Nietzsche was staunchly anti-vegatarian. And I’m sure if he were alive today, he would be (even more) staunchly anti-vegan. An interesting thing he said in one of his books were about philosophers having ignorance when it came to nutrition, history, and physiology.
How come there hasn’t been anyone to create a philosophy of nutrition, or essay the truths about nutrition? This is my attempt:
1. Nutrition and ethics should be separate
If someone wants to be vegetarian or vegan for ethical reasons, I’m totally cool with that. I think people should eat according to their own code of ethics. However the biggest problem about debates on nutrition (vegetarianism and veganism) is this:
When vegetarians or vegans try to promote a “plant based diet” as being “healthier”, they also say it’s “better for the planet” and “less cruel”.
To Nassim Taleb’s point, we shouldn’t invoke more than one reason to prove a point. Whenever I hear someone trying to promote an argument by bringing up more than 1 point, I get suspicious.
2. What were humans “designed” for?
Certainly humans (from a biological perspective) can eat both meat and plant items. There’s a lot that our stomachs can process as food and nutrition. Then comes the question:
What were we designed to eat?
I find this question misleading. Why? It infers that somehow God deigned us to be a certain way. In fact, the way we evolved was totally random. Humans in the past who starved to death exited the gene pool. Therefore it seems humans of the past who were best able to appropriate any food sources and nutrition continued to propagate into today.
In today’s safe and easy world we can literally subsist on almost anything. I can eat nothing but eggs and I won’t starve to death. Or I can eat only beans and rice and I won’t starve to death. Almost any diet can prevent us from dying.
But I believe the main question we have is this:
What is the optimal or the “best” diet for humans?
But philosophically– best for what? Optimal for what? Muscle growth and fat loss? Brain strength? Longevity (how many years we can live until we die)? Or for maximal vigor, energy and power?
3. My definition of the “best” diet and nutrition
For my purposes, I will say the optimal diet and nutrition is:
- Maximize your life span in maximally vigorous health: I wish to live to be 120-140 years old and still deadlift over 405 pounds.
- Maximize your physical and muscular strength: Maximum muscle mass, and minimal body fat (ideally under 10% for myself). To indefinitely get “lean gains” (slowly and steadily gain muscle mass without gaining adipose [fat] tissue).
- Don’t get heart disease or cancer. Ideally I would die because the metabolic limit of human life has ended (~120 years I believe based on our size, and heart rate). I plan on avoiding any heart disease or cancer through rigorous intermittent fasting (no breakfast and lunch everyday), no sugars, no carbs, no starches, no corn syrups, etc. Autophagy triggered by intermittent fasting to have my body “self eat” pre-cancerous cells.
4. What did the Ancient Greeks prefer to eat?
When we read the Iliad or Odyssey of Homer, how did they eat? Based on my readings and understanding:
- They didn’t really eat much during the day.
- Their main meal was in the evening, with massive feasts of fatty cuts of meat (thigh bones toasted and wrapped in fat and cooked as spits), bread, and wine (remember back in those days, wine was highly diluted with water).
Or better yet, what didn’t they eat?
- They didn’t eat beans
- They didn’t eat kale or quinoa
- They didn’t drink ‘shakes’ or ‘juice’ mixtures
What were the preferred food of the ancient Greeks and Romans? Of course meat! In fact, cattle was seen as the main currency (could be eaten, used as labor, milk, etc). The word ‘capital‘ actually comes from ‘cattle’ (heads of cattle). ‘Capitalis‘ is the Latin word.
Even when the ancient Greeks would sacrifice to the gods, they would sacrifice a ‘hecatomb‘ (a hundred cattle). A description of their sacrifice/feast:
They cut out the thigh-bones, wrapped them round in two layers of fat, set some pieces of raw meat on the top of them, and then [the priest] laid them on the wood fire and poured wine over them, while the young men stood near him with five-pronged spits in their hands. When the thigh-bones were burned and they had tasted the inward meats, they cut the rest up small, put the pieces upon the spits, roasted them till they were done, and drew them off: then, when they had finished their work and the feast was ready, they ate it, and every man had his full share, so that all were satisfied. As soon as they had had enough to eat and drink, pages filled the mixing-bowls with wine and water and handed it round, after giving every man his drink-offering.
Also from what I understand, organ meats are actually the most nutritious in an animal (wild animals and predators first eat the organ meats of their prey, and often leave the lean meats to the scavengers).
Why did the ancient Greeks and the heroes of Homer prefer to eat meat? Obviously because it was superior in nutrition, and the ability to augment the strength of the heroes in war.
If you were an ancient fighter, warrior, or hero — would you prefer to have a diet in beans or fatty cattle meat? Obviously the animal meat is superior for nutrition.
5. Some days be a pure vegan, and some days be a pure carnivore?
The most interesting theory about nutrition is from Nassim Taleb in his book ‘Antifragile’. Essentially the notion is this:
Perhaps once a week be a pure vegan, and other days be pure carnivore.
Why? Perhaps our body needs some periods of protein deprivation in order to strengthen our biological faculties (similar to how intermittent fasting strengthens us).
Also, the benefit of eating bitter herbs and vegetables isn’t probably for the ‘vitamins and minerals’, but actually through the process of ‘hormesis’ (a small dose of poison strengthens you) [link to PubMed Article]. The bitter toxins in leafy green vegetables (like collard greens or kale) are used to ward off insects. For us humans, we are big and strong enough to not get poisoned from the mild toxins in bitter vegetables, and this very small dose of ‘toxicity’ strengthens us. The similar notion is in caffeine (a natural pesticide in coffee and tea plants) — its enough to ward off insects and predators, but its toxins give us humans a (nice) adrenaline rush, and is an effective ‘hermetin’ (a substance which sparks ‘hormesis’) [PubMed Article on Hormesis link]
Gettingstronger.org offers a great introduction to hormesis >
Therefore for optimal health, it isn’t to be purely a carnivore all the time, nor to be a pure vegan all the time. But to cycle between the both intermittently.
6. Better to be a pure carnivore than a pure vegan
If I had my pick, I would prefer to be a pure carnivore over a pure vegan. Certainly it would be superior for muscle growth and strength. No matter how nutritious nuts, beans, lentils, and quinoa may be — it will never be as great as flesh meat. Why? Meat has more saturated fat (better to boost testosterone levels and stimulate muscular growth), better to appease your appetite, and repair your muscles. There is a reason why all the world’s #1 winning strongmen eat meat, not a pure vegan diet.
7. Why do we eat meat?
If humans didn’t eat meat, our brains probably wouldn’t have been able to evolve to be so big.
Another question to ask:
If humans can live fine on a vegan/vegetarian diet, then why did our ancestors start to eat meat?
Obviously there is a nutritional advantage to eating meat (especially organ meats), compared to eating just plant items.
Unorthodox Nutrition and Health/Fitness Ideas
More of my nutritional experiments and philosophies:
- Life Experiment: Intermittent Fasting, Walk around all day, Workout Three Times
- Powerlifting while Fasting
- Intermittent Fasting Tips
- Why I Fast