The Guardian today released an article featuring several Olympic athletes who, over the years, were able to accomplish inspiring physical feats. It isn’t their diets being responsible for these achievements that the article is pointing out, per se, but more so that these elite athletes’ accomplishments contradict popular and prejudiced myths about what human beings who eat vegetarian and vegans diets are capable. Many of the articles here on The Discerning Brute challenge these popular myths – and it seems at times that the overwhelming evidence is obvious. Yet the myths endure, not unlike an ultramarathoner.

vegetarian olympiads: Paavo Nurmi 1924 Olympic Gamesvegetarian olympiads: Edwin Mosesvegetarian olympiads: Carl Lewis 1991

Paavo Nurmi – Distance Runner, Edwin Moses – Hurdles, Carl Lewis – runner, Christopher Campbell – wrestler, Bode Miller –  Skier, Emil Voigt – Distance Runner, Murray Rose – Swimmer (source The Guardian)

One might come to the conclusion that these myths are less about facts and more about maintaining the framework for a very specific (albeit intensively marketed and profitable) taste preference and worldview. Duh, right?  And if the support beams of that framework (eat muscle to become muscle) are knocked down, the entire architecture could crumble. I suspect, though, that even the “eat muscle to become muscle” logic is a further rationalization of custom, tradition, familiarity and a simple flavor preference.

I often hear people say of a meal at a good restaurant, “I had no idea this was vegan” or “I didn’t realize vegan food was delicious”. I’ve said it myself in the past when I decided to try veganism over 13 years ago are realized it was more than salad and tofu. If everyone – or at least most people – were to acquiesce, agree that there are a spectrum of non-animal sources of satisfying, filling, umami flavors, and acknowledge that this is not only a sufficient way to approach nutrition, but a pleasure, I doubt the athletic performance question would even arise. In other words, vegetarian and vegan diets need to represent an anemic and toilsome regimen that is yucky in order to maintain the food status quo. Even nutritionists and dieticians are guilty of this prejudice. We often hear them quoted “Well, it is possible to be a healthy vegan, but hats off to them for enduring such a trial”. And don’t forget the b12 scare.

What also strikes me, and supports this argument, is the insidiousness of ads for fast food and soft-drinks featuring athletes who probably rarely if ever consume them. Because they are “yummy”, they are percieved as a “good”. This is called aesthetic irrationality. This is why, even more so than science, I feel the best artillery for combating this prejudice is a plate of amazing food followed by an indulgent dessert.