The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability, by Lierre Keith
Note: Lierre rhymes with Pierre.
There is no conceivable way that I can summarize this book, as it covered a lot of information: agriculture, factory farms, nutrition, biology, ecology, capitalism, and dirt (among other things). This was recommended to me by someone in a humane group, but I still had my doubts about it before I even began reading it. I suspected it might just be poorly researched and manipulative industry sponsored pro-meat propaganda—but it really wasn’t.
At 16, Keith became a feminist vegan activist, shaking her fist at the exploitation of both humans and animals, raging against white male domination (which was to blame for everything), and committed herself to righting the wrongs of the world. Now at twice that age, her views are quite different.
It is not that she has decided to embrace the other side of the spectrum, but rather she has come to reject both as being misguided and deliberately blind to reality.
To begin with, there was a lot wrong with this book. It was not the best written book I’ve ever read. It was part memoir, part science, and part diatribe, but so poorly organized that it was hard to follow at times. Keith would often discuss her past, then go off on a tangent or two, and then try to lead you back (unsuccessfully) to where she had left you. To me, this was just confusing. I often wasn’t sure if she was discussing the past or the future. Plus, she had a tendency to go on and on about a certain outlook and then pages later say something like, or at least that’s what I used to think. Ughh!
She also uses a lot of hyperbole and makes some pretty astounding claims and dire predictions about the future of mankind. Let’s face, ever since humans could string two words together there has been someone out there making dire predictions about the fate of our culture or human existence. But is Keith right this time? Only the future knows that for sure. But we do know that many of the issues she brings up are real problems worthy of our attentions and concern: topsoil erosion, soil salination, environmental pollution, and a falling water table.
Additionally, her attacks on people or ideas sometimes seemed too personal. She occasionally uses expletives, which I don’t mind in day to day use, but seem unprofessional in a book. And she’s still a rather hard line feminist, and anytime she’d quote someone who used the word “man” to mean “humankind” she’d place a [sic] after it. Just annoying and childish, as man can be both masculine and gender neutral, while “woman” cannot.
But beyond these faults the book was very interesting. Although she takes on just about everyone in this book (big Ag / CAFOs, big Pharma, hunters, peaceniks, doctors, nutritionists), her main aim was at vegetarians and vegans and their falsely held beliefs (according to her) that an animal-free diet benefits the environment, promotes social justice, and is good for human health.
Life, she says, insists on death. To reject that is to reject nature all together.
There is a lot in this book to mull over. I would recommend reading it if you have any interest in the subject at all.
I am attaching a scan of Chapter 1, an excerpt of pages 76 – 79 (which contains a good passage), and the Appendix & Resources section of the book.
BTW, I was a vegetarian for 11 years.