Longform

Critics Claim Supreme Master Ching Hai's Followers' Restaurants Featuring Tasty Vegan Fare Front For an Exploitive Movement.

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Hai's advocacy for some sort of worldwide meat prohibition is extreme, but hers is not the only voice encouraging the adoption of a plant-based diet and the reduction of livestock consumption.

Rajenedra Pachuari, chair of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has urged people to reduce their meat intake to help assuage global warming.

"Give up meat for one day [per week] initially, and decrease it from there," he told the Guardian's weekly Observer magazine in 2008.

Pachuari also stated, "In terms of immediacy of action and the feasibility of bringing about reductions in a short period of time, [eating less meat] clearly is the most attractive opportunity."

A growing movement urging people to embrace "meatless Mondays," has emerged over the past decade, backed by celebrities and politicians such as Oprah Winfrey, Yoko Ono, Gore, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, chef Mario Batali, ex-American Idol judge Simon Cowell, and Paul McCartney, a longtime advocate of vegetarianism.

Organizations like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Greenpeace also espouse vegetarianism for environmental and ethical reasons. PETA has urged a tax on meat to curb deleterious effects on the environment.

In addition to concerns over global warming, there's also increasing interest in the long-term health benefits of a vegan/vegetarian lifestyle.

The findings of biochemist and nutritionist T. Colin Campbell have been particularly influential, popularized by the documentary Forks Over Knives, which examines his findings that most "diseases of affluence" — such as diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer — are the result of a diet high in animal protein.

In his groundbreaking book The China Study, Campbell discusses the results of a 20-year investigation into the diets and mortality rates of thousands of Chinese. He and his fellow researchers conclude that a plant-based diet is the best prevention against various diseases that are relatively rare in developing countries where meat eating is not as widespread as it is in the West.

Campbell also concludes that people can actually reverse chronic diseases by switching to a vegan diet, and Forks Over Knives follows individuals who, by eschewing meat, dairy, and processed foods, are able to, essentially, heal themselves of ailments such as breast cancer and high blood pressure.

Former President Bill Clinton, who underwent quadruple bypass surgery in 2004, revealed that he adopted a plant-based diet after doctors discovered that part of the bypass graft was blocked and required the use of stents to maintain blood flow.

"I'm trying to be one of those experimenters," the onetime McDonald's addict told CNN's Wolf Blitzer in a 2010 interview. "Since 1986, several hundred people who have tried essentially a plant-based diet — not ingesting any cholesterol from any source — have seen their bodies start to heal themselves; break up the arterial blockage, break up the calcium deposits around the heart."

He continued, "82 percent of the people who have done this have had this result, so I want to see if I can be one of them."

Clinton told Blitzer that he occasionally eats fish, but otherwise relies on a morning protein shake to supplement his vegan diet.

Clinton cited the China study project in his interview, and SupremeMasterTV.com was elated with Clinton's move toward veganism.

"Your Excellency," reads an item to Clinton on Ching Hai's website about the CNN interview, "we laud your life-sustaining food choices! Blessed be such changes as yours in motivating many others toward the humane and health-restoring plant-based lifestyle."


Ironically, that statement is not the first time the supreme master has "blessed" the former president. In fact, Hai once tried to bless Clinton to the tune of $640,000.

In late 1996, the legal-defense fund established to pay Clinton's bills resulting from various scandals revealed that it returned more than $600,000 in contributions from Hai and her followers.

Both CNN and Time later reported that the money had been solicited by Clinton associate and fundraiser Charlie Trie, who traveled to Taiwan to meet with the supreme master and ask for her assistance.

Clinton's legal-defense fund believed the donations to be questionable and gave them back. Trie ended up pleading guilty in 1998 to going awry of federal campaign-finance laws as part of the Clinton administration's larger Asian finance flap.

But when Time caught up with the woman it called "the Buddhist Martha [Stewart]," she was unapologetic.

"It's only $600,000, for God's sake!" she told a Time correspondent, adding, "If the American people would allow me, I would give [Clinton] $2 million right now."

Other controversies have assailed Hai and her Association, which more than one observer labels a cult.

In 2004, the Miami Herald reported on a manmade island allegedly created by Hai's followers in Florida's Biscayne Bay National Park. Adjacent property owned by one "Celestia de Lamour" (or "Star of Love") was seized by local authorities, who said the name was a Hai alias.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons