Editorial: Seeing Things as They Really Are
One day in 1998, I was in Vancouver, waiting to start a television interview about my book Foods That Fight Pain. Before getting to me, the television hosts were talking with a group of sumo wrestlers who had come from Japan to fight it out in the first-ever sumo match in North America. Each competitor was immaculately dressed in traditional robes and was as big as a house.
One of the people in their entourage encouraged me to come to the auditorium that night to watch the bout. And indeed, a few hours later, I sat in the stands, trying to decide whether to cheer for Takanohana or Akebono.
Walking outside later, I noticed something remarkable. People on the street seemed very thin. Having watched one wrestler after another with the center of gravity of a Steinway piano, I had gotten used to their size. In a matter of a couple of hours, obese was the new normal, and healthy-sized people then looked thin.
A similar phenomenon is happening right now throughout the world. As the obesity epidemic has settled in, many people are getting used to obesity and the carnivorous diets that cause it. Overweight children are no longer a cause for alarm, and we are becoming complacent about the dangers that lie ahead.
It happens in the world of science, too. When a new laboratory technician learns that his job involves inflicting pain on dogs and ultimately killing them, he is horrified. But noticing the approving reactions of the other experimenters, he gradually accommodates to the suffering he is causing. It’s just part of science, he tells himself.
In our work at PCRM, our job is to confront that indifference. Government officials who are no longer worried enough about the dangers of childhood obesity to clean up school lunches or confront the food industry, research administrators who are inured to grotesque cruelty in laboratories, and a society that has become hardened to suffering—they need to be pushed to remember what matters.
Happily, over the past year, we have been able to intervene in exactly these situations. Our media presence, books, classes, lawsuits, lobbying, online Kickstart programs, and our continuing series of research studies are bringing healthful and ethical diets into the mainstream. We stopped NASA from bombarding squirrel monkeys with radiation, curtailed the Army’s chemical warfare experiments on vervet monkeys, and pushed many more medical schools, trauma-training programs, and pediatrics residencies to scrap animal laboratories in favor of nonanimal methods.
But the behemoth of indifference still looms large. This year, we will help tens of millions of people around the world to make healthful and compassionate dietary choices. We will push the U.S. government to stop subsidizing unhealthful foods and to join the rest of the world in banning some of the most egregious experiments. We have plotted out our strategy for making new inroads in the worlds of research, science, and health. With impatience and assertiveness, we aim to conquer indifference as rapidly as we can.
By the way, Takanohana retired from sumo in 2003 and slimmed down considerably. And now, by comparison, Akebono looks quite out of shape. So we’ve popped our Vegetarian Starter Kit in the mail, signed Akebono up for our Kickstart program, and are eager to see the new sleeker, healthier model that comes from seeing things as they really are.
Neal Barnard, M.D.
President of PCRM