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12.1.09

A Vegetarian Diet

In theory, the English word "diet" means "the set of things someone eats"* (sort of the climate to the weather of each day's menu). It functions fine in that capacity when we stick a modifier on it -- "low-sodium diet," "liquid diet," "standard American diet." But left unadorned, "diet" is assumed to mean "weight loss diet." This is symptomatic of how our culture understands food. The primary question that springs up whenever the choice of what food to eat is raised, is whether that food is slimming or fattening.

We can see some of this tendency at work in the AP's article** on a new survey of child vegetarians and vegans. A substantial part of the story is taken up with the question of plant-based diets and weight. The article says the right things about these topics -- that few people go veg as a way to lose weight, and giving up animals isn't any guarantee of weight loss***. What interests me is that this topic had to be addressed at such length. For example, the issue of motivation is introduced not simply with the statement that most do it for ethical reasons, but with the denial of the presumably-otherwise-assumed idea that it's done for health (which, as is typical, is conflated with weight).

*It also means "decision-making assembly," which was a disappointing discovery when, as a young person, I went to find out more about Martin Luther and the Diet of Worms.

**If anyone wonders why I post about AP articles so much, it's because I get paid to read the AP wire and pick which stories should go in the newspaper.

***A college friend recently expressed shock at my current eating choices in light of how scrawny she remembered me being back in my undergrad days. I replied "French fries are vegan." I was actually skinnier as an omnivore, though I attribute the change to aging and a lack of opportunities to walk for my errands in Arizona.

2 Comments:

Blogger plaidshoes said...

Veg*n definately does not guarantee weight loss! I became a vegatarian in high school and promptly gained weight. I also find mostly people I know who are vegetarian (including myself) have done it for ethical reasons. The rest for health - but not necessarily weight loss.

8:04 AM  
Blogger Alon Levy said...

I don't think the fact that the word diet refers to weight loss means much. I'd guess it's an issue of historical priority - the first diet to be popularized in the English-speaking world is a weight loss diet. Either case needs citations for the early use of the word.

10:20 PM  

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