Chicago was built on an economy of meat and physical labor. Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle,” a crushing indictment of the exploitation of immigrants and the conditions in meatpacking plants, was based there. Carl Sandburg called Chicago “Hog Butcher for the World,…Stormy, husky, brawling, City of the Big Shoulders.”
Chicago’s mayor is Rahm Emanuel, the super-macho, just-dare-me icon of President Obama’s early days in office. He is a triathlete and considered America’s fittest mayor. In a recent local appearance on WGN-TV, Emanuel stood with hands spread wide upon the table a firefighter was trying to use for a food demonstration, physically claiming the studio as his own.
This man just asked this town to go vegan.
Rip Esselstyn, firefighter, triathlete, and author of the vegan “Engine 2 Diet,” was at the WGN studio to explain his approach to food and demonstrate three meals. He started with a multi-grain cereal full of fresh fruit and finished with almond milk; Emanuel said something along the lines that he had already tried it and offered the spoon to host Pat Tomasulo. It looked like the mayor wanted no part of this food.
After Esselstyn finished his demonstration, Emanuel spoke his piece to his city. Part of his wellness plan was to lower health care costs and increase life expectancy, he said, and Esselstyn’s vegan diet could do that. He even touted the Engine 2 sweet potato lasagna, noting that you can eat twice as much as normal lasagna for the same number of calories. “We have to do a better job with how we eat and control our weight,” Emanuel said, now showing no reservations about plant-based diets.
To the contrary, in an appearance on the local ABC affiliate, Emanuel revealed that he has adopted a mostly vegan diet (except for eating meat about twice a month) and that it has improved his triathlon times.
Emanuel is motivated by more than a desire to improve locals’ health. He told ABC that health care is Chicago’s third biggest expense, and that it is rising at a rate of 10% a year. This year, Chicago’s health care costs will be $480 million, which is 20% lower than last year.
Emanuel stressed the importance of individual responsibility, saying that however well the city manages health care costs, it is up to individuals to keep their own costs down by maintaining their health.
Esselstyn explained to WGN that his diet’s goal is “to get America to eat healthier. Right now we’re just drowning ourselves in dairy products; too many animal products; red meat; processed refined foods; [and] so we need to become a nation of plant-strong responsible eaters.”
Photo credit: Philip Kramer