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I AGREE THAT THE SNEERing, puerile tone of Matt Labash’s “Meat Cleavers” (The District Line, 3/24) was inappropriate and offensive. But the vindictive, gloating stance of most of his detractors in the Mail (3/31) was, to me, almost equally unappealing.
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Most of the letters responding to Labash’s article used the hammer of vegetarianism to beat the nail of meat-eating, which to the writers is the cause of all the world’s problems. They couldn’t help busting their buttons laughing over beef spokesman James Garner’s bypass operation, never considering that something other than beef might have been a factor. I would like to know, for example, how much Garner smoked before his operation, or whether his family has a history of coronary disease.
It is true that, if everyone stopped eating meat, certain diseases would become far less evident. But others might well increase—such as malnutrition among people who failed to balance their vegetarian diets to get enough protein.
The history of medicine shows that there are no magic bullets for longevity, no guarantees against death. For every healthy, long-lived vegetarian, such as Shaw or Gandhi, you can point to an equally healthy, long-lived carnivore, such as Winston Churchill, Igor Stravinsky, or Arthur Rubinstein. By following a strict vegetarian diet, Gloria Swanson lived to 84—the same age as the portly gourmand Robert Morley. Conversely, the avoidance of meat didn’t help River Phoenix in the end, any more than the eating of meat helped James Dean.
Nor is vegetarianism necessarily the sign of enlightened moral character. I need only mention the name Adolf Hitler to prove that point.
Like most people my age, I have many vegetarian friends. I agree with them that there are many excellent reasons to avoid meat. Against that, I can only place the tradition of thousands of years of human civilization, where the eating of meat has been acceptable in most places and at most times. I allow them their choice, and they allow me mine.