Daily life of the vegetarian #3
I’ve become immune to well-meaning suggestions from meat-eating friends that all I need is a good steak, on those occasions when I have fallen ill or felt a bit peaky. I know that they mean well, and the comments are intended as soft nudges, but they were tired ideas before they were even though up.
There’s a terrible stereotype of vegetarians that’s pretty much summed up by the character Neil in the very funny 1980s English comedy The Young Ones. The guy is a dumb-ass hippy with long straggly hair, who is always banging on about Hawkwind concerts at Stonehenge. Naturally, he’s a vegetarian, and naturally, his life consists entirely of tasteless lentil stews.
It’s natural for screenwriters and comedians to pick on easy targets, and I’ve laughed right along with some pretty dubious (but brutally funny) stereotypical depictions of people in various walks of life many times – after all, making fun of people is one of the funniest types of comedy.
Nevertheless, I do wonder where the stereotype of the vegetarian as a pasty-faced weakling came from. Science clearly tells us that there’s plenty of energy in a balanced vegetarian diet, and even going back into history, there are many vegetarians who in no way fit the profile. You could say that Gandhi is the prototype – due to his fasting, especially as an old man, the guy was as skinny as a rake. But what an achiever. Look no further than muscle-bound Hollywood actor Johnny Weismuller, the original Tarzan, for proof that it’s possible to be vegetarian, strong, virile, buff, and swing from vines (and talk to the animals).
And of course (of course!) there are many, many more vegetarians who have achieved in just about any field of endeavour, except in meat plants.
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, on the first visit to my in-laws in Japan, my wife’s mother was distressed by my vegetarianism because it would mean that we couldn’t make babies. At the time, I thought this erroneous line of thinking was just a superstition carried by one sheltered mother, but just the other day, one of my wife’s colleagues in a restaurant in Auckland suggested that vegetarians were incapable of conceiving.
How interesting. And tell that to half of India!
But really, the silly ideas of friends are harmless compared to the very real propaganda fostered by those whose livelihoods and profits depend on keeping us eating meat.
I dislike the word ‘paradigm’, because of its overuse in the late ‘90s; perhaps the beginning of a new millennium required a whole lot of new paradigms? But really, a new paradigm around food and nutrition needs creating to get past this idea that meat protein is basic, building-block stuff, and necessary to humans.
I don’t often use the word ‘hate’, but I HATE the way advertising campaigns so often take the opportunity to take the mickey out of vegetarians. Look at the recent Pak N Save ads. At first, I thought they were quite funny, but at the same time, they did play around with ridiculous stereotypes. There were many complaints, and it seemed the company was listening when it modified its ad. But then, as soon as the Broadcasting Standards Authority deemed the ad non-discriminatory, a similar and equally offensive ad (to vegetarians) was shown.
Then there’s the ceaseless promotion of ‘Kiwi Beef and Lamb’, which of course we all need, and especially those of us with growing bodies (ie, children), and naturally, it’s the ‘best’ source of iron. It staggers me that claims like these can go unchallenged, when there’s so many evidence to the contrary. On the video below, for instance, the clear message is that there’s much more iron in beef than spinach. It seems like a simple fact, until you start thinking about the varied diet of the vegetarian, with a number of iron sources provided conveniently by different sources from throughout the day.
More insidious, however, is the way the meat industry gets into schools and promotes itself through bogus nutritionists – or should I say, nutritionists who become bogus by going on their payroll, and having to promote carcass as an absolute necessity of healthy living.
It’s all so wrong, and the fact that my children – should my feeble vegetarian constitution allow me to make them – would have to become subject to this kind of propaganda is almost enough to turn me off the idea of procreating. GARY STEEL