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Being a vegetarian's fine, but please don't force it on me

I'm getting a bit tired of fighting this fight, but sometimes the only tactic available to those who have neither righteousness nor reason on their side is to constantly bombard the opposition until that beleaguered side throws its hands up in frustration and walks away. Well, I'm not going to do that. That's how the Nazis came to power, and that's also how 7th Heaven kept getting renewed season after season.

I want to state this for what I hope is the last time: Being a vegetarian is OK. If you want to choose a lifestyle where you believe that eating a turkey sandwich on whole wheat is somehow dangerous, knock yourself out. You don't want to eat meat? Fine; that's more pepperoni for the rest of us. You want to go all the way and become a vegan? Great. I've got just three words for you: pepper jack cheese.

But don't preach to me; don't badger me; don't try to use the law or your position on some school board or something to try to change my eating habits, because that is none of your damn business. You've made a choice, but that doesn't make you superior. You need to come down off your pedestal and watch your step, because you might fall and break your hip.

Let me state clearly that I am not the defender of outrageously bad diets. I don't think you should get up in the morning and slap a lamb chop between two pieces of sausage and then wash it all down with a big glass of bacon grease. But neither am I going to stand by while food bullies tell me that theirs is the best way, the true way, the only way! And the food bullies are an umbrella group that includes the so-called Center for Science in the Public Interest (that claims that Italian food is bad for you), public officials who are trying to climb the political ladder by bitching out the fast-food industry (as though there is even one documented case of someone being forced to buy french fries) and, of course, holier-than-thou vegetarians.

I recently wrote a column about social cascading (Nov. 1), a phenomenon that has led many Americans to hold false beliefs about nutrition. Some bloggers (correctly) took me to task for not identifying the book that prompted me to write the column in the first place. It is Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control and Disease by Gary Taubes. This is not some ex-housewife who found salvation and weight loss by consuming nothing but mango and passion fruit. Taubes is a contributing writer for Science magazine.

For one thing, his book explains why the Atkins (high- protein, low-carb) diet works, and it makes perfect sense. I'll never do it, because every time I've thought about trying it, I remember John Candy in Uncle Buck, who asks his sister-in-law: "Do you have a (toilet) plunger? I've been eating a lot of cheese lately."

So, this guy writes a letter saying that the column was "bogus" ("Danehy Needs to Re-Review the Data on Vegetarianism," Nov. 29). First, he takes me to task for "cherry-picking" statistics, apparently not understanding that every time anybody uses only one or two statistics, that technically constitutes cherry-picking. Then, he turns right around and uses false stats to try to make his point, claiming that "Seventh-day Adventists actually live seven to eight years longer than the average American." Well, that's not true. The numbers 7.28 (the difference in lifespan between Adventist women and their non-Adventist counterparts) and 4.48 (the disparity for men) are quoted in so many Web sites, they take on an instantly recognizable quality, like 88 for piano keys and 755 for the true home run record.

If you combine the two, that makes an average of 5.88. Even if you round up to the next ordinal number, the last I checked, six isn't between "seven and eight." And there is always the matter of Adventists abstaining from alcohol, drugs and tobacco. My old friend Skippy, who is now a Seventh-day Adventist preacher in Mississippi, cites the diet, the abstention from drugs and tobacco, and a solid, monogamous, family-oriented lifestyle as the reasons for a longer lifespan. Sounds reasonable to me.

The letter writer then claimed that the American Heart Association and the American Dietetic Association both advocate a vegetarian diet. I called the AHA, which, ironically, has its headquarters in Dallas, Texas. I was told, no, they don't advocate a vegetarian diet. In fact, their Web site and literature clearly state that they recommend at least two servings of fish per week for everybody, and lean cuts of beef and poultry for those who include meat in a balanced diet.

The American Dietetic Association Web site states: "Both vegetarian and nonvegetarian eating styles can be healthful." The statement is actually being used as a defense against the argument that vegetarian diets are less healthy than balanced, omnivorous diets.

The guy closed the letter by claiming that kids "with high IQs are more likely to become vegetarian." That may or may not be true, but I've also read that kids who go on school-shooting sprees are also more likely to have higher-than-average IQs. So what? Do I really have to point out that high IQ and common sense don't always go hand-in-hand?

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