Vegetarianism as a Political (and Religious) Tool
There’s a popular myth in the American yoga community that Indian vegetarianism began as a spiritual response to humanity’s place in the cosmos. The concept of ahimsa, or non-violence, is cited as the catalyst for widespread vegetarianism, used by some to propagate the message to an American audience.
In his book Cannibals and Kings, Marvin Harris devoted two entire chapters to destroying this misconception. Animal taboos—be it complete abstinence or the outcasting of the dirty pig or sacred cow—originated as social tools when meat became scarce or prohibitively expensive.
Harris argues that two waves of vegetarianism hit India. First was a brahman ploy so they could enjoy meat without worrying about shortages due to lower caste consumption—abstinence as social posturing. The second occurred after the Islamic invasion in the eighth century. Muslims had no issue eating beef, yet were respectful of religious observances. If they slaughtered cows, there would be no ghee or milk; even brahmans gave up meat to keep dairy flowing. The political reality became a spiritual mythology.
Such instances are common; as Harris wrote,
Cases in which production systems have changed to conform to the requirements of changed religious systems regardless of cost/benefit considerations either do not exist or are extremely rare.
Harris knew in 1977 what many today are still not aware of: the energy needed for plant compared to livestock production is tremendously skewed. As this affected eighth century India dramatically, one can only imagine how it has manifested today. Vegetarianism remains one of the most potent if undiscussed (or condescendingly derided) political tools of our time.
As former Ironman triathlete and ultramarathon champion Brendan Brazier writes in Thrive Foods, we are facing a new nutrition paradigm of individual and global significance. The longstanding myth that nutrition is ‘calories in vs calories out’ has been fortunately abolished thanks to our growing understanding of mineral content in our foods. And since North America leads the planet in soil mineral depletion, having lost 85% over the past century, how we grow our food and what foods we consume are increasingly important.
In 2008 it was discovered by the United Nations and Worldwatch Institute that 70% of food is devoted exclusively to livestock feed. And since this predominantly involves monocrops, the soil never has the chance to recover; any nutrients the animals we ingest should be getting are gone. Thirty-three percent of the world’s arable land is dedicated to growing crops solely for animal consumption. All told, 70% of the earth’s arable land—30% of our planet’s land surface—is used for livestock production.
This is, obviously, an unsustainable usage of land, so much so that last year Forbes reported that 51% of greenhouse gas emissions are caused by livestock production. Taking into account that human population is predicted to grow by 35% by 2050, and that livestock production is expected to grow along with it, vegetarianism—or at the very least, a serious decline in meat eating—may soon not be an option at all.
It’s not only land that is affected in this process. While 75% of the earth’s surface is water, only 2.5% is fresh. Seventy percent of that is ice, so 30% is left for human usage. Of that thirty, over 99% is now polluted. Of that less than 1% remaining potable water, 92% is used for irrigation and industry. As 2,500 gallons of water is needed to produce just one pound of beef, this too will quickly prove unsustainable. We can't keep up with the demand.
The argument that ‘eating healthy is too expensive’ has fortunately been proven to be a myth as well. While governmental subsidizing is the only reason McDonald’s can sell 99-cent hamburgers, the true economics of nutrition reveal a different story. It takes 51.9 times more land and resources to produce a comparable amount of calories and micronutrients from beef than hemp seeds, and a staggering 2,900 times more than kale. As for water, beef requires 52.7 times more than an equivalent micronutrient profile of sweet potatoes.
The NIH has estimated that the United States health expense bill stemming from poor diet is $250 billion annually. The process is as expensive going in as it is coming out. Combine that with climate change costs and you find an entire system in need of a serious overhaul.
Perhaps there will be a day when American vegetarianism is more broadly cited as having a spiritual purpose, to unite us with some ineffable substance or be ‘closer to the land.’ We’ll have our sacred cow mythologies to counter our annoyance that bovines are scrambling along the highways. However today we can see this process unfolding in real time: our meat addiction will not last, and the quicker we realize that, the better for the health of our planet as well as our species.
What would happen if you tripled the US population? Join Matthew Yglesias and Charles Duhigg at 1pm ET on Monday, September 28.
Whether or not women think beards are sexy has to do with "moral disgust"
- A new study found that women perceive men with facial hair to be more attractive as well as physically and socially dominant.
- Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength, social assertiveness, and formidability.
- Women who display higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, are more likely to prefer hairy faces.
Beards and perceptions of masculinity<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg0MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NzkxMjM3N30.cH-GqNwP5GVqvstgJWAhBPn1B_lYpVEAI0I7iax7EQw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C1900%2C0%2C849&height=700" id="caae6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="cb0a355a4e8e1899789bc45f3f7aef56" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Photo Credit: Wikimedia<p>The study used 919 American (mostly white) women ages 18-70 who rated 30 pictures of men they were shown with various stages of facial hair growth. The photographs depicted men with faces that had been digitally altered to look more feminine or more masculine, with a beard and without a beard. The women rated the men according to perceived attractiveness for long-term and short-term relationships. The study found that the more facial hair the men had, the higher the men were rated on their attractiveness, particularly for their suitability for a long-term relationship.</p><p>Part of this might be attributed to facial masculinity — i.e. protruding brow ridge, wide cheekbones, thick jawline, and deeply set narrow eyes — which conveys information to a woman about a man's underlying health and formidability. Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength and social assertiveness. It can also indicate a man with a superior immune response. The researchers suggested that their findings favoring bearded men could be due to the fact that facial hair enhances the masculine facial features on a man's face, like creating the illusion of a thicker jaw line. This could communicate direct benefits to women like resources and protection that would enhance survival among mothers and their infants. In other words, while a beard doesn't mean superior genetics in and of itself, it might be a primitive, ornamental way of saying, "Hey girl, I'm a testosterone-fueled lean, mean, pathogen fighting machine." <br></p><p>It could also be that a beard becomes its own destiny. The researchers in this study cite prior research that found that by growing a beard, men felt more masculine and had higher levels of serum testosterone, which was linked to a higher level of social dominance. They also tended to subscribe to more old-school beliefs about gender roles in their relationships with women as compared to men with clean-shaven faces.<span></span><br></p>
What does disgust have to do with beard preference?<p>Obviously, not all women dig beards. The researchers were particularly interested in what traits make a women prefer bearded men over clean-shaven faces. They looked into several factors including a woman's disgust levels on various concepts, her desire to become pregnant, and her exposure to facial hair in her personal life. </p><p>According to the study, women who were not into facial hair were turned-off by potential parasites or other critters they imagined could be in the hair or skin. Women ranking high on this "ectoparasite disgust" scale might have viewed beards as a sign of poor grooming habits. However, women who ranked higher in levels of "pathogen" did find the bearded men to be desirable, possibly because they perceived beards as a signal of good health and immune function. An intriguing discovery in the study was links to morality. Women who displayed higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, were more likely to prefer hairy faces. The authors opined that this could reflect a link between beardedness, politically conservative outlooks, and traditional views regarding performances of masculinity in heterosexual relationships.</p>
Additional findings<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg1My9vcmlnaW4uZ2lmIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDI1NjUyOX0.P9B8WbmJR0q4nfzYZKbuNSA-2SAigVWJgrQE-_Gxlds/img.gif?width=980" id="49143" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2ed3b1d6f20fc170bf2974646e565e8d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />Giphy<p>The correlations that existed between married and single women's rating on the attractiveness of beards were not particularly clear, although the researchers noted that single and married women who wanted children tended to find beards more attractive than the women who didn't want children. They also found that women with bearded husbands found beards to be more attractive, which might indicate that social exposure to beards influences how desirable they are perceived of as being. Or it could be that men with wives who like beards grow beards.</p><p>It's important to note that culture plays a huge role in how attractive women perceive certain male characteristics as being. This study looked at a small, culturally specific group of American women, so no big, universal claims should be made about masculinity, facial hair, and male desirability to women. However, research like this is important in highlighting how human grooming decisions are driven by much more than fashion trends. Sociobiological, economic, and ecological factors all play a part in the way we choose to present ourselves.</p>
Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in America with three Michelin stars, joins Big Think Live.
Having been exposed to mavericks in the French culinary world at a young age, three-star Michelin chef Dominique Crenn made it her mission to cook in a way that is not only delicious and elegant, but also expressive, memorable, and true to her experience.
New experiments find weird quantum activity in supercold gas.
Quantum Mechanics, Onions, and a Theory of Everything<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="036ae7b8dd661df2d125a3421a0299ba"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/bcVruA0AJ-o?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Researchers say that moral self-licensing occurs "because good deeds make people feel secure in their moral self-regard."
Books about race and anti-racism have dominated bestseller lists in the past few months, bringing to prominence authors including Ibram Kendi, Ijeoma Oluo, Reni Eddo-Lodge, and Robin DiAngelo.