CrossFit South Rockland

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Most Vegetarians Become Ex-Vegetarians?

Well, this is a positive development: a reader sent me a link to an article about people who originally became vegetarians for ethical reasons, but are now converting to being “ethical” meat-eaters:

A feisty vegetarian since age 12, Berlin Reed was a self-described “punk” who swore to abstain from supporting corporations that he believed profited from mistreating animals, abusing labor practices and “destroying” the environment.

“I have ‘vegan’ tattooed on my neck,” said Reed, 29. “You could say I was a little passionate about it.”

Today, however, he’s known as “the ethical butcher,” a title which might seem odd for someone whose friends once arranged a “bacon intervention” to sway him to omnivorism.

Must’ve been some party tray at that bacon intervention. Apparently the intervention worked, but I can’t help but wonder if the ethical butcher’s customers ever spot that “vegan” tattoo on the back of his neck and suspect he may secretly be handing them tofu steaks.

The article goes on to explain that “ethical” meat-eating means different things to different people, but that’s not what caught my attention. This did:

According to a recent study by Psychology Today, most vegetarians return to eating meat.

I didn’t know that. I’m an ex-vegetarian, I know other ex-vegetarians, and of course many readers of this blog are ex-vegetarians, but this is first time I’d heard that vegetarianism is a temporary condition for most who try it. Even before I checked the Psychology Today study, I could guess the reason. This paragraph gives a pretty strong clue:

For those who are physically unable to keep up with the challenges of the vegetarian life, ethical omnivorism is a liberating conscience-saver. Nutritionist Julie Daniluk, 38, was plagued by guilt when she returned to eating meat, but 13 years of vegetarianism hadn’t suited her immune system.

Okay, I have to admit: that first sentence rubs me the wrong way. “Unable to keep up with the challenges of the vegetarian life” sounds a bit like “unable to keep up with the challenges of boot camp.” The more appropriate description in my case would be “sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.” The nutritionist obviously found that going meatless wasn’t doing wonders for her health — somebody call T. Colin Campbell! — so she quit.

That’s what the Psychology Today article named as the number one reason vegetarians go back to eating meat: poor health.

Staci wasn’t always so fit. In her early 30′s, Staci’s health started going downhill. After twelve years of strict vegetarianism, she began to suffer from anemia and chronic fatigue syndrome, and she experienced stomach pains for two hours after every meal. “I was completely debilitated,” she tells me. “Then I changed the way I ate.”

“Tell me about your diet now. What did you have for breakfast today?” I ask.

“A half pint of raw beef liver,” she says.

Ok….Staci is a bit extreme in her carnivory — these days she prefers her meat raw, and she eats a lot of it. But the transformation from hard-core vegetarian to meat-eater that Staci illustrates is surprisingly common. Indeed, according to a 2005 survey by CBS News, three times as many American adults admit to being “ex-vegetarians” than describe themselves as current vegetarians.

This is a point I’ve tried to make to the vegetarians zealots who occasionally troll this blog and preach to me about how much healthier vegetarians are compared to population as a whole: vegetarians are a self-selected group. It’s a lifestyle that attracts health-conscious people to begin with — that’s why I tried it — but then the people who experience negative results usually give it up. Those left standing are health-conscious people who didn’t experience health problems going meatless. Of course they’re healthier on average than a population that consumes pizza, burritos, deli sandwiches, sodas, french fries, Little Debbie Snack Cakes and Chunky Monkey ice cream. Compare the vegetarians to a bunch of people who consciously chose paleo diets, then we’ll see who’s healthier on average.

The authors of the Psychology Today article gathered their own data from an online survey, so it’s hardly a scientific study. But the results are interesting:

Thirty-five percent of our participants indicated that declining health was the main reason they reverted back to eating flesh. For example, one wrote, “I was very weak and sickly. I felt horrible even though I ate a good variety of foods like PETA said to.” Another wrote, “My doctor recommended that I eat some form of meat as I was not getting any better. I thought it would be hypocritical of me to just eat chicken and fish as they are just as much and animal as a cow or pig. So I went from no meat to all meat.” The most succinct response was by a man who wrote, “I will take a dead cow over anemia any time.”

One-quarter of the ex-vegetarians said they grew tired of the hassle (whatever that means) of the lifestyle, and one-fifth said they developed an “irresistible urge” to eat meat again. As far as I’m concerned, we can add that group to those who started eating meat again for their health. Those irresistible urges were messages from their bodies … something along the lines of “Give me the nutrition I need, you dumb @#$%!”

Many of us (if not most) who try vegetarianism eventually end up feeling lousy for good reason: we evolved as meat-eaters. As it happens, another reader recently sent me a link to an article that provides yet another clue about what our ancestors ate:

Stone Age barbecue consumers first went for the bone marrow and then for the ribs, suggest the leftovers of an outdoor 7,700-year-old meaty feast described in the July issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.

The remains, found in the valley of the River Tjonger, Netherlands, provide direct evidence for a prehistoric hunting, butchering, cooking and feasting event. The meal occurred more than 1,000 years before the first farmers with domestic cattle arrived in the region.

Marrow and ribs … the good, fatty stuff. Sounds yummy.

Although basic BBQ technology hasn’t changed much over the millennia, this prehistoric meal centered around the flesh of an aurochs, a wild Eurasian ox that was larger than today’s cows. It sported distinctive curved horns.

Whaddaya mean BBQ technology hasn’t changed?! We have propane grills and aluminum tongs now. Not to mention cool aprons.

According to the study, the individuals skinned the animal and butchered it, reserving the skin and large hunks of meat for carrying back to a nearby settlement. Chop marks left behind by the flint blade show how the meat was meticulously separated from the bones and removed.

Niekus told Discovery News, “The people who killed the animal lived during the Late Mesolithic (the latter part of the middle Stone Age). They were hunter-gatherers and hunting game was an important part of their subsistence activities.”

According to a nitwit I spent part of today debating online, this means the stone-age people had high rates of type 2 diabetes. What happens, ya see, is that if more than 10% of your diet comes from animal fat, the fat stacks up against the walls of your cells and then the cells can’t absorb glucose –- which is the energy source for every cell in your body, ya see — so you become a diabetic. Yup, that’s what happens. Yes, it does. Yes, it does! It does too! Well, you’d understand these things if you’d just read The China Study!

But back to our prehistoric ancestors:

Aurochs must have been good eats for Stone Age human meat lovers, since other prehistoric evidence also points to hunting, butchering and feasting on these animals. A few German sites have yielded aurochs bones next to flint tool artifacts. The aurochs couldn’t escape extinction, though.

“It became extinct due to the destruction of the habitat of the aurochs since the arrival of the first farmers in Europe about 7500 years ago,” Prummel said. “These farmers used the area inhabited by aurochs for their dwellings, arable fields and meadows. The aurochs gradually lost suitable habitat.”

Figures … friggin’ grain farmers had to show up and ruin the natural-meat supply. Perhaps if enough vegetarians convert to being ethical meat-eaters, we can do something about that.

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