In 2017, you can be a corncob or a soy boy, a donut Democrat or a milk Nazi, a Pizzagate truther or an avocado-addicted millennial. Food and politics have long shared uncomfortable ground — “Let them eat cake” and all that — but rarely has ideological warfare been so closely linked to what we eat. The latest addition to our cornucopia?
A humble vegetable known as the onion.
As reported by editor Will Somer, who covers batshit conservative media in his Right Richter newsletter, the far-right trolls of 4chan’s “politically incorrect” /pol/ board are now talking themselves into eating whole onions and chugging onion juice. In theory, this is to boost their testosterone, though it also falls into the category of self-punishments that reactionary white people have embraced in order “to own the libs” — you know, like wearing a diaper in public. As usual on 4chan, however, the onion obsession is as much an inside joke as a lifestyle choice. Some buy into it, while some are here to ridicule it.
Writing for New York magazine’s Select All, Paris Martineau found that the history of the onion ethos predates the Trump Train mindset by a few years, stemming entirely from a 2009 Iranian study that found onion juice “significantly affected the sperm number, percentage of viability, and motility”…in rats. Back in 2015, for example, a fitness blog dubiously titled My Supremacy — pseudonymously authored by a blogger who advises you on how to achieve a one-night stand and frames almost every health question in terms of hormones — called onion “a natural testosterone booster that works.” As evidence, the post offered four links, all of which directed to the same 2009 study.
The blogger reported that since the onion juice tasted “beyond horrible,” he opted instead to “simply eat a whole raw onion a day,” which allegedly gave him the desired result — an “insane” libido. One’s sex drive is a separate issue from sperm health, of course: the horniness that comes along with higher testosterone levels can in fact lower male fertility, and has even been analyzed as a mechanism for birth control. Call me crazy, but I’d guess our expert’s increased desire to get laid had more to do with “restraining from any sexual activity for a week” than eating onions like apples.
There’s a clear line from the Randian philosophy and bogus hormonal science of a site like My Supremacy (which was created to address “the scarcity of supreme men”) to the gender-fixated, conspiracy-mongering noise made by the Extremely Online Boys of today’s fascist right. Guys like Mike Cernovich, who promoted the Pizzagate pedophilia hoax, are sold on the canard that soy can sap your manliness, wielding the legume product as both epithet and nutritional warning. Recently, he uploaded an hour-long YouTube video about soy as it relates to “the war on your health.” It consists of an interview with Alexander J.A. Cortes, a ballet dancer turned “mindset/physicality expert.”
The fear of contamination that inspires such a theory is no different from the paranoia of chemtrail truthers, or the notorious “gay frogs” premise put forward by Alex Jones, fantasies of artificial hurricanes, or even Trump’s demented ravings about Muslims and Mexicans. This wing of conservatism insists that we are continually invaded, remade and eroded from within. For every one of these imagined assaults, the logic goes, there must be a counterweight. If you’re worried about immigrant gangs and rapists, you empower ICE. If you’re worried about accidental exposure to soy, you eat an onion. This is the straight and narrow path to purity — national, ethnic, moral, and physiological.
Too bad the internet is already rife with bizarre videos of raw onion consumption that seem to undercut the supposed benefits. There’s the clip of the young woman taking a bite of onion each time she hears the word “star” in Smash Mouth’s “All Star.” You have footage of Australia’s last prime minister, Tony Abbott, chomping down on an unpeeled onion at the nadir of his tenure, looking utterly dead within. Many have taken the so-called “onion challenge” only to vomit halfway through — but lest that convince you there is any masculine cred in successfully finishing one off, consider the sophisticated palate of the little girl who munches on onions while barely shedding so much as a tear.
Onions belong to the fringe right no more than Pepe the Frog, white identity, or America itself — whichever layer of culture they claim. Cultivated for thousands of years, and assigned a spiritual significance by none other than the ancient Egyptians, their origin remains a mystery, and they will probably outlast our own sad excuse for a civilization. Which makes the 4chan brigade’s faith in the onion’s secret powers even stranger and more illustrative: They ignore the foods proven to boost testosterone in favor of this plant because they would rather believe in their own “research” and everyone else’s brainwashed ignorance than actually achieve some mythic hyper-virility through a macho diet. And what possible advantage is there in eating a few extra onions when the rest of us regularly use them as an ingredient? It’s like saying you can become an Olympic weightlifter by drinking a dozen glasses of water a day. (By all means, try.)