One of the odder statements of Canadian self-help supremo Jordan Peterson is that his health problems have made him so sensitive to food and drink that when he drank some apple cider he did not sleep for 25 days straight. This, if true, would mean that he had doubled the record for the longest time of constant sleep deprivation. Insomnia? It happens. Cider-induced insomnia? Perhaps. Cider-induced sleeplessness that would make the inmates of Guantanamo Bay look well-rested? I can believe he thinks it happened but I can’t believe it happened.
Peterson adopted an all-beef diet on the advice of his daughter, Mikhaila, who had been following a similar meat-based diet in what she claims was a successful attempt to treat her chronic auto-immune problems. Peterson père claims that the diet has worked for him as well. Perhaps it has. I am no scientist and have no reason to dismiss his carnivorous claims.
Still, I have grown irritated as the ‘Carnivore Diet’ has risen in prominence. The Paleo Diet, which was practically plant-based in comparison as it included nuts, fruits and vegetables, must have been exhausted as a content mine as now the ‘Carnivore Diet’ is everywhere. What will be next? The Cannibal Diet? (Don’t give people ideas.)
As a vegetarian, I am of course biased against it, but I was irritated with the similarly radical restrictionist ‘raw vegan’ diet for many of the same reasons. They might work for some people. Who am I to tell them otherwise? If nothing else, cutting out white sugar, white starch and vegetable oils must have at least some positive effects on health. But the grand, quasi-magical claims that people make for these diets, and their promotion by obvious fools and mountebanks, make me bare my fangs.
In a sense, the carnivore diet appears to have prospered as an inversion of the vegan diet. People who think vegans are a pious, judgmental and pathetic kind of people are attracted to its opposite, and people who enjoy the positional good that is adoption of original, innovative, counter-intuitive lifestyles enjoy distancing themselves from a culture that is becoming more attracted to the idea of meat as wasteful and indulgent. Shawn Baker, an impressively enormous and outspoken doctor who has advocated for the carnivore diet, enjoys ranting about ‘the fucking bullshitting, lying, guilt causing, worthless sack of shit vegans’ who are ‘fucking winning’ in a ‘God damn war for the future’. Tens of billions of animals are slaughtered every year and global meat consumption has tripled but, yes, the vegans are winning.
Notably, some of the most vocal advocates of carnivore diets came from the odder fringes of the vegan movement. Shawn Baker hailed one longtime vegan who ‘put dogma aside’ and embraced the carnivore diet without realizing, perhaps, that the YouTuber was known for bizarre experiments like drinking turpentine. The ex-vegan soon transitioned to a raw meat diet before abandoning the whole ‘carnivore’ thing. Some people are hooked on dogma, and the radicalism counts for more than the content.
As much as they dislike veganism, some proud carnivores are setting themselves up as gurus with the same presumptuous and exploitative behavior that has characterized their raw vegan cousins. Take Mikhaila Peterson. I have no reason to doubt Ms Peterson when she claims that her all-meat diet fixed her health problems. My issue arises when she claims, on the back of no formal education or systematic research, that her anecdotal evidence has given the authority to pronounce on other people’s health problems, and not out of charity, but for substantial.
Peterson has set up what she calls the ‘Lion’s Lair’. (Should that not be Lion’s Den? Never mind.) The Lion’s Lair is a private group for people who are trying to fix their health conditions through a carnivore diet. The website is not just a little kooky, it is downright bonkers.
‘You don’t get better through the medical system,’ Peterson writes, ‘you get medicated.’ Now, in some cases, to be fair, this might be true. But Peterson’s website makes no distinctions between cases. Diabetes? Cancer? Munchausen’s Syndrome? Don’t go to a doctor! ‘You get better by taking that responsibility onto yourself — and mainly changing your diet and lifestyle.’
Ms Peterson does not say her diet will cure cancer, of course, but by accident or by design she heavily implies it. ‘This lion diet that healed me works for everyone,’ she writes. It works for everyone! And it does not simply cure sickness! It makes us ‘optimize’ ourselves:
‘You get healthy and you change your mindset and doors open. Everywhere. Opportunities become endless…The people in the Lions Lair are super humans — or trying to be — and they will get there because I can actually devote some time to helping them…’
Yes, Mikhaila Peterson can make you a superhuman! And all for the low, low price of — wait for it — $599 a year. This, Peterson tells us, is a ‘huge discount’. What kind of elite services can this woman be offering? ‘Personal daily access to me, live videos, live q and a’s, and there will be access to twice yearly meet-ups somewhere crazily fun.’ Personal daily access? Will they have her on speed-dial or will it be a glorified Discord server? Either way, where is this $599 a year going? To a high-end steakhouse, perhaps.
If you really find that meat — lots of meat — improves your health I cannot tell you otherwise. I am a vegetarian for ethical reasons, and suspect that at least some claims about the unhealthiness of animal products end up overcooking the vegan pudding. I would suggest, though, that if some of the world’s healthiest people — from the Japanese to the Greeks — have had diets based to a significant extent on grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits, it is implausible that the vast bulk of us, at least, are suffering from meat deficiency. I would also suggest that radical diets can lay the foundations for ‘conmunities’, which, as I have written, are thin social networks based on the wild claims of false prophets and the keen hopes of the vulnerable. Just a thought into which to sink your teeth.