“Think like a plant,” Paul Saladino, known on the internet as Carnivore MD, tells me from the confines of a YouTube video.
He’s trying, as he often does, to convince the world that vegetables are probably not good for us, and that a diet consisting almost entirely of meat is the best way to “thrive”.
“If we think about this in an intuitive, high-level, non-science way…plants are going to put all of their defense chemicals into those parts of the plant,” Saladino says.
This is one of his few video posts in which he wears a shirt. In fact, it’s a habit among carnivorous influencers to appear shirtless, barefoot, and generally look as much like “our ancestors” as possible.
Another influencer, known as Liver King, addressing his followers as “primals”, roared on camera about the merits of taking his shoes off.
“You are connected, grounded, [because] why would you let your surroundings dominate you?” Liver King said.
Such content is the most extreme expression of carnivorous culture online. Many of these influencers have monetized their social media presence and are selling their own nutritional supplements.
It’s a dizzying abyss of machismo, food pseudo-science, and do-it-yourself research.
The uncompromising rhetoric of the online carnivorous community is a far cry from the reality of the diet of Curtis Sironen, a professional rugby league player who describes himself as “a convert”.
“I was basically entirely carnivorous for probably eight months when Sydney was really hit by COVID,” says Curtis.
At the time, he was playing in the NRL for the Manly Sea Eagles and battling chronic injuries.
“I would have come to the point where I was like I was going to try everything and I’m a little desperate,” he says.
The owners of a recovery center he was associated with offered him the carnivore diet, and at first Curtis was skeptical.
“I was like ‘no way’. Like, that just sounded ridiculous. I wouldn’t be full enough, I wouldn’t have the energy.”
In the end, they convinced him to try it and put him in touch with a self-proclaimed “ancestral nutritionist”, who sent him meal plans.
“[They] looked wild, like it was basically fasting from 8 p.m. to noon every day and then breaking the fast with three or four ribeye steaks with bone broth,” he says. .
But Curtis says the results came quickly and were significant.
“Honestly, probably about a fortnight I started to feel the effects…and these kind of little aching pains starting to subside, which [was] kinda my goal.”
What Nutrition Experts Say About the Carnivore Diet
Newcastle University nutrition and food scientist Emma Beckett, like many in her field, has strong reservations about the diet.
“There are potential consequences in terms of eating too much meat, and if you just eat meat, you’re very likely to eat too much of it,” says Dr. Beckett.
“So too much meat comes with risks like too much saturated fat…which increases our risk of heart disease and cardiovascular disease.”
She also warns that it can mean missing out on important things like vitamin C, fiber and vitamin K.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend eating five different food groups, which includes vegetables and legumes; fruit; meat, poultry and fish; and dairy products.
Dr. Beckett is the first to admit that any diet can be done right or wrong.
The problem with a poor diet is that the worst effects may not be felt for decades.
“The body is really good at what we call homeostasis… keeping things normal,” she says.
“So we’re not just eating for our health today, but we’re eating for our health in… 10 years, 20 years, hopefully.”
A common refrain in the carnivore community is that mainstream nutrition and food science is dominated by orthodoxy and proper study is impeded by vested interests.
But Dr. Beckett says that view stems from a misunderstanding of what the science of nutrition is.
“We don’t make nutrition decisions based on single studies or by separating people into different groups,” she says.
“We make decisions based on the body of evidence, a large amount of evidence, a large number of studies.
“So we generally don’t study people who are on a carnivore diet because that would be unethical, because we know from all the evidence we already have that putting people on a carnivore diet could hurt them.”
And if that sounds like catch-22 to you, then maybe you’re starting to appreciate a fraction of the persuasiveness that drives this move.
A moment of extremes
I spoke to Matt Klein, a US-based cultural strategist, about what’s driving the enthusiasm for meat at this point in history.
“I mean, we’re in a moment of extremes,” he says.
“Culture exists as tension…so when we see the rise of veganism, you’re going to see the pull or the other way around and that’s the all-meat diet.”
He points to the democratization of online health information.
“We live in a metaverse or a multiverse of truth, don’t we? You can choose your own adventure.”
In general, says Matt, institutional trust is declining and conspiracy theories are on the rise.
“And that’s not to say diets are conspiracy theories, but it’s about power for the people and … determining what’s best for ourselves,” he says.
Of course, that doesn’t account for everyone who embraces the carnivore diet, but for Matt, there’s a broader cultural sentiment that underpins the movement.
“In a time of cultural instability, we seek resolve, morality and like-minded people to surround us.”
Ange Lavoipierre is an award-winning journalist, writer and actor. She is the host and EP of ABC’s new cultural podcast, Schmeitgeist.
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