The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith is an intense discussion about health, food, and ecosystems. She spent 20 years of her life as a vegan. It destroyed her body and damaged her mental health. Her spine has irreparably degenerated, and is a source of chronic pain. She can never have children. Nobody warned her, not even her doctors. Her chronic malnutrition made her incapable of clear thinking.
A primary objective of this book is to issue a loud and clear warning to current vegetarians, so that they might avoid learning important truths the hard way, before they suffer irreversible damage. If you are a vegetarian, and your health isn't perfect — if you have joint pain, if you are often cold or tired, if you never feel full after eating, if you have memory problems, if you are depressed or anxious or angry, drop everything and read this book. Keith critiques the fundamental vegetarian beliefs, many of which have developed a religious posture. She believes that all life is equally sacred, not just animals that are similar to humans. I agree.
At the same time, she is a sharp critic of the industrial manner in which animal foods are produced. Most of the meat for sale today is not raised in a sustainable, low-cruelty, low-impact manner. Grass-fed animals are the only ethical choice. She writes: “It's ridiculous to the point of insanity to take that world-destroying grain and feed it to a ruminant who could have happily subsisted on those now extinct forests, grasslands, and wetlands of our planet, while building topsoil and species diversity.”
The Vegetarian Myth is a title that seems to be a bit too narrow. The main objective of this book is to present an illuminating primer on what everyone should know about food, and how it affects our minds, bodies, and ecosystems. This is super important information that they rarely teach in schools.
Growing rice, wheat, and corn causes no less suffering and harm than meat. When farmers first arrive, millions of wild animals die, and the land is skinned alive. Corn-growing Indians caused substantial damage to soils and forests, like Old World farmers did. Industrial farming is far worse. It is rapidly converting wild land into cropland, cropland into wasteland, and aquatic ecosystems into dead zones. When you eat brown rice, you’re eating dead fish and dead birds from a dying river.
Keith doesn’t discuss wild grains. The Indians of California foraged for wild grains in a non-destructive manner that is described in M. Kat Anderson’s important book Tending the Wild. The Anishinabe have been harvesting wild rice for centuries without harming their health or ecosystem (wild rice from California is not wild).
Eating meat in moderation provides essential nutrients and is good for your health. Like the long-held belief in a flat Earth, the Lipid Hypothesis cult is stumbling in a rising tide conflicting evidence. In fact, the French, Greeks, Swiss, east Africans, and Pacific islanders enjoy a diet rich in saturated fats, yet have a low incidence of heart disease. Carbohydrates are killing our hearts, not cholesterol (be sure to read Weston Price’s masterpiece).
Our planet and its residents are being destroyed by agriculture, overpopulation, consumerism, and a lack of spiritual connection to the land. The solution is to immediately and enthusiastically pursue revolutionary change in the way we eat, travel, think, live, and breed. If we don’t remember how to live sustainably, we won’t have a bright future. “These are our choices, as bare as that dead rock: accept our place as animals, a place both humble and wild, or impose ourselves and our food across our living home of land and sea and sky until the planet dies.” Amen!
Keith, Lierre, The Vegetarian Myth — Food, Justice, and Sustainability, Flashpoint Press, Crescent City, California, 2009.