“No wonder he’s so smart,” some meatless eaters claim. “He doesn’t eat meat!”
Albert Einstein — genius, physicist, wacky-haired philosopher of science — is rumored to have been a vegetarian. Vegans and other plant-based eaters love to cite the scientist as an example of why abstaining from meat is the most intelligent choice. After all, if Einstein, arguably one of the most intelligent men in history, thought it was a good idea, then it must be pretty smart, right?
While this is partly true, as he was a vegetarian for a portion of his life, there’s a lot that this narrative leaves out.
For one, it’s out of the question that the source of his smarts was a meatless diet. Einstein was only a strict vegetarian for the last couple years of his life, decades after many of his most important scientific breakthroughs.
There are countless records of Einstein eating meat, well into adulthood. Phillip Frank recorded in his autobiography that he and Einstein once picked up calf’s liver to eat for lunch. According to Frank, Einstein corrected Frank’s wife on her method of boiling their meal, claiming, “You certainly know the boiling-point of water is too low to be able to fry liver in it.”
On another occasion, it’s recorded that Einstein’s friends Maurice Solovine and Conrad Habicht bought him caviar for his birthday — quite the delicacy when compared to Einstein’s other much simpler meals. Einstein, mindlessly forking bite after bite into his mouth, didn’t seem to notice what he was eating at all — he was too engrossed in Galileo’s principle of inertia.
“For goodness sake,” he exclaimed when he had finished. “So that was the famous caviar!”
The famous scientist did, however, suffer from chronic digestive distress — his many health problems ranged from stomach ulcers to jaundice. Because of his maladies, his doctor mandated that he eat a balanced diet that included things like meat and simple carbohydrates.
He reportedly wished he could eat a vegetarian diet, lamenting that he didn’t have full control over his intake. But he didn’t want to go meatless for health reasons.
“I have always eaten animal flesh with a somewhat guilty conscience,” he once professed in a letter. He largely agreed with the moral motivations behind vegetarianism, but was unable to comply.
Upon discovery of more serious ailments, he was advised by his doctor to cut meat from his diet. At this point, Einstein was in his seventies.
One year before his death, he wrote, “I am living without fats, without meat, without fish, but am feeling quite well this way.” He also abstained from alcohol.
Shortly after, in April of 1955, Einstein died from an abdominal aortic aneurysm. His vegetarian diet could not cure him — though it might have helped him live longer in that final year. To this day it’s unknown whether meatless meals really are better for your health. Even Einstein couldn’t figure that out!