Teenage vegetarian girls are bulimics! Eating meat is asking for cancer! Readers erupt in response to Katharine Mieszkowski's "Luring Preteens With Red Meat."

Published February 14, 2003 8:30PM (EST)

[Read the story.]

So you have problems with the advertising techniques of the American Cattlemen on their Web page targeting preteens? Well, personally, I have a bigger problem: the disturbing eating habits of young girls today.

I cannot count the number of young friends of my daughter who are obsessed with their weight to the point of existing on a diet of coffee, lettuce and canned soup. Since elementary school, my daughter (now aged 20) has brought home charming little girls starving themselves, swallowing handfuls of diet drugs, and exercising like Olympians, all thanks to their shattered body image. I have seen these girls at age 10. I am still seeing these girls, now in their 20s. I have seen enough cases of bulimia and anorexia to make me cry. Yes, I have seen chubby ones too, but in many ways, they are healthier than the famished waifs.

Maybe you think that the cattlemen are being a little underhanded and sneaky in the way they present their message. First of all, they pretty much have to be, to combat the images of "healthy" youth that girls today are bombarded with from magazines, television and other media. Second, who cares who the message is from? The message is true! In case you aren't aware, beef is part of a balanced diet. The problem with the diet of today's youth is not protein in beef form. It is pounds and pounds of excess sugar and fat and carbohydrates.

The Cool 2B Real site offers more than just instructions to eat a cow. It presents a complete image of young girls to strive for, including body and mind and spirit. Does it really matter that the people who are trying to give some solid advice to overwhelmed little girls are ranchers?

If this Web site helps one little girl on her way to deciding that she is more than just a body image, awesome! Maybe she will eat a taco instead of a rice cake. And maybe if a chunky little girl reads the page, she will get the message of sports and a healthy body and eat one less taco.

-- Deborah Bramowicz

In the U.S., everyone has the freedom to eat what they want. As for me, I refuse to buy meat from an industry that skins cows alive.

-- Rob English

I first heard about the Cool 2B Real Web site during "Rewind" on NPR while on my way to the grocery store, and I thought it was absolutely hilarious! Both PETA and the meatpacking industry represent two extremes, and there should be more information out there on that fabulous area known as the middle ground. I am a former vegetarian who took out the meat-related cookbooks once again after reading "Fast Food Nation." I shop at Whole Foods and only eat meats that are primarily grass fed (definitely 100 percent vegetarian fed), raised with room to roam, and not given hormones or antibiotics. It's by keeping these ranchers in business that we can play an active role in the ethical treatment of animals (and let's not forget about the underpaid workers at the major slaughterhouses). I think vegetarianism is a great choice to make, but it's not for everyone. I want those who continue to choose to eat meat to realize that they have a choice in the meats they buy.

-- Willow Parrish

Before falling for the meat industry's "Cool 2B Real" pitch, teens (and adults) might want to remember what Dr. Neal Barnard once said about "beefing" up: "If beef is your idea of real food for real people, you'd better live real close to a real good hospital."

To decrease your chances of ending up in an intensive care unit, visit PETA's Web site GoVeg.com for a free vegetarian starter kit.

-- Paula Moore, Staff Writer,
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)

The beef industry is fighting a losing battle trying to persuade teen girls who have become vegetarians to revert back to blood meals. First, weight is a consideration and one can eat mountains of vegetables and keep a normal weight as opposed to one tiny beef meal loaded with fat and cholesterol and calories.

Also, being kind is getting to be fashionable! Live with it, beef industry.

You can never hitch your bloody wagon to the star of compassion that is motivating teens to say NO to meat.

-- Polly Strand

Consider that meat contributes to people getting arthritis (osteo and rheumatoid), heart disease, some cancers such as colon and prostate, kidney and urinary stones (ouch!), strokes, and a whole range of other terrible diseases. Why would anyone really want to eat meat? I am vegan and a healthcare worker. Yes, my patients suffer from these and many more diseases, and they all eat animal products. Don't believe me? Then check out some excellent illness-prevention doctors at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine Web site for real evidence.

-- Peter Shaw

Thanks for this piece on the National Cattlemen's Beef Association Web site to market beef to teens. John Robbins' vegetarian masterpiece "The Food Revolution" (2001) is sprinkled with hilariously unfactual assertions about beef from the NCBA, followed by deadpan statements to the contrary from major medical authorities. I couldn't believe at the time I read that book that the NCBA buffoons could possibly be a major industry group. But they really, truly are -- and apparently still good for a belly laugh.

-- Elizabeth Durack

Is it cool to be real? Definitely! Does being real mean eating beef? Not necessarily! There are plant sources of protein that are just as fun and easy to cook as beef is, if not more so. A real girl would ask questions in class about our global water crisis -- and her self-esteem would probably be bolstered by a well-earned compliment from a good teacher! In light of our global water crisis, it is wise to remember that cattle and other animals raised for human consumption compete with humans for water, and that real people of both genders and all ages should ask their doctors about the benefits of abstaining from beef, pork and lamb.

-- Katrelya Angus

As a vegetarian, I am relieved that Salon was smart enough to see through the Beef Association's use of a new Web site as a pathetic attempt to make eating dead cows "cool" to young women, who are shunning eating flesh in droves. Whether due to compassion for animals, concerns about cholesterol and saturated fats, or fears about E. coli and listeria, teenage girls are making a wise choice to eat a plant-based diet.

No Web site trying to use "teenspeak" as in "cool-2b-real" will change the trend toward vegetarianism.

-- Cherie Travis

Thank you for your article "Luring Preteens With Red Meat." The meat industry knows no decency. That's obvious by what they are doing to both animals and children, let alone the rest of us. The egg and dairy industries are no better.

-- Mary Finelli

For crying out loud, these are modern children here. I am certain that they know perfectly well when someone is selling them something. Does anyone squawk when Nike sells self-esteem along with logo apparel and running shoes? And is anyone confused by it?

And frankly, I'm a whole lot less worried about the "childhood obesity epidemic" than I am the female teen anorexia/bulimia epidemic. Some of these girls could stand to eat a few tacos. And they could benefit from a little less hysteria from people around them who are worried about their getting fat. They're already too worried about that issue as it is.

-- Leslie Claire

By Salon Staff

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