“Vegetarians and Their Superior Blood” – Well done, James Hamblin and the Atlantic

James Hamblin, writing in the Atlantic, has an amusing article on a new study on diet and health. This one is published in an offshoot journal of the JAMA, and it concerns a meta-analysis of RCTs and cohort studies on blood-pressure measurements of people eating vegetarian diets. The author ably covers the implications of the reasearch, while also noting that the purported effects are quite small, that cohort studies are unreliable and probably skew the results, that alternative therapies exists, and that Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) is in fact a vegan advocacy group.

Yet the most entertaining parts come from the author’s willingness to let the unscientific eccentricity of the PCRM spokesperson tell its own story.

“You know how on Thanksgiving everyone kind of dozes off? People say it’s the tryptophan in the turkey, but it’s not. It’s all the gravy and the grease that’s entered their bloodstream. It reduces the amount of oxygen that’s getting to their brain and they just fall asleep.”

This would seem to suggest that Dr. Neal Bernard believes that gravy, once consumed, enters the blood stream. My understanding is that gravy, like all foods is broken down in the stomach and small intestines into free fatty acids, sugars, and protein (as well as vitamins and minerals for use throughout the body), with the unusable stuff passing through the large intestine for disposal later. But he’s the doctor.

And what else could be affected by blood flow? One thing might be athletic performance. Take the fastest animals, take a stallion, they don’t eat meat or cheese, so their blood is not viscous at all. Their blood flows well.

Really? Ask any 10 year old, what’s the fastest land animal? A cheetah (they can run about 30 miles per hour faster than “a stallion”). Gets 100% of its nutrition from eating other animals.

Well, the same place that a stallion or a bull or an elephant or a giraffe or a gorilla or any other vegan animal gets it. The most powerful animals eat plant-based diets.

Keep in mind this is the designated spokesperson for PCRM on this issue. When the other people in PCRM ask themselves – “Who among us can articulate our point of view in a way that sounds measured and reasonable?” they picked this guy.

Anyway, five seconds of reflection on powerful animals that eat meat yields up lions, kodiak bears, killer whales. I am sure we could come up with more.

The gorilla comment is interesting, though. I think vegetarians tend to struggle with the idea that people are animals, but that doesn’t make it any less true. We are one variant in the countless variations of animals. As such, we are more like some animals, and less like others. We aren’t much like “a stallion,” but we are very much like a chimpanzee or a bonobo – our closest relatives in the animal kingdom. And of course both chimps and bonobos eat meat.

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