I saw the sign as I was driving down the boulevard near my house, taking a movie back to the video store. It was out in front of one of those chain restaurants—the one that's been in the news recently for only hiring waitresses with large... er... silicone-enhanced appendages.
"Green Salad, Today Only."
What did that mean, I wondered? Were they really trying to lure customers into their establishment on the promise of something crunchy and green? Would they really be out of salads tomorrow? Wouldn't they at least have iceberg lettuce available to top their customers' burgers? Couldn't they make that into a salad in a pinch? (If they had to, they could always mix some mayo and ketchup together to make Russian dressing.)
I decided I was taking this sign too seriously. (After all, it wasn't like I was actually thinking about eating at this restaurant.) The sign was just a joke, that's all.
I drove a few more blocks before a new thought hit me. The sign was more prophetic than funny. In six syllables, the high school/summer vacation/minimum wage workers at this all-American chain restaurant had said something profound—something more profound than the rest of us self-serving vegetarian pundits have managed to put on paper in the last 25 years. "Green Salad, Today Only." It's everything that's wrong with the world's attitude, not to mention its food choices.
We vegetarians are justifiably proud of what we've accomplished over the years. There can be no doubt that, at least in North America and Europe, the philosophy behind vegetarianism is more popular than ever before. More people all the time are becoming aware of the ethical, health and environmental benefits that can be realized when we stop putting "beastly" foods in our bodies.
Despite all this good news though, some of us still worry that we may be losing the proverbial war. Here's why... In the United States per capita consumption of meat, poultry and fish has been steadily rising for decades. In 1963 the average American ate 185 pounds of these critters, but that number was up to 195 pounds in 1973, 208 pounds in 1983, and a whopping 222.6 pounds in 1993, the last year for which information is available. The American Meat Institute brags that, "Americans are not becoming vegetarians!" As more of the world's countries follow our cultural example, as rain forests are burned for cattle grazing and McDonalds restaurants spring up in Borneo and Namibia, one can only imagine the trend that meat consumption must be taking in other parts of the globe as well.
There's more bad news where that came from. A recent Roper Poll conducted for the Vegetarian Resource Group found that, while 7% of Americans profess to be vegetarian, the number consistently shunning meat, poultry and fish is really somewhere between .3% and 1%. Yes, you read that right—point three
percent! No wonder nobody reads this column! With those kinds of numbers for vegetarians, the percentage of vegans in the U.S. might actually be negative! (Just kidding.) Indeed, with those kinds of numbers, it's not surprising that we can't find a good vegetarian meal in most restaurants, much less anything we can eat at the ballgame, shopping mall or family reunion. Heck, even Jane Fonda has gone from "saving the whales" to hawking buffalo meat.
Okay, so I'm feeling a little paranoid. But, as the prophet says, that doesn't mean they aren't out to get us. What we need to counter all this is something dramatic. What we need are some headlines that will put the vegetarian cause on the front page of every newspaper in the world. Here's an example:
Scientists Discover AIDS Transmission Through Animal Blood In Food
Scientists have isolated a new kind of HIV virus that may be transmitted to humans by consuming the blood of farm animals. "Anyone who eats meat or eggs is seriously at risk," explained researcher Dr. Frank Lee of the University of...
or maybe this:
"Mad Cow" Disease Makes A Comeback
Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, the fatal human illness believed to be linked to "Mad Cow" Disease is making a dramatic comeback in all parts of the world. And this time it appears to be linked to the consumption of a wide variety of farm animals, including animals from herds that displayed no sign of disease prior to slaughter "Anyone who eats meat or dairy products is seriously at risk," explained researcher Dr. Frank Lee of the University of....
You're thinking this is too grim, and you're right. This is just the kind of thing we're trying to avoid. What we really need is a headline that will motivate people in a more positive way before these evil scenarios have a chance to play out. Something like this:
God Visits White House—
The face of God appeared at a White House luncheon honoring Pope John-Paul II today. Onlookers reported that a bearded presence, which could not be captured on videotape, appeared to hover over the table where President Clinton and the Pontiff were seated. Both men dropped their forks into their salad Niçoise when the Creator, using a voice reminiscent of Charleton Heston, said, "Put down the flesh, go for the fresh!" in 128 languages simultaneously.
"He made a believer out of me," said the startled President, confirming that both he and the Pope intend to carry out God's order of vegetarianism. Republican presidential contender Bob Dole echoed these sentiments, adding that he would host a vegan fundraising dinner in an attempt to win God's endorsement. Congress was reluctant to give its immediate approval. Party leaders said they would appoint a bipartisan commission to study the matter...
Yeah, that's more like it. That's the kind of publicity we need, or at least something close. Until that happens I'll keep espousing the cause, but I reserve my right to be pessimistic. It's not that I don't think that vegetarianism will eventually be the preferred diet for humans on this earth. I just fear that the transition may be a long time in coming, and may only follow after lots of those grim headlines become reality, including some that deal with environmental degradation, starvation and other human suffering.
I hope I'm wrong, but I worry that until catastrophe hits, we may be in store for more of the same—people giving vegetarianism a lot of "lip service," but really leading a very different kind of lifestyle in private. I worry that until tragedy is upon us people will continue to
spend their time down at the chain restaurants, watching the well-endowed waitresses, scarfing down hamburgers and chickens' wings, and laughing at "rabbit food" and the people who eat it.
Green salad, today only
It says a mouthful.