Archive for the ‘Vegetarianism’Category

What’s on the web? Pepper’s paleo archive: 120 relevant and awesome posts

How much is on the web?  Too much?

When you’re looking for advice, or for specific information, sometimes it’s really hard to find what you’re looking for.  That’s why I try–but it really is so hard–to be as comprehensive as possible with my posts and my pages.  I want to support healthy thinking and disordered eaters as well as contribute to the Paleo Zeitgeist, and, perhaps most importantly, help my friends and family and other newcomers get going with new nutrition and new diets.   This is a huge goal and a diverse set of desires, which is why it’s so impossible to be comprehensively awesome.

Because I so desperately want to provide good information to my readers, I have begun compiling an archive of relevant posts.  It’s almost impossible to google what you want to know about nutrition and find a good answer these days.  Almost always Paleo Hacks comes up for the first ten results, and then some other advice forums.   I’ve started automatically typing -”paleo hacks” into every search bar for this very reason.  It helps, some.   But still I am often stymied.  This is because what I am really looking for is the Good Stuff.  And what I hope I am giving to you, here, is exactly that.  I should have done this sooner.  I should have started years ago.  But better late than never, I am certain.

I decided to finally get started on this because I want to open up my readers  to the vast wealth of research going on out there.  Yes, it’s about cutting grains.  Yes, you should cut sugar.  Yes, you should balance your omega 3 and omega 6 consumption.  But why?  How many different ways does that impact your health?  How many different body functions and micronutrients does your nutrition impact?   How many different opinions are there?  Almost countless amounts.  What I touch on in my blog is nothing. Nothing!  It truly is.   What I even touch on in this post is nothing.  The tippiest, tippiest point of the iceberg.   Stars of the paleo movement are day in day out out there on a rowboat next to the iceberg, chipping away at science, digging through academic journals and staying up to date on the latest research, and I want to help you find and navigate them.  For a number of reasons, I am not one of these stars.  Instead, I filter through their material and sometimes read the academic stuff, and do my best to live  and eat and recommend eating habits accordingly.   If you know me personally, you will not be surprised to learn that I have read each of these blogs in their entirety (along with the rest of the blogs in my blogroll on the right) at least once.  I think they all deserve that deep of attention and analysis.  It is unfortunate that I only have a handful of posts from each blogger on here.  All the more reason, however, to follow the link and see what you can learn.

What follows is a collection of articles by various scientists, doctors, nutritionists, and paleo lifestyle-ers on a variety of health topics.    This is so far away from comprehensive it’s ridiculous.   However, I do not want to overwhelm my new readers.   Instead,  my hope is to provide what I think is both healthy blog diversity and perhaps the best investigation on each topic. Some topics I miss and some I know I don’t do justice to– such as intermittent fasting, and also, weight loss– but 120 is, I think, a good enough starting point.  I have been working on this for many days, and it’s time for me to start going to school again.

So what’s out there that I think you should be reading, and why?  What follows are some specific articles and also general recommendations.


For the updated archives (250+), please see this post or this page.



So you insist on being a vegetarian…

What now?

Can you still be healthy?

YES.  Absolutely.

Will you have optimal health, however?

Not really.   It’s just not in the cards– as mentioned below, animal products 1) are quite nutrient dense, 2) contain a complete profile of amino acids,  and 3) lack the nasty phytates and lectins so prevalent in vegetables (yes, concentrated in grains but present still in all veggies) that inhibit nutrient absorption.   This means that eating animals makes it easy to obtain a lot of important nutrients. What’s more, you’ll never balance any omega 6s in your diet if you’re a vegetarian.  This is because the only significant sources of omega 3s in our diets are fish and grass-fed beef.  If you’re a vegetarian, you have got to supplement with omega 3 fatty acids.

But you still really love animals, abstain for religious reasons, can’t get over potentially misguided sustainability arguments, etc.  How do you eat?

You want to still strive for high amounts of fat, moderate protein, and low to moderate carbohydrate intake.  Your fat will be primarily saturated and monosaturated fats, and you will limit your consumption of omega 6 vegetable oils and nuts.  You will probably eat legumes, even though they are similar to grains in structure and can contribute to leaky gut.  Leaky gut is bad, bad news.  It is the common cause of every autoimmune condition, from diabetes to psoriasis to arthritis to Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism and to many, many more.  But this is where you will get some protein.  Your carbs will be vegetables with some “safe starches.”  You will eat a little bit of fruit.  You might eat some dairy, too, so long as you don’t respond negatively to dairy and are safely, positively free of any autoimmune conditions.

The details:


Coconut: Eat coconut cream, coconut oil, coconut meat, coconut milk, coconut water.  Use it for seasoning, on it’s own, as a feature in soups and stir fries.  Make coconut whipped cream (Skim the fat off the top of coconut water and beat it with a hand mixer.  Add Cinnamon, vanilla, or orange zest, and other spices to taste.)   Use coconut oil for as many sauteeing needs as possible.  With eggs is particularly good, as is with a variety of vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots.  Why?  You want to eat coconut because it is a phenomenal source of saturated fat, and medium chain fatty acids.  Coconut promotes thyroid function, contains the medium-chain fatty acid lauric acid which is excellent at fighting viral infections, bad bacteria, yeast, and fungi, and at boosting the immune system, and promotes hormone balance.


Butter:  Butter is an excellent source of Vitamin A, Vitamin E and seleniumIt also contains lecithin and several anti-oxidants, and components of real butter have anti-cancer properties.   Butter is delicious and is the least risky form of dairy to ingest, since the problematic dairy proteins such as lactose have been neutralized by the butter distillation process.  If you find that butter is still problematic for you, clarify it, and make ghee. All you have to do is heat it some, and the rest of the milk solids are removed.  You are left with gloriously healthy saturated fat, and it is good, good, good for you.


Avocados. Another good source of fat, but not the best.  In one super sized avocado you might have 35 grams of fat.  5 grams are saturated, 4 are polyunsaturated (almost entirely omega 6) and 26 grams monosaturated.  Monosaturated fats are fine, and are in fact the primary fat of olive oil, so feel free to eat avocados all you like.    The same avocado will have 5 grams of protein and 20 grams of carbs.  Most of all, of course: guacamole is delicious.  Eat up!


Olive oil. Olive oil is the one seed oil I give you a green light on.  The rest: get out the front door.  Canola, soy, corn, “vegetable,” — you name it — are all super high in omega 6 fats and are not permissible for anyone at anytime (special occasions fine but I’m still going to be indignant about it.)   Mark Sisson just made a passionate defense of olive oil.  Sure, it’s ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fats isn’t stellar.  But the totally amount of these polyunsaturated fats is rather low, and the dominant fat here is monosaturated.   Two tablespoons of average olive oil (more more “virgin” it is, the better) gives you about 2.8 grams of linoleic acid, a component of omega 6 fatty acids.  That’s less, according to Mark, than poultry and pork meats.  Just be sure to use olive oil fairly sparingly and to supplement with your good ol’ omega 3s.


Eggs. Sort of vegetarian, I know.  But they are enormously nutritious.  Please consider eating them.  An egg is a precursor to an entire organism, so it contains a complete profile of amino acids (so complete, in fact, that the quality of egg protein is the standard against which all other proteins are measured), some saturated fat, lots of cholesterol (which is NOT a bad thing so long as you eat a proper anti-inflammatory diet), and lots of nutrients.  These include: vitamins A, E, and K, as well as a selection of B vitamins including B12, B2, biotin, choline, folic acid, pantothenic acid and niacin.  Eggs are one of the few foods that are a good source of naturally occurring vitamin D, which is important for the development of bones and teeth.  Important minerals in eggs include zinc, iron, selenium, phosphorous and iodine. Eggs also contain small amounts of calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium.


Macademia nuts. Over others.  Nuts are not ideal.  Nuts contain lectins in their sheaths and are generally high in omega 6 fats.  They are often sold “roasted” which oxidizes their omega 6 fats and wreaks havoc on our tissues.  Oxidative stress accelerates aging and tissue decay and harms every type of cell in your body.  Omega 6 oils are bad. Omega 6 oils heated (as well as omega 3s) is worse.  (This is why deep frying is so bad).  So: don’t eat nuts.  At least not too many.  You want to keep your overall polyunsaturated fat intake low, and to balance whatever omega 6 intake you have to incur with omega 3s.  However: since there is no source of significant omega 3 in your diet, you want to limit your omega 6s as much as possible. This is why I said: eat macadamia nuts.  A lot of people can’t seem to live without nuts.  Also, they are a fair source of protein. Macadamia’s have virtually no polyunsaturated fats in them, and are instead mostly monosaturated and saturated fats.  What’s more, they contain some antioxidants.  So eat up!  They’re not too bad.


Vegetables. They are made primarily of carbohydrates, but a lot of this carbohydrate is tied up with fiber, which is good for you in moderate amounts, and the rest of it is glucose.  Glucose is the “safest” form of carbohydrate to consume.


Safe starches and carby veggies. These include: potato, sweet potato, yam, taro root, beets, and squashes.  You may even have some white rice, though it is completely without nutritional value and is considered a filler food only.  Glucose, when digested, spikes blood sugar, but so long as your insulin pathway is functioning properly, and your weight is under control, the sugar is shuttled happily away to your fat cells for storage.  This is a much, much safer form of carbohydrate consumption than fructose, so given that your vegetarian diet almost forces you to increase your carbohydrate intake to meet your caloric needs, this is the way to do it.  Plus, they are delicious. I highly recommend sweet potatoes, which have a great nutritional profile compared to other starches.  Sweet potatoes have almost twice the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A (or, I suppose, vitamin A derived from beta carotene), 42 percent of the recommendation for vitamin C, and is also fairly rich in dietary fiber, iron and calcium.


Berries. Other fruits, yeah, I guess, go ahead, but really.  I am a big, unashamed fructose hater.  Berries are the fruits lowest in fructose, and highest in antioxidants, so have a field day with them.  (No, don’t, just a serving a day is more than enough.)  Fructose, unlike glucose, is not released into the bloodstream but is instead sent directly to the liver to be converted into fatty acids.  As such, it adds stress to your liver and makes you fat.  Fructose is a big contributor, researchers are beginning to realize, to fatty liver disease.  Bad news bears.  What’s more, fructose fucks with leptin signalling, and can create feelings of hunger and deprivation unlike any other food.   Gross.  So eat berries and cherries if you’re craving fruit.

Maybe eat if you’re absolutely autoimmune free:

Dairy.  Best is raw, unpasteurized dairy.  Pasteurization kills natural enzymes such as lactase in the dairy which aid in digestion, and antibodies which bind with lectins and would otherwise naturally remove them from your body.  Pasteurization also enables quicker spoiling of the products, which means that pasteurized goods are often heavily preserved with unhealthy chemicals.  However, all dairy products will still contain 1. lactose, which is a sugar that can cause inflammation without proper lactase activity, and 2. casein, a protein similar in structure to gluten which many have trouble digesting.  Check out this post on dairy for more information re: perils and benefits.  Fermented forms of dairy such as yogurt and cheese are also more innocuous, as the added bacteria help you break down the potentially harmful proteins.  Note also that dairy is highly insulinogenic, so if you are watching your insulin levels or hoping to lose weight, you probably want to steer clear.  Finally, on dairy, I say this: try a month without it and see how you feel.  Does re-introducing it cause any problems?  Listen to your body and do what feels right.  Dairy can be a good source of protein and fat if you exercise caution and eat the right stuff.

Sometimes eat maybe I’m not sure no don’t eat them:

Legumes. While not quite as bad as grains, legumes are still high in lectin content, which, as mentioned above, promotes intestinal permeability and depletes healthy gut flora.  If you are at all at risk for autoimmune conditions, or inflammatory conditions, or are overweight, or have any type of disease of civilization, no legumes for you.  However, if you just love chick peas and feel like you need more protein and are unconcerned about your high carbohydrate intake and your gut health (consider supplementing with a high quality probiotic) occasional legumes won’t kill you.

Sometimes eat maybe I’m not sure no don’t eat it:

Quinoa. People ask me about quinoa often.  Quinoa gets the same answer, practically, as legumes.  No gluten, sure, but plenty of lectins to go around.  What’s more, people exhibit the same inflammatory reactions to quinoa as they to do wheat, despite the fact that it contains no gluten.  Because quinoa has “complete protein” as so many vegetarians are happy to tell you, if you must reach for a wheat-type substance, and safe starches are not in the running, you may reach for quinoa instead.  Do not forget, however, that while delivering some protein, quinoa is still primarily a carbohydrate, and enormously high in carb content.  Same, again, as legumes.

 And that’s it!  Stuff on the “don’t eat” list remains the same:

Don’t eat:

Vegetable oils.  Refined sugar.  Too much fruit.  Any fructose.  Too many nuts.  Processed goods.

Get as much fat and protein as possible, and fill in the rest with your beloved veggies and safe starches.

Huzzah, friends! 

My hard drive just crashed but I managed to crank this out on a computer in my Taiwanese University’s basement regardless.  Better edits and information may follow in time. 


03 2011

Is vegetarianism an eating disorder?

No.  But Time Magazine certainly likes shocking article titles.

What this Time article covers is a study performed in Minnesota back in 2008. Researchers at the University of Minnesota and the University of Texas observed that young vegetarians are at increased risk for binge eating and unhealthy weight control behaviors.  Ick.

Using the results of Project EAT-II: Eating Among Teens, researchers  analyzed the diets, weight status, weight control behaviors, and drug and alcohol use of 2,516 adolescents and young adults between the ages of 15 and 23.  Participants were identified as current (4.3%), former (10.8%), and never (84.9%) vegetarians. Subjects were divided into two cohorts, an adolescent (15-18) group and a young adult (19-23) group. They were questioned about binge eating and whether they felt a loss of control of their eating habits.

In the younger cohort, no statistically significant difference was observed with vegetarianism and weight status.  Among young adults, however, current vegetarians had a lower average BMI.  They were less likely to be obese than never vegetarians.   Off the top of my head, I would guess that this has to do with discipline and more sincere adherence to the vegetarian diet.  Many who convert to vegetarianism in young adulthood do so during “enlightenment” at university.  I suspect that a lot of vegetarians in high schools, on the other hand, lack the moral steadfastness, supportive community, and resources of university students.  In fact, a 2001 study in the Journal of Adolescent Health revealed that the most common reason teens gave for vegetarianism was to lose weight or keep from gaining it.

Among the younger cohort, vegetarians engaged both in more extreme unhealthy weight control behaviors and in bingeing behavior when compared to never vegetarians.  Among the older cohort, a higher percentage of former vegetarians engaged in the same disordered eating habits.  This seems to indicate that adolescents who practice vegetarianism are at greater risk of all types of disordered eating throughout their lives.

Young vegetarians and those who have practiced vegetarianism in their youths experience an increased risk for disordered eating. This points to something pretty obvious.  Vegetarianism serves as a means, if a poor one, at losing weight (recall that there’s no statistically significant BMI difference) for young adults.   Those who battle body image and self esteem turn to vegetarianism to help them.  It is a means to weight loss.  But it is also a mode of restriction.  Whether or not this indicates life-long disordered eating and restriction patterns, or whether it indicates that this behavior in high school encourages lasting feelings of deprivation and restriction is unclear.  What is clear is that vegetarianism masquerades as a healthy option for young adults, and helps them restrict without broadcasting to those around them that they may in fact be in trouble.  I do not like this, friends.  Not one bit.

Writing in the article, Ramona Robinson-O’Brien, Assistant Professor, Nutrition Department, College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University of the University of Minnesota states, “Study results indicate that it would be beneficial for clinicians to ask adolescents and young adults about their current and former vegetarian status when assessing risk for disordered eating behaviors. Furthermore, when guiding adolescent and young adult vegetarians in proper nutrition and meal planning, it may also be important to investigate an individual’s motives for choosing a vegetarian diet.”  Yes.  Word!  Furthermore, stop promoting deprivation-inducing eating plans as healthful.  Ack!


Breaking news: vegetarianism is lame for many reasons

Hi friends.  What follows is not a well-researched, heavily linked article on the perils of vegetarianism.  I would like to write one of those, but it might take ages, and I also have limited access to academic journals, not currently enrolled in an American academic institution.  It is, instead, a bit of a personal statement against vegetarianism.  Most paleo dieters are aware of the arguments I make here, but others that I sometimes direct to my blog, such as my family and friends, are less familiar with typical vegetarian versus non vegetarian arguments. I am more than happy to get into grittier details with people if they want.  Please email me on the contact form, or prod at me in the comments section.

This is just the surface, and–if you can’t tell–an emotionally charged one as well.  However, I want to append that caveat with another caveat: I believe that my strong emotional response to vegetarianism follows the arguments– I see the logic and I get pissed– not the other way around, where I feel angry and then rationalize my anger.  I myself was a vegetarian for many years, and I understand how absolutely compelling it is.   I was emotionally attached to it.  However, once I took a look at the statistics about sustainability and at the information on human health, I was forced, logically, to change my stance and my actions.  As such, I believe that vegetarianism is extraordinarily well-intentioned but ultimately misguided.  What follows is why.


Gods.  Vegetarianism makes me sick.  I.. haha.  Is that true?  I think that’s true.  It wasn’t always.  The reason I feel that way is because saying “I’m a vegetarian” has all these moral implications, and I remember wearing that title as a student and using it as a means of identification and validation and moral superiority.  Who am I to say I’m better than you because I don’t eat animals?  That’s not okay, especially if others around me are making the best choices they can with the information provided, too.  Let’s not forget that vegetarianism has ascetic and religious roots, and that the idea of abstaining from something appeals to people for psychological and sociological reasons beyond ‘good for the planet.’

And YES, while as a vegetarian I was certainly acting on the best knowledge I had, and definitely trying my best to be moral, it was, essentially, wrong.  My vegetarianism wasn’t helping the environment as much as I thought.  Still eating eggs and dairy?  Fish?  I wasn’t, but many vegetarians do.  If you practice vegetarianism because of animal rights, consider that consuming milk is probably more abhorrent than consuming meat itself.  Milk cows are subject to an entire lifetime of soy products, digestive discomfort, extreme udder discomfort, hormone disregulation, and crowded, dirty, indoor (and, in fact, in-stall) living conditions.   On the other hand, if you practice vegetarianism because it is supposed to be more sustainable, consider that while your meat cost more energy than your grain or soy products, the transportation costs of the grains are still enormously high, and your grains are still destroying the incredibly tenuous soil resource.  Still eating plants from far away?  Bad news bears for transportation costs and pollution and the horrific environmental impact--especially soil depletion--of large scale monocultures.  While true that eating meat in excessive amounts is, well, excessive, eating meat to obtain sufficient protein from a local source is, I think, in fact a healthier course of action both for the environment and for our selves.  The books Meat: a benign extravagance and The vegetarian myth are excellent rebuttals (or, at least, alternative viewpoints) to contemporary environmentalism.   Also, check out this website on the book Against the Grain, which gives a concise summary of the most pertinent arguments against, well, grains.

I think vegetarianism is misguided (duh).  Sure, gorging ourselves on grains and not eating cows might help sustainability for another couple decades or so, but when it comes down to it, large scale agriculture is going to destroy the planet just as easily (if not quite as quickly) as raising livestock.  Vegetarianism is a band-aid, and a bit of a shitty one, at that.  The real answer to sustainability issues is local, cradle to grave husbandry.  Grow some plants, pick them, grow some grass to replenish the soil and keep it in place (something large scale agriculture doesn’t do), have cows eat the grass and poop on it to fertilize it (something large scale agriculture doesn’t do) and eat the cows then grow plants there again.  While impossible with America’s current subsidy and large-farm system, this type of ecosystem maximizes the health of the planet and our foods and our bodies, while minimizing negative impacts.

Something else to consider when we’re discussing environmental impact of foods is the level of processing.  If you’re a vegetarian and still eating foods out of boxes, you are consuming combinations of vegetable oils, different compounds, and all sorts of poisons (hyperbole? perhaps) that required transportation to the facility, manufacture, packaging, and later transportation.  Legitimately, very, really, legitimately, if you’re eating foods out of boxes your environmental impact may be much higher than someone eating a whole cow once every couple weeks.

What’s more, American culture tends to prize just a few cuts of meat.  This is ridiculous.  Organs and other less-celebrated cuts of meat are incredibly nutritious.  In fact, the lack of organ-eating in contemporary culture has been attributed to all sorts of nutrient deficiencies, particularly vitamin A, vitamin B12, iron, copper, folate, selenium, zinc, and CoQ10.  If people begin eating WHOLE animals, and stopped wasting so much of them, their environmental impact would go WAY, way down.  I eat a lot of meat, sure, but my favorite meals are chicken stomachs, chicken hearts, beef liver, and beef tongue.  I eat all the parts other people throw away.  Does this mean I have “zero” environmental impact?  Not really.  But it’s a hell of a lot better than eating just a part of an animal and throwing the rest of it away, or even eating, as I mentioned before, anything grown on a monoculture or produced in a factory.

A lot of the literature on vegetarianism comes out of universities and the like, and a culture of sustainability dogma (most of which I’m all for, so long as it’s free thinking).  A lot of this sentiment, however, and the cultural zeitgeist comes from industry.  We all hear vegetarians talking about the evil powers of the meat industry, but what about the evil powers of the wheat, soy, and corn industries, which are vastly larger than the meat industry, and on which the contemporary meat industry actually depends?   American culture with regards to food, sustainability, health, and funding is a giant clusterfuck, and there’s no way around it.  The best way, imho, to say ‘fuck you’ to that giant machine is to eat as locally as possible.  Or, instead of in my opinion, but in my practice, it’s to move to Taiwan and daily eat a duck Wang Peng butchered and deep fried this morning.

Finally, there are about eight million health reasons to eat animals.  Here are a few:

Complete protein, for one.  You won’t get it from plants or legumes no matter how much vegetarians tell you otherwise (fuck quinoa!).

Getting enough healthy fat in your diet is another problem with vegetarian diets.  Vegetarian diets tend to be low in fat in general, which is BAD for your metabolism, your brain, your blood sugar, and your hormonal function.  What’s more, the content of the fat in vegetarian diets itself is high in omega 6-rich vegetable oils, which raise systemic inflammation and leads to all sorts of inflammation related diseases including heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, cancer, and alzheimers.

Another big one is nutrients.  Contrary to popular opinion, which is nuts, by the way, meat is full of vitamins and minerals and is in fact far and away more nutrient dense than grains.  One important nutrient is iron. Others are zinc, selenium, folic acid and phosphorous. Red meat is rich in vitamins A, Bs (12, the biggie), D, E, and K.  B12 is particularly important since it is found in no plants.  If you’re a vegetarian and you’re not supplementing, you’re in big trouble.

Note also that all of the vitamins and minerals contained in plants are less readily absorbed by our guts than those found in protein and fats.  This is because they are tied up with fiber and must first be broken down by gut flora.  Vegetarian literature often espouses that you not only can but SHOULD get all your vitamins and minerals from plants.  This is ridiculous.  Common vegetarianism asserts, for example, that you get your vitamin A from carrots, but this just isn’t true. Carrots instead have beta carotene in them, which is converted to vitamin A by bacteria in your gut, but only at a rate of, at maximum, 30 percent. There is WAY more vitamin A in animal fat and in animal livers than in plants, and its readily available to use.

Any vitamin that you digest in plant form must first be handled by your gut flora, and then absorbed, but the thing is that plants–especially wheat–often have lectins in them, which inhibit nutrient absorption.  This is potentially responsible for all sorts of nutrient deficiencies in developed countries, particular Ca and Mg.  Think you have osteoporosis because you don’t eat enough dairy?  How come Americans, who consume more dairy than any other country in the world, have the highest rates of osteoporosis in the world, too?  How come cultures that have never come in contact with dairy have perfect bone health?  That’s because (I assert!) they eat a natural, high fat, relatively high animal, no grain, no sugars diet.  For serious.

What about antioxidants?  Forget it.  You “need” antioxidants to fight free radicals, which are produced primarily by carbohydrate metabolism. If you’re not putting shit like grains and excessive sugars in your body, then you don’t need antioxidants to fight them.  Why dig a hole in the ground for your ladder so you can paint your basement windows?

Oh, and as a final remark, if you want to be a vegetarian for religious reasons, be my guest.  That’s cool.

And that might be about it for right now, friends.  I’m sure there is plenty more.  Have more to add on my side?  Drop me a line.  Want to fight about how poorly cited my diatribe was?  Please respond with some links in kind.   I 800 percent acknowledge that you might beat me silly with a good argument, so go ahead.  I want to be smarter, and I want you to open up my mind.

That said, vegetarianism was so 2008.


03 2011

What gives? Fishy Vegetarianism

As a vegetarian, I often had the opportunity to talk about my food choices.  Because everyone needed to know what to feed me at a dinner party, and because everyone wanted to gossip about the most moral eaters around them, people often inquired about my principles.   Which was cool.  Truly.  I dig curiosity.  But the conversations often started out in the exact same pattern, and I am so frustrated by its ubiquity in our society that I could start kicking random objects around my house like an feisty, disenfranchised leprechaun.

These conversations proceeded as follows:

-Oh, you don’t eat meat?  You’re a vegetarian, then?

-Yes, Yes I am in fact a vegetarian.

-Do you eat fish?


Ok what.   I’m glad that so many vegetarians out there are eating fish and taking care of their brains and immune systems and all that, but since when are fish not animals?  I don’t care how people respond to the fish inquiry.   What’s remarkable to me is that, as a society, we’ve completely accepted the notion that eating fish is something vegetarians do.


As a matter of fact, fish are every bit as sentient and feel every bit as much pain, stress, and fear as tetrapods such as cats and dogs.  And fish industries are not exactly paragons of excellence and sustainability, either.  In fact, farmed fish live in fairly horrific conditions.  What gives?

I think a significant part of this has to do with how conventional wisdom touts the nutritional value of fish over all other sources of protein.   Fish are rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, and boy does conventional wisdom love it some PUFA.  This fact makes it easy–nay, compulsory!–for conventional nutritionists and researchers to continually espouse the wonders of fish.   Conventional diets need fish in order to make up for some of their gaping shortcomings.  For example: a conventionalist might eat a hundred teaspoons of canola oil a day, so of course adding fish to his diet is going to radically improve inflammation markers.  I’m not saying that fish aren’t healthy.  I eat a few whole fish per week.  But I am saying that we wouldn’t need fish so desperately to be healthy if we ate properly in the first place.

The safety of fish as an already-established wonder food means that fish are virtually unequaled in their value as nutritional wisdom.  Fish stock is high, so sell, sell, sell!   Vegetarians would be crazy not to indulge.

Another part of the pesca-vegetarian phenomena is a bit more childish, and also a bit more obvious: scales.   Psychologists have shown us, as has the popularity of plush novelties, that humans have the most empathy for species that act and have similar features to us.  Fish are pretty far removed from that.  I understand.  On the flipside, let’s be real.   Fish are animals, and there’s not a whole lot your denial is going to change for anybody.

My final thought is that environmental vegetarians might point out that fish farms have a smaller ecological footprint than industrial feed lots.  You get no arguments from me, here.  But since, as I stated in an earlier post, health is the number one reason cited for vegetarianism, it’s probable that sustainability isn’t in fact the absolute top priority, but instead that omega 3 fatty acids are the name of the game.

That’s it.  I’m fresh out of ideas.  Now I’m just indignant.  The ubiquity of false vegetarians is destructive for national health.  Not only does it make it seem as though vegetarianism is more popular, and thus more socially enticing, than it actually is, but the increased health false vegetarians enjoy gives the rest of us a false impression of vegetarian vitality.


Edit: I have a handful of friends who don’t eat meat for religious reasons.  This is awesome.  My only desire is that religious abstainers (or anyone, I suppose) call themselves pescatarians if they eat fish.


02 2011

Women and Vegetarianism

It’s a fairly well known phenomenon that the majority of vegetarians and vegans today are women. In fact, according to this article in the Vegetarian Times, women vegetarians outnumber men 2 to 1. Why? It’s an enormously complicated issue, and there are probably boatloads of interrelated causes. A quick search of “vegetarian women” brings up 1,160,000 hits. Yikes. Regardless, I’ve got a few ideas about what these reasons could be–none of them particularly unique–but a few ideas nonetheless. And I’m going to come back to this later. It’s a huge topic, and I can do it no justice in one quick post. Today I aspire only to get this ball rolling.

Eight memes:

1. Men are hunters, women are home makers. Admittedly, we associate men with hunting for pretty decent reasons. I get this. I don’t like it, but I get it. Hunting is truly a badass activity, and it’s a damn shame, if a tolerable one, that women have rarely been able to own the same badass and lithe image. What is definitely not okay, however, is that this makes meat a manly food, and leaves little but alfalfa to the women folk. Moreover, the association of men with meat throughout history might also have developed out of the imbalanced gender dynamic. Men are on top, and men get served the richest food, which happens to be meat. Think about Beowulf, Roland, and Arthurian courts. Them royalty ate nothing but elk and pheasants. I’d be willing to bet that even with the advent of chivalry a few hundred years later, if food were sparse, men got the hearty stuff and women the light. Typical. Lame. Unfortunate lasting effects.

2. Women have an ascetic history with food. For a brilliant text on the origins of this phenomenon, check out historian Caroline Bynum’s seminal work Holy Feast Holy Fast, a revolutionary analysis of medieval women and the ways in which they wrung spirituality from their depressingly bland lives. Fasting was a way in which women could connect with Jesus Christ. They could not partake in many of the Patriarchy’s rituals, but they could always internalize their spirituality. This manifested increasingly in attempts to mimic and to experience intimately the suffering of Christ. And in the later middle ages, experiencing intimately the suffering of Christ was all the rage. Thus, women became uniquely associated with fasting. This is doubly fascinating because up until this time, bodies and food were heartily appreciated in European society. And the lower classes continued to feel this way. But it was with the increased interest in Christ, spirituality, chivalry, and courtly manners, and with the decreased agency of women, that women began undertaking asceticism as a form of definition, and as one of their only means of power and control. Eating was one thing you could never be forced to do.

3. Women today maintain an ascetic relationship with food. This makes me sick. Ugh. Literally. Every single ad for food marketed to women (never meat, by the way, but dainty foods such as fruits and cereals and sweets) is about indulgences, healthfulness, being slim, and taking care of that nasty appetite. Our society perpetuates the female burden of having cravings you shouldn’t (or couldn’t) ever satisfy, and I believe that this goes along with vegetarianism. My vegetarianism, personally, was often marked by a “if you can’t do it, you’re too weak for vegetarianism” type attitude. I remember very clearly the day my best friend converted* to vegetarianism. When she complained of never being satisfied, I told her she either wasn’t doing it right or that she just needed to deal. She had to pick which option it was. I feel so, so sorry for that. And I always will.

(* Religious language.)

4. Come to think of it, women have an ascetic relationship with everything. Think 1950s. Think corsets. Think douches. Women need to be perfect, need to be dainty, and need to dampen their corruptive carnal influence. Women need to hide their personal needs and imperfections in order to be perfect and catch a man. Thankfully this shit is OUT. THE. WINDOW. But vestiges of it remain and permeate our attitudes. This isn’t to say that men don’t face equally heavy pressures, both from themselves and from external forces. But they are different, and I’ll treat you 180 percent fairly in another post, promise.

5. Meat is lustful and impure, and suspected throughout history of causing lustful thoughts: women need to be light and pure. European Monks have historically eschewed meat for this reason. Related to items 3 and 4.

6. Now here’s an interesting thought.  What if female vegetarianism is not driven primarily by ascetic ideals, but instead by feelings of empathy and love? Is it more common for a girl rather than a boy to melt upon learning that Bessie is on her way to the slaughterhouse? Perhaps. But even if it is, we have to wonder if this is a natural phenomenon or a culturally conditioned phenomenon. Maybe empathetic connectivity is genetically wired into my brain more strongly than the brains of the boys who I witnessed drop-kicking frogs at band camp. This would explain a few things. Yet again, maybe we raise boys to be macho and girls instead to practice motherhood on worms in jars. Regardless, I think we can all agree that women tend towards the more communicative and the more empathetic. I’d guess that this phenomena accounts for a decent portion of animal rights vegetarians.

7. Women are more assiduous about their health. Studies by Men’s Health show that women go to the doctor approximately 35 percent more often than men (4.5 times per year versus 6.2). And according to, the most popularly cited reason for vegetarianism is health. Huh. This is a neat little correlation.

So far as environmental vegetarianism goes, I’ve been dong a fair bit of googling and google-scholaring to see if I can dig up some data about male and female vegetarianism in the sustainability movement. I was off of a hunch hypothesizing that this is perhaps the one motivation for vegetarianism in which men and women are fairly even. But this was just a feeling. I don’t really have any idea. It’s possible that female empathy compels women more often than men to give up meat for the sake of sustainability, just like women more often give up meat for the sake of the cows, but it is–in my wildly inexpert opinion–true that men are equally as capable and driven to make sacrifices for the sake of the greater good. I’d in fact be rather indignant if people were unfoundedly claiming otherwise. In any case, I would really love to learn about this, if you have any resources or ideas.

8. And a final thought: what if women have been taking up vegetarianism as a part of contemporary female empowerment and norms? I have this amateur theory that women populate and excel so much over men in universities today precisely because they are told their whole lives that they are facing an uphill challenge and therefore adopt a more serious Go Get ‘Em attitude. This makes women… more driven? More focused? More disciplined? I don’t know. Moreover, there is a negative flipside to this ambition. Young women today feel not only pressure to perform, but also pressured to be “perfect without trying. ” This is extensively discussed in gender theory and feminist circles these days. (Check out Feministing) I witnessed this every day at Dartmouth, and I lived that way myself. Often it was manifested in spending hours on having perfectly disheveled bedhead hair, going to the gym for two hours a day but not telling anybody, or doing extra studying in secret. My vegetarianism was another way of building that perfection. A “difficult” lifestyle, a way to distinguish myself, and a way to come off as an even more moral and put-together individual, vegetarianism was an ideal way to… well, be perfect. I did what I could. It was misguided, but what do we do in life that isn’t misguided?

(Forgive me for conflating ‘women’ with ‘female’ a few times. Perhaps female was actually the correct term to use throughout much of this post. What do you think?)

Thoughts? Comments? Concerns? Did I fuck something up royally? Miss a really big idea? Let me know! Make me smart!