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Posted: September 23, 2010 4:04 p.m.

Diverse diets on more menus

When Chelsea Clinton married recently, she was walked down the aisle by her newly svelte dad, Bill, ordered by the former First Daughter to lose 15 pounds by her wedding date. Well, he lost more than that, he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in an interview aired last Tuesday that he lost some 24 pounds in all. The trick? A totally plant-based diet, no meat and fish only occasionally. That would mean all fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes. Eeeeuuuuu, say some of you!

As proud as he was of his weight loss, Clinton, the heart-patient, also extolled the dramatic benefits to his healthy heart regimen. Despite the most recent stents that had been installed, cholesterol and calcium were continuing to build up in his arteries. This diet, dire and dreadful sounding to many, totally cleared up those problems, he announced.

Wouldn’t he be fun to have over for dinner? Clinton himself is such a gregarious sort that he’d be plenty fun, but his diet doesn’t sound like a crowd-pleaser, does it? Well, it’s happening all over, as so many of us are becoming niche eaters, me included. A good friend is eating vegan for a month as an experiment to determine if the practice might be sustainable long-term. Vegan is like Clinton’s diet, but without the fish. Dairy is allowable on a vegan diet, but on my friend’s diet, she’s cut out all animal products. It’s her turn to host our book club later this month, and she’s struggled for a menu we might all enjoy.

Elsewhere among us, we’ve got a member who’s not eating gluten products, meaning bread, pasta or anything made with wheat. Many people are dangerously allergic to gluten, but my friend is trying it for weight loss.

Still another book club member is severely allergic to nuts, so we catch her gingerly picking at breads, salads and desserts for the offending items in case the hostess has unthinkingly tossed in a handful. We’re still learning to be aware of each other’s niches.

I was the first dietary offender in the club some eight or nine years ago when I became a vegetarian, concerned about the earth’s resources and the treatment of domestic farm animals in industrial farming. (Long years ago, my dad, a dairyman and beef cattle farmer, refused even the suggestion of a veal dish, acknowledging long before I did, that rearing calves for veal consumption is a sad spectacle.) Soy milk goes into my coffee, and almond milk into my daily protein shake. Our eggs come from free-roaming chickens, and fish makes it onto our table regularly, making me a pescatarian. But then there’s commercial over-fishing to be concerned about …. One can get a little crazy trying to account for all the ways one’s diet contributes for good or ill to health and the environment.

Allergies and religious beliefs create even more segmentation in American diets. Many children are deathly allergic to peanuts, requiring the most vigilant watchfulness and practices by parents, schools and public venues. An effort to ban airline peanuts failed earlier this year, you’ll recall. Some religions ban shrimp or pork.

It certainly didn’t seem to be this way in days gone by, most of us being taught to eat whatever was put before us, at home or as a guest. But today a host has to do some careful planning and make delicate inquiries into allergies or self-imposed dietary injunctions. Some friends of ours kindly and generously serve both meat and fish when we get together. I keep telling my book club members that I’m very content with just salad, but those excellent hostesses have become the best seafood cooks I know. Despite my proclivities, I’m glad to cook meat for guests and family, but I make sure we’ve got lots of vegetable options.

It behooves me not to preach about what is one of the most personal of decisions, and I hope I’ve not been guilty herein. To each, his or her own. Now pass the legumes.

Barbara Morgan is a resident of Covington with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics. Her column appears on Fridays.

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