Frequently dismissed as cranks, their fussy eating habits tend to make them unpopular with dinner party hosts and guests alike.
But now it seems they may have the last laugh, with research showing vegetarians are more intelligent than their meat-eating friends.
A study of thousands of men and women revealed that those who stick to a vegetarian diet have IQs that are around five points higher than those who regularly eat meat.
Writing in the British Medical Journal, the researchers say it isn't clear why veggies are brainier - but admit the fruit and veg-rich vegetarian diet could somehow boost brain power.
The researchers, from the University of Southampton, tracked the fortunes of more than 8,000 volunteers for 20 years.
At the age of ten, the boys and girls sat a series of tests designed to determine their IQ.
When they reached the age of 30, they were asked whether they were vegetarian and their answers compared to their childhood IQ score.
Around four and a half per cent of the adults were vegetarian - a figure that is broadly in line with that found in the general population.
However, further analysis of the results showed those who were brainiest as children were more likely to have become vegetarian as adults, shunning both meat and fish.
The typical adult veggie had a childhood IQ of around 105 - around five points higher than those who continued to eat meat as they grew up.
The vegetarians were also more likely to have gained degrees and hold down high-powered jobs.
There was no difference in IQ between strict vegetarians and those who classed themselves as veggie but still ate fish or chicken.
However, vegans - vegetarians who also avoid dairy products - scored significantly lower, averaging an IQ score of 95 at the age of 10.
Researcher Dr Catharine Gale said there could be several explanations for the findings, including intelligent people being more likely to consider both animal welfare issues and the possible health benefits of a vegetarian diet.
Previous work has shown that vegetarians tend to have lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol, cutting their risk of heart attacks. They are also less likely to be obese.
Alternatively, a diet which is rich in fruit, vegetables and wholegrains may somehow boost brain power.
Dr Gale said: 'Although our results suggest that children who are more intelligent may be more likely to become vegetarian as adolescents or young adults, it does not rule out the possibility that such a diet might have some beneficial effect on subsequent cognitive performance.
'Might the nature of the vegetarians' diet have enhanced their apparently superior brain power? Was this the mechanism that helped them achieve the disproportionate nature of degrees?'
High-profile vegetarians include singers Paul McCartney and Morrissey and actress Jenny Seagrove.
Past exponents of a meat-free lifestyle include George Bernard Shaw and Benjamin Franklin.
Promoting the cause, Shaw said, 'A mind of the calibre of mine cannot drive its nutriment from cows', while Franklin stated that a vegetarian diet resulted in 'greater clearness of head and quicker comprehension'.
Liz O'Neill, of the Vegetarian Society, said: 'We've always known that vegetarianism is an intelligent, compassionate choice benefiting animals, people and the environment. Now, we've got the scientific evidence to prove it.
'Maybe that explains why many meat-reducers are keen to call themselves vegetarians when even they must know that vegetarians don't eat chicken, turkey or fish!'
Sunday, December 23, 2012
From The London Evening Standard