Discouraged by governor's diet

Poultry: Glendening's mostly vegetarian meals don't help his popularity with chicken farmers.

April 21, 2001|By Sarah Koenig | Sarah Koenig,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening's environmental policies have hardly endeared him to Maryland's poultry industry. His pared-down diet isn't helping.

Quietly, for about two years now, the governor has abstained from meat and poultry, says his spokesman Michael Morrill. He eats seafood, but not other animals.

"It's for personal dietary reasons," Morrill says. "Doctors give people his age specific advice on how to improve their diet, and he's taken up a lot of their advice."

Glendening, 58, is markedly slimmer than before he started the new regimen. His suits occasionally look as if they want a tailor to take them in.

But the governor's svelte profile is not the primary concern of the state's poultry farmers, whose products account for 40 percent of Maryland's agricultural business.

"Well, certainly everyone has the right to eat what they wish, but agriculture is a leading industry in the state of Maryland, and all I can say is that ... he's missing a lot of nutritious, delicious food opportunities," says Connie Parvis of Delmarva Poultry Industry, a trade group.

In 1998, amid an outcry by farmers, Glendening signed into law strict regulations regarding farm runoff that were intended to combat the toxic Pfiesteria microbe killing fish in Maryland. This year, poultry farmers and producers - part of a multibillion-dollar industry on the Eastern Shore that annually processes more than 300 million chickens - have been complaining about proposed rules to reduce waste.

So the fact that the governor's not consuming the birds is somewhat salty news to the industry, already wounded by declining exports and a dip in poultry prices. Given an average American's chicken-eating habits, in two years Glendening has not consumed the estimated 50 chickens he otherwise might have.

Poultry people say they understand his choice is personal. But they're not pleased, and some offer a little dietary advice.

"Oh my. Oh my. Oh my," says Carole Morison, a chicken farmer and executive director of the Delmarva Poultry Justice Alliance in Pocomoke. "That's interesting. It kinda makes me wonder if he knows something we don't know."

Morison says she'd like to talk to Glendening's doctor, but also has her own notions about why someone might eschew meat and chicken. "I think our food supply is not very healthy," she says.

She grows chickens for Perdue Farms Inc., and must use the feed they give her, which she says contains animal byproducts and antibiotics. The effect of the latter on humans hasn't been adequately studied, she adds.

In any case, the governor's decision is "not good for the market, or for sales," Morison concludes.

Tita Cherrier, a spokeswoman for Perdue Farms, one of four large producers on the Eastern Shore, says that the company feed does include antibiotics but that federal inspectors sample all chicken products to check for antibiotic "residue." As for the governor's diet, Cherrier hopes he's getting enough protein. "Of course proteins are part of a healthy diet," she says. "He can have a healthy diet with chicken."

Noreen Eberly, a dietitian, says Cherrier shouldn't worry about protein in Glendening's diet: "Seafood is a complete protein, and it's easy to digest. It contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for the heart, and they have also been shown to help some skin conditions as well as possibly diabetes."

Eberly concedes that all animal meats are so-called "complete proteins," but since she's head of seafood marketing for the Department of Agriculture, she prefers to praise fish - and the governor.

"Well, good for him," she says. "He should eat more Maryland seafood, as should everybody."(The seafood industry accounts for about 1 percent of the state's agricultural receipts. Chances are, a lot of Glendening's seafood is not coming from Maryland waters.)

Champions of vegetables, too, were cheered when told of the governor's diet. Davida Breier of the Vegetarian Resource Group in Baltimore says when well-known people swear off meat, as Vice President Dick Cheney did recently, it only helps the cause.

The governor is also invited to attend pot-luck vegetarian dinners put on by a group of activists around the state. Diane Bravmann of Pikesville, a social worker who coordinates the dinners, says, "I think it's terrific. It's a model for young people. It shows flexibility of thought and behavior."

It may take some time before the chicken farmers come around to that conclusion, however.

While Dale Boyce, chairman of the Delmarva Poultry Industry's growers' committee, doesn't feel ill will toward the governor, "I would rather he would enjoy a chicken leg once in a while. Maybe a barbecued chicken in his back yard."

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