Why Arnold Schwarzenegger wants you to terminate your meat-eating habits

Former Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger suggested during UN climate talks in Paris that cutting back on meat-eating helps the planet.

Kamil Zihnioglu/AP
Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is interviewed by the Associated Press at the Institute of Political Studies, in Paris, France, on Monday. Schwarzenegger is in Paris as part of the the United Nations Climate Change conference.

Can macho man Arnold Schwarzenegger single-handedly redefine manliness as eating veggies? 

It might be a tough slog. Among Americans, almost twice as many women as men consider themselves vegetarians. 

But the former "governator" of California (R) said cutting meat from a diet is a good way to save the planet, Roger Harrabin reported for the BBC. Mr. Schwarzenegger wants environmental initiatives that work for people now, so he suggested during a talk at the United Nations climate summit in Paris Tuesday that people start with a meat-fast one or two days a week.

"People will buy in to stop eating meat one or two days a week – you have to start slowly," Schwarzenegger told BBC News.

Schwarzenegger's call to kale is based on the premise that cows, sheep, goats, and other grazers are a major source of greenhouse gas that would decrease if humans ate less meat.

One billion poor rely on grazing animals, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. The UN estimates in 35 years the world will consume 70 percent more livestock, which contribute 14.5 percent of human-induced greenhouse emissions.

Schwarzenegger's suggestion echoes a similar recommendation from a US advisory panel on new federal diet guidelines, the Associated Press reported

A dietary pattern higher in plant-based foods and lower in animal-based foods is "more health promoting and is associated with lesser environmental impact than is the current average U.S. diet," the draft said.

That appears to take at least partial aim at the beef industry. A study by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year said raising beef for the American dinner table is more harmful to the environment than other meat industries such as pork and chicken.

The study said that compared with other popular animal proteins, beef produces more heat-trapping gases per calorie, puts out more water-polluting nitrogen, takes more water for irrigation and uses more land.

Schwarzenegger's student audience in Paris greeted his suggestions for environmental change with enthusiasm, but how will Americans take the veggie diet endorsement?

About five percent of Americans identify with vegetarianism, according to a Gallup poll from 2012. This holds true across most segments of the population, with Americans abstaining from meat slightly more frequently if they are unmarried, liberal, or over age 50.

"Vegetarianism in the US remains quite uncommon and a lifestyle that is neither growing nor waning in popularity," according to Gallup. "The 5% of the adult population who consider themselves to be vegetarians is no larger than it was in previous Gallup surveys conducted in 1999 and 2001."

The trend is not gender-neutral, as Gallup found 7 percent of women versus 4 percent of men identifying as vegetarians. Men have their reasons for relishing meat, Dr. Paul Rozin, D. Julia Hormes, Dr. Myles Faith, and Dr. Brian Wansink found.

A male who feasts on a hearty steak automatically gets more points for manliness than one who does not, according to a 2012 study published in the Chicago Press Journals. The study relied on experiments in the United States and Britain, but when studying more than 20 languages outside of English, the researchers also saw a cultural link between a meaty diet and masculine stereotypes.

"To the strong, traditional, macho, bicep-flexing, All-American male, red meat is a strong, traditional, macho, bicep-flexing, All-American food," the authors write. "Soy is not."

If American men shy from vegetarianism because they view a carnivorous diet as a sign of masculinity, will that change now that macho ex-terminator Schwarzenegger is endorsing the practice?

Schwarzenegger once told actor Zach Braff in the gym he should eat more carrots, Marissa Brassfield wrote for Foodista.

"So I ran home and ate a lot of carrots, but I still don't look like Brad Pitt in 'Fight Club,'" Mr. Braff said, according to Foodista.

Schwarzenegger insists steak is not an essential element of achieving a Terminator-like, sculpted bodybuilder appearance.

"You can get your protein many different ways," he told BBC News. "I have seen many body-builders and (weight) lifters that are vegetarians."

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