“Thank you for…the copy of THE VEGETARIAN FLAVOR BIBLE. I’m delighted that you’re helping to make vegetarian and vegan lifestyles more accessible and achievable for as many people as possible.”
—President Bill Clinton
Today is Karen’s birthday — but it would have been a red-letter day anyway. After all, it’s not every day you receive a letter from the former President of the United States.
Karen had mentioned President William Jefferson Clinton in THE VEGETARIAN FLAVOR BIBLE twice on the historical timeline in Chapter 1, so we thought to send him a copy of the book.
One mention is in relation to the November 4, 2010, publication of BusinessWeek‘s article “The Rise of the Power Vegans”:
“…spotlighting the growing number of prominent Americans who have adopted veganism, including former President Bill Clinton, automotive scion Bill Ford, venture capitalist Joi Ito, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, hip hop pioneer Russell Simmons, Twitter cofounder Biz Stone (who credits a 2000 visit to Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York with his conversion), boxer Mike Tyson, hotelier Steve Wynn, and media magnate Mort Zuckerman.”
Another mention under 2011 reads:
“Sixty-five-year-old former President William Jefferson Clinton (b. 1946), whose love of foods ranging from barbecue to hamburgers during his presidency was well known and who had undergone quadruple bypass surgery in 2004 and stent surgery in 2010, speaks out about his veganism, saying that his vegan diet led to his dropping twenty-four pounds. On CNN, Clinton credits his conversion to a low-fat, plant-based diet with inspiration from a number of doctors, including Dr. Dean Ornish, one of clinton’s doctors for nearly two decades, and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr., both of whomo have promoted the ability of a whole-food, plant-based diet to prevent and even reverse heart disease.”
His thank-you note acknowledging the book ended up being the perfect birthday present.
After seeing THE VEGETARIAN FLAVOR BIBLE recognized as one of the five best cookbooks of 2014 in the Los Angeles Times, which was reporting on an amalgamation by EatYourBooks.com of more than 300 “Best of 2014” lists in media such as Bloomberg, the Chicago Tribune, Food & Wine, Miami Herald, and the Washington Post, Karen was sad to see that the book didn’t receive a single book award nomination.
It was interesting to see which book beat out THE VEGETARIAN FLAVOR BIBLE in its category for both a nomination and the win from both the 2015 International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) and the 2015 James Beard Foundation Cookbook Awards: Butchering Poultry, Rabbit, Lamb, Goat, and Pork: The Comprehensive Photographic Guide to Humane Slaughtering and Butchering.
On the heels of this sadness, we took steps to move forward, attending the 25th Annual James Beard Foundation Awards on Monday night for their first time in Chicago and connecting with beloved colleagues from all across the country at the majestic Lyric Opera House.
As the opening song “And the Meat Goes On” was performed at the black-tie event by emcee Alton Brown, a spoof on the Sonny and Cher classic, we were taken aback:
“Vegetarians scowl when I walk by,
vegans try to tempt me with their kale pie…
I’ll devour bacon until I’m blue,
And the meat goes on….”
In her article on “The Best and Worst of the 2015 James Beard Awards,” Chicago magazine’s Carrie Schedler characterized the song among the worst aspects of Monday’s Awards ceremony.
OK, we are not without senses of humor, and we’re otherwise fond of Alton Brown, but this song made us even sadder.
The rest of the Awards ceremony was stellar (if a bit long, as per usual), and the reception afterward fantastically fun (if a bit crowded, as per usual — with delicious highlights served up by chefs Brooks Headley of NYC’s Del Posto, Daniel Patterson of San Francisco’s Coi, Nancy Silverton of LA’s Osteria Mozza, and Vikram Sunderam of DC’s Rasika), as was the after-party we attended at Deann and Rick Bayless‘s Frontera Grill / Topolobampo.
But the saddest part of all was yet to come: learning the shocking news in the wee hours of the morning that our food writer colleague Josh Ozersky had died while in Chicago to cover the Awards. He was just 47.
And just like that, his wife is now a widow.
Why did he die? The honest truth is, we still don’t know:
And does it matter? When someone is gone, they’re gone forever — and loved ones are left with the same grief and heartache.
But why do most people die? Having lost three parents and a stepmother between 2000 and 2009 — all to cancer — we were shocked to discover a few years ago that the number-one cause of death in America is nutritionally-controllable diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. We were equally surprised to learn that diets that forego animal protein in favor of plant protein are associated with a lower risk of all three.
“In all my interviews with nutritional experts, the benefits of a plant-based diet provided the only point of universal consensus.”
—Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food (2008)
And given our typical meat-three-times-a-day (and-bring-on-the-butter-cream- and-eggs-please) diet as food writers, it suddenly dawned on us that we might be well on our way to eating ourselves into early graves.
So we emulated President Clinton and others like him, and embraced a plant-strong diet three years ago today on May 8, 2012. And we’ve never felt better.
We never want to lose another food world colleague far too soon. (It was just a year ago that we had to mourn the loss of 44-year-old food writer Steven Shaw, a founder of eGullet.com and Fat-Guy.com, who died of an apparent heart attack in April 2014, leaving behind a wife and son.)
We want all our food-world colleagues to feel better than they’ve ever felt before — and to lead long and healthy lives.
As vegetarians (as of three years ago today), we scowl at no one when they walk by. After all, omnivores are simply people just like we were on May 7, 2012. We honestly don’t judge.
We only hope to be able to serve as resources to everyone — including and especially our food world colleagues — to help people understand that nutritional science suggests that they can help to save their own lives, and the lives of those they love, through shifting toward a plant-heavy diet emphasizing vegetables, legumes, fruits, and whole (not refined) grains and low in sugar.
And the great news is that doing so is more flavorful and delicious than any of us ever previously dreamed possible.
Monday night provided a poignant reminder of how fond we are of all of you — and how much we hope to see all of you at the 50th Anniversary of the James Beard Foundation Awards.
President Clinton was lucky: He got a wake-up call that caused him to make life-saving dietary changes. Others of us might not be so fortunate. Seize the day!
President William Jefferson Clinton established the Clinton Foundation, which can be found at clintonfoundation.org.