Mail Call: A New Food Pyramid

Our Jan. 20 cover story on the perfect diet impressed many readers. "You've done a service--the seeds of disease are sown in infancy," wrote a pediatrician. A surgeon claimed, "A vegan diet controls diabetes." And a reader who lost weight walking insisted, "cars, not carbs, fatten Americans."

Eating for Lifelong Health

You have done a service to your readers by focusing attention on "The Perfect Diet" (Jan. 20). Undoubtedly, the enhanced consumption of fast fatty foods ("three F's") is a major health hazard with increasing incidence of obesity, diabetes mellitus, high blood pressure and coronary heart disease. What remains to be appreciated is that the consumption of the three F's is the game plan of the food industry, which spends billions in promoting fast-food culture. This unhealthy trend among adults of the United States and prosperous European countries is now beginning to affect the child population of developing countries. In India, for instance, despite an overwhelming problem of undernutrition, the onslaught of the fast-food giants is contributing to increasing incidence of obesity in children from well-to-do families. In a recent survey, we found that 20 percent of private-school children were overweight. Half of them were obese. This is in sharp contrast to our 1980 and 1990 surveys, which showed the incidence of overweight kids at 7 percent and 11 percent, respectively. It is a disturbing scenario. We know now that the seeds of heart disease, hypertension and diabetes are sown in infancy and childhood. The sooner we nip the evil, the better. A worldwide campaign is needed to educate people on the risks of the three F's and the need for a healthy eating lifestyle.
Prof. Suraj Gupte, M.D., Pediatrics Head
Government Medical College
Jammu, India

One of the scientists quoted in the article on exercise gets it right--we are animals, and are therefore genetically programmed to exercise. As omnivores, we're also programmed to include meat in our diets, not to follow the latest veggies-only fad. If the pyramid does indeed advise a complete, nutritious diet, we would not need supplemental vitamins either. That again sounds like the USDA, appeasing the powerful pharmaceutical industry. When will people see that common sense and moderation are far more valuable than sensationalist medical advice?
Donna Jacob
Dublin, Ireland

Although I am a trauma surgeon, my patients' greatest long-term risks are not auto accidents or falls, but bad food choices that can lead to heart attacks, strokes and diabetes. So I was delighted to see your report reflecting Dr. Neal Barnard's research study using vegan diets. In my experience, no other diet comes close to the power of a vegan diet for getting diabetes under control, cutting cholesterol levels and trimming weight. Every patient I hospitalize has two routine admitting orders: no smoking and no animal products on the menu. As patients learn healthier habits, most are grateful for the change.
Jerry W. Vlasak, M.D., F.A.C.S.
Santa Monica, California

The new diet seems too complicated. Most of us will never learn the difference between good fats and bad fats, good carbs and bad carbs. What ever happened to simply counting calories? Didn't most overweight Americans get that way because intake keeps exceeding output? I'm a Peace Corps volunteer in Romania. Most American volunteers lose weight easily here, and not because the food isn't tasty or plentiful. In the States, we drove to mammoth supermarkets, selected a carload of supersize packages of food, then drove home and stuffed our huge refrigerators, freezers and cupboards with more food than we needed. Here we walk daily to several small markets, then buy only as much as we can carry back to our small apartment kitchens, up numerous flights of stairs. Most Romanians don't have cars, so they shop in a similar fashion, and a fat Romanian is rare. I've resolved to do all my food shopping on foot when I get back home, in the hope of keeping off the 20 pounds I dropped here. Maybe it's cars, not carbs, that have fattened Americans so alarmingly.
Kathy Baker
Botosani, Romania

Your article reminds me of our family vacation in New England in 1988. We enjoyed excellent food in restaurants and motels, but we never stopped for fast food. What we missed most was a choice of two basic components of all healthy nutrition: "real" whole-grain bread and natural mineral water. Everywhere in Europe, one finds dozens of sorts of (dark or white) bread, in big stores and small bakeries--mostly fresh, not packaged. You can smell the delicious flavor before even touching the delicious crust. What we found during our trip was no-crust, no-taste bread in just two colors. We experienced another problem when looking for mineral water without sugar or other additives. The only one available was imported from France and priced accordingly. Drinking Coca-Cola or Pepsi only increases thirst and also leads to obesity. The United States showed unique leadership in fighting the tobacco industry. Now it's time to safeguard the health of its population on the food front. The expansion of McDonald's outlets is in direct contradiction to such efforts.
Milan Klouda
Luxembourg

Being Japanese I found the redesigned version of the food pyramid puzzling. Our diet--like most Asian diets--has long been rice-based; there's no way for us to use white rice sparingly. Some scientists even say that one needs to stick to one's traditional food to stay healthy. The new version may work for Americans, but I'm not sure it would work for everyone. We Japanese are proud of our long life expectancy and, I believe, example is better than precept.
Mitsuaki Akitani
Tokyo, Japan

Sweet Peas for Warmongering?

"So far the Bush administration is being admirably multilateral in this crisis," writes Fareed Zakaria in "Sweet Peas for North Korea" (Jan 20). He goes on to state that the United States is "trying to impress upon China, Japan, South Korea and Russia that a nuclear North Korea would not be in their interest." Zakaria must be naive to believe they ever supported such a notion. These countries were around long before Bush was born. They are neighbors, and now thanks to a warmongering American president, they find themselves in the direct line of fire. Bush has exhibited a tremendous lack of knowledge in diplomacy and foreign affairs, irritated Kim Jong Il and inflamed the anti-America rhetoric of the South Korean people. They (along with the press) have belittled Bill Clinton's support of Kim Dae Jung's Sunshine Policy and Clinton's efforts at halting nuclear development in the North, calling the money given for aid "bribes." Now, with Zakaria's help, Bush is "taking credit" for disarming a volatile situation. How absurd can you get!
Judith Clancy
Kyoto, Japan

While Fareed Zakaria is happy to offer "sweet peas" to North Korea for reneging on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and showing the door to the U.N. inspectors, in a previous piece, he egged on President Bush to invade Iraq, and even questioned why Bush was delaying the invasion. Obviously, for Zakaria, what is food for the goose is poison for the gander. Either way, there is a dichotomy here. Iraq is expected to produce hardware for mass destruction even though the U.N. inspectors found none despite the intelligence supplied by Bush and Tony Blair. On the other hand, Zakaria recommends offering sweet peas to North Korea despite its having professed to--and being proven to--possess nuclear know-how, hardware and fissionable material.
Zaheer Ahmed Sayeed
Chennai, India

A true American once said: "Pale-face speaks with a forked tongue," referring to the government of the United States. It appears that his analysis continues to hold true after more than a century.
Andres T. Stepkowski
Santa Cruz, Bolivia

Most people outside the United States are not anti-American but exclusively anti-Bush. With George W. Bush, we are confronted with "the ugly American" in person. His politics made him reject Kyoto and the ABM treaty and undermine the war-crimes tribunal in The Hague. His stances on American steel and affirmative action have nothing to do with principles or real American values (best represented by former president Jimmy Carter) and everything to do with his "America first and foremost" attitude. His only priorities seem to be re-election and getting rid of the great Bill Clinton legacy. When President Bush is not reading a speechwriter's script, his rhetoric consists of a chain of simple short sentences spoken always with the same intonation. There are no leaders outside the United States with such poor rhetorical skills. The missionary zeal of a born-again Christian makes him a crusader whose values are those of a Republican reactionary; sadly, he does not have the values of tolerance and human rights that the outside world expects from the leader of the United States.
Toni Gerber
Chiang Mai, Thailand

How can Fareed Zakaria ("Morality Is Not a Strategy," Jan. 13) suggest the motto "verify and verify" when he knows that the United States does not share its intelligence with U.N. weapons inspectors? You people have no idea of the hypocrisy you project!
James Brownlie
Gyeonggido, South Korea

Scotland's No Zimbabwe

Few would argue against the morality of genuine land redistribution whether it benefits crofters in Scotland or black peasants in Zimbabwe ("Scotland: Europe's Zimbabwe," Jan. 20). But to compare the program in Scotland with that in Zimbabwe is grossly misleading. The beneficiaries in Scotland will be the farmers who have worked the land for decades. Present owners will be compensated based on independent valuation. The procedure will be conducted democratically and the new owners will have security of tenure. In Zimbabwe, the beneficiaries are party supporters and well-connected officials who mostly know nothing of modern agriculture; the present owners receive no compensation, and the process is achieved through appalling vengeful intimidation, violence and murder. The acquired land belongs to the state. Mugabe's so-called land reform can in no way be compared with anything remotely resembling that in modern-day Scotland.
Bruce Silvaz
Harare, Zimbabwe

An Old Leopard's Spots

Since al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein are the focus of the Bush administration and the media, Muammar Kaddafi's exploits seem to be quickly forgiven ("Scolding the Dog, Beating a Chicken," Jan. 20). To say that the Libyan strongman has "mellowed" is an assessment based merely on lack of publicity. However, Libya remains on the shortlist of countries believed to be attempting to purchase or develop nuclear, chemical and biological weapons along with long-range ballistic missiles. Furthermore, like Saddam, Kaddafi used chemical weapons (mustard gas) in a 1987 border dispute with Chad. As for Libya's intelligence sharing, it is simply a convenient way to strike back at the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group--a fundamentalist organization linked to Al Qaeda that attempted to assassinate Kaddafi in 1996. In one fell swoop Kaddafi gets to warm up to the West and strike back at the Islamic fundamentalist rivals that threaten his regime. This situation points out the difficulty of working with dictators and fighting terrorists to get the so-called bad guys: ultimately you have to work with unsavory characters. Kaddafi finds himself in the same position Saddam did back in the 1980s when Iran was our main focus. At the time, Saddam was the "lesser evil" behind whom our government put its resources. The warming trend toward Libya is based on the same faulty logic. The enemy of our enemy is not our friend.
Phil Cohen
Los Angeles, California

No matter how you spell Kaddafi, it's difficult to decide whether the old leopard has truly changed his spots. Or, to discern what his spots really are. In the list of his attempts to make good with the West, one may add his successful efforts to secure the release of some hostages who had been held for weeks and months by Abu Sayyaf, the terror organization wreaking havoc in the Philippines. Judging from the interview he gave NEWSWEEK, however, he still seems extremely ambiguous on a number of important issues. I would never trust him with the role of a mediator on any major issue because he seems mostly governed by opportunism in whatever he says and does.
Werner Radtke
Paderborn, Germany