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We wrote yesterday about a Time magazine story that noted that 25 percent of teenagers are now vegetarians, defining the practice of now eating meat as “cool.” Time also reported that The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has launched a website that attempts to link beef consumption with being hip and coo, and informs them about the nutritional disadvantages of being vegetarian. The site, according to Time, suggests that teenagers, especially girls, ought to “keep it real” by eating beef often -- as much as three or four times a day.

We got the following email from Kim Essex, executive director, Public Relations, for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association:

“First, you should know got it wrong, and they are correcting their piece. There is no reference in our website that encourages kids to eat beef three or four times per day. There is a reference that says eating regularly, every three to four hours, helps sustain energy, which is entirely different but the only reference to "three to four" on the website.

“Also, we wanted to let you know the beef industry is not targeting teen vegetarians. In fact, the number of teens who report following a vegetarian diet has remain flat according to data collected by a vegetarian group. The data we have collected suggests the same thing. Furthermore, a nationally representative online poll just conducted with more than 1,000 U.S. girls ages 8- to 12-years-old shows the percent of girls who believe vegetarians are healthier than meat-eaters has declined 11 percent in the last two years.

“The goal of our Youth Education program is to help kids adopt lifelong healthful habits at both a critical time of growth and independence, which can put healthful eating, in particular, at risk. And we attempt to do it in a kid-appealing way.”

Point taken.

Though we did a little research with our kids, and found that they weren’t at all surprised that a substantial number of teens might be practicing vegetarians.

And then they asked us to make them cheeseburgers.

It also was interesting that a number of MNB users connected the vegetarian piece to another story we had yesterday about the shortcomings of US school lunches.

One MNB user wrote about the terrible school lunches:

“Gee, put this together with the 'hip teenage vegetarians' and maybe we have a little cause and effect.”

if we had to eat these school lunches all the time, we’re not sure we’d move to being a vegetarian. We’d think more about fasting.

MNB user Jane Larson wrote:

“(My 18-year-old son) became a vegetarian almost 2 years ago. It has become much easier to cook stuff that appeals to his sense of environmental responsibility and my taste buds, because more and more grocery items are being labeled as vegetarian. Lo and behold, they are also being packaged more attractively AND 'mainstreamed' in with regular grocery items. Brilliant.

“So imagine my wonder and joy when a recent trip to the doctor revealed that my cholesterol, formerly in the 210 range (above normal but not horrifying), was now 175. Without pills, wacky diets, suffering or deprivation. Whoda thunk it. And yes, we do eat eggs and cheese, in the form of quiches, omelets, you name it.

“So to the beef industry, I say, "Suck eggs." Ha ha. No pun intended.”

MNB user Eric Peabody wrote:

“Nothing new here. I (being mid-forties now) remember reading Elaine Lapp's “Diet for a Small Planet” in the seventies and announcing to my folks that I'd decided to be a vegetarian. My folks said fine and my dad went back to grilling the burgers he'd started.

“That night I feasted on trimmings. I'm happy to say that the experiment lasted about two weeks and I wouldn't pass that burger up now! Teenagers try a lot of things on for size while trying to "find themselves". It’s no reason for the cattlemen to be concerned!”

Another MNB user wrote:

“I think the beef industry is suffering a classic case of knee-jerk reaction. I have worked in and around the natural products industry for 14 years both in-store and as a consultant, and have had what I believe is significant experience with teen-age vegetarians. While they are eschewing beef--all meat for that matter-- for now, many will return to consuming meat. For most of the kids I've spoken with & lectured to about teenage vegetarian choices, most are concerned about the quality of life and care the animals receive prior to being dispatched.

“When told that there are shopping alternatives to their neighborhood mass-market stores, and that there are owners and managers of natural product grocery stores that uphold ethical treatment of animals, they are surprised and interested. Education is the key and the large natural foods retailers should address both teenage vegetarian issues and ethical alternatives for meat-eating teens.”

We got a lot of email on this subject, especially because we said we wouldn’t be particularly alarmed about our kids becoming vegetarian. MNB user Jem Welsh wrote:

“Just a note regarding the dangers teens may create for themselves by going vegetarian. Certain nutrients, among them vitamin B12 and essential fatty acids, are not found in any significant measure in a strictly vegetarian diet. Parents of those teens considering a veggie diet will need to make sure the kiddos supplement these nutrients. Some essential fatty acids are found in avocados and nuts, but for the most part, found more readily in GOOD meat sources, such as fish.

“A few years back, parents of a group of teens embroiled in the politics of PETA-type stuff, sought my nutritional counsel regarding their children's diets. After a bit of questioning, it become apparent that the teen's food habits now largely consisted of bagels, doughnuts and sodas. The parents were searching for healthful alternatives. I recommended nutritional supplements, as well as some healthful vegetable/protein sources I thought maybe the kids would eat. FAT CHANCE! (no pun intended). The majority of the teens gained weight quickly on their diet and their conflict became aesthetics, not politics!

“Some nutritionist will tell you that they have never seen a healthy vegetarian, while others insist it is the best way to eat. You may not think your kids need counsel when they make a lifestyle choice like this, but they do need to know what they are doing. Having a political agenda, thinking vegetarianism is "cool" or simply not eating meat as a personal statement are all indicative of a person's (can I call teens that?) beliefs and should be honored, but should not be taken lightly. Information about their new diet should be provided.”

Of course they need full information. We were just saying that in the range of things that our kids could say that would be really alarming, vegetarianism isn’t high on the list.

Regarding our essay yesterday about the downfall of a unique DC-area men’s clothing store called Britches of Georgetown, and the lessons it offers to all retailers, MNB user Gene Grabowksi of the Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA) wrote:

“I used to be a loyal Britches shopper -- back in the 80s when the store was in its prime. As you said, it felt like a club, and its employees were knowledgeable and seemed proud of their work.

“The store capitalized on the then-current trend of foppish dress at work and at play -- complete with braces, collar stays, cuffed and pleated trousers and elegant shoes. Even its casual wear was special.

“Alas, when trends among young professionals turned to thick-soled brogans, sloppy casual shirts at work, loose, baggy cotton pants and the like, Britches didn't keep pace. I'm convinced the store's customer base was made up of up-and-coming boomers who had a great deal of disposable income to put toward their wardrobes in the 1980s. When that group (including me) began to age and have children, take on mortgages and buy groceries for families, we began to seek clothing that was more bargain-priced and practical. Men's Clothing Warehouse here we come.

“Whether or not Britches could have survived by re-inventing itself is debatable. The fact is, the "classic" looks and attitudes that once could sustain a company, a brand, or an industry for decades are no longer powerful in a world where consumers are constantly seeking something new and different. I heard Spike Lee opine last night on the "Actor's Studio" program on Bravo Network that music videos with their constant scene cuts have destroyed the attention span of young viewers, making it nearly impossible to create a popular movie with lengthy scenes that are required for true story-telling.

“In many ways, the same things are happening on the retail front. Today's consumer has been conditioned to constantly expect something innovative and new, something entertaining, something ahead-of-the curve and, often at the same time, something low-priced.

“The owners of Britches will no doubt invent another retail strategy behind another brand. Perhaps we're now living in the world of the disposable brand.”

Interesting points…especially because you wouldn’t necessarily expect someone from GMA to use the phrase “disposable brands” in a sentence.

We agree that the consumer has been conditioned to expect something innovative and unique…and would add that many retailers don’t live up to that expectation, preferring to focus on price, and therefore lowering the bar on what is offered and simply not taking advantage of what could be considerable consumer interest.

One other note that we think may have some applicability across varying retail venues. Gene writes about Men’s Warehouse suddenly becoming the clothing store of choice for men who are seeking bargain-priced items. Our wardrobe tends to be made up of high fashion pieces from classy designers like Eddie Bauer and LL Bean…but when we’ve bought suits and ties, we’ve never, ever had a good experience at cut-rate clothing stores. The clothes simply aren’t as good, and once you’ve paid for alterations, the savings aren’t as much as you’d think.

Sometimes, low cost is an illusion. Quality never is.

On the subject of school lunches, we suggested that there may be little that retailers and manufacturers can do to change things. MNB user Amanda Archibald disagreed:

“Nothing that retailers or manufacturers can do. Huh? It is the nature of manufacturers to find an outlet for their product. Look hard at the brand names on product being supplied to the school nutrition programs and I think you will find some nice representation. A market is a market - right? Perhaps we should turn out attention a little more acutely to the lobby-ridden USDA to discuss the nature of food or "commodities" that arrive in schools. After all - wasn't ketchup at one time deemed a vegetable????

“The simple fact is that the face of school nutrition can change. Some schools really are reaching out to local suppliers and growers and finding that indeed - children do like greens, fresh food and a meal prepared and served with dignity. When we lead with an example – then our children can and do eat healthfully. The challenge you face now is simply that you have a generation of parents feeding kids who themselves have had no culinary education. So - they cannot lead by any better example themselves. They ate burgers and fries. Their kids will eat the same - unless we show them differently.”

And while we characterized many school lunches as “crap,” MNB user Dee Munson had a different perspective:

“I have to differ! I went to school for lunch with my grandson last week. Several kids in each grade were allowed to invite parents to join them for lunch in the cafeteria. Parents had to let the school know if they planned to eat from the cafeteria line. I saw no parents go through the line but I saw at least 2 dozen bring in fast food lunches: burgers, fries, soft drinks. The pot roast, potatoes, carrots and milk being offered in the cafeteria sure looked lower in fat and with at least a few more vitamins and minerals!”

Another MNB user wrote:

“Why do we abdicate parental control of children's diet to a system that is unhealthy and at times unsafe? If one complains about school lunch for flavor or nutrition, they only have to change it by using the brown bag. Better yet, have the kids make their own lunch using the flavorful and nutritious items you bought. It teaches responsibility and tastes better. Quit complaining and take control.

“If that doesn't work get on the school board and make some changes. You can't be alone in this thinking.”

Funny, we’ve been thinking about the school board. But we’ve been told that because of our big mouth, we are unelectable.

Go figure.
KC's View: