Sunday, May 4, 2008

A Restaurant with a Mission: Cabbages and Condoms, Bangkok

free vasectomy from the clinic next door is one of the perks for males dining at Bangkok’s Cabbages and Condoms. All diners get a condom with coffee, instead of an after-dinner mint because C&C is the only restaurant in the world dedicated to birth control. Luckily, it also serves delicious and innovative Thai food. Spicy Condom Salad, for example –- fried Shanghai noodles spiced with herbs.

In the adjoining gift shop, bouquets of condoms, looking disconcertingly like bunches of Black-eyed Susans, stand in vases next to silver bracelets, vests and other handcrafts made by villagers.

Piles of T-shirts are emblazoned with the message, "Cabbages and Condoms, Our food is guaranteed not to cause pregnancy." Proceeds from the sale of these items and the restaurant’s meals are given to the Population and Community Development Association, a non-profit organization founded in 1974 by Mechai Viravaidya, the former Thai Minister of Health.

Viravaidya, whose Scottish father and Thai mother sent him to Australia to be educated, is Thailand’s leading philanthropist. His non-profit association backs birth control, environmental conservation, rural development and AIDS awareness. Although Viravaidya has held four cabinet posts in the government, his champion cause continues to be birth control.

To this end, he wants to make condoms as common--and as accepted--as cabbages. He has passed them out to surprised bankers and CEOs at sober World Bank meetings and paid farmers to paint ads and public service announcements for condoms on the sides of their water buffalo. Thanks in part to his effort, Thailand’s birth rate has dropped below 1 percent a year.

Cabbages and Condoms is only one of his many attempts to make birth control a popular and populist message in Thailand. And business at the bustling downtown eatery is excellent. It’s been consistently rated one of the best restaurants in Bangkok. So far, however, there’s no rating -- good or bad -- for the vasectomies next door.

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