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The Seduction of Simplistic Raw Vegan Dogma
Psychology and Motivation

by Tom Billings
Copyright © 1998 by Thomas E. Billings. All rights reserved.
Contact author for permission to republish.


If you have ever been involved in raw vegan diets, you may have noticed that many folks get strongly attached to their dietary dogma--to the point of reacting in a hostile manner when their diet is challenged. Why do people get so attached to simplistic dietary dogma? What is so appealing--so seductive--about it? Here, we explore the array of reasons why dietary dogma can be so seductive, and what it appears to provide to those who are "true believers."

Ready? Open wide and say "Ahhh!"

A R T I C L E   O U T L I N E

A couple of definitions

In looking at this question, our objective will be to investigate why simplistic dietary dogma--much of which conflicts with ordinary common sense--is nonetheless so popular in the raw vegan community. This article deals specifically with raw vegan diets, so in the interest of brevity the terms "raw diet" and/or "raw vegan (diet)" will be used as abbreviations for "raw or predominantly raw (75+% raw by weight) vegan diets." Many of the points made here are also relevant to non-vegan or non-raw diets, but readers concerned with such diets will need to evaluate the material here for relevancy on an issue-by-issue basis.

Note: the next few paragraphs provide background information for readers who might not be familiar with the raw vegan movement or its dogma. If you are knowledgeable about the movement, feel free to skip the background information and proceed to the section that follows it.

What exactly is claimed / What do people want to believe?

By way of introduction, as some readers may read this article before other related articles on this site, it is appropriate to briefly describe the simplistic dietary dogma found in the raw vegan community, and often promoted by extremists and/or raw diet "gurus." Examples of such dogma include the following claims:

Now, if one simply stops for a moment and thinks about such claims, one will immediately observe that those who believe such wild claims clearly expect a great deal--and all from what is on their lunch plate! :-) Imagine that! Perfection, world peace, and a new paradise all can be found by simply modifying/controlling what is on your lunch plate!

Because many of the above claims are clearly anti-common sense and the promoters of such claims often provide no credible evidence for them, it is reasonable to characterize them, in general, as "simplistic." (The claims promoted via crank science include scientific "proof," but said proof is bogus/false.)

The seductiveness of raw vegan dogma is illustrated by the situation that many people self-identify so strongly with the diet and its principles (dogma), that they react harshly (and defensively) when someone questions or challenges their diet/dogma (i.e., their lunch). To observe this firsthand, one can join certain raw vegan-oriented (Internet) email lists, and/or visit certain raw vegan web sites, where one may encounter extremists promoting the "glories" of raw veganism in negative, hostile, aggressive, and intellectually dishonest ways.

As regards intellectual dishonesty, one can find examples of blatant, massive plagiarism, as well as examples of crank science (e.g., such false claims as "fruit is just like mother's milk," "humans are natural frugivores," and so on). Fear--specifically, pathological fear--is also often used as a tool to promote such diets: e.g., fear of "mucus," fear of protein, and the fear of cooked food. (The latter is sometimes paired with bigotry--the hatred of cooked-food consumers.)

All one need do is to challenge or question any of the above claims, or other parts of the raw "party line" in the "wrong" location (one dominated by extremists and/or their followers) and you will probably be the target of harsh, immature, personal attacks. Consider that you question or challenge dietary dogma, and you then become the target of hostility, perhaps even threats. Is this, then, the kind of dietary philosophy that leads to a paradisical state of peaceful lovingkindness predicted by its followers? Judging by results as exemplifed in some of the very people claiming these things, it appears that an occupational hazard of such dogma is instead intolerance, closed-mindedness, and hatred of others for not believing as one does oneself--not exactly what you would expect on the way to world peace and enlightenment.

Other examples of rawists who are clearly attached to simplistic dietary dogma include those who ignore symptoms of illness as "detox" (sometimes with tragic results); those emaciated rawists who are convinced that a long fast will detox and "cure" them (fasting in such a situation can be harmful); and those deluded rawists who attack others for the terrible "crime" of violating the sanctity of the "holy sacrament of food combining." :-) [Note: smiley applies only to last part of preceding sentence.]

Scope and disclaimers

This article is concerned primarily with those aspects of the raw "party line" that are bogus, dubious, and dysfunctional in a health sense. Please note that it is possible to be a rawist and not be deluded or seduced by the extremist aspects of raw vegan dogma. This article is provided for two purposes:

  1. To help rawists examine their own attitudes towards the raw "party line" (raw dogma), and

  2. To help non-rawists understand the raw movement (and its unusual psychology) better.

It is hoped that a better understanding of the personal attitudes we may hold regarding raw dogma will help rawists, figuratively, "see the light" of rationality, and ultimately move towards a better, more functional dietary philosophy.

Readers are also advised that this article is based on the author's long personal experience as a rawist, and interaction with many rawists over the years. I have been fortunate to meet a number of mentally balanced rawists, and also fortunate (?)--it has been an educational, but very unpleasant experience--to meet quite a few raw dietary extremists (many of whom in my opinion are severely mentally unbalanced). Because there is little or no peer-reviewed, published research on the psychology of extreme diets (especially raw vegan) other than the research on eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating disorder, etc.), this article should be seen as a first draft of a work in progress. Accordingly, I welcome constructive comments and pointers to relevant published research on the topic (or closely related topics--please note that I am aware of the eating disorder literature).

OVERVIEW: Summary of major reasons why seduction by simplistic dogmas occurs

Having introduced the context for this paper, the next topic is to examine WHY simplistic, anti-common-sense, extremist dietary dogma is so attractive to some, i.e., why it is so "seductive." A short list of reasons is as follows.

Let's examine each of the above aspects. The discussion below is relatively brief, as these topics are in some cases addressed in other articles on this site. (Pointers are given where appropriate.)

EXCESSIVE IDEALISM: The partner of gullibility

Excessive idealism may drive one to want, even to expect (quite literally, to demand) that nature can and MUST be thoroughly explainable via simplistic, often mindless, so-called "laws." One can even find dietary extremists who promote phony, simplistic notions of nature's laws, while simultaneously claiming that nature is ultimately a mystery.

An example of this can be seen in intellectually dishonest attempts by some fruitarian extremists to ignore the fossil record--which provides convincing evidence that humans are natural omnivores/faunivores--at the same time they promote their own pseudoscientific version of human prehistory, or even resort to creationism to deny well-established science on human diet in prehistory. (This is a topic in itself. That fruitarian extremists dishonestly try to promote simplistic versions of nature's laws, however, while claiming the converse, i.e., that nature is a mystery, shows how they are relying, even if not fully aware of it themselves, on the idealism and gullibility of their converts/potential followers.)

Returning to the topic of idealism, then, we note that excessive idealism may blind one to the obvious reality that nature is not constrained or limited by our ideas; nature simply IS. Further, nature is not concerned with our dogma, theories, or egos.

Another example may help clarify and illustrate the above points. Dietary extremists are fond of telling us that we humans are the only animal that cooks food, and hence, cooking is UNnatural and harmful. In some cases the claim is backed up with a bit of real science, but much of the evidence presented often falls into the realm of crank science. We can summarize this view via the mindless slogan, "raw is law." (See the article Is Cooked Food Poison? Looking at the Science on Raw vs. Cooked Foods on this site for details on raw vs. cooked foods).

The idea that animals don't do it, hence it is UNnatural, can, however, be applied to many other peculiarly human habits as well: using computers and reading websites (like this one! :-) ), reading books, magazines, and newsletters, living in heated/air-conditioned houses, often with indoor plumbing, driving cars, and so on. If the animal-based naturalism model described above is valid, then the activities listed in the preceding sentence are dubious, and are just as UNnatural as cooking is supposed to be. [Sarcastic side note: will some immature fanatic send hate email on this point? Beware: email is UNnatural too! :-) ] Additional real-world evidence against "raw is law" is discussed in the article Selected Myths of Raw Foods on this site.

The point of the above example is that the naturalism or model of nature promoted by dietary extremists is clearly false, but the dietary extremists are able to sell such nonsense because of our idealism (and gullibility). In some cases, if one does question such dogma, the extremists will often respond with rationalizations and excuses. In such cases, if we are idealistic enough, we might believe the rationalizations and excuses offered--even if they are very weak (and they usually are).

Thus simplistic dietary dogma offers pat, easy explanations of nature, easy solutions to life's problems, and a false naturalism/model of nature. Such dogma is appealing because of the following claims:

A major point above is that the claims of simplicity apply to nature, life, and health; these claims appeal to our idealism, but are false and have no basis in reality. It should be mentioned, and we will acknowledge, that some health problems probably can be solved easily--but not all of them. So the claim that all problems can be solved simply by changing what is on your lunch plate is bogus.

The extremists who promote the above are doing a terrible disservice to their followers. The false naturalism and narrow views promoted discourage followers from thinking clearly about their health problems, and from seeking solutions outside the narrow confines of simplistic dietary dogma when it is failing them. As such, the extremist apparently considers simplistic dietary dogma to be more important (by default, if we look at what they do rather than what they say) than the health and well-being of their followers. In a perverse way, this represents a triumph by excessive idealism, in the form of simplistic dietary dogma, over reason and sanity. It is, of course, a sad and bitter victory, as the price may be the health of the followers of extremist dogma. (One wonders if the extremists actually care about the long-term health of their followers.)


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