December 1, 2001 -- Vegparadise News Bureau
VIP Slams Author and Publisher
of Book Mocking Vegetarians
Editor's Note: We are reprinting a copy of a letter sent to Random House Children's Books concerning one of their children's books that mocks vegetarianism and is inappropriate for its intended audience. Diana Capriotti, Editor
Random House Children's Books
New York, New York 10036 Dear Ms. Capriotti:
As a vegetarian and publisher of a vegetarian on-line magazine, I am always looking for books to suggest to young people who want to learn about vegetarianism. Unfortunately, I could never recommend The Autobiography of Meatball Finkelstein by Ross Venokur to any young person. When I discovered your book, I began reading it with trepidation because of the title. As I continued, I was appalled to find a book mocking both vegetarians and vegetarianism. Vegetarians enjoy humor as much as anyone else, but the attempts at humor here are more annoying than funny.
Your book attempts to poke fun at vegetarians, but the effort fails because of its ridiculous contrivances. What vegetarian parents would name their son Meatball? I realize there are some parents who do not display good judgement in choosing names for their children, but I doubt that any would name their two children Precious and Meatball. To compound this literary felony, Meatball is obese, suggesting a link between obesity and vegetarianism.
Even more preposterous is the revelation that Meatball's parents on their first date tricked each other into believing they were vegetarians. The father, who had eaten a cheeseburger earlier that day, declared he was a vegetarian to increase his appeal to his date. The mother, who "was living on a diet of scrambled eggs, roast beef sandwiches, and chicken cutlets," attempted one-upsmanship by claiming she was a vegan. They maintained this charade for two-and-one-half years until their wedding day when they both confessed to each other.
Consider the values taught here. Your mother and father are committed to vegetarianism because they lied to each other. They never told you why you are vegetarian except to say, "If we were intended to eat animals, they would be covered in ketchup."
The revelation that Meatball's parents had lied to each other was not made by his parents, but by his grandfather. Gramps tells him about his parents and then reveals he is not really a vegetarian either. He urges Meatball to push a button hidden on the pantry wall. The push reveals an icebox filled with meat. Although Gramps had convinced his daughter he was vegetarian, he was really dipping into to his secret supply of meat in his refrigerator. Gramps is typical of all of the adults in the book. None seem to have any redeeming values. All behave stupidly and appear to exist only to do harm to young people.
Most irksome is the plot that revolves around one item that Meatball eats that gives him extraordinary superhuman powers -- a meatball. Eating the meatball, he becomes a tornado that destroys the school cafeteria. Subsequently, by eating meatballs he is transformed into both animate and inanimate objects like a chair, a cockroach, a grizzly bear, the Mona Lisa and even his mother. Reading this book, young people would get the message that one does not derive much energy and power from a vegetarian diet. They must eat meat to achieve success.
Principal Walrus W. Weazelman discovers Meatball's powers and enlists him in creating the Fun Vaccine by bribing him with promises of an all-A report card. Everyone in this story is corruptible, even our hero. After saving the day and resolving the shallow plot complications, Meatball tells the reader, "Though my mother tried to convince me that if we were supposed to eat meat, animals would be stuffed with bread crumbs instead of organs, I ended up convincing her and my dad that if I wasn't supposed to eat meat, broccoli would give me super-powers." The book implies that young readers should forget the broccoli; a meatball will do the job every time.
Another troubling aspect of the book is its cataloging. Readers may notice on the copyright page that the Library of Congress has assigned Vegetarianism--Fiction as one of the subject headings. A teenager seeking information in the library about vegetarianism will be confronted with this volume that presents a distorted view of vegetarianism. Before penning this outrageous story, the author should have asked a few people why they were vegetarians. I'm certain he would have received answers far loftier than the lame reasons cited in this book.
Reuben Allen, Publisher