseph Goebbels. This man, as you no doubt know, was not particularly loyal to the truth. In fact, one of his more famous sayings is that if you tell a lie often enough, and loud enough, people will believe it. Another was the bigger the lie, the easier it is to get people to believe it.

The fiction that Hitler was a vegetarian was just one more of the many lies that he told often and loud. It’s certainly time that it be seen for what it is — a falsehood deliberately constructed to advance the Nazi cause and to perpetrate an image of Hitler that obscured the reality of who and what he actually was.

Hitler was not a vegetarian. However, many remarkable human beings have been, including Mahatma Gandhi, Leonardo da Vinci, Pythagoras, George Bernard Shaw, Leo Tolstoy, and Dennis Kucinich.

And let’s not forget Paul McCartney.

It’s going to take a lot more than a few of us giving up meat to arrive at a peaceful world, but everything we can do helps.

Thanks for writing and giving me the opportunity to address this question.

John

Does Watching TV Make Kids Violent?
Sunday, April 18th, 2010

Dear John,

I’ve heard you on the radio today, and was surprised that you seemed so down on TV. You seemed to be saying that the more TV children watch, the more likely they will become violent. But don’t you think fantasizing about aggression might let off steam and function as an outlet for them, and actually lessen the chance they will act out their aggressions? I know most of the programming is basically for idiots, but don’t you think there’s some value in the better shows? What did you do with you son? Did you let him watch TV?

Lorraine

Dear Lorraine,

Thanks for your questions. Television is obviously a dominant force in our society today, and a challenging one for parents wanting to raise children to be self-reliant and capable of resolving conflicts without violence.

In the interview you heard, I was talking about a report published in the journal Science on March 22, 2002. In this major study, researchers at Iowa State University at Ames found a stunning correlation between the amount of TV adolescents watch, and the likelihood they will become violent.

“People think the correlation is trivial,” said Brad Bushman, a professor of psychology at Iowa State. But “the correlation between violent media and aggression is larger than the effect that wearing a condom has on decreasing the risk of HIV. It’s larger than the correlation between exposure to lead and decreased IQs in kids. It’s larger than the effects of exposure to asbestos. It’s larger than the effect of second-hand smoke on cancer.”

The study followed 700 young people over a 16 year period. They found that youths who watched between one and three hours of TV a day were more than four times as likely to become involved in aggressive acts as those who watched less than an hour a day. The aggression rate for those who watched more than three hours a day was significantly higher yet.

They didn’t have a category for kids who didn’t watch at all, but I’m sure their rate of aggression would have been lowest of all.

When my son was growing up, we didn’t own a TV. Instead, we read him stories, and taped them on audiocassettes. He had a little tape player of his own, and, while he played, he would spend many hours listening again and again to the stories and books we had recorded. Did he feel deprived? Not in the slightest. I know, because he’s told me, and because this is the way he is choosing to raise his own children, too. We have a TV now, but it’s kept put away, and brought out only occasionally, to watch videos and certain special shows.

If you’re interested in the effect television on all of us, there’s a great book you might want to look at. It’s by Jerry Mander, and has the provocative title of Four Arguments For The Elimination Of Television.

All the best,

John

Food Served in Schools Sucks
Sunday, April 18th, 2010

Dear John,

Is anybody doing anything to change the food in schools? It’s terrible. Last week I took my 8-year-old to a school picnic. It was a lovely day, but they served bologna and cheese sandwiches on white bread, with mayonnaise. Plus cookies and ice cream. And, of course, enormous plastic jugs of Coke. In class, pupils earn credits for good behavior, which they can use to get candy and Cokes. Help!

Frieda

Dear Frieda,

My, oh my. That is a shame. Maybe you and your child could wear one of the T-shirts to school that says “If you love me, don’t feed me junk food.” I wish these parents and teachers and administrators could understand what they are doing to the precious children in their care.

Fortunately, there are some people trying to change things. The chairperson of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Senator Tom Harkin, has proposed that the government subsidize the cost of giving away fruit and vegetables in school cafeterias as an alternative to candy and snacks that are sold in vending machines.

Los Angeles Unified School District, which has 748,000 students on its 677 campuses, prohibits carbonated drink sales at elementary schools. And recently, the board of the nation’s second-largest school district extended the ban, effective January, 2004, to also include the district’s approximately 200 middle and high schools. The Board voted unanimously for this step, despite the vehement opposition of the National Soft Drink Association.

Up until now, most Los Angeles Unified Schools have relied on soda sales to fund student activities such as sports and field trips. Sodas sold in vending machines and student stores have generated an annual average profit of $39,000 per high school.

Wouldn’t it make far more sense to fund our schools adequately in the first place, so they don’t have to sell soft drinks and other junk food to cover their costs?

Change is painfully slow, but it is starting. In 2001, Berkeley, California, schools went all organic. In 2002, the Oakland school district banned vending machines, candy, soda pop and other junk food from its campuses. In the fall of 2002, Palo Alto (California) Unified School District went all organic.

I know it’s frustrating seeing the junk kids all-too-often eat in schools. But here’s a recent report about how things can indeed change, written by Jon Rappaport, titled “A Miracle In Wisconsin”…

In Appleton, Wisconsin, a revolution has occurred. It’s taken place in the Central Alternative High School. The kids now behave. The hallways aren’t frantic. Even the teachers are happy.The school used to be out of control. Kids packed weapons. Discipline problems swamped the principal’s office. But not since 1997.

What happened? Did they line every inch of space with cops? Did they spray valium gas in the classrooms? Did they install metal detectors in the bathrooms? Did they build holding cells in the gym?

Afraid not. In 1997, a private group called Natural Ovens began installing a healthy lunch program. Huh?

Fast-food burgers, fries, and burritos gave way to fresh salad and whole grain bread. Fresh fruits were added to the menu. Good drinking water arrived. Vending machines were removed.

As reported in a newsletter called Pure Facts, “Grades are up, truancy is no longer a problem, arguments are rare, and teachers are able to spend their time teaching.”

Principal LuAnn Coenen, who files annual reports with the state of Wisconsin, has turned in some staggering figures since 1997. Drop-outs? Students expelled? Students discovered to be using drugs? Carrying weapons? Committing suicide? Every category has come up ZERO. Every year.

Mary Bruyette, a teacher, states, “I don’t have to deal with daily discipline issues…I don’t have disruptions in class or the difficulties with student behavior I experienced before we started the food program.”

One student asserted, “Now that I can concentrate I think it’s easier to get along with people…” What a concept—eating healthier food increases concentration.

Principal Coenen sums it up: “I can’t buy the argument that it’s too costly for schools to provide good nutrition for their students. I found that one cost will reduce another. I don’t have the vandalism. I don’t have the litter. I don’t have the need for high security.”

At a nearby middle school, the new food program is catching on. A teacher there, Dennis Abram, reports, “I’ve taught here almost 30 years. I see the kids this year as calmer, easier to talk to. They just seem more rational. I had thought about retiring this year and basically I’ve decided to teach another year—I’m having too much fun!”

Pure Facts, the newsletter that first ran this story, is published by the non-profit Feingold Association. In my book Reclaiming Our Health, I write extensively about the Feingold Association, and the dramatic decrease in delinquency, ADD, ADHD, and Ritalin use that occurs when kids are shifted to a healthier diet. You can get a copy through this website.

Thanks for caring,

And hang in there….

John

My Husband Loves Pizza
Sunday, April 18th, 2010

Dear John,

My husband loves pizza. He is also a fan of yours, and says it’s okay to eat as much as he likes because it’s vegetarian. I’m afraid because he eats so much cheese on his pizza that he’s going to have a heart attack. He particularly likes stuffed crust pizzas. What can I tell him about cheese and pizza that will help him to cut back?

Audrey

Dear Audrey,

A few months ago the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) released a study they titled “More cheese on your pizza means more crust in your arteries.”

According to the study, a single serving of plain cheese pizza contains 50% of your daily value for saturated fat. This is true, but understates the problem. Bear in mind that the daily value is set far too high for optimum health, as a concession to the enormous political power of the dairy and meat industries (the primary purveyors of saturated fat in the American diet). Besides, few people stop at a single slice of pizza.

You said your husband particularly likes stuffed crust pizzas. That’s too bad, because stuffed crust pizzas are particularly bad. These pizzas have cheese directly injected into the pizza’s crust. The lead author of CSPI’s study, Jane G. Hurley, said, “You need cheese stuffed into a pizza crust like you need reverse liposuction to force more fat under your skin.”

I don’t know what you can say to help your husband, although of course I hope you show this to him. What would happen if you told him that you loved him, and want him to be around a long time living a healthy and happy life, and you are concerned that his cheese consumption might undermine his life? What would happen if you asked him if there is anything you can do to help him eat more healthfully? I’d imagine he might have some interesting things to say.

Yours for a healthy future,

John

The McAfrika Burger
Sunday, April 18th, 2010

Dear John,

In a radio interview that I heard part of, you mentioned the McAfrica burger. What’s McDonald’s up to now?

Julie

Dear Julie,

In something less than an act of great cultural or humanitarian sensitivity, McDonald’s has introduced a new sandwich in their Norway restaurants called the “McAfrika.” They did this in the summer of 2002, at a time when 12 million people were facing starvation in southern Africa. The company says that the concoction of beef, cheese, tomatoes and salad in a pita-style sandwich is based on an “authentic African recipe.”

Aid agencies trying to raise funds to stave off famine in southern Africa were appalled. “It’s inappropriate and distasteful to launch a hamburger called McAfrika when large portions of southern Africa are on the verge of starvation,” said a representative of Norwegian Church Aid.

Faced with mounting protest about the new product, McDonald’s said it didn’t intend to offend anyone. I’m sure the starving people in Africa appreciate the company’s thoughtfulness. However, the company refused to share any proceeds from the sale of the sandwich with aid agencies. Nor has McDonald’s agreed to withdraw the product from sale.

Meat eating in a hungry world is problematic to begin with. Today, more than a billion people on this planet do not have enough to eat. Nearly one-third of the children in the developing world are chronically hungry, making them vulnerable to infectious disease and diarrhea, which often lead to permanent mental and physical impairment or death. Meanwhile, McDonald’s is opening five new restaurants a day—four of them outside the United States.

We have to question the role of meat in a world where an estimated one in every six people goes hungry every day. Meat production is an inefficient use of grain — the grain is used more efficiently when consumed directly by humans. McDonald’s meats come from animals fed enormous quantities of grain, in the process creating competition for grain between affluent meat eaters and the world’s poor.

We are seeing the McDonaldization of the world, and it’s not a pretty sight. Throughout the Third World, the production of meat is monopolizing the best local land, undermining the local food supply, and undercutting the efforts of the people to become food self-reliant. There are today millions of people in less-developed countries who are going hungry while their land, labor, and resources are being used to feed livestock so wealthy people can eat meat.

It’s painful that as a species we can put a man on the moon, but haven’t come close to ending the scourge of hunger. In a world where a child dies of hunger-caused disease every two seconds, only our own ignorance allows us to continue to view meat as a status symbol.

Thanks for asking,

John

Any Connection Between What You Eat and Your Spiritual Evolution?
Sunday, April 18th, 2010

Dear John,

You strike me as a very spiritual person. Do you think there is a connection between what a person eats and their spiritual evolution? I know this is a big topic, but can you give me a concise statement I can meditate on?

Sincerely,
Taylor

Dear Taylor,

If you want to progress on a spiritual path, you must challenge your actions — including what you eat — as to whether they are authentic expressions of the love and spirit within you. You must ask whether what you are doing bespeaks compassion or indifference to the suffering of others. As long as you act — and eat — without compassion, you remain mired in the realm of separateness, loneliness, and frustration, because you have not yet given voice, with your life, to the great heart within you. May we all learn to cherish and respect life,

John

Just Giving Consumers the Cheap Food They Want?
Sunday, April 18th, 2010

Dear John,

You and the author of Fast Food Nation find fault with the fast food chains and supermarkets for the food they sell. But they are simply giving customers the cheap food they want. If you want to blame anyone, blame human nature.

Bruce

Dear Bruce,

The consumer demand to which you refer has been manufactured. If the fast food chains and food outlets are simply providing what customers want, then why do they spend billions of dollars advertising? Have you noticed how often it is the least healthy foods that are the most heavily advertised? Last year, Kellogg’s spent $40 million to promote a single heavily sugared breakfast cereal – Frosted Flakes. The dairy industry spent $190 million on the “milk mustache” ads. McDonald’s spent nearly $1 billion advertising its products. (The National Cancer Institute, in comparison, spent $1 million promoting fruits and vegetables.)

What would happen if the glut of advertising dollars that is now used to sell grease, sugar, and processed foods was used instead to promote a healthy, wholesome, nutritious diet?

Yours for a healthy world,

John

What About McDonald’s in Sweden?
Sunday, April 18th, 2010

Dear John,

I’m currently reading The Food Revolution, and I’m curious to know if American fast food corporations, such as McDonalds, that operate in other countries must buy their products from national suppliers? For example, you cite in your book The Food Revolution that countries such as Sweden have adopted legislation that has abolished the most inhumane farming practices. Does this mean that a McDonalds in Sweden supplies consumers with a more compassionately produced product?

Kyle

Dear Kyle,

Yes. And not only do the McDonald’s restaurants in Sweden serve meat from animals that have been far more humanely treated than U.S. livestock, but the Swedish arm of the company has also taken major steps toward becoming more Earth-friendly. McDonald’s totally dominates the fast food hamburger market in Sweden, selling 75 percent of the nation’s burgers. And it does this while serving organic vegetables, milk and beef. It also recycles 97 percent of all restaurant waste. Fast food chains in the United States often say that such changes would render them unprofitable. But in Sweden, McDonald’s has prospered while cutting fuel costs and pollution by over 30 percent through reducing distribution distances, and while eliminating thousands of tons of packaging material by changing to more environmental packaging. More than half of the 160 Swedish McDonald’s restaurants and its national headquarters now run on renewable energy.

It makes me wonder why they don’t do it here.

Yours for a positive future,

John

Rascism
Sunday, April 18th, 2010

Racism

Dear John,

I saw an op-ed piece that you wrote in the newspaper about racism in the criminal justice system. It was very moving and shocking. I’d like to see it get wider distribution.

Maurice

Dear Maurice,

Thanks for your kind words of support. Many white people in this country believe that racism was a problem, but that the civil rights movement in the 1960s took care of it. Regrettably, this is far from the case. Here is what I wrote in the op-ed piece to which you refer, titled “Is the American judicial system racist?”

“Is it racist when young black males make up 6 percent of the U.S. population, and 50 percent of the prison inmates?

Is it racist when, in Massachusetts, blacks and Hispanics make up 9 percent of the state’s population, but 83 percent of imprisoned drug offenders?

Is it racist when African-American teens are more than ten times as likely to be incarcerated in California Youth Authority facilities than white or Asian youth?

Is it racist when Harris County, Texas, which includes the city of Houston, and has sent more people to death than any other state in the country, blacks make up 20 percent of the population but 70 percent of death row inmates?

Is it racist when Danville, Virginia, which regularly executes more people than any county in the country outside of Texas, has never once since its incorporation in 1890 executed a white person?

Is it racist when Dallas, Texas, has sent dozens of people to death row, but never a single one for killing an African-American?

Is it racist when no white person in Georgia has ever been executed for the murder of an African-American, and the death penalty has never even been sought in such a case?

Is it racist when, in the state of Georgia, every one of the 46 state district attorneys – who alone decide whether to seek the death penalty – are white, but 55 percent of those sentenced to death in the last 20 years have been black?

Is it racist when half the time black people have been executed in Georgia in the last 15 years, there were not only no black people in the jury, but no black people even in the jury pool?

Do white Americans who speak proudly of ‘liberty and justice for all’ have any idea at all what black Americans live with every day of their lives?”

Thanks for your concern for this vitally important issue.

Yours for justice,

John

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