January 1, 1987
Jarvis explains his reasoning on how ideological vegetarianism forms and provides an example "The case of Sonja and Khachadour Atikian illustrates what can happen to those seduced by ideologic vegetarianism."
Why I am not a vegetarian
Much of my professional life has been spent studying health fraud, quackery, and related misinformation, and their impact on people's lives. I have discerned a recurrent sequence of behaviors: First, the prospective vegetarian eliminates reportedly unhealthful foods from his or her diet, beginning with foods that society considers "bad for you" (e.g., sugar, coffee, and white bread). Next, if concerns about food safety grow to neurotic proportions, the person scrutinizes labels and worries about ingredients indicated by terms he doesn't understand. Then he may patronize health food stores, where clerks and publications can feed his phobias. He may treat modern foods as poisonous. Finally, if he deems vegetarianism not restrictive enough, the "health foodist" may turn to veganism. In my opinion, it is at this point that vegetarianism becomes hazardous, especially for children.
The case of Sonja and Khachadour Atikian illustrates what can happen to those seduced by ideologic vegetarianism. The Atikians were ÃmigrÃs from Lebanon who because of unrelenting media barrages focusing on environmental pollution, diet, and health became overly concerned about the safety and healthfulness of modern foods. Sonja Atikian began shopping at health food stores instead of supermarkets. Gerhardt Hanswille, a self-styled herbalist from Germany, taught classes in the rear of a health food store she patronized. Although Hanswille was not licensed to practice medicine, he saw 40 to 45 "patients" day. He treated Ms. Atikian for a sore knee, and she took some of his courses. Hanswille taught that: (a) people should not kill animals, nor consume animal products; (b) God intended cow's milk to be food for calves, not human babies; (c) eating eggs deprives hens of fulfilling their divinely intended role as mothers; (d) people should not poison themselves or the earth with the unnatural products of modern living; (e) using herbs both as food and as medicine is God's way; and (f) the medicines of doctors are poisons. "Choose whom you will believe," said Hanswille, "me or the doctors. You can't have it both ways."
Ms. Atikian chose poorly. Except for eating fish occasionally, she followed the herbalist's advice during pregnancy. She delivered a healthy 8.2-lb girl named Loreie. Hanswille convinced the Atikians that the newborn would become a superbaby if they gave her a vegetarian diet of raw, organic foods. He dissuaded them from having the infant immunized and from continuing to see a pediatrician. And he induced them to rely on him for healthcare advice.
Four and a half months after her birth, Lorie's weight was still at the 75th percentile, but when she was 11 months old, breast-feeding her sole source of animal food discontinued. Fed only fruits, vegetables, and rice, she eventually stopped growing, slept more and more, and had more and more infections. As the baby's health spiraled downward, Hanswille assured the parents that her decline was merely "the poisons coming out of her body" and that she would eventually become the superbaby they desired. In 1987, 17-month-old Loreie died of bronchial pneumonia complicated by severe malnutrition. She weighed 111/4 lbs. The Atikians were charged with failing to provide their daughter with the "necessaries of life." Their defense was that they had truly believed they had been providing the "necessaries of life" when they followed Hanswille's advice. The judge acquitted them after the discovery that the prosecution had failed to provide important information supporting the couple's story. https://quackwatch.org/related/victims/atikian/ - for more information
Let's run through some other examples of ideologic vegetarian extremism:
* It caused mental and growth retardation in two boys underfed from birth to ages 3 and 5. Their mother had become a vegetarian, later eliminated sugar and dairy products from her diet, and eventually adopted a macrobiotic diet (see "Peculiar Vegetarianism" ). 4* Ten cases of nutritional rickets were reported among infants (most of whom were breast-fed) of strict-vegetarian mothers who had not sought medical counsel during pregnancy but had obtained advice from health food stores. 5* Scurvy and rickets occurred in two boys, 11/2 and 21/2 years old, whose parents were adherents of the Zen Macrobiotic diet (see Peculiar Vegetarianism below). 6* A 36-year-old former college professor attempted to become a " breatharian" one who supposedly feeds on air alone and died of malnutrition. First he became a vegetarian, then a fruitarian, then a " liquidarian" (consuming juices only), and finally, a would-be breatharian. 7* A 2-month-old boy died because his mother, following the invalid recommendation for colic in Adelle Davis's Let's Have Healthy Children, overdosed him with potassium. 8 In a television interview, the mother said that, as she became increasingly estranged toward conventional medicine, she had adopted vegetarianism and then veganism.* A 24-year-old woman who was head of San Jose State University's student art program died after taking an extract of pennyroyal to induce an abortion. She was described as "a strict vegetarian who was involved in holistic medicine." 9
For the ideologist, vegetarianism is a hygienic religion. It enables believers to practice self-denial. As a religion, vegetarianism attracts the guilt-ridden. It attracts masochists because it gives guilt a boost. And it seduces the unskeptical by causing guilt and/or by instilling false guilt. Guilt leads to self-denial, even asceticism. The belief that salvation is attainable by eschewing worldly pleasures marked the asceticism of early Christian zealots. Similarly, health neurotics with medical problems seem to believe that the more they restrict their alimentary pleasures, the more their health will improve. Fasting, austere diets, enemas, and the ingestion of bitter herbs are consistent with the psychological needs of health neurotics, many of whom shun those voices of conventional medicine and public health that might disenchant them.
Of course, I don't blame ideologic vegetarianism per se entirely for tragedies such as those outlined above. Mental or emotional disorders apparently figure in many instances. In such cases, extremism is more to blame. This doesn't take ideologic vegetarianism off the hook, however, for it can fuel or ignite psychological problems.