If you're ever invited to dinner at the Peterson household, expect to eat a lot of meat.
Famed (and highly controversial) Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson, as well as his wife and their daughter Mikhalia are followers of a rather... unconventional diet. It consists of, in the elder Peterson's case, beef, salt, and water, and in the younger Peterson's case, beef, salt, water, and the occasional vodka and bourbon. Mikhalia was the first in the family to give up everything outside cow flesh, and she writes on her website and blog, Don't Eat That, that the all-beef diet has, quite literally, saved her life.
"I was a really sick person since I was 2," Mikhalia writes. "I was prone to getting bacterial infections (strep throat, pneumonia, etc.), yeast infections, colds, etc. I was diagnosed with severe rheumatoid arthritis when I was 7 and ended up with multiple joints replaced at age 17. I started antidepressants for severe depression/anxiety in grade 5. I suffered from 'idiopathic hypersomnia' – aka I couldn’t wake up. I spent approximately 17 hours a day sleeping and the rest in a half daze. I had itchy skin starting at age 14 that I just ignored. Then my skin problems started at about age 19. Cystic acne, painful bumps, blistering…"
In addition to Mikhalia's multiple joint replacements, she says she was prescribed immunosuppressants like methotrexate, which has side effects like diarrhea, vomiting, mouth sores, and bloody urine and stool. After years of pain and medication, in 2015, Mikhalia started eliminating foods from her diet—gluten, sugar, carbs, processed foods—and she started to feel better. Then she eliminated more, everything but beef, salt, and water (and the occasional vodka and bourbon), and she started to feel great. Now, she says, she's not on any medication at all. After these stunning results, her dad followed suit, and now he claims that deviating from this diet in the slightest can set him back weeks. A small amount of apple cider, for instance, apparently made him not sleep a wink for 25 days, over twice as long as the observed world record.
If this diet sounds crazy, that's because it is. While high-fat, low-sugar diets can make one lose weight in the short-term, long-term, it's not healthy, as James Hamblin, an MD and a science writer at The Atlantic, wrote this week. After speaking with health experts and Mikhalia herself, Hamblin concludes that the diet probably works for her because she believes in it. In other words, it's the placebo effect.
Still, that doesn't mean other people aren't trying it: Mikahlia, who also acts as a non-certified diet consultant for anyone who wants to pay her, includes testimonials from happy carnivores on her website. "Dayum, Mikhaila is right (but still a lot of research and all needs to be done). Thank you for having the courage to start this and I hope you solve the mystery, lol," reads one testimonial. "I am donating a certain amount to Mikhaila for her research, (hopefully each month), and some skeptics might think it’s a sham, and some always will, but just try the diet thing on your own for a month, it won’t harm you anyway, and then come at a conclusion."
Eating like a lion for a month might not kill you, but long-term, it certainly could. If you talk to most doctors, they'll tell you that while humans can survive without meat, we generally cannot survive on just meat. We need fiber and vitamins and minerals that are found mostly in plants. As Jack Gilbert, faculty director at the University of Chicago’s Microbiome Center and an expert on the microbiome, told Hamblin, he would be surprised if she doesn't die of colon cancer or some other cardiometabolic disease on this diet, which he referred to as “a terribly, terribly bad idea.”
Aside from the whole death thing, it's a terribly bad idea for other reasons as well. Hamblin briefly touches on this in his article, but not only are all all-meat diets completely unsustainable for our home planet, all-beef diets are even worse. Cows are burping, farting, methane-spewing machines, and each hamburger produced results in the release of between 5 and 10 kilograms of methane, a particularly destructive gas when it comes to climate change. Methane is 86 times as effective at trapping heat as carbon dioxide, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and many experts say the most effective way to lower your individual impact on the climate (besides not having kids and/or killing yourself) is to give up beef.
While beef consumption outside of the Peterson household has, thankfully, declined in recent decades in both Canada and the U.S., worldwide, it's on the rise—and fast: Beef consumption across the planet is expected to double by 2050. That's a whole lot of cow farts and a whole lot of unnecessary methane.
Even if you, like Jordan Peterson, aren't all that concerned about climate change, there are other factors to take into account before you adopt the Peterson family meal plan. Cattle aren't just harmful to the climate, they are harmful for land and water as well. Large swaths of the U.S. have already been deforested to make way for livestock, and that's increasing in places like the Amazon, where bulldozing wilderness for agriculture is the leading cause of mass extinction. Plus, according to the UN, livestock is a key factor in the degradation of water quality across the planet. And not only do cattle pollute the water, they also use a hell of a lot of it. Just eight ounces of beef requires 942 gallons of water to produce—which, not-so-fun fact, is actually less than it takes to produce 8 ounces of chocolate, requiring a whopping 1030 gallons of water to produce. So while it may be good for our water supply that the Petersons forgo chocolate, beef still has a massive, and massively bad, impact on the planet.
This, apparently, doesn't concern the family, which is busy raising the next generation of carnivores. On her blog, Mikhalia writes of her infant daughter, "We’ve only introduced meat and she’s still nursing a lot. I haven’t figured out what I want to do, but I’m thinking I may consider some vegetables and just see what she’s interested in. I haven’t decided yet."
Hopefully when it comes to her daughter, she'll go more with the Pollan diet ("Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.") than the house diet, because if people really start adopting the Peterson's dinner menu, this planet is going to be a very warm and very unstable place to raise a kid.