Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Good Weekend Magazine - Extreme Eaters.

Miss T Junior rang me up last weekend to ask if I'd read an article in the The Age's Good Weekend Magazine which profiled 'extreme eaters'. You might note that this was last weekend and I'm only just getting around to writing about it, so a thousand apologies if you find yourself ferreting through the rubbish bin to retrieve it.

The article, by Fenella Souter and entitled "Guess who's coming to dinner", begins with 32 year old Scott Wheeler, a man who follows the Primal Diet. That's raw animal products. Exclusively. Meat, butter, eggs, bones - 100% raw and 100% of the time.

This is a vegan blog. I am vegan. It will come as no surprise that I find the idea of the Primal Diet 100% revolting. Ethically, environmentally and health-wise, I simply cannot accept that it's a good way to live.

However, in the interests of journalistic curiousity, I don't intend to run a "Vegans Rule!" line in writing about Mr Wheeler's dietary choices. Although I find the news that he eats about a kilo of raw beef a day deeply distressing and shocking, and can't help a little mental calculation going on about how many cows are killed for his diet a year, and how much water is used to produce it, what I really find most concerning about Mr Wheeler's diet is the way in which he approaches it.

Certainly, he puts more thought and planning into his diet than many people, and has done a significant amount of dietary and physiological research in coming to his conclusions. That's surely better than the oblivious and glazed-eyed habitual fried food eater. But he hasn't had his cholesterol checked, which seems reckless for a man with two small children, especially one who eats ten raw eggs a day and drinks a litre of raw milk in addition to the kilo of beef, and he goes on to make statements like:
"A ruminant, a cow say, with its four stomachs, does a great job of synthesising vegetation and converting it into flesh. Because I can't do that, it makes logical sense to me to eat the animal that does".
And does it make logical sense to eat the heart of your enemies to take on his powers? No. It doesn't work like that. And let me assure you that as a herbivore I have trouble converting vegetation into flesh, and you can just check how tight my favourite jeans are getting if you don't believe me.

Mr Wheeler's two children, six and four, and his wife also follow the Primal Diet (although unlike him they are "allowed" to mix foods - that means avocado with the raw meat). Now I can't say that I'm insensible to the issues surrounding vegan children here. A couple of high profile and very tragic cases where children have died from malnutrition have become characterised as death-by-veganism, rather than death-by-parents-who-didn't-feed-chid-enough-of-anything. The American Dietetic Association states that a vegan diet is appropriate for every stage of life, including infancy and lactation, which advice I am happy to accept. However, it seems to me that feeding very young children a pure raw animal product diet, with its risks not only only of direct health impacts as well as bacterial contamination, is not entirely responsible. Although again it seems that Mr Wheeler (and I presume the children's mother) put more thought and consideration into their children's diet than many Maccas-scoffing parents, I am still unnerved by the thought of small children eating this kind of diet.
Mr Wheeler does make the sensible point that there are commercial concerns behind many 'official' decisions made relating to the sale of food and the benefits proclaimed about them, as anyone who has read Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation will know, but I still put quite a bit of faith in the ability of conventional science to detect salmonella.

Although I have to admire any person who actively thinks about and investigates food and its production, and alters their diet according to their knowledge, I just can't see on any level that the Primal Diet contributes to health, environmental sustainability, or any defendable ethical position.

The second person interviewed, 42 year old fruitarian Anne Osborne, has an ethical position more like one I can personally understand, but also makes a number of well-considered and self-aware statements that help assure readers that her ocassional stints of mono-diet are not quite as ... well, fruity ... as they may appear. I am well aware that my own prejudices are to regard fruitarians in much the same way as I expect that omnivores think of vegans, so I will try to refrain from dietary dismissiveness.

Fruitarians eat anything with seeds, and may extend to dried fruit and nuts or even green vegetables. Unlike raw vegans, they avoid other vegetables and grains. Ms Osborne chooses not to eat chocolate, tea, coffee and alcohol, and avoids greens for the most part. She also has frequent periods of mono-diet, where she will eat only one kind of fruit for a certain period of time. Apart from the brain-crushing, soul-disintegrating boredom of eating nothing but melon for six months, I have no qualms in saying that this seems almost as bizarre as eating nothing but raw meat to me.

However, Ms Osborne seems very self-aware and responsible in what is, by any standard, an extreme diet. She took precautionary B12 supplements during her pregnancies, although she never experienced any of the symptoms of B12 deficiency; had her older (fruitarian) son's B12 levels tested by a government nutritionist when he was six (he was compeletely fine but 30% down on recommended calcium intake; she notes that when calcium is consumed via dairy it is counter-productive so those levels might not be accurate for non-meat eaters. Incidentally both children have perfect teeth); and is fully aware that whilst sometimes low, her calorie intake is generally appropriate for someone of her height and weight.

It was in fact a pleasant surprise to read about Ms Osborne's food choices. I was initially dreading the presentation of another fruitloop (excuse the pun) vegan variant, chosen I thought to make us look as bizzarro as possible. It was a relief to read about a woman who seems very intersting indeed, who has approached her diet with intelligence and consideration, and who gives her teenage sons the respect of not questioning what they eat when they are out with friends. Perhaps her choices will still seem incomprehensible to many readers, but I think she did herself credit.

There are perhaps 200 people on frugivorous diets in Australia. I can't help but compare their net impact on the environment and the lives of animals to that of Mr Wheeler.


lisa said...

I think I was far more 'dietarily dismissive' than you. In fact, I'm pretty sure I yelled 'CRACKPOTS!'

In particular the raw meat guy was disturbing. Vegan parents often come under fire for their dietary choices; I wonder how much flak this guy gets? Even when I was a meat eater I would *never* have eaten a pure meat diet; common sense says NO. Wrong. Fatty, weird, unhealthy. Not to mention completely lacking in sensual pleasure. Ew.

Mandee said...

I missed this article but saw it was mentioned on a raw forum due to the fruitarian. I'm glad she came across as sane and not loopy :) I think her diet is 100x healthier than Mr Primal Diet, I can't believe he makes his do it too, blërg!

Fruitarian Mango said...

Hi, I'm also a fruitarian of long standing, and know Ms Osborne personally, along with several other fruitarians (including my partner, kveta), many of whom I've interviewed on my blog: List of interviews with fruitarians.

I have been a vegan for ethical reasons for the past 22 years, and understanding the ethical and environmental benefits of fruitarianism has been a series of gradual revelations for me, and although I fully understand that to an uninformed eye, we may all too easily come across as crackpots, personally I think adopting a fruit diet, is probably one of the healthiest and most sane choices any of us could possibly make.

mango the fruitarian.

Miss T said...

Hi there Fruitarian Mango,

Thanks for your comment and the link! It's great to hear from someone who has chosen a path even more misunderstood than veganism :) and I appreciate your comments.

I hope that my piece didn't imply that I thought fruitarians themselves were loopy; like many people it's just not something I can understand easily. I was though, as I said, really impressed by Ms Osborne's approach and knowledge, and I have a lot of respect for her position after reading the article.

Thanks once again for the input; I'll be sure to read your interviews,.

Miss T

Fruitarian Mango said...

Hi Miss T,
Well, I get the impression from your words that you are being relatively open minded about the concept of fruitarianism, even though you're first impression was of finding the idea just a tad "fruity", as you put it..

No worries from my side.. Personally I am beyond being upset about how others might or mightn't perceive fruitarianism and fruitarians in general.. We are each only responsible for our own lives and choices

fruit is, without any doubts in my mind, the highest and most nourishing and cleansing of all foods.

Reasons to be fruitarian

mango the fruitarian.
ps by the way, the 4th interview on the list is with Anne Osborne (AKA Fruitbat Anne)

Vagabonding RawVEGAN said...

I agree with Mango on fruitarianism...I have been loving this way of life.
I do enjoy the way you write your blog. Nice to meet another compassionate vegan.

Miss T said...

Hi Vagabonding,

Thanks for your comment! And what an incredible journey you seem to be on - I've enjoyed looking at your blog too.

It's nice to be contacted by fruitarians who get to speak in their own words- I'm sure that the very context in which Anne was interviewed - for an article titled "extreme eaters" - affected the way in which fruitarianism was presented. It's still not my cup of tea, but I've enjoyed checking out how you and Mango are experiencing it.

Cheers, and safe travels,

Anna said...

Nice Reading. Thanks

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