Me and Bill

Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton

I don’t know if you knew, but I'm kinda a big vegan deal. So when Bill recently told the Squawk Box audience he is vegan, I already knew — duh. And so did my pal Sarma Melngailis, who's restaurant Pure Food and Wine the power vegan himself has frequented. I got the, er, dish from her about Bill’s vegan diet:

Nicole: So, what does Bill order?

Sarma: Chelsea Clinton has been a long time regular of ours. She brought Bill in for Father’s Day one year and they sat in the garden at the best corner table under the trees. I’m pretty sure he had the tamales…which are still on the menu. Every time I try to take them off people get mad. And for dessert a Mint Sundae. Oh, and they drank a bottle of red wine.

N: Any juicy gossip you pick up from serving him? Dish!

S: He and Chelsea had a mellow dinner, he seemed happy. They were so nice on their way out, I got to chat with him, and I gave him a copy of my book along with a bunch of One Lucky Duck snacks. To this day I don’t remember what I wrote in his book but I know it was long and it started with “Dear Mr. President…”

A week or so later I was in my office and going through mail and just about died when I saw a handwritten thank you note from him. I was thrilled when I found out he went vegan, because it legitimizes a lifestyle, a diet – whatever you want to call it – that so many people scoff at. But here’s arguably one of the smartest people of our time having done all the research and concluded it was the optimal diet for improved health. Now when I find myself in those conversations where people argue that we all need meat in our diets, I get to bring up Bill Clinton, and shut them right up.

N: Any other power broker-by-day, vegan-by-night catch your attention?

S: We get a lot of interesting, high-profile, powerful people who come in but I’m not always sure if they’re vegan or not. I specifically like that so many people come to the restaurant or One Lucky Duck that may not be vegan but still really appreciate what we do and maybe are shifting towards eating more natural, organic food. Biz Stone is known to be vegan and comes in when he’s in town. Ann Curry is a serious regular. And even Tom Brady (and Gisele) before they moved out of NYC were regulars and still come in from time to time when they’re in town.

Aside from actors and musicians, I’ve had John Whitehead in a few times…he’s always dressed impeccably in a suit and tie even on hot and humid summer nights in the garden.

Rick Rubin. Viacom CEO Tom Freston (no doubt dragged in by his famously vegan wife Kathy). Gerald Levin has been in a few times. Edgar Bronfman. Russell Simmons. John Mackey. I hear Mort Zuckerman is vegan too but he could easily come in under the radar. Howard Stern, isn’t he the ultimate power broker?

N: What advice do you have others thinking it's "time for a change" in diet Clinton-style?

S: I think people shouldn’t think of it in absolute black and white terms. I don’t think you have to go vegan or not. I don't call myself vegan because I don’t like rules. Sometimes I eat a little of the smoked trout I buy for my dog and cat at the greenmarket.

People are often afraid to make a change, thinking they can’t live without bacon or whatever, and so they’ll just fail or resist trying. But if someone gave up most of the meat and dairy in their diet and occasionally had some really good cheese or bacon from the green market, or ate some non-vegan food at a dinner party, that’s going to be a huge change, for the better.


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