Food heresy and the Spinach Inquisition
By RAJBIR GREWAL
Globe and Mail Update
Omnivores treat vegetarians with enmity because vegetarians
refuse to consume. Unlike low-carb diet fanatics or
broccoli-haters, vegetarians are not seen as simply
having an ordinary diet preference.
Vegetarianism is viewed as a threat, a challenge that
omnivores feel at the very moment of eating, a moment
that is sacred since it is the inner sanctum of our
The reason for the centrality of eating in our culture
is that it is the original and essential form of consumption,
and therefore, it is the foundational human trait from
which our entire consumer society emanates.
In fact, most of our culture's excess energy goes to
excess consumption rather than the outlets of the past,
such as religious devotion. Consumerism defines the
character of our culture, and all consumption, as the
word itself suggests, is based on the basic principles
of hunger and satisfaction that manifest themselves,
first and foremost, in the act of eating.
In choosing to substantially restrict their diet to
what is necessary for life and to exclude what many
would say is the most pleasurable part of it, vegetarians
reject the central tenet of consumerism: excess consumption.
Thus, in relation to consumerism, the vegetarian is
a heretic. The inquisition of this heresy - call it
the Spinach Inquisition - proceeds at dinner tables
across the Western world, where the lone vegetarian
sits staring at tofu before a panel of steak-chomping
The Inquisition always proceeds along a predictable
path. The inquisitor's first question is one of motive,
where the vegetarian has only four possible responses
(religious, moral, health, fashion), none of which satisfies
the inquisitor, who positions himself as the reasonable
party, armed as he is with the wisdom of conformity,
in whose eyes all four reasons are fatally irrational.
Next comes a more direct jab at the intelligence of
the vegetarian, often employed when the vegetarian's
motive is the seemingly rational motive of health: "Where
do you get your protein from?"
The question would not be asked unless the inquisitor
believed that protein is scarce outside of meat. Protein
is, of course, plentiful outside of meat and the list
of non-meat protein sources, which every vegetarian
is advised to memorize, is a good return blow.
Next comes an argument based on the pleasures of eating
meat that suggests that the vegetarian is needlessly
denying himself, is unnecessarily ascetic and has an
attitude that, taken to its logical conclusion, could
result in a kind of pleasure-hating Talibanism (perhaps
vegetarians should be invaded by America!). When vegetarianism
cannot be ignored - at Thanksgiving dinner, for example,
it is ignored wherever possible.
Vegetarianism is never discussed as a solution to grave
public-health problems, which it could solve. Modern
plagues such as SARS, mad cow, foot-in-mouth, E. coli
and avian flu have their origins in meat culture. However,
the obvious solution of ending or reducing meat consumption
is never proposed. If it were, the proponent would likely
be sued by some meat-industry association, as was Oprah
Winfrey (who, admittedly, is not a vegetarian but her
case is illustrative) when she dissed beef on television.
Moving beyond some dinner table unpleasantness, the
Oprah incident demonstrates the consequences of vegetarianism
and other consumption-limiting choices: They seriously
piss people off.
The vegetarian's choice implies that she or he has
rejected the foundational principle of our culture (almost
as bad as a Communist in that regard), rejecting an
industry worth billions and turning her or his back
on the millions employed by it.
In the final analysis, it seems that many perceive
vegetarianism as an act of resistance, although usually
not intended as such by vegetarians themselves, directed
against the hegemony of consumerism, and hence against
"our way of life." This conception of vegetarianism
was likely formed, in part, by the fact that vegetarianism
was first brought to the West by its archetypical "others,"
immigrants from the East who practised religions such
as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sikhism.
The idea of vegetarianism as a foreign element or virus
that threatens to disrupt the "ancient Western
code" (to borrow a line from Leonard Cohen) is
vividly illustrated by its appropriation by the 1960s
Vegetarianism has never been seen as just another dietary
choice, it has threatened the order of things and non-vegetarians
have reacted to it accordingly.
Ironically, the role of vegetarianism as resistance
has taken a new turn at the granddaddy of all consumer/meat-industry
icons, McDonald's, where the veggie burger is served
alongside the Big Mac. If the McVeggie succeeds, that
success will signal the assimilation of vegetarianism,
accompanied by a general acceptance of vegetarianism
in our consumer culture, happily leading to the end
of the "Spinach Inquisition" and the beginning
of true pluralism in eating.
Rajbir Grewal is a Vancouver lawyer who hasn't eaten
meat since 1990.
Baywatch beauty backs 'Mighty
National Nine News
21:39 AEST Fri Aug 13 2004
AFP - "Baywatch" actress Pamela Anderson
will bring her sculptured looks to the land of goddesses,
cheering on American gymnast Mohini Bhardwaj at the
Anderson's $US20,000 ($A28,000) support helped 25-year-old
"Mighty Mo" achieve her Olympic dream at an
age when most of the pixie-like tumblers are retired
and Bhardwaj is now captain of the reigning world champion
United States team.
"Pam is my mentor. She has funded the whole thing.
I'm excited to have her here," Bhardwaj said. "She's
just a person who has goals and dreams and wants to
do things for other people."
Anderson, a 37-year-old busty blonde pin-up girl whose
website describes her racy new book as "The A-list
meets the D-cup", backed Bhardwaj's dream after
bonding with the fellow vegetarian over tattoos and
"It was exciting," Bhardwaj said. "I
didn't believe it at first. When I heard about it I
said, 'I'll believe it when I see it.' Then she came
into the gym and said she supports someone sticking
to her career."
Anderson, a popular Playboy cover girl who lends voice
and inspiration to the cartoon superhero "Striperella",
touts her new novel "Star" on her website
as a "salacious little book", "page-turning
erotica", "toe-curling" and "white-hot
"I want people really to enjoy themselves with
this book - and each other," Anderson wrote, declaring
heroine Starr Wood Leigh's name would be her "porn
star" name - taken from names of her first pet
and first street address.
"We're both women who go for our goals and dreams,"
said Bhardwaj. "We're both a little crazy. Mine
is a lot more settled down. I can't speak about her
'crazy' - and I don't know if I want to (see it)".
But she admits her life has become hectic since Anderson
walked into it.
"Everything has been kind of crazy since she decided
to fund this whole thing," Bhardwaj said. "It
comes with her, the hoopla."
Asked if she would be here without Anderson's aid,
the daughter of a Russian mother and a father from India
said, "Probably, but I would be in very, very bad
Bhardwaj has worked as a barmaid and waitress to finance
her Olympic quest after failing in the 1996 trials and
not even trying in 2000. She qualified for the 1997
and 2001 world teams but retired briefly in 2002 after
a dislocated elbow.
That cost her the chance to seek money from US Olympic
or gymnastics officials. Unlike her younger teammates,
she had rent, bills and car payments to make. Her vegetarian
diet also requires special supplies.
Her dedication has earned the respect of her teammates,
who voted her captain.
"I feel honoured to be captain of such an amazing
team," she said. "I'm honoured these women
feel I have the experience to lead them."
Vegetarian Diet Not Daunting
Thursday August 05, 2004 (0300 PST)
ISLAMABAD, August 06 (Online): Contrary to popular
belief, it's easy for people to switch from a regular
diet to a vegetarian diet that's good for the heart.
So says a study in the summer issue of the Journal
of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation.
"For people battling overweight and heart disease,
a vegetarian diet can be a lifesaving prescription,"
study author Dr. Neal D. Barnard, president of the Physicians
Committee for Responsible Medicine, said in a prepared
"This new study shows that patients transition
smoothly to a plant-based diet that allows them to eat
to satiety and yet still lose weight. Patients are willing
to make major changes in their eating patterns because
they get major results such as lower cholesterol and
reduced hypertension," Barnard said.
The study included well-educated, postmenopausal, overweight
women who were divided into two groups. One group ate
a low-fat vegetarian diet while the other group ate
a controlled diet.
The women who ate the vegetarian diet lost much more
weight than women in the other group. The study also
found that 89 percent of the women on the vegetarian
diet said they felt mostly or completely used to the
diet after 14 weeks, and 86 percent said they could
adhere to the vegetarian diet at least most of the time
in the future.
A study published recently in the Journal of the American
Medical Association showed that a vegetarian diet emphasizing
almonds, soy, and other healthful foods was essentially
as effective at lowering cholesterol as a statin drug
Books that can provide some backup for vegetarian
Aug 25, 2004
Making the transition from carnivore to vegetarian
is a trend that's picking up momentum and shows no signs
of slowing down. As more adolescents choose the vegetarian
path, more parents face new mealtime challenges. Here
are some books that might help:
"OK, So Now You're a Vegetarian: Advice &
100 Recipes from One Vegetarian to Another" (Broadway
Books, 2000, $12.95) was the first cookbook written
by a teenage vegetarian for teenage vegetarians. In
it author Lauren Butts includes recipes for meat-free
alternatives to foods that teenagers crave. Tacos, wraps,
lasagna, smoothies, stir-fries, omelets and - naturally
- burgers are among the repertoire.
"As You Like It Cookbook: Imaginative Gourmet
Dishes With Exciting Vegetarian Options" (SquareOne,
2001, $16.95) is by Ron Pickarski, a vegetarian certified
executive chef. He created 200-plus recipes to bridge
the gap between vegetarians and nonvegetarians with
easy substitutions and variations for both.
"Help! My Child Stopped Eating Meat! An A-Z Guide
to Surviving a Conflict in Diets" (Continuum, $16.95)
by Carol Adams includes explanations and advice about
handling family and emotional issues as well as nutrition
information and recipes. The Vegetarian Food Guide for
9-to 18-year olds is one particularly helpful part of
the nutrition section.
"The Vegetarian 5-Ingredient Gourmet" (Broadway,
$15.95) by Nava Atlas is the latest of her eight vegetarian
cookbooks, including "The Vegetarian Family Cookbook."
The 250 recipes range from simple - Chili Dogs and Sloppy
Joes - to sophisticated - Gnocchi with Fresh Greens
and Warm Potato Salad with Goat Cheese. - Louis Mahoney