Not Eudora   By Harry Welty
Published August 4, 2005

The Veganization of Delaware

After a ruling by the US Court of Appeals, Third Circuit, Delaware may soon become the first state in the union to make dining out a meatless experience.

In the early 1980’s a coalition of the Animal Liberation Front, PETA, (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), the Episcopal Church and various vegetarian organizations targeted this small state on the Eastern Seaboard for a long campaign to end “carnivorism” in Delaware ’s restaurants.

At first vegetarians and vegans (a stricter group that shuns eggs and dairy products) picketed and leafleted Blue Hen State restaurants that served meat products. Calling meat eating inhumane and immoral the Vegetarian Alliance began its campaign in Delaware because of the state’s relatively small size and proximity to a large population of vegetarians on the East Coast. Since the movement’s early years vegetarians have flocked to Delaware in increasing numbers.

The Vegetarian Alliance has come a long way from its early years when it generated considerable resistance and even genuine hostility for such militant tactics as lacing meat destined for restaurants with arsenic and firebombing popular bistros. Although there are still reports of nuisance stink bombs, unsanctioned death threats to recalcitrant restaurateurs and a controversial website poundofflesh.com which posts pictures of firebombed restaurants, increasingly these tactics are giving way. Today a sophisticated billboard campaign picturing doe eyed calves with the legend “Choose Life” and pictures of the state bird, the Blue Hen, with the admonition “a Rooster, not a Roaster,” are winning converts.

A decade ago vegetarians began taking jobs on the wait staffs of area restaurants but refused to serve meat dishes to customers. After many were let go they challenged their firings in a class action lawsuit arguing that their jobs were protected by a First Amendment right of religious practice. At first laughed off as the “Tofu Revolution” the alliance began having surprising success at turning Delaware menus to vegetarian fare even before the Appellate Court ruled in their favor.

Vegetarians have been enrolling in some of the Eastern Seaboard’s most prestigious culinary institutes with a view to taking their campaign to the nation. The Episcopal Church has been lending a hand. Several well known leaders of the meat boycott movement sit on the Church's Investment Board. Having recently divested itself of stock in several arms manufacturers the Church has used the money to purchase a majority interest in the Knopf Company, publisher of Fannie Farmer and other popular cookbooks. New meatless versions of these publications will soon be on the shelves of the nation's bookstores. The Alliance has also taken aim at home cooked meats by encouraging their members to join the Meat Cutters Union and refusing to cut meat. Another court challenge this time brought by the Meat Cutters is pending. More tellingly, the alliance has begun purchasing bankrupt Delaware restaurants unable to cope with a dramatic loss of clientele.

Even if the Appellate Court ruling is overturned by the US Supreme Court, this year’s elections could be a watershed for vegetarians. Emboldened vegetarians recently celebrated when Delaware ’s House of Representatives voted 21 to 20 to support vegan servers. The State’s Senate, however, narrowly voted to require servers to serve meat dishes. Of the leading candidates for the Senate this fall a slim majority, all Democrats, favor the religious rights of food servers. Not surprisingly, much of the profit from the new vegetarian owned restaurants has found its way into the campaign coffers of Democratic legislative candidates.

The Vegetarian Alliance has begun looking beyond Delaware ’s borders. Connecticut , Rhode Island and Oregon all have a significant vegetarian presence and are preparing to follow Delaware ’s lead. The movement has also established itself in a number of major cities; the most westerly outpost being Madison , Wisconsin ; which seem poised to ban meat eating as well.

Meat eaters have not taken this assault on their habits lightly. In Delaware embattled carnivores have called for Culinary Choice. So far they have had to content themselves by crossing into other states to dine on meat or skulk away to the sanctuary of their own kitchens. Not surprisingly the Delaware Chamber of Commerce is belatedly complaining about the loss of tourism revenue to the state.

One surprising consequence of the rapidly declining meat consumption has been a noticeable reduction in the size of Delawareans. A national survey showed that the average weight of a person in Delaware had declined from 228 pounds in 1994 to 212 pounds in 2004. This puts Delaware in 49th place in state weight rankings behind only California where anorexia and bulimia rage at epidemic proportions among the West Coast’s image conscious residents. This will no doubt play into the hands of the vegetarians as they take their campaign to the nation.

As imitation is the sincerest form of flattery the Vegetarian Alliance’s tactics have been copied by the pro-life movement which has recently flooded schools of Pharmacy with students who, upon gaining their degrees, have refused to honor prescriptions for contraceptives and other medications they find religiously objectionable.

Welty is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at: www.snowbizz.com