THE VEGETARIAN MYTH by Lierre Keith [Book Review/Radio Interview]

Posted on 24 July 2010 by Cork Graham

Few books really get me emotionally anymore, especially non-fiction. But, when I began reading Lierre Keith’s personal account of a strict vegan diet on her body over 20 years I was floored with one question: how in the world?

How in the world could people put themselves through such a lifestyle? How could we have arrived at such a point in our lives that those who profess a close relationship to the Earth, the morally anti-hunting/anti-animal protein driven vegan, are a great part of it’s destruction? How in the world as Western humanity gotten so far away its understanding of how the world works, how life and death are in separable?

Pain

Both Keith and I were born in the same year. That means when we were 16, she started on the vegan diet…and I was beginning to wonder why no matter the amount of high school PE and football and soccer, I couldn’t seem to get into excellent shape, even though both sides of my parental lines were in great shape from their childhood until their mid-30s. And no matter how much cereal I had for breakfast, I was hungry long before lunch, and I could never stay awake in class. The only difference between my parents and me was that my parents had an animal protein-based breakfast.

What Lierre Keith’s diet left her with after 20 years on the diet, was a degenerative bone disease, weak musculature, and nervous system of pain, that presently it can’t even support her for more than 15 minutes of standing. Not to mention all the other effects on a malnutritioned body during its most important growth years. And it was even worse ten years ago, BEFORE she began to see some slight improvements from finally getting the nutrients animal proteins provide all omnivores and carnivores.

The Book

The Vegetarian Myth is divided into three sections and in a very appropriate way. First is the moral philosophy of the vegetarian, then the political and finally the nutritional reasons spouted by the anti-hunting and anti-meat religion…and yes, I call it a religion: it what’s so dastard in how something that was a way of life has become a movement and personal identity…you should have seen the reaction I got from a guest to a party, who considered her book an insult to him personally—as if by her describing the effects of the vegetarian movement and diet actually doing what those who go on the diet are trying to stop: the destruction of the environment….I thought he was going to come at me swinging: and all I did was ask him if he had read her book!

It’s also one of the reasons that so many “dyed in the wool”, and even militant (more on that later) vegetarians will say how much Keith’s book is a fabrication twisting of lies. And how many of these same people say they’ve actually read the book when pushed: almost none!

Vegetarian Hunger Destroying Topsoil

In her thesis, Keith does bring up the fact of loss of topsoil. If you’ve studied the history of Iraq (old Mesopotamia), or other ancient nations bordering the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf, you’ll be keen to know why what were lush, tree-covered lands came to be the lands that we see on the news everyday—barren, rocky islands and sand. Their agricultural societies basically tilled the topsoil into the ocean.

Now, this is where it really gets depressing. We’ve been an agricultural society for easily 12,000 years. Our major cultural makeup and politics revolves around agriculture. Most especially, our money and way of doing business revolves around agriculture. The worst examples of it are mega-corporation animal factories with chickens and pigs sitting in cages unable to move, drugged up on antibiotics, cranking out eggs and piglets for market.

If anyone doesn’t think that effects you personally as a consumer, then you’ve never eaten meat from animals that have been properly raised, in a chicken yard, or large pig pen, even left out to graze on other food types other than grain. Previously, I thought grain-feeding livestock was the way to go: more bang for the buck. Yes, more cost effective cash wise, but health wise, I’m not sure. One of the examples I know of is eating meat raised in the US on these factory farms, contrasted to eating steak in places like Vietnam, Thailand and South Korea, where they refuse to raise livestock the way we do in the US, not specifically for the animal’s interest, but more for taste and sustenance—meat is a very precious commodity in those places.

On the bright side, if you’ve tasted free-range beef and chicken here in the US, you know what I’m talking about. If you hunt and tasted the power of venison, elk and bison, you definitely know what I’m talking about. Chickens are omnivores, needing that freedom to throw in a bug, worm, or lizard in with the occasional weekly toss of grain and grazing of wild seeds. Beef, sheep, and pigs are fortified by the calm relaxation of feeding beyond grain, filling up on grasses and whatever attracts their tastes in a pasture. If you don’t think pigs need free-roam, too, then you don’t know how the Spanish make the best prosciutto, called Serrano ham: they let their pigs free to graze on fresh-fallen acorns in September, just before the butchering season.

Keith’s answer to the loss of topsoil could be considered very extreme, basically removing ourselves from an agriculturally based society, and returning to hunter-gatherers. As one who lived in Alaska for a year as hunting-gathering subsistence hunter and angler, let me tell you it’s not easy work. It was a great way to get myself back on track with regards to understanding money, and culture and healthy ways of living. But, practically, if every human being on the planet suddenly became a hunter-gatherer, because the human population is SO massive now, every wild living thing with fins, wings and legs would be decimated within a year, two at the most. Our population has turned us into a major predator; our technology has turned us into THE mega-predator.

The question Keith brings up is whether the present agricultural economy is sustainable. At the present rate of growth of the human population across the planet, especially in places where there’s already a population supported only by imports, like India, Africa and China, it’s not—the wildlife in those places are barely hanging on! The question is whether our agricultural society suddenly implodes within 20 years, somehow struggles for another hundred at its same rate of production and the dramatic effects on the topsoil: and collapses…I’ll leave that part of the thesis to your own mental machinations.

Countering Past Inaccuracies

What I’m most keen about in the solid information provided in The Vegetarian Myth, is that Keith, unlike so many new and old vegetarians, did her homework. She even went past what we’ve been spoon-fed by the government for the last 60 years about food triangle (when you read the history of those studies and how lies can have such longevity, you’ll probably say the same I did—what in the world?): wide and heavy on bread and grains, thin on meats, cheese and fish…even that demonized, but so important cholesterol. Actually there’s a metaphor if you’ve got a weight problem or dealing with hypoglycemia. I know personally from my own prior experiences, as a past believer that nutrition pyramid, when I should have flipped it: more meat and fish, much less bread and grain…but I’ve jumped ahead to the last section of the book.

The Hypoglycemic and Diabetic’s Food Pyramid

The first section on the moral attitudes of the vegetarian is priceless. For those who have studied any type of ancient religions, everything has life and life survives because of the death another living being. Somehow strict vegetarians believe that if it doesn’t have a face or mother it’s somehow not killing: remind of those who fish, but hate hunters? Oh, but fish and lobster have different nervous systems…they don’t feel pain—how in the world do you know?! I stopped flyfishing for entertainment, now when I fish it’s to catch one or two and put them in frying pan, leaving the rest to stay unmolested and healthy, get big, and possibly end up as an enjoyed meal for a bigger fish, after a good life of swimming and eating.

Scientific research has found that plant life also has societies and even reacts to attacks—do you know that the largest living organism on dry land is an aspen grove in Utah? My years apprenticing and training in the Native American healing communities taught me that it’s not whether we kill, we kill by simply stepping blade of grass. It’s whether we do that killing with respect for that which dies. The joke often shared in the community, especially when “the light eye” hippies, and “Wannabe Indians”, searching for meaning to their lives were appalled that the “shaman” actually the proper term “healer” (“shaman” is a Siberian native term), wasn’t a vegetarian—lesson one to the truth seeker: you live because something dies—respect that animal or plant’s death and enjoy your food…say a prayer of thanks, if you’d like!

Vegan Politics

In the second section the author takes on the political component of vegetarianism. This is where she describes how wars and battles for possession of land, and wealth are the results of an agricultural society. Yes, wars have always been fought for religion, food, money and land. She does acquiesce to the fact that hunter-gatherers did fight, also, and definitely for the same reasons of land, except for hunting grounds that provided food, as compared to land for planting that offered food. And there is definitely a much too idealistic view, even naïve attitude that comes across in her writing, and much evidenced in her surprise that militant vegetarians would throw pies at her during an anarchist book fair.

First, she was at an anarchist’s book fair when it happened after all. Secondly, every strict vegetarian, especially one whose personal identity is labeled “Vegetarian” has always had an angry quality about them: either aggressively so, as those who attacked and continue to attack her, and those passive aggressive who get in their little circles, complaining about how horrible the world is how the US Government is the leader in atrocities against the world. It’s all about how the world isn’t how they personally want it to be. Often, they’re also the same kinds of people who spike trees that will send a chainsaw’s broken chain into a logger’s head, a logger who’s just trying to keep his family fed and by doing so also open land for regrowth that enables, young saplings a chance, and an abundance food for deer and other ungulates…These are the same militant vegetarians who come yelling and screaming into hunting areas during hunting season, thinking they’re helping animals.

Did they purchase the hunting licenses and tags that fund all the wildlife areas for not only game species, but also non-game species?

Have they put any money and actual effort toward saving animals, instead of making it look like they’re helping animals?

Remember that the next time you hear the name Wayne Pacelle who also says he has been on a strict vegetarian diet for 20 years—considering all the other lies he spreads, do you think he’s really a strict vegan? When I think of strict vegetarians, I think of flim-flam artists like Pacelle, and most definitely Wiley Brooks (rhymes with Wiley Coyote) and his Breatharian Institute (as he used to say on his website before Keith’s book, about his $1,000,000 his “Immortality Workshop”, “no, that’s not a misprint”) Now he incorporates a diet Coke and McDonald’s quarter-pounder into his scheister sales letter after he was caught publicly enjoying them…there are people out there who actually believe this! No, I wasn’t surprised about the attacks on Lierre Keith by the political vegetarians, and most definitely those at the anarchist book fair.

Her writings on the way the US government, at the behest of major agricultural corporations, is well researched and developed in describing how third world nations are basically enslaved into a diet support almost completely by imports from the United States. And this is where I was lost, even though the research and collection of history is spot on!

The world works in treaties and negotiations, and all of them are based on business. Unlike in the days of old, these days that means corporate negotiations. If we’re lucky, the local populace benefits through democracy and lack of unrest. If we’re not, it means dictatorship and totalitarian rule, and the potential for a mega civil war: something we should recall well from stupid government actions by Nicaragua’s Somoza ruling line and El Salvador’s Juntas.

…It’s Keiths’ proposal that I found so impractical: there is no way humans, unless there’s a major catastrophe that basically takes out 80 percent of the human population, are going to say good bye to the plough and pick up the spear and bow and arrow—you wont have the commerce to support gunpowder production and the bullets.

Personally, I’d love to see every east-west highway raised ten feet above the ground, and every length of fencing in the Midwest be used to not keep in cattle and livestock, but used to surround homes and cities, keeping the wild animals out. In doing so, we’d create a causeway that would redistribute and open up the land so that bison, deer, and elk populations would have their traditional migration routes. I bet you, within 10 years, the herds would be so large you would have to wait a week for each one to pass, as Lewis and Clark observed when the made their way west. A dream. A fantasy. Can you imagine how much healthy, red meat there’d be for everyone? And all the topsoil that has been lost to the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico would instead stay and get thicker, rejuvenated by the stomping of the bison’s hooves…never again would the US run the risk of something like the 1930s Great Dustbowl.

Enjoy That Steak

The section of the book that I most enjoyed was the one on nutritional reasons espoused by vegetarians. Not to mention her descriptions of how a strict vegan diet really effects the brain and brain chemistry in a horrifying manner…there’s a reason vegans lose it when they’re on such an unnatural diet (when humans get a number of extra stomachs and eat our food with side-to-side grinding jaw motions of cows and sheep, instead of the present stomachs and teeth closest to the very carnivorous dog we’ve had since the origins of mankind, I’ll become a vegan)—not the least of the reasons is the hypoglycemic reactions to the diet that turns most vegans into cookies and cakes addicts, to get that immediate, yet never sated, mental stimulation of a sugar rush.

After reading that section, I’m never drinking soymilk again…and even though I have a taste for tofu from being raised in Asia, I’ll definitely cut back on the tofu orders at dim-sum. Tofu increases memory loss. If you’ve ever seen how tofu is made you’ll understand partly why…and the part about soy’s phytoestrogens, that has historically made it attractive to sex abstinent, vegetarian monks, was the last straw!

Now, I could go on and on about what’s in the book, but unless I wrote a length of text that would fit into a book as long as The Vegetarian Myth, it wouldn’t do the subject justice. As Keith says there are no meat eating slogans like the vegetarian’s quaint but hollow, “Meat is Murder”. There’re only facts and research, and that time and pages to read, 276 to be exact.

If you know someone even thinking of going on a vegetarian diet, or especially if you know a mother who wants replace her child’s mother’s milk with soy milk, please save them from a lot of grief by getting them a copy of this book!

For your daily commute on your MP3 player – Download and Enjoy Lierre Keith’s interview on Cork’s Outdoors Radio:

4 Comments For This Post

  1. NorCal Cazadora Says:

    Nice interview! She makes a great deal of sense.

  2. Cork Graham Says:

    Thanks, Holly! Wish I knew more about this diet stuff when I was a teen…for that matter, wish more of the doctors back then did, too…

  3. john brady Says:

    Thanks, Cork, for your comments on this very interesting omnivore/writer & ex-vegan.
    I had a chance to see her in Nevada City at the Methodist Church and missed her.
    Friends who saw her were much favorably impressed.
    So I appriciate your interview s & summary of the Vegtarian Myth high points.
    I look forward to looking at her work in depth.
    Your comments were most interesting.
    I look forward to getting to know both you and Lierre Keith better!

  4. Michelle Says:

    Your stereo-typing ignorant statement “every strict vegetarian, especially one whose personal identity is labeled “Vegetarian” has always had an angry quality about them” is offensive and false.

    The healthiest type of diet varies for each of us. In my case, becoming Vegetarian actually helped clear up many health issues that medical doctors were unable to figure out. People often ask how I look so much younger than my actual age and I attribute it to my diet and lifestyle. I feel an over-whelming empathy for the plight of animals but I don’t preach to anyone and I do my best to live in peace with all.

    My father was a farmer and hunter with a heathy respect for life. I don’t have a huge problem with small scale farms that treat their animals with proper care. I even still buy eggs from local farmers where I know conditions are decent. However, I am outraged about factory farming methods!

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