Quantum vegetarianism

April 16th, 2010 by ftobia

First, a brief note: people forget that quantum does not denote something in physics or science fiction. A quantum is a small, discrete, indivisible unit of something. Just because the word has a science-fiction connotation does not mean it’s justified.

Most (if not all) dietary restrictions are binary. That is, you are either vegetarian or you’re not, you’re vegan or you’re not, you keep kosher or you don’t. I’m not sure why this is, but it probably has to do with ease of use. It would be cool if you could succinctly express something like “I derive 20-40% of my calories from meat, excluding delicious, delicious bacon.” Ignoring complications of language, it would be difficult even to ensure you’re sticking to your own weird dietary guide — another example is how difficult dieting is. Now I’m thinking how cool it would be to have an augmented reality system that would pop up red X’s over food you shouldn’t eat, and like, smiley faces with nutritional information over the stuff you should eat, while it keeps a tally of how you’re doing over time. But, I digress.

I think there should be more effort made into breaking down the continuum between pure vegetarianism and pure carnivorousness into more sizable chunks. Notice here I’m assuming that we define vegetarian as “someone who doesn’t eat meat”, so take that into account. Of all the different ways to break it down, we need metrics for thinking about partial vegetarianism that are easy to compute, easy to track, and easy to observe. Let’s dive right in, shall we?

For me, the easiest unit of aggregation is to not eat meat on certain days. The Catholics got to this one first. It used to be no one ate meat on Fridays, and now during lent some still don’t eat meat on Fridays. The next step I see is restricting meat consumption by meal, by either only eating meat during a certain number of meals over a period of time, or not eating meat during certain meals. Going by meals doesn’t scale well, since there’s only 3 meals in a day but 21 meals (avg) per week, so every week you would need to tally how many meals you ate meat. Then again, even when you avoid meat at the day level, you still need to remember how many days you didn’t eat meat. Unless you make some proclamation that you won’t eat meat on certain days, which is inflexible, quantum vegetarianism will probably need external systems to track meat consumption over time.

Yet again I find myself wishing for the time when we will all have chips implanted in our brains, in this case to track meat consumption over time. I may yet be the cause of the singularity.

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4 Responses to “Quantum vegetarianism”

  1. Cathryn Gorlinsky Says:

    Have you put any thought into the other “types” of vegetarians? Instead of meat, think of it as flesh. This is where the specific types come into play:

    Pescatarian (no flesh, except fish)
    Vegetarian (lacto-ovo-vegetarian, no flesh, products are OK)
    Vegan (no flesh or animal products)
    Flexitarian (mostly vegetarian diet)

    I worry about the implications of restricting a diet further than accounting for necessary calories, vitamins, etc. Food should be an enjoyable necessity!

  2. Frank Says:

    Indeed the different flavors of vegetarianism complicate matters further. I just looked at meat consumption to simplify matters, but I believe my analysis extends to arbitrary restrictions.

  3. Emily Says:

    I like this, and I’ve been taking more quantum steps lately! I tend to think of it in terms of servings per week so it can be categorized in terms of high/medium/low consumption. For instance, I used to have >10 servings a week and now I have more like 2.

    Glad to see you are still blogging!

  4. Mike Linksvayer Says:

    I’m not sure why this is

    See your previous sentence. I bet identity/signaling is a big part of it:

    That is, you are either vegetarian or you’re not, you’re vegan or you’re not, you keep kosher or you don’t.

    And you’re on a diet or not…

    Working backwards:

    Most (if not all) dietary restrictions are binary.

    Except in practice.

    For example, I’ve “been” vegan for over a decade, but no doubt much of the food I eat in restaurants comes into some kind of contact with animal products, and often contains them, just not mentioned on the menu. And most of the labor that went into production of the putatively vegan dish is literally fed by animal flesh.

    Anyway, I agree that more “quantum” restrictions would probably be socially beneficial; I don’t even mind “pesco-vegetarian” and the like. Sort of along the lines of time-based restrictions, I’d like to see diets thought of as cuisines, at the very least in addition to as identities — “Go [out for] vegan!”

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