“How do you know if someone is a vegan?
“Don’t worry. They’ll tell you.”
My friend Johnny Mac told us that joke this summer when we saw him on Prince Edward Island. I loved it. It’s funny because it’s true.
Nowadays, proselytizing for religion is not considered cool – it is the domain of creepy Mormons in crisp white shirts, greasy southern Evangelical Christians, and fame-addled celebrity Scientologists. People do, however, feel more than free to trumpet their diet and exercise regimes. Not only do these practices preserve and promote health, they, apparently, often heal the sick, and could even save the planet, if – dare I say it – they were to be religiously applied.
How long can it be before there is a diet to raise the dead?
Of course, dietary restrictions and religions have always gone hand-in-hand – kosher rules in Judaism, halal practices in Islam, prescribed fasting in Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christianity, and on and on and on – so it should not be surprising that, even in the absence of direct religious influence, diet and exercise take on moralist, even messianic, tones.
Indeed, many popular diet and exercise regimes appeal to spiritual or metaphysical authority, especially – but not exclusively – when the scientific evidence is thin. Macrobiotics is based on Chinese concepts of qi, yin and yang, and the five elements, as are Tai Chi and martial arts. Yoga, of course, invokes ancient Indian beliefs. Vegetarians sometimes invoke Far Eastern notions of reincarnation as a rationale for refraining from eating animals. Uncle Izzy, is that you in the beef stew!
The more exotic the rational, the better. Personally, I am waiting for a diet and exercise protocol based on the four humours of ancient Greek physiology – and the accompanying bloodletting. Perhaps the International Olympic Committee should get on that.
Failing that, I’d settle for the application of Aristotle’s golden mean and some moderation in dietetic rhetoric. Just because I enjoy a slice of bacon, doesn’t mean I go around strangling kittens in my spare time.
And yes, I am fully aware of where bacon comes from. When I was about 10 years old, I watched for the first time as my grandfather slaughtered a pig. Next, I watched my grandmother roast up a chunk of it. Then I ate it. Delicious.