Tomorrow is World Vegetarian Day. The celebration was begun in 1977 and, for the past several years, has been the occasion for gatherings hosted locally by members of the California Vegetarian Assn., which has its statewide headquarters in Thousand Oaks.
Shelah Bernstein, a Ventura resident and a graphic designer with the county of Ventura, is editor of the group’s newsletter, “Abundance.” She explained the connection between Vegetarian Day and the environment: “Ever since I read the book ‘Diet For A Small Planet’ by Frances Moore Lappe in 1973, I’ve been a vegetarian. At first it was because of a concern for the planet and the animals, but I then realized it was also for my health.”
She was reminded recently of her initial excitement about that book when she attended a screening at the Thousand Oaks Public Library for a PBS-originated video, “Diet for a New America.” Made by John Robbins, the rebel scion of the ice cream vendor family, the TV production was strongly influenced by Lappe’s work.
Both works argue that beef production is extremely chemical-intensive, wasteful of water and topsoil and an inefficient use of grains when so much of the world needs these crops for feeding humans.
The unofficial motto of the vegetarian movement has evolved to read something like: “Save three lives--yours, the animal’s, and the planet’s.” Two decades of this kind of agitation has changed consumer habits and even begun to have an effect on the business world.
Life insurance companies now offer reduced premium payments for customers who maintain low cholesterol levels. Statistics show these people live longer and contribute more money before filing a claim. Health maintenance organizations are beginning to reimburse policyholders who consult registered dietitians and follow a course of treatment, some of which involves vegetarian practices. Such folks, it turns out, file fewer health insurance claims.
And Mutual of Omaha, the insurance giant, recently began reimbursing clients for a type of therapy that includes a vegetarian diet. Pioneered by Dr. Dean Ornish of the UC Medical School, the therapy can reverse the effects of severe coronary damage. The dollar figures are interesting. Four grand worth of therapy may be all that’s necessary to avoid 40 grand worth of heart bypass surgery.
According to a recent New York Times report, Hillary Rodham Clinton brought Ornish in to retrain White House chefs and make them allies in her effort to wean the President from fast food.
But to me, the most intriguing manifestation of this trend was reported in Bernstein’s October issue of “Abundance.” A feature item on Burger King restaurants urged California readers to call an 800 number to persuade the firm’s restaurants in this state to offer veggie burgers. They are already available in New York.
On my own, I discovered the same corporation that owns Burger King--Grand Metropolitan--also owns Pillsbury, which makes Green Giant products. They plan soon to sell veggie burgers in grocery stores in the Midwest but not in California. The Green Giant Harvest Burgers reportedly won’t be available in our supermarkets till next year.
Meanwhile, we will just have to get by on homemade veggie dishes for this year’s World Vegetarian Day celebration.
* WHERE AND WHEN
FOR INFORMATION about Ventura County-based observances of World Vegetarian Day, including the Full Moon Hike at 8 p.m. tomorrow in Thousand Oaks or over the weekend at the Sierra Club Lodge in Running Springs in Los Angeles County call 378-5098.
TO REGISTER your opinion whether California’s Burger King should expand its menu to include vegetarian burgers, call (800) 937-1800.
IMPATIENT VEGETARIANS can order soy-based veggie burgers by mail by calling (800) 835-2867.
INSURANCE PROVIDERS who cover nutritional assessment and therapies based on vegetarian eating are: Maxicare, Take Care, Bay Pacific and Heals--according to the California Dietetic Assn., which operates a referral service at (800) 234-7348.
FOR INFORMATION On Dr. Dean Ornish’s vegetarian-oriented cardiac treatment program, call (800) 328-3738.