Saturday, September 24, 2011

Diets, Fads and Religion

I recently interacted with a couple of people who I didn't realize were animal welfare activists.  Not PETA members but apparently just as fanatical.

When I told them I had been a vegetarian and even a vegan for a number of years in my late 20s-early 30s they seemed to get quite animated (i.e. there is hope...we can draw her back).  They seemed about to crush my argument of losing energy while on a vegetarian diet when I pulled out the big guns and told them that I was no longer a vegetarian because of medical reasons.

That confounded them and I could see the disbelief in their eyes.  I repeated the phrase "We all have our own beliefs when it comes to our diet" a number of times in a number of different ways.  One of them was dismissive, immediately.  I felt the need to explain even further and was flustered by not remembering all the fancy names for the chemicals and the reactions that take place in the stomach when certain foods are eaten by people with certain auto immune diseases.

It brought to mind a potluck dinner party I went to in the last year where there was discussion about what ingredients were in certain foods (undoubtedly instigated by myself since being gluten free always inspires this).  After about 10 minutes of lively discussions by pairings in the entire party (we were all in the kitchen gathering our plates of food) someone piped up:  "Remember when we went to dinner parties and nobody talked about dietary restrictions?".  All of us laughed because yes, I think the 21st century has brought an awareness of food and health issues and the scientific research has advanced enough so that even an individual who is not a food scientist/nutritionist/doctor can assess for themselves how they feel eating certain foods and eliminating others.

For example, have you ever given up gluten?  When I first gave up gluten I felt a definitely lifting of "brain fog" that I had no idea was even there.  I've talked to others about this and it is not uncommon.  Unfortunately that is not why I remain gluten free.  I follow a specialty diet since I have multiple sclerosis.  My logic in doing so is:  a) I can't afford the traditional treatments; and b) there is not a lot of evidence that the treatments do anything.  So since I really don't have anything to lose and can possibly prevent blindness or a wheelchair in my future (or worse) I might as well give this a go.  And from nearly 5 years of experience following the diet I can say that the diet affects my quality of life too.

As I attempted to explain this, the looks of disbelief in the eyes of the animal rights activists I was talking to broke my heart.  These are people that haven't faced these type of choices and they were regarding my own choice as evidence that I was some kind of wacko.

This is the way many  people regard religious fanatics too yet mega food corporations have embraced them. These companies are merely exemplifying the age old truism:  "Religion makes money".  I find it offensive that people automatically dismiss diet restrictions as a fad when many people are following them for real health reasons.  These same people might respect a muslim for their halal food choices or a jew for their kosher choices in the interest of embracing religious diversity.  I don't really expect that to change anytime soon but by writing this perhaps I will enlighten just one person.  As one activist I had contact with for many years used to say in the face of clear public adversity:  "We soldier onwards."



  1. Orla,

    Your post made my day ... very good to read. I've been following the BB diet for about a month now, too soon to say its effects (though I think it is helping me with fatigue), but I can certainly relate to the looks of disbelief and the reaction that this is a weird fad. It *is* hard to explain ...

    You might find it useful to look at The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith, who is a friend of a friend ( A number of people I know abandoned the idea that vegetarianism is more more moral (or more healthy, or more sustainable) after reading it. In the US it's available on Amazon, I don't know where you are but distances don't mean so much any more.

    MS is not new to me - I was diagnosed about 30 years ago - but the disability part *is* new, after many years of simply trying to ignore it and get on with my life.

    Part of what I related to in what you wrote was your mention of activism; being a social activist has been central to my identity for most of my life, now it seems that I need a new network (& some new friends) to support the focus on my health. I know it will come, but it's hard to be patient.

    thanks for your thoughts, & your blog,

    best, RK

  2. RK: Thanks so too made my day :) And thank-you for the book suggestion although I don't need any further convincing on the subject.....I gave up vegetarianism long before the MS diagnosis/BBD change since my energy levels were so depleted.

    I hope you check out my lapsed recipe blog ( for some inspiration on your new BBD journey. The Gluten Free Goddess( is another fantastic resource.

    I agree that a new network is needed and I've struggled with that too (although the MS Diet yahoo list is amazing when you are new to this). I've recently started thinking that developing a real life monthly BBD meeting here in Toronto might be a good idea and your comment reinforces that...thx :)


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