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Neal Barnard - Founder, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Washington

Sunday, December 5, 2004; Page W05

My grandfather and uncles and cousins are in cattle ranching. In North Dakota, when I was a kid, every day was roast beef, baked potato and corn. Every day. It's certainly a contrast to this nonprofit I started to promote preventive medicine, especially good nutrition. We do clinical research with the aim of improving people's health. But I'm not an abused child who's rebelling against his family. We're a close family.

I took a year off before going to medical school. During that time, I worked as an assistant in a morgue. Part of my job was to prepare a body for autopsy -- run a circular saw on the guy's skull, make a Y opening in his chest. The pathologist opened his chest, cut his arteries and showed me 90 percent blockages inside the heart. They looked like concrete. It was kind of a smelly procedure. At the end, I had to put the ribs back into his chest and sew everything closed. This day in the cafeteria, they were serving ribs for lunch. They looked so much like the human ribs that I couldn't eat them. I didn't become a vegetarian that day, but it did have an effect. Wthin a few years I became a vegetarian. I'm sorry I didn't do it sooner.

(Photo by Allison Dinner)

My parents are now vegetarian. That was a job and a half. I'm the third-born -- Mom didn't listen to me. My mother had high cholesterol. I kept telling my parents: "You need to change this. You need to do something." Her doctor handed her a bunch of pills, said, "You need to take these." "For how long?" "For the rest of your life." [Instead] she changed her diet. Eight weeks later she went back for tests, and the doctor was convinced he had a lab error. No disease! Mom demanded, of me, "Why didn't you tell me?"

My father has prostate cancer. He is of the generation that doesn't know where the kitchen is. Mom went out and bought some of that fake meat -- fake bologna -- and made him a sandwich with it. He barely noticed. I think I have two vegetarian parents, but only one really knows it.

Interview by Ellen Ryan

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