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There's a Meaty Debate Going On About Eating : Health: Vegetarians say a report linking colon cancer and red meat should have been stronger. Beef eaters dismiss it as hogwash.


It had been not three hours since Paul Jones heard the latest medical report that people who eat red meat are more likely to develop colon cancer, but he hunched over a plate of pot roast and gravy at the Pantry restaurant anyway.

Jones is 36, a Santa Monica police officer and healthy as a horse, he says.

"Damn right," Jones announced, stabbing another dripping forkful. "I could run at least two blocks without falling over."

The study published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine was the largest ever done on the relationship between diet and the second deadliest form of cancer in the United States. The results showed that people who eat animal fat are at least twice as likely to develop the disease as are those who don't.

But this week in Los Angeles, meat lovers and vegetarians alike found the news hard to swallow, the former dismissing the study as alarmist and the latter insisting it wasn't alarming enough.

"The (researchers) suggest we eat chicken and fish instead, and pound for pound there is just as much dietary fat in chicken and fish as there is in red meat, " said Terrance Leon Sullivan, a strict vegetarian and nutrition consultant at the Natural Health Clinic Inc. in Los Angeles. "Heart disease, hardening of the arteries and diabetes are directly due to pouring animal fat down our throats."

Those ominous words rang hollow at the Pantry, Los Angeles' 66-year-old steakhouse, which publishes a brochure trumpeting the fact that 20 cows a day are required to satisfy the restaurant's carnivorous customers.

In the kitchen, general manager Mario Frisan proudly displayed a tray of two-inch-thick sirloin steaks swimming in blood. Lined up in silver pans on the burner was lunch: roast pork, corned beef, spare ribs, short ribs, sirloin tips and, stuck forlornly in the corner, a single tray of mushroom chicken. No fish.

"We used to have a customer who came in and ordered two T-bone steaks and ate them raw. I haven't seen him for a few years," Frisan said, pausing to contemplate, in light of the recent research, whether the man might be dead.

No, he and general manager Duane Burrell decided, ticking off a list of customers who make red meat a daily staple and are still breathing today.

"Jim's brother--he's been eating a top sirloin every day for 20 years and he's in his 80s," Frisan announced.

"And that guy we call Pops?" Burrell added proudly. "He eats bacon every morning and he's at least 70."

Take Larfae Cloudy, manager of Mr. Jim's "You Need No Teeth to Eat Mr. Jim's Beef" Bar-B-Q in South-Central Los Angeles. She's been eating pork for 62 years.

"And it ain't hurt me yet," she said from beneath her fuzzy red Santa cap, long purple fingernails extending from her right hand but not her left. "I ain't been to a doctor since 1964. You're gonna die from something, honey."

It isn't the length of life, it's the quality, say vegetarians at the Kingsley Garden in the mid-Wilshire district, where signs in the foyer advertise carrot juice, colon therapy and anti-fatigue formula herbal tea.

These are vegan vegetarians--the strictest type--who believe that all animal products, including cheese, milk and eggs, are harmful or deadly if eaten. Scoff if you will, but the vegetarians interviewed were slender, their complexions glowed and they boasted of endless energy. Most of them haven't had a cold in years.

Merely listening to a purist vegetarian describe the way the body digests a piece of meat is enough to sell almost anybody on tofu.

"Animal flesh is dead. It is putrefying before you even eat it," said Sullivan, a naturopath who believes the body is both healed and nourished with vegetables and herbs. The "rotting flesh," he went on to explain, takes three or four days to wend through 30 feet of intestinal tract, decaying all the way, and leaving behind toxins that cause 25,000 different symptoms of illness or impending death.

Still want that hamburger?

"If you're gonna get it, you're gonna get it," a round man named Henry said, unconvinced, hovering over a pile of short ribs at the Pantry. "You can get salmonella from the chicken. Nobody's inspecting the fish. Nuts and fruits are fattening. You roll the dice and you take your chances."

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