3,375 of 3,604 people found the following review helpful
on May 30, 2010
I want to be clear about a few things:
1) I am a female.
2) I give the idea of this book 5 stars, but its execution 1.
3) I have been a radical vegan, a rabid meat-eater and everything in between (currently in the in-between)
4) I am working on an archaeological PhD on hunter-gatherer diets, subsistence, hunting and transition to agriculture.
I picked this book up after reading Jonathan Safran Foer's "Eating Animals". I thought it would be interesting to read a different perspective on the vegetarian debate. I found Safran Foer's book to be much more geared towards the inhumane practices of meat while Keith's book is geared more towards diet/health.
I admit that it took a very long time for me to get through this book, for several reasons. I purchased this book hoping to get something out of it. I am not an upset vegan who wants to hate it and I am not someone who bought it knowing Id love it. I was just neutral. There were two main reasons for my disappointment with the book. One minor, one major. First, I found the second agendas (specifically the radical feminism) distracting and unnecessary. I have nothing against the feminist agenda, but this wasnt the place to put it. Second, I found the book absolutely riddled with bad information, faulty facts and just plain lazy research (if you can call it 'research'). As someone who intensively researches these issues on a daily basis, I found myself underlining items on nearly every page that I knew were just plain untrue or were 'cherry-picked' facts slanted to give a certain perception. This is such a disappointment as a really great case could be made for the author's view if she had only put the real work into researching the book properly. Once you lose the reader's trust that you are providing factual information what do you have? Ill provide examples:
1) pg. 140: The author states that "Carbon-13 is a stable isotope present in two places: grasses and the bodies of animals that eat grasses". She goes on to suggest that since there is no evidence of grass "scratch marks" on the human teeth found, that they must have been eating animals. There are many flaws in this thought process. First, I cant even begin to explain the preservation and degradation issues present in examining three million year old teeth for 'scratch marks'. Second, carbon-13 is an isotope found in ALL terrestrial and marine plants, not just grass. Finding high levels of C3 or C4 (which are what carbon-13 breaks down into) in human teeth only means that that human was eating large amounts of SOME plant, seed, nut, etc. (not JUST grass) or the animal that ate those. It is not as simple as GRASS OR COW.
2) pg. 142: The author states that there are no bacteria in the human stomach. This is simply untrue. In 2005 Barry Marshall and Robin Warren won a Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovering a stomach bacteria that causes gastritis and ulcer disease. There are currently over 130 known stomach bacteria.
3) pg. 146: The author states a "rumor" authored by RB Lee about hunter-gatherers getting 65% of their calories from plants and 35% from meat. She states that this "simply isnt true". First, this rumor-spreader is one of the most well-respected anthropological/archaeological researchers in hunter-gatherer studies who edited what is considered THE tome on hunter-gatherer theory, 'Man the Hunter'. He isnt some random hack. Second, saying those numbers 'simply arent true' is simply not true. Hunter-gatherers did and do inhabit a huge range of environments and likewise their diets cover a wide range. Some do follow the 65/35% number. Some eat much more meat. Some eat much less.
These are only three examples from a span of six pages. This pattern continues throughout the entire book. Fact is the authors 'facts' just arent believable (which, again, is a shame because a factual book on this topic could be powerful). She writes as if the anthropological and archaeological evidence she quotes is written in stone, when in fact many of these topics are constantly under revision or not well understood yet. Most importantly, I just believe that writing a book and promoting it as a factual, scientific account of a subject when it is not is doing a great disservice to your (mostly) unknowing readers. If you are not willing to put in the real research effort, write a book that is touted as a personal account and nothing more. Selling flubbed facts to people who are truly searching for answers, inspiration or (insert what you are looking for here) is just bad journalism.
Ill end this review with some facts and encourage any readers (whether you liked the book, hated the book or havent read the book) to always question whether what you are reading is true and to do some research of your own.
The author cites 207 references in this book.
62 of those references are websites (~30%)
18 are newspapers and magazines (~7%)
32 are journals (~15%)
95 are other books (~46%)
First of all, think about that. 30% of the references in this book come from website information. Five of those 62 website references were Wikipedia. Wikipedia! One was Google Answers. I wont let my freshmen students use Wikipedia as a reference in their papers, why would it be acceptable for a book? Like websites, newspaper and magazine information needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Of the 32 journals less than half come from well known, peer-reviewed sources. The remaining 46% are books, which can truly say anything the author cares to print (as this one does) and only show that the author is getting her information from another source (and another opinion) aside from the primary one. The point of this is to make clear that this is a book that is sold as (and which many positive reviews hype as) providing scientific, factual, intellectual knowledge on the vegetarian/diet/health debate. In reality less than 8% of the book is coming from peer-reviewed, fact-checked sources which can provide unbiased, neutral information.
If anything I hope this review encourages people to get away from the bias on either side, find factual scientific sources instead of second-third-fourth hand knowledge, check information for yourself instead of blindly believing an author, and to question published material and push for it to actually be factual if it presented as such.
397 of 482 people found the following review helpful
on January 31, 2010
As a vegan (since 2002), I quickly learned that you can't trust the vegetarians for information as they are just as likely to skew the truth as the Beef or Dairy Boards.
So I always love to read non-veg writing, and this book was worth reading for sure. Keith has done her homework and has some very interesting insights to share. I usually burn through books in 2-3 days, but it's taken me a full week to get through this one and I've got about 25 dog-eared pages.
Here's what was interesting:
1 - The need to admit that agriculture itself is screwed up and unsustainable (whether veg based or meat based)
2 - The reality that grains are a pretty bogus basis for a diet.
3 - The bitter truth that our planet can't support us, period (veg or non-veg)
4 - The potential problems with fat soluble vitamins
(note: if you haven't read the book yet, the above might not seem that ground-breaking, but seriously, Keith uncovers some new, very compelling stuff).
Here's where it was deeply flawed:
1 - We vegans are so few in numbers, writing a book about us is so uninteresting to most, that it had to became a book about vegetarians (in most countries, they don't even have a word for vegans, btw).
But it's not a book about vegetarians, except in title.
There are loads of vegetarians, lots of them who don't give much thought to their diet, and most of whom consume copious amounts of animal products (dairy, eggs). So the Vegetarian Myth is itself a myth that most vegetarians don't subscribe to. Vegans, yes. We get attacked so often, every vegan I know has had to create a core story to explain "why" (except me... I just shrug and smile). And so it's no surprise that most vegans catch whatever pitch PETA or John Robbins is throwing their way, and hold on tight.
But vegetarians are a different group, and it's (relatively) socially acceptiable in many countries (and I travel a lot) to abstain from meat. And remember, most veggies worldwide actually live/love/worship cows and eat plenty of eggs.
They don't dream of a farm animal-less world like the author was looking for (and I too have tried to imagine in the past... not possible, of course). They dream of cows and chickens in Central Park, or a small New England farmhouse where they make their own butter... the Charlotte's Web thing where Wilbur never dies.
But in truth, most veggies don't dream about anything in relation to Vegetarianism as they've simply discovered that they feel lighter if they drink milk and skip the beef. Or they read an article about some celebrity that's a veggie, so they're trying it out. Or they want to lose weight. Or whatever other (totally valid) personal/religious reason that has little or nothing to do with HUGE issues like sustainability and long-term nutrition.
With that in mind, much of what Keith is writing about really has nothing to do with vegetarians, just vegans. And the distinction between the two group is huge. And the relevance of that latter (the vegans), is minimal. To call vegans a minority is an understatement... within 10 years, Boeing will come out with a plane that can fit all of us inside. With such a small group, a disconnected and understudied group, it's nearly impossible to come to any conclusions that are not anecdotal at best.
2 - Keith spends a lot of time dogging vegans, suggesting their low-fat, low-protein diets make them angry and aggressive. Interestingly, the vocal vegan movement in most cities is almost always run by already-angry types: the punk rockers, the straightedge youth, the outcasts etc. My theory is these kids (most of the vocal vegan community is very young) were already pissed off at life already and then they found out they could be pissed off at EVERYONE about food. Which came first, the anger or the vegan?
Keith also suggest that most vegan are clueless and don't look at the entire big, global picture. This, I'm afraid, it the gospel truth. But there are a growing minority of us who know EXACTLY what's going on - environmentally, socially, nutritionally - and we continue not because we're ignorant, but because (a) we've figured out how to eat plants in a way that makes us exceptionally healthy even without meat (it's not something you figure out intuitively by-the-way), and (b) we feel that someone needs to play this role right now in the world. You could call this ideological, but I think it's just reality. The yin to the yang...
And finally, the true narrative of the book is one of self rejection, not self discovery. Every quality in stereotypical vegans that Keith now so clearly despises - their self-righteousness, their anger, their suffering - all of those qualities are so clearly her own qualities (and probably her greatest gifts if positioned differently)... the angry vegan has become an angry omnivore... it's a little unsettling. At times, more so than the topics being discussed.
Interesting to see what Keith writes next...
345 of 420 people found the following review helpful
on August 22, 2009
I'm not going to summarize the book. That's been done well in earlier reviews. This is just a description of some of my issues with the book.
The author interweaves her deepening political and environmental understanding - looking at the whole picture and realizing that pretty much everything in the supermarket, not just the meat, is produced by methods that make the world a crueler, more polluted and, worst of all, less sustainable place, and that to avoid contributing to the problem calls for much more radical solutions than merely leaving the animal products out of your diet - with her own story of worsening health on a vegan diet followed by recovery when she began to eat meat again. This is where my first caveat comes up: she implies, without coming right out and saying, that her vegan diet was also a low-fat diet. I have also been vegan for long periods of my life (although never the decades that she logged) and it was only during the last one, from 2004-2006, that I experienced the slight beginnings of the back problems she describes. No coincidence: that was the one where I went low-fat as well as vegan and actually lost my ability to digest fat. Fortunately I got an accurate diagnosis promptly, got nutritional therapy to regain my ability to digest fat, and lost the back pain within a year. In the latter half of her Nutritional Vegetarianism chapter, she devotes several pages to challenging the demonization of dietary fat by the mainstream medical community. Nevertheless, she continues to attribute her health problems mainly to lack of meat rather than lack of fat.
With my newfound understanding of the necessity of dietary fat, and in the context of my ongoing involvement with the radical food movement, I realized that if you want to be healthy and live in a temperate climate you can either be a locavore or a vegan but not both because temperate-climate plant foods just aren't fatty enough. Lierre Keith has chosen to stay in Massachusetts. Therefore this woman, so tenderhearted that she went through an extended moral agony over whether and how to kill the slugs that were eating her garden to the ground, now looks for what the radical diet community calls the happy meat, sustainably and humanely raised, not part of the factory farm system. In arguing for this choice, she digs deep into several technical subjects: ecology (with a particular emphasis on species extinction and habitat destruction for croplands), evolutionary biology, nutrition, anthropology, geology. I find her sources and her use of them pretty solid except for the last one. She really does seem to think that petroleum is dead dinosaurs and she considers genuinely possible that bogus theory that "[i]f all the methane is released from the melted permafrost...the planet [will be] hotter than Venus [and] there won't even be bacteria left; yes we can kill the planet." I wish someone had told her that there have been a few periods in the history of the Earth when all the permafrost was melted and the methane presumably released from it and there were enough bacteria to leave traces in the fossil record, not to mention descendants including ourselves. On the other hand, she seems to know the anthropological record pretty well and is admirably free of Noble Savage fantasizing. She acknowledges that a number of sustainable traditional societies are nevertheless, by our standards, profoundly unjust, particularly to women. If you idolize the Australian Aborigines and want to continue doing so, don't read this book.
As the book goes along she begins to weave in her other concerns, the ones on which her career as a writer is based: radical feminism, racial equality, the peace and justice movement. She also introduces, without actually naming it, the Peak Oil hypothesis: that we really are facing societal collapse on account of declining petroleum production within fifty years, and it's time now, while we still have the resources, to start preserving what we can of our culture and our values.
29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on August 6, 2013
This book came to my attention in the most unlikely of circumstances - at a raw vegan food prep class at Jivamukti Yoga School. Fortunately, the instructor was open to good research, regardless of the source, and so this book made her resource list.
On a personal note, I'm extremely grateful 'The Vegetarian Myth' was written. It's a poetic, formidably intelligent book. This book is intensely personal, a life's work, and it is authoritative in its own right. I enjoyed and understood the mixture of anecdotal and scientific evidence. I found her references to be diverse and relevant (on completion of this book, I took the time to explore some of them and i'm not yet done). Clearly, the topic of the vegan diet is a controversial hotbed and Lierre must be commended for her insistence on finding the truth, regardless of who is alienated in the process -- this book is concerned with "adult knowledge" and "adult responsibility". Lierre contends that to understand the world, we must know it. Lierre's forays into farming, including her failed attempts at 'veganic' farming, led her to the heartbreaking, but finally undeniable, understanding that for life to be possible, someone has to die. Agriculture is anything but natural, Lierre explains here -- it is biotic cleansing -- so a vegan's hands are not 'clean'. It is instead a question of the suffering we can see and identify with (such as that of factory farmed animals), and the death we can not see but still 'benefit' from in very real and equally unjust ways. This book is not belligerent towards vegans -- it's more like a love letter to our earth. Factory farming is condemned for being the ethical and ecological nightmare that it is, but it turns out to be just the beginning.
I believe Lierre when she says 'The Vegetarian Myth' was a gruesome book to write."You are allowed to learn from my mistakes", Lierre says, before describing the "shrapnel" feeling in her spine -- the legacy of her 20 years as a vegan. This book grapples with some pretty uncomfortable subjects, such as overpopulation ("species overshoot"), fossil fuel, civilisation, and the dangers of soy, to name a few. I can't imagine a person whose understanding of food justice, and animal justice, would not be enriched by reading this book. There are vegans who want so badly to get this book out of circulation altogether that they will not even borrow it from a library, for fear that the library may order more books like it in future. The adolescent boycott of this book only hints at how powerful it is -- if it had nothing to say, vegans would not find it threatening. Take it from someone who actually took the time to read the book: it will inform my activism and my food choices from here onward. It is also unrelentingly well-written (I must get my hands on Lierre's fiction books). I could not appreciate this book more -- I hope Lierre knows that, at the very least, a few of us have got the message.
390 of 498 people found the following review helpful
I read this book because it's gotten so much attention from the vegan community --- mainly in the form of anger and outrage. So, for the sake up being up front: I am a vegan. And I did read the book, with as open a mind as possible.
Let me also say from the get-go that not everything in this book did I find to be unfair and/or absurd. Keith certainly makes provocative, interesting, passionate arguments about many things --- much of which has already been pointed out ad nauseum from the fanclub here on Amazon. That's not to say that I agree with hardly anything (maybe "agree" is not the right word; maybe it's more accurate to say that I don't see the world the same way Lierre Keith does).
What's very bothersome for me about this book, and it's entire premise, is that it makes, on the issue of veganism in particular, such sweeping generalizations based on one person's experience and the observations made by that one person. In other words, every single person who is vegan is lumped together --- as if our entire process toward and experience of animal rights/veganism is exactly the same and will yield the same results.
And I have to wonder: Does Lierre Keith get out much?
My own coming to veganism is even related to Keith's experience, either. I do not have an eating disorder, nor do I have a rigid or sociopathic, angry personality (Keith claims that only ill people are drawn into the "cult" of veganism). I am not anorexic or orthorexic. Yes, it's true: some vegans are crazy people. There are crazy Scientologists, crazy fundamentalist Christians, crazy people who fight for civil rights, crazy people who don't really care about anything at all. Which is just to say: if you haven't noticed, there are crazy people everywhere. And there are also amazing people who fit into the categories I listed above --- people who have nuanced views of the world, and who attempt to lead ethical, compassionate lives. And most of the vegans I know are wonderful, caring, smart, hard-working responsible people who do not harbor illusions/delusions about the world.
I am particularly horrified by Keith's assertion that vegans are naive (read: stupid) when it comes to matters of life and death. I know full well that animals die in order to grow the plants upon which I live. I also am fully aware of the horrors of industrial agriculture and how destructive civilization is, in general, towards this planet. But I still don't think this discredits the merits and ethics of veganism.
Keith also implies that by virtue of being vegan, all vegans claim that eating animal products is bad for human health. I don't. I don't think science will ever unequivocally say that animal products, in moderation, are ever "bad" for humans when it comes to disease or health. That's not the point. I know it's bad for animals, regardless of how they are raised.
Keith very clearly blames her health woes on veganism. But veganism, in and of itself, is not a diet. There are a thousand different ways of eating vegan, and I am convinced there are very healthy ways and very unhealthy ways of doing it. Same for being an omnivore. Keith doesn't really describe the kind of diet she blames for destroying her health, other than the fact that it was plant-based. Certainly, some people's constitutions are more sensitive than others, and we all have different nutritional needs, but Keith doesn't provide any proof that human needs cannot be met on a carefully planned vegan diet. And just to reiterate: some people probably need to emphasize the careful planning. There are pro-vegan medical professionals -- like Dr Klaper, for instance, who's conducting the Vegan Health Study --- who clearly recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all vegan diet plan. There probably never will be --- just like omnivorism.
I have an auto-immune disease (a non-life threatening one). I was a meat eater when I was diagnosed with it, and to be perfectly honest, I was also one of those free-range, organic, grassfed, blah blah blah animal eaters--because I once thought that was good for animals. And I had been for quite a long time. By Keith's logic, my auto-immune disease should be blamed on my omnivorism. When I became vegan almost a decade ago, my auto-immune disease eased up a little, but it certainly hasn't gone away. I doubt it ever will, unless some sort of miracle occurs. Trust me: I want to blame my disease on eating animal products, and I want the cure to be eating plants. But that isn't to be the case. I find it disturbing that Keith plays nutritional authority, and with such zeal.
Finally, in my eyes, Keith comes off as exactly the same kind of personality she criticizes in her own experience of the vegan community: rigid and absolutist. Now that it appears Keith has found a savior in Weston Price and the vitures of eating animals, it's simply the same personality with a different set of values to preach to the world. But Keith claims that growing up and taking responsibility for her food and the "necessity" of eating animals means that she's grown up.
But being a grown up, in my most humble opinion, lies in the knowledge that not a single one of us is the absolute authority; being a grown up is realizing that the world is complicated and nuanced and messy. It's not this or that. It's this and that.
What makes veganism such a beautiful, appealing idea to me --- and it's really what I would always hope to convey to others --- is that there is magic in the intention to not harm. I don't think being a vegan makes me better than any one else. Or more wise or righteous. But it does contribute, in a very concrete way, in diminishing human domination --- a theme of this book --- in a way that is not addressed or explored. It also directly addresses the real lives of non-human animals --- whom I do not believe exist for human purposes. I believe, unlike other animals, humans have a choice about what we consume. Why shouldn't we make the decision that causes the least harm?
This book would be more intellectually honest, interesting and readable had the author simply reported her own experiences---acknowledging that individual experience is just that, rather than applying her life to all of us. A grown up wise person doesn't blame, s/he investigates, questions and searches her soul for answers. It's unfathomable to me that someone who claims to have once been a committed vegan, and understands the fullness of that path, would become an advocate for Happy Meat (TM). Just like the rest of us, I suspect there's still some growing up left to do.
24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on February 8, 2013
I devoured this book. I was hungry for it. It was so wonderful to read another writer beautiful synthesize years worth of reflections, experiences and research that so closely mirrored my own journey.
Today, my husband and I are organic farmers entering our eighth growing season. Our farm is diverse, and animals are increasingly becoming an integral part of the farm and our diet. But, years ago, we were young urban folks who wanted to "do right" with how we ate, and at the time conventional liberal wisdom said that eating limited animal products was the way to save the world, be good people, and be healthy. So, we ate a lot of beans and rice with tofu/tempeh for protein. We weren't strict vegans or vegetarians by any means, even though we intellectually thought that would be "best." Perhaps something in our unconscious kept us from going there, so we consumed occasional dairy and eggs and ate meat when served to us. Later, I even managed the kitchen at a retreat center where we served vegetarian meals. I think the best way to describe our stance on eating animal products: we thought they were not necessary. Yummy, perhaps, but not absolutely necessary.
Since then, our thoughts have changed a lot. We have had many parallel experiences to Lierre Keith's. Once we began farming (in 2004), we started understanding that the world is a whole lot more complex than we thought. We learned more about farm policy, nutrition, topsoil, erosion, sustainability ...... we started purposefully adding more meat to our diet in recent years, and just last year added animals to our farm. All of these were very intentional, thought out decisions that have been highly positive for our farm and for our bodies. Now, in retrospect, I find myself so frustrated with the vegetarian "conventional wisdom" of my early adult years. Even among omnivores today, it seems that these myths hold strong -- we can feed the world sustainably on grain, for example. Or, that it's healthier to avoid animal fats.
These persistent widely held assumptions/beliefs had me so frustrated that I had been scheming to write an essay called "meat myths." And then a friend recommended this book to me, and I found that someone had already written these thoughts out -- in longer, more thorough and beautiful form than I'm sure I could have done. I nodded while reading almost every page -- the anecdotes and the research all rang so true. You might say that I was fertile ground to agree with what Lierre Keith had to say.
I also enjoyed her writing style and the way she organized the book into three main chapters.
So, why four stars rather than five?
* I struggled with the final chapter "To Save The World." The rest of the book was so specific and concrete that this chapter really threw me off. While I think I agree with her that the common notion of individual change is a bit idealistic and unrealistic, I also wasn't sure I was ready to buy into a revolution of sorts (if that is even what she was saying -- it felt vague). Still pondering this one.
* The tone is potentially problematic and possibly offensive to some readers. Personally, I really enjoyed it. I loved how she could be so reverent and beautiful when writing about the sacred circles of life and death and yet hilariously irreverent on other topics (such as throwing in a Voldemort reference when talking about food corporations). But, if her goal is really truly to nudge vegetarians away from their existing beliefs, I'm not sure that every vegetarian will even be able to finish the book without getting angry. Who knows?
* She relies heavily on secondary sources from the lay press. I have read many of the same books and respect them as quality sources since those authors relied heavily on lots of primary research. To me, I read The Vegetarian Myth as part manifesto and part personal memoir. I read the research bits as: "These are things I read that changed my mind. I'm going to synthesize lots of them for you." In that way, it was very effective, because not every reader will have the time or energy to read all of these books. She covers SOOOOO much ground in this book (morals, politics, nutrition!). However, given how contentious this topic is, the lack of primary resources sets her up for swift debunking and dismissal by critics. There's no question that ANY writer addressing meat eating in this way will be a target, and I wish that Lierre Keith and/or her editor/publisher could have shored up the book just a tad more in this way. In the end, any book questioning vegetarianism will be critiqued, so perhaps there is no book "strong" enough to resist those critiques. And, ultimately, this is not a scholarly work -- it's an exploration of a topic. It's a subtle difference, but an important one when understanding the purpose of the book.
If anyone is interested in reading more on the topics she addresses, I recommend these books (which were not included in Keith's bibliography):
On the viability of grass farming -- All Flesh Is Grass: Pleasures & Promises Of Pasture Farming
On politics and farming (and why we shouldn't try to "feed the world") -- the classic The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture
91 of 117 people found the following review helpful
on January 7, 2013
I was excited about this book. I was looking forward to learning new and potentially enlightening information. But by chapter 1 I realized this piece would be, sadly, a disappointment. Keith fails to use credible scientific facts to back up her claims and even includes several obvious scientific fallacies that she has portrayed as fact. Overall, Keith seems to be placing the blame of modern agricultural consequences on a vegetarian diet, however, rather than being called the Vegetarian Myth the book would have been more appropriately titled the Agriculture Myth and placing blame on our current dietary system in its entirety (high animal product consumption).
My hesitation with the book began in Chapter 1- Keith has framed her argument around a naïve, superficial, and misunderstood assumption of veganism. To believe that veganism can be summed up to one line, "Meat is murder," is entirely misguided. If one is going to base a book on disclaiming a lifestyle choice, the least you can do is give that choice its deserved credit. Claiming veganism is simply a result in a desire to refrain from any death is oversimplified to the point of insulting.
Furthermore, the author has a misconception of many scientific processes. I've shared just a few examples:
First is Keith's misconception of the process of evolution, it seems she does not understand the difference between artificial and natural selection. Artificial selection, which occurred with domestication- is when humans intentionally manipulate the genome of plants and animals; this is not the same as natural selection-which occurs when a species naturally adapts to environmental pressures in the most genetically efficient means possible, through predator and prey interaction or otherwise. Plants and animals did not adapt to human domestication because it was an effective survival strategy (arguably dogs as an exception), they were forced into their current genetic make-up by the hands of man-there was no "spiritual trade-off" involved, nor was it a "coevolutionary process," as Keith would lead her readers to believe. In fact, domestication is maladaptive to most species, in that it is results in a weaker, less diverse genetic makeup.
Furthermore, the author gives misinformation regarding eutrophication (the die off of all life in water systems due to nitrogen overload). The factory farming system needed for the standard American diet (high in animal products) has resulted in excessive amounts of animal waste. This waste is applied-in excess- as fertilizer, stored in lagoons, or illegally dumped. When the waste runs into water systems, or leaches through the ground into underground water systems, this water pollution results in eventual eutrophication and mass die offs. Eutrophication isn't resultant from grain harvests as Keith has stated, it results from the excessive amount of manure produced within the current animal agriculture system.
The author also speaks of the necessity of top predators-yet fails to mention (or doesn't understand) that the major decline and eradication of top predators has resulted, in the most part, directly from livestock ranching. (See the current Pacific NW gray wolf situation for a current account- recently wolf hunting was reintroduced due to rancher pressure). In addition to top predator eradication, however, is the eradication of competing grazers as well. Why aren't there wild bison outside of protected parks? Because they compete with cows for grazing. The same is beginning to happen with wild horses as well. Wild animals who compete with cattle for grazing would diminish rancher profits and thus aren't allowed on grazing land (generally speaking).
Moreover, Keith seems to be placing the blame of grain harvest on vegetarians. She fails to take into account that 1/3 of grains are fed directly to animals and that 1/3 of grains are used as biofuels. She also implies the claim that 16 lbs of grain is needed for one lb of beef is false, however, this is statistic given by the USDA itself. It really is true that a person eating an animal-based diet is responsible for far more grain production than the vegetarian. Even the majority of "free-range" grazers, end up in the feedlot stuffed full of grains their last few weeks/months of life. True- there are a few farms that raise animals who graze their entire lives. (Although this isn't an option for the majority of Americans, either due to location-or the high cost.) But at the current time the vast majority of animal products are from corn and soy fed factory farmed animals.
Lastly, the author offers outright, well...ridiculous vegan anecdotes, describing the vegan ethic as superficial and immature without beginning to give justice to its true meaning. For instance, the claim that vegans believe a fence should be placed in the Serengeti to stop animal predation (seriously, Keith, do you really believe vegans want this?); that the entire vegan ethic is based around not eating anyone with a face (maybe as a teenager a vegan will base their entire lifestyle around this claim, but as an adult the majority of vegans learn there are much more significant reasons for their choices). Furthermore, the author has no basis for associating veganism with fruitarians and breathatarians- as vegans are neither, nor do the large majority of vegans have any desire to be either. Nor does she have any basis for associating veganism with anorexia and bulimia. And last-and very important, her claim that Animal Rights Theory (p.78) attempts to save animals from themselves (i.e. by stopping animal predatation) is either a complete naïve misunderstanding by the author-or an outright lie. Animal Rights Theory proposes animals should have the right to live out their natural lives-no one abiding by Animal Rights Theory would suggest otherwise by denying a predator their right to predate. Nor does Animal Rights Theory believe that predation is an "intrinsic evil" as her Pollen quote claims (p.78) and certainly does not ask one to "reject death" (p.76).
Keith- if you want to argue veganism and animal rights theory-please do...but argue using actual scientific facts and a clear understanding of the theory-not some naïve, uneducated misunderstanding.
Spreading this misguided information is offering readers who have no previous exposure to veganism a very misconstrued, and immature, description of animal rights and vegan ethics. After reading the first chapter describing her superficial description of veganism, it is no wonder Keith felt it was an "immature" belief-b/c the belief as described by Keith truly is immature- and very, very far from a true description of vegan ethics. Page 84 she states, "My life as a vegan was so simple." I have yet to meet a mature, educated, adult vegan-who has done thorough research regarding a vegan ethic-whose life is so simple- on the contrary, living life while knowing all the information that pushes one to choose an ethical vegan lifestyle is typically more complex.
Lastly, Keith suggests we revert back to a hunting and gathering society. I would agree this would be nice, probably more sustainable, and better for the earth - if there were far fewer of us. However, as reality is-there are over 7 billion people on this planet. Regions across the globe that rely on hunting and gathering are rife with overhunting, endangered species, illegal bushmeat trade, and ecosystem destruction. At the current rate we humans kill over 10 billion animals for consumption per year (and this number is set to grow as developing nations increase their meat, egg, and dairy consumption). Do you ever see those 10 billion animals? No. Because they are locked away in overcrowded sheds. Where on planet earth could 10 billion grazing animals be tolerated, let alone sustainable? Overall, Keith's wild foods solution sounds attractive, albeit romanticized-and when the human population is reduced to a few million I'll reconsider it. But in the meantime, present day reality doesn't expect the human population to peak until 9 billion, and it's simply just not a possibility that all the forests in the world could sustainable feed 9 billion human mouths.
I would like to say I'm an ethical vegan who has spent a great deal of time studying the topic, and I'm also a conservation biologist. I was very much looking forward to having my beliefs challenged with this book. If there's a viable argument against veganism, I want to know it- I want to be as educated as possible when making lifestyle choices. However, this book, sadly, came up short and I'm still convinced a vegan diet uses fewer resources, emits fewer greenhouse gases, and contributes to far less violence than a meat-based diet. I strongly urge anyone interested in food choices to do further research than Keith's book-rather you are an advocate or opponent of veganism- I hope that you will still take the time to educate yourself with more scientific based information.
(My book was underlined with numerous additional scientific fallacies, however, I'll stop my review at these few.)
84 of 109 people found the following review helpful
on December 30, 2009
In the first section of the book, Keith describes a litany of "catastrophic" health issues she developed starting in her late teens, which she blames on her then vegan diet. She warns us that we too will destroy our health if we adopt a plant-based diet. Among other ailments, Keith believes that just two years into her new diet it wrecked her spine and caused degenerative joint disease. This is the least credible part of the book. Keith offers no causal explanations to support her extraordinary claim that her plant-based diet wrecked her spine. Correlation does not equal causation.
Fortunately, the book gets better from there. This is not just another self-help diet book touting the benefits of a high protein, low carb diet, although there is a whole section of the book that does that. No, this book is an eye opening polemic against agriculture and civilization. "Agriculture," Keith writes, "is the most destructive thing humans have done to the planet, and more of the same won't save us. The truth is that agriculture requires the wholesale destruction of entire ecosystems."
Keith provides a breathtaking and heart wrenching overview of the world history of civilization and agriculture and the environmental destruction we have left in our wake. She challenges us to work collectively to "dismantle" agricultural and civilization. She explains how we must all learn to live sustainably on what we can grow, hunt, fish, or gather, within walking distance of where we live. Ecological sustainability is a key theme throughout the book and Keith makes some eloquent, circle of life arguments that for most people in most places a sustainable, eco-friendly diet has to be based on eating local animals foods such as grass fed ruminants, free range birds and wild fish.
While we are about the business of reinventing the way we eat, we must also reinvent our culture and our spirituality. Out with patriarchy, masculinity, humanism, and our major religions. In with matriarchy, ecofeminism, and animist spirituality. These changes will not come easy. We must fight for them. She writes: "Radicals understand oppression as a set of interlocking institutions, and, one way or another, the strategy for liberation involves direct confrontation with power to take those institutions apart."
Did you get all that? This is not a self-help book to persuade a few informed consumers to voluntarily load up their shopping carts with grass fed meat and butter as they hunt and gather through the isles at Whole Foods. She writes: "If you hear nothing else in this book, hear this: there is no personal solution."
This is a revolutionary polemic about dismantling civilization as we know it. Oh, and in order to create this new culture, we will need to shrink the world population by about 95%, and pretty much hit the undo button on the last 8 to 10,000 years of history.
Although I consider Keith's revolutionary agenda absurdly unrealistic, she writes beautiful, readable, engaging prose and challenged me to think about a lot of things I hadn't considered before. At times I think she gets carried away scapegoating vegetarians for the evils of agriculture. Despite the enormous influence of veganism in her own life, in the big scheme of things, vegetarians and vegans are a tiny, uninfluential minority. In America, most agriculture is produced to support the Standard American Diet (SAD) with its heavy emphasis on grain fed, industrial, animal foods. Even the majority of folks in the various high fat, high protein diet camps still rely on supermarkets to fill their refrigerators with industrial meats.
This books case against agriculture and civilization could have just as easily have been framed as the SAD Myth since Keith seems to be just as appalled by factory farming and the SAD diet as vegetarians. Anybody who hears about this book and gets the impression it is just another pro meat book suggesting we load up our shopping carts with supermarket meat, eggs, and dairy, really needs to read the book. As Keith puts it, "Nothing in this book is meant to excuse or promote the practices of industrial food production on any level."
55 of 71 people found the following review helpful
on February 17, 2012
I read this book after it was recommended to me by my Crossfit nutritionist. I was unable to conceive and was looking for answers after doing everything (detox, TCM, etc). I was a 25 year VEGAN, the last being primarily a raw foodist. I even co-created and opened a successful raw, vegan cafe. When my nutritionist and acupuncturist both told me "you need to eat meat" in order to conceive, I had the gloves on and was ready to defend my long-term vegan lifestyle. But, as nothing else was working, I decided to read The Vegetarian Myth (TVM). As soon as I started, I COULD NOT put this book down. I devoured it in a weekend and immediately began to eat meat (starting with eggs and fish). When I told my best friend, another long-term raw foodist/vegan and raw food teacher, about TVM, she read it and converted back to meat immediately as well.
I cannot go into the many many reasons why this book is so absolutely a must read, but I thank God that Lierre wrote it because 4-5 months after reading it and eating meat again, I got pregnant and gave birth to the most beautiful, healthy little man I've ever met. Lierre covers in this book reasons why women trying to conceive, pregnant and breastfeeding should eat meat (eggs or fish even) for the sake of their children. AMAZING information. My girlfriend, who had her own degrading health issues, felt better within days. DAYS!
My reasons for becoming a vegetarian at 15 were nutritional, political and ethical. Lierre covers all three reasons beautifully. I followed up with reading "Beyond Broccoli" by Susan Schenck which was just as super fantastic, especially since she was a long time vegan raw foodist so she covers that part as well.
Even if it's out of curiosity or to strengthen your own vegan beliefs, READ this book.
**One MAJOR thing: Both LIerre and Susan make it clear, the food you eat should be ORGANIC, Grass-Fed, Free-Range, and/or Wild Caught. If it isn't so, DONT go near it. The whole point is healthy, humanely raised, environmentally friendly, ethical food.
THANK YOU Lierre for writing it. I actually have muscles now (the flab is gone) and people tell me I look better than I have in years. My memory has improved, I'm not craving junk food anymore, my energy is high and stable and my baby gets healthier and healthier every day.
60 of 79 people found the following review helpful
on May 11, 2011
I'll add to this pot of growing reviews. First, I read this book about a year ago and while some of the research and logic admittedly isn't perfect, it fills an enormous void that desperately needs to be filled. Ms. Keith's prose is articulate, passionate, creative and compelling, and while I ended my own personal attempt at veganism years ago I remember what it was like watching myself in the mirror wasting away and wondering why this diet just doesn't working. I have tremendous sympathy for Ms. Keith and the many like her who've done permanent damage to their bodies with prolonged dietary abuse, although thankfully I bailed on veganism before any permanent damage occurred.
From a scientific standpoint, I would have preferred that Ms. Keith let someone with a stronger technical background read through the book before it went to print, to catch some of the factual errors that wormed their way in. I'm sure all of these were unintentional (other reviewers point out many of these), so I hold no grudges and still think the book is worth a five-star review despite its imperfections. I also wish the book had focused more on research from peer-reviewed sources (there's plenty that could have been cited to back up Ms. Keith's claims), but not everyone has ready access to that literature as they aren't affiliated with a university. Again, this is a complaint worth bringing up, but not one that would force me to reconsider the five-star review I gave the book.
Why so many negative reviews? I have two guesses. First, as Ms. Keith points out in her book, vegetarians and particularly vegans don't take kindly to people challenging their values, so the result of a vegetarian or vegan reading this book will be predictable. For many people, diet is religion. Religion can't be argued with using logic and facts, whether from other popular books or from the peer-reviewed technical literature, so those who use diet as an integral part of their identity won't much care where the contradictory information comes from. They just disagree with it, and that's all there is to it. And they'll happily let their displeasure show in a negative review.
My second guess as to why so many negative reviews stems from a political reality: agriculture-particularly grain production-is big business. Ms. Keith attacks the notion that we should be eating grain, and goes even further to attack the notion that we should be growing annual plants within our agricultural system more generally. Naturally this attack has ruffled a few feathers. One way these huge companies wage their war against naysayers is to pay people to troll the internet, attacking those who oppose them. I suspect several, if not most, of the negative reviews here and at other book review websites were bought by the agricultural industry, or perhaps the medical industry (treating the many maladies caused by grain consumption is big business too). Follow the money...
So that's my review. Vegetarian Myth is a great, if imperfect, work of art. Buy it.