British women aren't getting enough iron now, so Britain's "Eatwell Guide" could make matters even worse.
British women aren't getting enough iron now, so Britain's "Eatwell Guide" could make matters even worse.

Two recent news articles need to be coupled together, for in tandem they tell a story loaded with irony.

With the emphasis on “iron.”

More on that in a moment.

First up — and pardon my cynicism — is yet another gushing, first-person testimonial by yet another female Caucasian Millennial writing about yet another emotional journey toward vegetarian enlightenment.

In a story on the website of the British media outlet New Statesman, however, the author explained that she’s “eaten a steak and two chicken nuggets” since she became a vegetarian.

That’s a serious problem, because the accepted definition of a vegetarian is someone who is as pure as fresh snow, at least in terms of their dietary choices: No animal foods — ever — may touch their lips.

Whether it’s in solidarity with the (alleged) suffering of sentient creatures, a personal protest against so-called factory farming or a longing to be part of a misguided crusade to save the planetary ecosystem, consciously committing to becoming a vegetarian has traditionally involved the complete disavowal of animal foods.

Until now.

As the New Statesman writer confessed, “Despite being repeatedly appalled by videos, pictures and articles revealing the meat industry’s grimmest secrets, I simply thought that I couldn’t be a vegetarian. I just didn’t have the willpower. Sure, this video of male baby chicks being pulverized alive in a meat grinder horrifies me — but when I get drunk, I’ll accidentally eat at KFC. Why even try?”

Indeed.

But rather than despair over her failure to embrace the Full Veggie, the author went on to explain the beauty of the new “reducetarian” approach to eating: Don’t completely give up eating meat; just reduce it to near zero.

Meaning, in this case I suppose, that one could stop agonizing the morning after getting drunk and wolfing down a bucket of fried chicken the night before.

What a wonderfully enlightened approach to diet … and life, for that matter.

The writer then quoted Brian Kateman, founder of the Reducetarian Foundation and author of “The Reducetarian Solution,” noting that, “The simplest act a person can take to improve their health, to protect the environment and to spare animals from a lifetime of suffering is to reduce the amount of animal products in their diets.”

Okay, so now one can be engaged in all the meaningful issues that motivate vegetarians, and still eat meat!

In fact, the New Statesman writer acknowledged that she gave herself “ten exceptions a year” to eat meat: Christmas, holidays abroad and her birthday.

Which implies that reducetarianism is all good, all noble and totally practical for all the enlightened folks out there who want to save the animals and the planet 24/7/365 — holidays and birthdays exempted, of course.

Only it isn’t all good, and that’s the subject of the second story from across The Pond, this one appearing in London’s The Daily Mail newspaper.

A Familiar Problem
In a parallel effort to USDA’s MyPlate initiative, which purports to advise Americans on “the five food groups that are the building blocks of a healthy diet” — and the word “meat” is conspicuously absent from MyPlate’s simplistic graphics — Great Britain has something called The Eatwell Guide.

That guide also uses a graphic designed to look like a plate, and the message is identical to that of MyPlate: “Eat less red and processed meat.”

Why such a directive? As the newspaper story noted, British health officials were worried about “the potential, but unproven, link between eating lots of red and processed meat and bowel cancer.”

Here’s the problem, and I quote: “Healthy eating advice that everyone should ‘eat less red meat’ is putting millions of women at risk of anemia.”

The article quoted nutritionist Emma Derbyshire, who said that, “Encouraging all population groups to eat less red and processed meat, as the current Eatwell Guide does, is not helpful and places women at risk of iron deficiency and related anemia.”

Robert Pickard, a professor of Neurobiology at Cardiff University, was even more direct: “This blanket statement should be revoked,” he said. “It is poor guidance and an inappropriate public health message that disadvantages women.”

According to data compiled by Public Health England, 27% of women aged 19 to 64, and 48% of girls aged 11- to 18 in the UK are not getting the recommended minimum daily dose of iron, meaning that more than 6.5 million girls and women are at risk of iron deficiency.

And therein lies the downside of the vegan/vegetarian/reducetarian movement.

Turns out that while saving the planet, a whole lot of women are damaging their personal well-being.

Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.