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Indybay Feature

Lierre Keith's Elaborate, Self-Congratulatory Excuse for Abandoning Veganism at BT Books

by nothing with a face
Bound Together Anarchist Collective Bookstore in San Francisco has invited PM Press author Lierre Keith to speak about her problematic, anti-vegan book on Saturday, June 13th. "The Vegetarian Myth - Food, Justice & Sustainability" is riddled with issues -- personal, logical, and factual.
In the broadest strokes, the book is a fanciful, nostalgic ode to a time long gone, a time when people hunted and gathered all of their food, a time before humankind developed agriculture. The cover art of the book itself speaks to this with its prehistoric drawings of various animals. To her credit, though, Lierre Keith does correctly call out that modern agriculture, or agribusiness, is incredibly devastating to our natural environment.

Where she runs off the rails is with just about everything else in the book -- when she confuses her own psychology with that of every vegan or vegetarian (veg*n), when she commits numerous logical errors in support of her anti-vegan position, and when she inaccurately attempts to discredit facts about the destructiveness of today's American meat-centric diet based on small samples of data from a handful of existing niche farms that she unscientifically extrapolates to a distant hypothetical future.

When one considers that the vast majority of agriculture in the U.S. today is centered around meat and dairy production -- that the majority of vegetable matter raised in this country is grown to support livestock so that we can have plentiful meat -- one might wonder why Lierre Keith, in her quest to reduce the ecological harm of modern agriculture, decided to come after the veg*ns first, especially as they represent likely less than 5% of the population. And therein lies the answer to many of the book's flaws. Keith comes at veg*ns so directly because she claims that she was once a 20-year vegan herself before she found her new religion. Apparently, she was unable to maintain her health during that time by following an informed and complete vegan diet. So in attacking veg*ns, she is distancing herself from her former self. She is rationalizing and excusing her decision to consume the flesh of animals again. That is the essence of why she has written the book and she admits as much in its intro, although not in those exact words.

It is this process of self-justification for her decision to begin consuming meat again, and one assumes dairy as well, that has brought forth "The Vegetarian Myth". It comes off as an attempt to reverse engineer a rationale after she lost her personal faith in veg*nism, partly due to her inability to maintain her health by eating properly. Consider that she began to consume meat again and then released the book several years later. She projects that attempt to resolve her cognitive dissonance onto every veg*n alive today.

If she really wanted to come after modern agriculture, Keith could have left the attack on veg*ns out of it, or at least not made their role in modern agriculture the central premise of the book. Veg*ns tend to be some of the most conscientious people regarding their consumption, leaving a much smaller footprint than most Americans because veg*ns consume their nutrients directly rather than inefficiently through a food animal. It is well documented, and common sense, that it takes many times more resources to grow animals for food than it does to grow produce for food. Basic formulations about the inherent inefficiencies in a meat-based diet do not even take into account the massive amounts of pollution produced by food animals. Dairy cows in California alone produce more waste than all of the state's residents every year, and that does not include the millions of other food animals raised in the state. Hog farm waste lagoons are increasingly a noxious issue in many communities. And while you don't hear Al Gore say it, livestock is one of the greatest contributors to global warming due to the massive amounts of methane released by the animals. As simply as it can be stated, stopping eating meat (and dairy) today is one of the most important things individuals can do to substantially reduce their role in harming the environment. There are other positive steps individuals can take related to their food choices but few, if any, are as immediate and significant.

Lierre Keith presumably knows all of this, yet none of it matters to her any longer. She's found a way around the difficult truth of meat production today in America, where 95% of food animals are raised in factory farms. She dismisses the hard facts about the environmental destruction currently being done in the name of animal agriculture because she can point to a handful of small farms where the animals are allowed to graze. She completely ignores that these farms are an anachronism that not only offer very little for the majority of people today, but any widespread implementation of these farms is far off into the future at best and completely unrealistic at worst as the human population grows and the land and resources available for livestock decreases.

There is a danger to the public buying into Lierre Keith's personal psychodrama regarding her food (in)decisions. As she tells people through her book and at speaking engagements like the one at Bound Together Bookstore that eating meat is natural and good for the environment in some distant future, realistically people will continue (or begin again) to eat meat today, 95% of which comes from incredibly destructive factory farms, destructive to the environment, to human health, and to the animals who live miserable lives until their slaughter. Because the Inuit eat meat, or the Mayans did, we can all wear more leather and pretend that our meat-eating in America today is the same thing and somehow magically moves us to a pastoral future of happy, grazing livestock. She's allowed her personal eating dysfunction to color her world outlook to the point where she's obviously missing the forest for the trees. And she's advocating for others to follow her lead.

Unconvincingly, Lierre Keith wants us to believe that she has finally found her one true god, but with the obvious self-hate she betrays when she continually refers to veg*ns as ignorant or child-like, and with the faulty logical and factual ground on which she builds her case, it becomes apparent that the book is simply a therapeutic vehicle for her, not the self-congratulatory or evangelical effort it pretends to be. If she can convince us, then she can better assure herself that she is at peace with her decision to eat animals. Fortunately, a growing number of people are simply too intelligent and too well-informed to follow her gospel of psuedo-environmental meat-eating in the 21st century.


Credit must be given for the title of this critique to a comment by "c'mon irene". That an anonymous comment was used for the title of this post is intended to be ironic, as you will see below, in that Lierre Keith devotes an inordinate amount of paper and ink in her book to address something she supposedly read in an online message board.

If you doubt this critique of the book as a seriously flawed effort that PM Press should never have published, consider the following close examination of the first 14 pages of the book which Lierre Keith offers for free on her website. It is surprisingly sloppy and unprofessional for what one might expect from a PM Press title.

The original text appears in blue. Bolded text added for emphasis. Comments appear in black and/or brackets.


Why This Book?

This was not an easy book to write. For many of you, it won't be an easy book to read. I know. I was a vegan for almost twenty years. I know the reasons that compelled me to embrace an extreme diet and they are honorable, ennobling even. Reasons like justice, compassion, a desperate and all-encompassing longing to set the world right. To save the planet - the last trees bearing witness to ages, the scraps of wilderness still nurturing fading species, silent in their fur and feathers. To protect the vulnerable, the voiceless. To feed the hungry. At the very least to refrain from participating in the horror of factory farming.
These political passions are born of a hunger so deep that it touches on the spiritual. Or they were for me, and they still are. I want my life to be a battle cry, a war zone, an arrow pointed and loosed into the heart of domination: patriarchy, imperialism, industrialization, every system of power and sadism. If the martial imagery alienates you, I can rephrase it. I want my life - my body - to be a place where the earth is cherished, not devoured; where the sadist is granted no quarter; where the violence stops. And I want eating - the first nurturance - to be an act that sustains instead of kills.
She's definitely into drama, as evidenced by these statements, as well as the title of the book in that she's totally flip-flopped and writes off 20 adult years of her life as having followed a myth. This intro is the first logical fallacy, an appeal to emotion (
This book is written to further those passions, that hunger. It is not an attempt to mock the concept of animal rights or to sneer at the people who want a gentler world. [But allow her to proceed to do exactly that after already calling veganism "extreme."] Instead, this book is an effort to honor our deepest longings for a just world. And those longings - for compassion, for sustainability, for an equitable distribution of resources - are not served by the philosophy or practice of vegetarianism. We have been led astray. The vegetarian Pied Pipers have the best of intentions. I'll state right now what I'll be repeating later: everything they say about factory farming is true. It is cruel, wasteful, and destructive. Nothing in this book is meant to excuse or promote the practices of industrial food production on any level.
But that is exactly what the results of this book will be, if anyone follows her "Pied Piper" lead to meat-eating. A) People with the emotional and ethical vacillation of the author will believe her that vegetarianism is bad and meat-eating good and natural, B) Not having access to non-factory farmed meat and dairy, as most people don't in america, these same people will eat factory farmed meat, thinking it's natural while they con themselves into thinking that their actions today matter less than their "noble" desire for a magical form of agriculture for the masses in the future, and C) Increased rather than decreased environmental harm will happen as a result.
But the first mistake is in assuming that factory farming - a practice that is barely fifty years old - is the only way to raise animals. Their calculations on energy used, calories consumed, humans unfed, are all based on the notion that animals eat grain.
This is a classic straw man ( Vegans I know don't think industrial confinement is the only way to raise animals. They are aware of the past and they know there is such a thing as "free range" and so forth today, but it's a niche today for the privileged and could never provide meat and dairy at the volumes factory farming does. factory farms exist for an economic reason. The amount of meat people eat has increased dramatically over the last hundred years, as has the number of people in existence. the author here seems to forget that the world's population has more than doubled from less than 3 billion in 1950 to more than 6 billion today, with reasonable projections of 9 billion people on the planet by 2050. Frankly, there's no going backwards to 1940s agriculture and still feeding a hungry world. It certainly can be done better and more sustainably, which should be the focus of her book rather than attacking vegetarians, but there's no going back.

Additionally, to her point about grain here, she is attempting to discredit or debunk calculations about how wasteful animal farming is today by comparing it with animal production 60 years or more ago, or on some mythical future. The calculations cited by advocates of veganism are accurate today for the vast majority of meat and dairy eaten by americans in 2009. Over 95% of animals raised for food today in america comes from factory farms. Those figures about the unnecessary waste and pollutions in meat-eating cannot honestly be debunked by some myth about all animals being raised for food in some free-roaming, pastural future.

You can feed grain to animals, but it is not the diet for which they were designed. Grain didn't exist until humans domesticated annual grasses, at most 12,000 years ago, while aurochs, the wild progenitors of the domestic cow, were around for two million years before that. For most of human history, browsers and grazers haven't been in competition with humans. They ate what we couldn't eat - cellulose - and turned it into what we could - protein and fat. Grain will dramatically increase the growth rate of beef cattle (there's a reason for the expression "cornfed") and the milk production of dairy cows. It will also kill them. The delicate bacterial balance of a cow's rumen will go acid and turn septic. Chickens get fatty liver disease if fed grain exclusively, and they don't need any grain to survive. Sheep and goats, also ruminants, should really never touch the stuff.
This is historically accurate, but here we have a version of an appeal to tradition ( Again, she neglects the growing world population of humans. Where will all these food animals actually roam? Kentucky Fried Chicken alone cranks through over 800,000,000 (yes, 800 million) chickens every year. And while she's waxing poetic about pre-agricultural humanity, domesticated animals for food are also a part of that agricultural "revolution". To truly go back (which can't actually be done with 9 billion people on the horizon), there would have to be no domesticated animals whatsoever. If so, where would these 9 billion people then get their meat? By hunting? How long until the entire earth is Easter Island and we have eaten every last wild creature roaming the planet?
This misunderstanding is born of ignorance, an ignorance that runs the length and breadth of the vegetarian myth [she seems rather disingenuous when she claimed earlier not to be interested in ridicule, but much of this is her ridiculing her past self and projecting her cognitive dissonance onto everyone who remains vegetarian, while ignoring that her entire book promotes a myth about the future while most vegans are concerned with what they can do today], through the nature of agriculture and ending in the nature of life. We are urban industrialists, and we don't know the origins of our food. This includes vegetarians, despite their claims to the truth. It included me, too, for twenty years. [Ah, yes, she is critical of herself as she flings shit at every last vegetarian.] Anyone who ate meat was in denial; only I had faced the facts. Certainly, most people who consume factory-farmed meat have never asked what died and how it died. But frankly, neither have most vegetarians.
Ahem, most vegetarians are quite aware of how factory farmed animals die. If any are not knowledgable of every last detail of the origins of the produce they eat, well then the same could certainly be said for many if not most people in the US today, yet Lierre Keith chooses to attack vegetarians for it. Again, this is her own psychodrama bursting forth. She didn't know the origins of her food as a vegan, or even what exactly to eat to maintain her own health, and so she projects that onto all vegans and somehow forgets that the same applies to omnivores as well.
The truth is that agriculture 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. The truth is also that life isn't possible without death, that no matter what you eat, someone has to die to feed you.
True enough, in a sense. Every taking from this world to sustain ourselves should be acknowledged as such, with the goal of not taking more than is sustainable. But just because something has to be taken does not justify all deaths, such as the unnecessary eating of animals. And this weak argument of hers also completely ignores the value in taking less, something that vegans do every day. While not exactly, this is almost a two-wrongs-make-a-right-fallacy ( Because there is any death involved with human eating, eating meat is fine she claims. While she should be advocating at least a reduction in the amount of meat people eat, she's instead attacking vegetarians and offering false hope that people can continue to eat meat like they do today and yet somehow all those billions of domesticated animals can just run around living happy lives.
I want a full accounting, an accounting that goes way beyond what's dead on your plate. I'm asking about everything that died in the process, everything that was killed to get that food onto your plate. That's the more radical question, and it's the only question that will produce the truth. How many rivers were dammed and drained, how many prairies plowed and forests pulled down, how much topsoil turned to dust and blown into ghosts? I want to know about all the species - not just the individuals, but the entire species - the chinook, the bison, the grasshopper sparrows, the grey wolves. And I want more than just the number of dead and gone. I want them back.
Most vegans I know are are interested in more than just what is dead on a plate and are involved in many causes, including food issues like producing food locally and organics, to name just two. (But that's not to discount the horrible life that untold millions of animals suffer through long enough to be slaughtered for cheeseburgers or hotdogs or chicken wings.) This author, on the contrary, wants a single silver bullet to solve all ills. And worse, she's willing to cast aside the immediate good on the promise of some future perfect.
Despite what you've been told, and despite the earnestness of the tellers, eating soybeans isn't going to bring them back. [Wow, bigtime straw man and ridicule here.] Ninety-eight percent of the American prairie is gone, turned into a monocrop of annual grains [and strip malls and housing developments and so forth that are will not be available any time soon for cows to run around wild]. Plough cropping in Canada has destroyed 99 percent of the original humus. In fact, the disappearance of topsoil "rivals global warming as an environmental threat." When the rainforest falls to beef, progressives are outraged, aware, ready to boycott. But our attachment to the vegetarian myth leaves us uneasy, silent, and ultimately immobilized when the culprit is wheat and the victim is the prairie. We embraced as an article of faith that vegetarianism was the way to salvation, for us, for the planet. How could it be destroying either?
Perhaps this is confessional on her part. She was looking for the magical silver bullet then, and look how wrong she was. She's found it now, she wants us to believe. Nevermind that most of the agricultural destruction in this country was and is done to grow crops for domesticated animals for food, hence the lack of water for salmon and the killing of predators like the grey wolves. It's the height of nutritional inefficiency to grow crops to feed animals to feed people, yet she neglects to admit this when she continues to disingenuously tie vegetarians to the environmental destruction.
We have to be willing to face the answer. What's looming in the shadows of our ignorance and denial [her ignorance and denial perhaps] is a critique of civilization itself. The starting point may be what we eat, but the end is an entire way of life, a global arrangement of power [some might call this utopia, which literally means "no place"], and no small measure of personal attachment to it. I remember the day in fourth grade when Miss Fox wrote two words on the blackboard: civilization and agriculture. I remember because of the hush in her voice, the gravitas of her words, the explanation that was almost oratory. This was Important. And I understood. Everything that was good in human culture flowed from this point: all ease, grace, justice. Religion, science, medicine, art were born, and the endless struggle against starvation, disease, violence could be won, all because humans figured out how to grow their own food.
I'll merely point out here the misanthropy lurking in many of those words.
The reality is that agriculture has created a net loss for human rights and culture: slavery, imperialism, militarism, class divisions, chronic hunger, and disease. "The real problem, then, is not to explain why some people were slow to adopt agriculture but why anybody took it up at all, when it is so obviously beastly," writes Colin Tudge of The London School of Economics. Agriculture has also been devastating to the other creatures with whom we share the earth, and ultimately to the life support systems of the planet itself. What is at stake is everything. If we want a sustainable world, we have to be willing to examine the power relations behind the foundational myth of our culture. Anything less and we will fail.
Questioning at that level is difficult for most people. In this case, the emotional struggle inherent in resisting any hegemony is compounded by our dependence on civilization, and on our individual helplessness to stop it. Most of us would have no chance of survival if the industrial infrastructure collapsed tomorrow. And our consciousness is equally impeded by our powerlessness. There is no Ten Simple Things list in the last chapter because, frankly, there aren't ten simple things that will save the earth. There is no personal solution. There is an interlocking web of hierarchical arrangements, vast systems of power that have to be confronted and dismantled. We can disagree about how best to do that, but do it we must if the earth is to have any chance of surviving.
So, in the meantime, keep eating meat, 95% of which comes from factory farms. Forget that most of that horrible agriculture is done to feed those animals. At least here, she recognizes that there is no silver bullet, although adopting a vegetarian diet is indeed one of the most immediate ways to decrease our participation in our agricultural overkill. It doesn't solve every last problem in the world, but it makes a big difference today in the issues this author seems to care about most.
In the end, all the fortitude in the world will be useless without enough information to chart a sustainable forward course, both personally and politically. One of my aims in writing this book is to provide that information. The vast majority of people in the US don't grow food, let alone hunt and gather it. [Thank goodness we don't hunt and gather it, or there'd be no wild animals left.] We have no way to judge how much death is embodied in a serving of salad, a bowl of fruit, a plate of beef. We live in urban environments, in the last whisper of forests, thousands of miles removed from the devastated rivers, prairies, wetlands, and the millions of creatures that died for our dinners. We don't even know what questions to ask to find out.
We do know exactly many of these things. She is simply choosing to ignore what she knows about the gross inefficiencies in meat-eating. And while she may have been oblivious as a vegan, assuming she really was one, many vegans know a great deal about their food, even if it is impossible to know every last thing unless we are fortunate enough to buy everything we eat from local farmers and bakers.
In his book Long Life, Honey in the Heart, Martin Pretchel writes of the Mayan people and their concept of kas-limaal, which translates roughly as "mutual indebtedness, mutual insparkedness." "The knowledge that every animal, plant, person, wind, and season is indebted to the fruit of everything else is an adult knowledge. To get out of debt means you don't want to be part of life, and you don't want to grow into an adult," one of the elders explains to Pretchel.
Yes, living in balance with nature is important. Eating meat today creates a huge and unnecessary ecological imbalance. But we are not Mayans nor will we ever be. And Lierre Keith -- again longing to idolize the past, in an ahistorical way -- seems to be forgetting that a central part of the "success" of mayan civilization was agriculture. They were not hunter-gatherers.
The only way out of the vegetarian myth is through the pursuit of kas-limaal, of adult knowledge. [Because vegans are children whereas those who eat meat are adults.] This is a concept we need, especially those of us who are impassioned by injustice. I know I needed it. In the narrative of my life, the first bite of meat after my twenty year hiatus marks the end of my youth, the moment when I assumed the responsibilities of adulthood [or the moment she willingly allowed herself to slip back into denial]. It was the moment I stopped fighting the basic algebra of embodiment: for someone to live, someone else has to die. In that acceptance, with all its suffering and sorrow, is the ability to choose a different way, a better way.
Apparently, Keith also learned how to ignore the algebra regarding the enourmous resources wasted in a meat-based diet in America today.
The activist-farmers have a very different plan then the polemicist-writers to carry us from destruction to sustainability. The farmers are starting with completely different information. I've heard vegetarian activists claims that an acre of land can only support two chickens. [Straw man alert.] Joel Salatin, one of the High Priests of sustainable farming and someone who actually raises chickens, puts that figure at 250 an acre. [Nevermind the "high priest" worship or even quibbling about this figure. How many people will 250 chickens feed and for how long? Remember the population of the US is over 300,000,000 and growing.] Who do you believe? [Some random person I heard once or a high priest?] How many of us know enough to even have an opinion? Frances Moore Lappe says it takes twelve to sixteen pounds of grain to make one pound of beef. [And it is in that neighborhood today in the real world.] Meanwhile, Salatin raises cattle with no grain at all, rotating ruminants on perennial polycultures, building topsoil year by year. [Again, this is a niche for the privileged and not a serious plan to feed the masses any time soon, if the land even exists to let billions of food animals roam free.] Inhabitants of urban industrial cultures have no point of contact with grain, chickens, cows, or, for that matter, with topsoil. We have no basis of experience to outweigh the arguments of political vegetarians. We have no idea what plants, animals, or soil eat, or how much. Which means we have no idea what we ourselves are eating.
Speak for yourself, please.
Confronting the truth about factory farming - its torturous treatment of animals, its environmental toll - was for me at age sixteen an act of profound importance. I knew the earth was dying. It was a daily emergency I had lived against forever. I was born in 1964. "Silent" and "spring" were inseparable: three syllables, not two words. Hell was here, in the oil refineries of northern New Jersey, the asphalt inferno of suburban sprawl, in the swelling tide of humans drowning the planet. I cried with Iron Eyes Cody, longed for his silent canoe and an unmolested continent of rivers and marshes, birds and fish. My brother and I would climb an ancient crabapple tree at the local park and dream about somehow buying a whole mountain. No people allowed, no discussion needed. Who would live there? Squirrels, was all I could come up with. Reader, don't laugh. Besides Bobby, our pet hamster, squirrels were the only animals I ever saw. My brother, well-socialized into masculinity, went on to torture insects and aim slingshots at sparrows. I became a vegan.
This is cute at best, nonsensical nostalgia at its core.
Yes, I was an overly sensitive child. My favorite song at five - and here you are allowed to laugh - was Mary Hopkin's Those Were the Days. What romantic, tragic past could I possibly have mourned at age five? But it was so sad, so exquisite; I would listen to the song over and over until I was exhausted from weeping.
Okay, it's funny. But I can't laugh at the pain I felt over my powerless witnessing of the destruction of my planet. That was real and it overwhelmed me. And the political vegetarians offered a compelling salve. With no understanding of the nature of agriculture, the nature of nature, or ultimately the nature of life, I had no way to know that however honorable their impulses, their prescription was a dead end into the same destruction I burned to stop.
On the contrary, vegans consume far less per person via agriculture than omnivores, so it is not the same. And, again, being vegan is not the be all and end all. There are a plenty of other food-related issues to fight for, but it is one major step in the right direction people can make today, while pining for a better agriculture is a long-term goal.
Those impulses and ignorances are inherent to the vegetarian myth. For two years after I returned to eating meat, I was compelled to read vegan message boards online. I don't know why. I wasn't looking for a fight. I never posted anything myself. Lots of small, intense subcultures have cult-like elements, and veganism is no exception. Maybe the compulsion had to do with my own confusion, spiritual, political, personal. Maybe I was revisiting the sight of an accident: this was where I had destroyed my body. Maybe I had questions and I wanted to see if I could hold my own against the answers that I had once held tight, answers that had felt righteous, but now felt empty. Maybe I don't know why. It left me anxious, angry, and desperate each time.
Below is one of her major logical fallacies, an appeal to ridicule ( She uses something she found in some online forum as a major crux to her entire argument. Sorry, Lierre Keith, but there is such a thing as intelligent vegans, even if you were not one or you take the lazy road to pretend that this supposed online encounter represents all vegetarian thought. It also exposes her as a terrible writer as she uses this one example as a central "turning point" for her personally and in the narrative she is laying out in the book.
But one post marked a turning point. A vegan flushed out his idea to keep animals from being killed - not by humans, but by other animals. Someone should build a fence down the middle of the Serengeti, and divide the predators from the prey. Killing is wrong and no animals should ever have to die, so the big cats and wild canines would go on one side, while the wildebeests and zebras would live on the other. He knew the carnivores would be okay because they didn't need to be carnivores. That was a lie the meat industry told. He'd seen his dog eat grass: therefore, dogs could live on grass.
Obviously, no sensible vegan advocates such a thing, nor can she find any vegan organization advocating for such a thing, but because she found this one dialogue online, she dedicates paragraph after paragraph to it in what is supposed to be a serious book. Who knows if this commenter was even who s/he said s/he was and not, for instance, a malicious pork industry profiteer and his/her buddies. I'll reserve comment for the most part now and allow Lierre Keith to continue unabated in beating down this wet noodle of an argument for the next 10 paragraphs or so.
No one objected. In fact, others chimed in. My cat eats grass, too, one woman added, all enthusiasm. So does mine! someone else posted. Everyone agreed that fencing was the solution to animal death.
Note well that the site for this liberatory project was Africa. No one mentioned the North American prairie, where carnivores and ruminants alike have been extirpated for the annual grains that vegetarians embrace. But I'll return to that in Chapter 3.
I knew enough to know that this was insane. But no one else on the message board could see anything wrong with the scheme. So, on the theory that many readers lack the knowledge to judge this plan, I'm going to walk you through this.
Carnivores cannot survive on cellulose. They may on occasion eat grass, but they use it medicinally, usually as a purgative to clear their digestive tracts of parasites. Ruminants, on the other hand, have evolved to eat grass. They have a rumen (hence, ruminant), the first in a series of multiple stomachs that acts as a fermentative vat. What's actually happening inside a cow or a zebra is that bacteria eat the grass, and the animals eat the bacteria.
Lions and hyenas and humans don't have a ruminant's digestive system. Literally from our teeth to our rectums we are designed for meat. We have no mechanism to digest cellulose.
So on the carnivore side of the fence, starvation will take every animal. Some will last longer than others, and those some will end their days as cannibals. The scavengers will have a Fat Tuesday party, but when the bones are picked clean, they'll starve as well. The graveyard won't end there. Without grazers to eat the grass, the land will eventually turn to desert.
Why? Because without grazers to literally level the playing field, the perennial plants mature, and shade out the basal growth point at the plant's base. In a brittle environment like the Serengeti, decay is mostly physical (weathering) and chemical (oxidative), not bacterial and biological as in a moist environment. In fact, the ruminants take over most of the biological functions of soil by digesting the cellulose and returning the nutrients, once again available, in the form of urine and feces.
Note that she's going on and on in an attempt to scientifically refute an obviously silly proposal about fencing wild predators from wild prey.
But without ruminants, the plant matter will pile up, reducing growth, and begin killing the plants. The bare earth is now exposed to wind, sun, and rain, the minerals leech away, and the soil structure is destroyed. In our attempt to save animals, we've killed everything.
On the ruminant side of the fence, the wildebeests and friends will reproduce as effectively as ever. But without the check of predators, there will quickly be more grazers than grass. The animals will outstrip their food source, eat the plants down to the ground, and then starve to death, leaving behind a seriously degraded landscape.
The lesson here is obvious, though it is profound enough to inspire a religion: we need to be eaten as much as we need to eat. The grazers need their daily cellulose, but the grass also needs the animals. It needs the manure, with its nitrogen, minerals, and bacteria; it needs the mechanical check of grazing activity; and it needs the resources stored in animal bodies and freed up by degraders when animals die.
Here, Lierre Keith so desperately wants to justify meat-eating that she seems to be saying that the earth and soil need domesticated animals to roam on them, again ahistorically forgetting that domesticated animals are a relatively recent phenomenon in the vast history of this living planet. Yes, wild creatures have done similar things, but there were far, far less of them than the total number of animals produced for meat today. To set the hundreds of billions of domesticated animals that americans are eating each year loose on the environment would certainly be no favor to a healthy ecology.
The grass and the grazers need each other as much as predators and prey. These are not one-way relationships, not arrangements of dominance and subordination. We aren't exploiting each other by eating. We are only taking turns.
That was my last visit to the vegan message boards. I realized then that people so deeply ignorant of the nature of life, with its mineral cycle and carbon trade, its balance points around an ancient circle of producers, consumers, and degraders, weren't going to be able to guide me or, indeed, make any useful decisions about sustainable human culture. By turning from adult knowledge, the knowledge that death is embedded in every creature's sustenance, from bacteria to grizzly bears, they would never be able to feed the emotional and spiritual hunger that ached in me from accepting that knowledge. Maybe in the end this book is an attempt to soothe that ache myself.
If that's what the book is, perhaps she should have kept this amatuer effort to herself in a personal journal, or, at the very least, PM Press should have shown the discipline to pass on publishing it. Egads.

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Most books about food are written by people whose training in the sciences is minimal at best. Most of them can't even plot a graph. Chemistry may as well be hieroglyphics. And statistics? Most can't tell mean from average.

This is not always a bad thing. Some of the best recipes in history came from people who had no idea what was happening on a chemical level when they cooked. Keith's book is not a cook book. It's a science book, and as well researched as any written.

Keith actually does understand what's happening at the chemical level. She has put her eye to more than one microscope. The world of the really small is not an unknown place to her. Yet she is equally adept at planet level ecology and meta-economics. She understands the physical mechanics of globalization, as well as the underlying financial transaction. She knows exactly what is being extracted from where, and from whom, at what cost.

Not only can she identify valid data when she sees it, and plot it on a graph correctly, she can also explain how the graph works and what it means, in language accessible to readers who lack her education, i.e., most of them. This woman is not only really, really well educated, but she is educated in a number of fields. That's an ever increasing rarity these days. She's an inter disciplinarian of the first order. She is also extremely well spoken.

Vegans speak from their hearts. Keith speaks from the data. The data speaks for themselves. Read the book and you'll see for yourselves. What it says is not always welcome, because she challenges some very basic assumptions, and backs those challenges up with solid logic and unimpeachable data. That's hard to face for some people. No, vegetarianism is not as good for the health of the individual as most people had hoped it to be. It's not as good for the planet as people had hoped, either. And yes, a case can be made that veganism is an eating disorder. But that's not what the book is about.

The main theme of the book is that meat vs no meat is only the tip of the iceberg. The real problem is agriculture itself. The way we do it now is simply not sustainable. Whether it's moral or not, is a matter of opinion. Whether it's sustainable or not, is a matter of facts. The facts say it is not.

Back in the 1940s, when there were still only two billion of us, we ran out of arable land. Since then, we have been faking it by getting ever greater production out of what land we do have, by way of massive application of artificial fertilizers, most of them derived from petroleum. Without them, the "Green Revolution" would not have been possible. Neither would the sudden bloating of our population level that accompanied it.

In a very real sense, we are eating petroleum. Unlike our numbers the supply of the oil upon which our lives themselves depend, is not growing. All too soon, two lines on a graph are going to cross, food will run out and hell will be upon us all.

The tremendous, though temporary, abundance of the "Green Revolution" spawned a truly dramatic burst in population growth. Now we have nearly seven billion people and we're growing exponentially. This is not sustainable because by the time we reach twenty billion, we'll have effectively run out of oil, maybe sooner. There will be mass famine. Billions will die. It will be really, really ugly, and you will live to see come. Whether you'll live to see it go is open to question. Most of us wont. Most of us will die.

We're talking twenty years, thirty tops, before the lines on the graph cross, and humanity goes through a die off. A die off is what happens when any biological organism outstrips the carrying capacity of its environment. Whether that environment is a Petri dish or a planet, the same thing happens. That's what we're looking at, not too far down the road.

Vegetarianism cannot prevent this massive die off from occurring, no matter how fast or far it may spread. Nothing else can either. It's too late. It can't be prevented. It can only be coped with. Or not.

That's what Keith's book is about. Everything she says, she documents, in most cases from primary sources. She shows her work and explains it in accessible terms. You don't need a higher education in the relevant sciences to understand what she's saying. Whatever your level, you'll be able to follow her, from the very beginning. By the end, you'll have a lot more education than you started out with. You'll learn some chemistry, some biology, some ecology, some statistical analysis, some economics, some politics, some psychology, and more than a little very disturbing futurology.

It's not what any vegetarian wants to hear, especially vegans. It's not what anybody else wants to hear, either. But it's the truth, and we're better off knowing it than not.
by .
I think Keith is making good points. Plant-based agriculture is not cruelty free, and typically isn't even animal friendly, when it comes down to it. Certainly not all vegetarians share the perspective that personal consumption is our primary power over the industry. Institutional change is very important, and we can see that the rise in oil prices during the last two years has resulted in greater reduction of herd sizes than thousands of people making different choices at the grocery store.
by a
she is talking about an interesting topic. if i could make it out, i'd love to go. veganism is an interesting dietary choice, but its just that, a dietary choice.
by mkay
she's drawing conclusions that suit her based on the "facts" she chooses to look at. she discards plenty of data about animal agriculture out of hand because it doesn't mesh with her attack on vegetarians. she's asking people to ignore data on animal agriculture today because she wants to justify a hypothetical future. don't get wowed by charts without critically looking at the hypotheses behind them, the statistical significance of samples selected, the variables not being controlled for, or the data that's being left out. it's what scientists do all the time when they review each other's work. because someone can draw a line between a, b, and c doesn't necessarily support the broader conclusions the author claims

as for her well-spokeness, I suppose that's subjective as well. you would think she'd want to reveal some of that in the intro she shares for free, but instead she just reveals her faulty premises and her inability to sort the wheat from the chaff (pun intended) when she allows herself to be greatly influenced by inconsequential online forums and expects us to care

as for plant-based agriculture not being cruelty-free, well, life isn't. we may never fully climb that mountain, but that is hardly a reason to stop trying or to not do what we can now to reduce the cruelty we participate in

as for BT books, well, I'm certainly not going, but maybe you can take a straw poll from attendees afterward and ask them 1) how many feel better about not being vegetarian or vegan after hearing her speak, and 2) how many will eat any factory farmed meat, eggs, or dairy in the next day, week, month, or year. my guess is that if folks answer honestly, most of those in attendance not fully committed to veganism will answer "yes" to both. and while many of that majority will undoubtedly even ride their bikes to the show in a nod to environmentalism, they will walk away self-satisfied in denial that their continued patronage of factory farms is not like eating a Hummer for dinner when they could be eating a Prius and getting the same or better nutrition. (yes, the Prius has its own environmental issues for sure, but everyone knows that driving a Hummer is far worse.) Keith, PM, and BT are facilitating that denial
by .
the problem is too many people.if wasnt too many people,you wouldnt have factory farms.some people cant function on veg diet.personally ,i started coughing up blood from mild pneumonia due to lack of proteind.tried tons of eggs and milk corn beans etc.,but it just made pancake batter type protein .didnt add weight,dizzy all the time ,bumping into things at work.people want to have sex,reproduce ,which takes dense type animal proteins,too many people,thats the cant have everything on this planet,they say eskimos have tooth decay from eating high meat diet,but in nature ,tooth decay is preferable to freezing to death.thats what life does,it wants to survive,cant survive in climates on pancake would die get sick quickly,so ''tooth decay'' is what you would at least be alive.stop having too much sex,do not reproduce ,less meat eaten.not discounting that some people can live veg,but not all,even those who DO NOT WANT to eat meat,but must ,cause they dont want pneumonmia and be unable to walk straight.this is not being sarcastic,just saying some cannot live just ''vegetarian''...
while you should take it with a grain of salt (that Keith doesn't when she reads online comments), being that it is an anonymous comment, the following is interesting if it is indeed the crux of her interpretation of her health issues and hence the axe she has to grind for vegetarianism

Anonymous Says:
May 6, 2009 at 12:01 pm
I knew Keith. She was a vegan for a long time before her spinal degeneration started. She started blaming it on her diet after she started taking Qi Gong lessons and her instructor told her that her pain was due to not eating meat. Chinese folk medicine thinks meat is very healthy and therapeutic.

not exactly scientific, is it?

to the previous commenter on protein, most omnivorous Americans consume far more protein than they need, often twice as much. acquiring protein from animals leads to many issues, such as colon cancer when undigestable meat remains in our very long bowels for too long (carnivores have short digestive tracts) and more directly to osteoperosis as animal protein actually leeches calcium from our bones. as much of the rest of the planet increases their meat consumption, U.S. health issues such as these are now going worldwide. if someone finds themselves dizzy and whatnot, that's a result of not eating an intelligent well-rounded diet, not an issue of inadequate animal protein, especially if that person was eating eggs and dairy (animal proteins). lastly, its a stretch to point to the Inuit where a growing season is almost non-existent and claim that somehow that is a model for human eating.
is this accurate?

For the record, I wrote Derrick Jensen a little while back just to find out exactly how that book "saved his life".
The answer, which has nothing to do with the "Vegetarian myth", was that it "got him off wheat". So he must have had a wheat allergy/sensitivity, and didn't realize it. Sadly, many of his fans will see his comment about the book and assume that it is in reference to something to do with being veg/vegan.
Sun 4/19/09 11:06 pm
by check it
she prominently cites an online dialogue she ran across as a turning point in her life. she cites it as a serious discussion she ran across that led to her return to meat-eating

welp, it looks like she is citing this:

that thread matches her synopsis of the discussion, including supposedly favorable replies, to a "t" with some embellishment on her part

the thread is literally a joke, as indicated by the "companion animal piranha" if nothing else

interesting also that she ran across that thread AFTER she started eating animals again
by farsi_strada
Thank you so much for writing this. When I saw the post about her book and the discussion to be had about it on this site my jaw dropped. I am shocked that PM Press did this; at least a bit. Thanks for all the effort you put into this article.
by collaborator
Derrick is her friend. They are collaborating on a book. If all goes well, it will be out later this year.
by Richard K.
I heard Keith speak at Bound Together. She's sensitive and sympathetic to the issues and challenges that she brings to vegans. The vitrol being tossed out (much of it very hot and personal) suggests that vegans must have one hell of a nutrient defficiency and are STARVING FOR BLOOD!
by lierre keith
As someone who has witnessed thousands of vegetarian/vegan natural health counseling cases; The Vegetarian Myth is a blessing. Nutritional deficiencies are widespread in the vegetarian/vegan communities as well as cancer and other illnesses. We see it regularly. The positive benefits people achieve on a balanced vegetarian/vegan diet are usually attributable to the elimination of certain medications, dietary toxins (in animal and plant based foods), processed foods, sugar, and to incorporating helpful lifestyle changes more than in being vegetarian/vegan. In some cases, depending on an individuals health history, the elimination of animal foods for a period of time can be beneficial. Long term abstention can and will eventually pose various problems in varying degrees depending on the person, their particular diet, and individual health. As someone who has been deeply immersed in the vegetarian/vegan world of study, research and natural health care professions for decades, I am grateful for Lierre's hard work and courage. Her research covers a wide variety of sources often lacking in the vegetarian/vegan very limited, and old hat, research mantras such as the China Health Study. You will find the China Health study is far from perfect if you are willing to honestly critique it, but it is now used as the bible of the movement - pretty boring. Vegetarian/vegan diets and research are now a profitable market niche which means corporate controlled and full of lies. We think we're so smart when we see soy advertised everywhere as though the world finally got our message, but once again the joke is on us. It is for the most part inedible and will eventually make you sick. Remember, agriculture corporations rule the world and we mean no more to them than the cattle that are raised on factory farms. We are not people, we are profit centers for corporations. There are unscrupulous individuals in the natural health care field cashing in on the vegetarian myths that really do know better, but do not want to lose their market niche. It takes courage to put aside old boring mantras and really study Lierre's information. It is helpful to be progressive, not stagnant in your sustainability teachings. Hope for humanity is a natural foods diet with many translations based on the complicated nature of people's health today due to the chemical soup we are living in. No one escapes the chemical soup; not even the vegetarians and vegans. Environment will play a role in what people eat in different parts of the world. No one will escape the dire results of large scale agriculture that is currently responsible for feeding our overpopulated world. Lierre is just trying to help move us in a direction of understanding to help alleviate suffering and rightfully so. It is desperately needed now and for the future. PS If you do not want to eat meat that is your choice, but certainly eggs and dairy products can be used without hurting animals and can even help them. Fish can be eaten by those who are willing. For the diehards, at the very least, make sure you take enough good quality fat, rice protein supplementation, B12 and a very good mutivitamin.

by Feral Kimchi
She isn't excusing factory farming. She talks about how wasteful and cruel factory farms are. It seems that all she is trying to point out is that agriculture has been a disaster for the planet. I agree that with the current population of the planet (7 billion), hunting wouldn't be a viable option, but that's something else that needs to be addressed. If we just voluntarily lower our population to less than 1 billion, we would be much closer to the planet's carrying capacity, allowing us to hunt and gather again. Unfortunately that probably won't happen, but either way the population will be reduced, most likely by collapse, whether it be ecological, economic, or whatever.

Eating meat isn't immoral. Eating factory farmed meat IS. I see nothing wrong with eating meat from the wild. I don't think any animals, including humans should be domesticated, but I think the same should go for plants as well. Our culture likes to place animals higher up on the hierarchy than plants, which in my opinion is unfortunate. Plants have feelings too!
by TomOfMaine
Thank you for this very well written critique of such a sad, damaging book. You are exactly right. The only important point left out was the revealing of the organization that Lierre has joined forces with, and has been the major influence on what she has written. The Weston Price foundation is an ultra-biased pro-meat/dairy, anti-vegetarian lobbyist group based in DC. Their membership is composed of "farmers", which of course translates into those who confine and kill animals in order to sell their parts and fluids for profit. This "foundation" is directly responsible for the vast majority of all the soy-bashing we've seen over the past decade. They do whatever they can to instill fear and doubt concerning the compassionate veg/vegan lifestyle, and instead work to convince caring individuals to either resume or continue their consumption of animal parts and fluids. Most of what Lierre has written is nothing more than a regurgitation of all the various Weston Price propaganda, with some of her own words thrown in, compiled into one book. As you had mentioned earlier, when 90% of the population is consuming a brutally violent, absolutely destructive meat/dairy-based diet, and 5-10% of the population is actually trying to do better by choosing veg/vegan, and then Lierre writes a book, supposedly in the name of saving our planet, bashing and discouraging the 5-10% who are actually making an effort, her true agenda becomes very obvious. This is yet another sad strike against our suffering planet.
by Lierre Keith
It is extremely bizarre to find one's own life history completed mangled by a stranger online. For the record:

>she prominently cites an online dialogue she ran across as a turning point in her life. she cites >it as a serious discussion she ran across that led to her return to meat-eating
>welp, it looks like she is citing this:>id=19376
>that thread matches her synopsis of the discussion, including supposedly favorable replies, to >a "t" with some embellishment on her part
>the thread is literally a joke, as indicated by the "companion animal piranha" if nothing else

That is absolutely not the thread I am referring to in my book. Not by a long shot. I'm sorry to disappoint the people over at postpunkkitchen, but I had neither heard of nor visited their site until I did a google search on my own name a few months ago (which friends were urging me to do since I was in the public eye).

The discussion I reference in the book was in June or maybe July of 2000. It was on a forum that no longer exists. If I had known that one day I would be writing a book, and that this bizarre rumor would get started by people who are maybe a wee bit too self-important, I would have noted the date and the url.

Folks, who cares?

A lot of vegans, myself included back in the day, are upset about animal predation. That was my only point. You can do a google search and in five minutes find people trying to feed their dogs and cats vegan. One more time: that was my only point.

Can we please talk about the fact that the planet is dying?

>interesting also that she ran across that thread AFTER she started eating animals again

???? And this would matter why? Even if it was the correct thread?

As I recount in my book, learning to eat meat was a diffcult process. It was emotionally draining, I cried a lot, and my entire sense of self was turned inside out. In that period of confusion, I spent time rereading vegetarian books and browsing through random vegan sites on the web. I read the discussion referenced in my book maybe three months after I started eating meat. I *never* said--not anywhere--that the discussion led me to eat meat again. That is a completely bizarre claim and has nothing to do with my personal history.

I started eating meat because a doctor of chi gong (a form of traditional chinese medicine) told me I had to. He was right. One bite, and I felt better than I had in twenty years (I have a degenerative disease). I am now in substantially less pain than I was. I pretty much lived lying on my couch before--I couldn't sit more than 30 minutes maximum and only stood when I had to. I was semi-suicidal from pain. My life feels like a miracle now. I am grateful every day for what I have recovered. It's still permanent pain, but it's not like it was.

That is the history of why I started eating meat, what it has meant to me, the discussion I read during my transition and turmoil, and when I read that discussion.

Now can we please talk about something important?
by Lierre Keith
Anonymous Says:
May 6, 2009 at 12:01 pm
I knew Keith. She was a vegan for a long time before her spinal degeneration started. She started blaming it on her diet after she started taking Qi Gong lessons and her instructor told her that her pain was due to not eating meat. Chinese folk medicine thinks meat is very healthy and therapeutic.


I don't know who "anonymous" is or what they think they know about me. I was a vegan for two years before my spine started falling apart. And that matters exactly why? What if it had been ten years? It might have happened slower--so what? What's the point of the time involved? If I'd had more physical reserves, maybe it would have taken longer.

Yes, my chi gong teacher encouraged me to eat meat and he was right. It helped substantially, for a condition that is usually a one-way ticket to more pain. Doing my own food experiments, it doesn't take long for the pain to start shooting back up if I don't eat enough animal fat and protein. It's quite direct. It broke my heart but there it is. Sorry, vegans.
I would like to know if the reviewer, nothing with a face, has read Lierre Keith's book cover to cover?

I have seen reviews of her book that demonstrate, with alarming irresponsibility, that all they've read is the first chapter. If so, review the first chapter and state that you are doing so. Don't claim to be reviewing the whole book.

So, nothing with a face, have you read the entirety of the book you critique above?
by supersoygrrrl just sounds like a potassium deficiency.

If you're not taking an interest in how to be a healthy vegetarian, you really can't claim the lifestyle itself was the one at fault.

Vegetarianism: yr doin' it wrong.
by linshelton
The reviewer asserts that sustainable, humanely produced meat is "a fantasy" or out of reach, but for many folks, it's what we eat, and in many cases costs little more than comparable quality meat from CAFO sources. The more people who buy from sustainable, humane sources, the more the meat industry will shift in that direction, the lower the price, and the faster we can reduce the massive enviromental degradation, animal suffering (and economic rape by Cargill, Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland, etc.) caused by grain and soy agriculture.

Ms. Keith, I'm also an ex-vegan (macrobiotic) who found it unsustainable and am currently having some success fixing the damage with a very low carb, paleo-style diet. I have not read your book yet but it's on order and I'm looking forward to it. I ordered it based on a nice review by Dr. Eades on the Proteinpower site.
by get real
if people were willing to eat meat once a week, sure perhaps every last person could partake in so-called free range animal flesh and secretions

if people want meat and dairy every day, even two or three times a day, then it simply is not going to work, unless we devote a huge number of extra square acres for these food animals to roam. factory farming exists for practical economic reasons as well as for corporate profitability

"free range" is a niche for the privileged, not a practical source of meat for the masses
by Lierre Keith
Many like the above “reviewer” claim that livestock requires pasturage that could be used to more efficiently feed people. Well, no:
· Around 2/3rds of global dry land is unsuitable for arable farming, being open grass and scrub, heath, woodland, desert or hilly and mountainous areas. This much larger area is only useable for food production by grazing animals.
· Since it would take a huge array of different mixes of plants to theoretically match the nutrient values of an animal, the remaining third of low lying flood plain cultivatable would have to be extremely intensively farmed to make up for the vast loss in nutritive potential (that’s even before we consider seafood) – just consider the billions of animals and sea creatures used by the global human population…. Could nutrient poor (by comparison) vegetables bridge the gap – on much less land!!!!!!!!
· Not only is there not enough cultivatable land to replace meat and fish, the intensity of production needed would produce unimaginable pollution and the need for extreme pesticide and fertiliser use. Since vegetarians would require non animal fertiliser, the stores of nutrients that would be extracted from mining would soon be used up (destroying much wildlife in the process). As we would no longer have animal bones, blood and manure to grow plants, the flood plains would quickly turn to desert

Is it is superficially true that it is more efficient for humans to eat plant products directly rather than to allow animals to convert them to human food?. It is true that animals may only produce one pound or less of human food for each three pounds of plants eaten.
· However, over two thirds of the feed fed to animals consists of substances that are either undesirable or not suitable for human food, and, by their ability to convert inedible plant materials to human food, animals are more efficient in converting plant food, including grass, into human food.
· Also, growing wheat and legumes in place of a cow would not replace like with like. An animal contains EVERY nutrient needed by man, in an efficient, concentrated form without ANY anti-nutrients or unbalanced proportions. Plants can contain mineral depleting compounds (phytates) and gut destroying chemicals (lectins), or oestrogens and amines (soy and some green leaved veg). They also contain too much carbohydrate, which is damaging to human health in quantity. There is no time to discuss here the claims about health problems associated with meat and dairy. Non of them stand up to proper scientific scrutiny, and non of them recognise the fundamental scientific fact – we are, by evolution, carnivores or carnivores able to take modest (supplementary & seasonal) gathered plants. Any decision about appropriate diet MUST be based on our evolutionary heritage.

It is in fact a red herring to regard plants as a replacement for animal products, and therefore the efficiency debate is beside the point.
by linshelton
...because people aren't willing to pay what food is really worth. Some of us are willing to pay a little more for our health and for the chance to help promote sustainable, humane food production. The more people are willing to do that, the more the industry will change. Most people could afford it if they just cut out the junk food, booze and decided they could live without the latest giant wide screen TV.

People keep saying that the world will starve if we convert from grain to a more natural food source, but according to the World Health Organization there is a world-wide obesity epidemic. In the USA alone there is something like 6 million acres dedicated to production of empty calories for sweeteners alone - HFCS and sugar. How about the millions of acres dedicated to beer, wine, vodka and so on. Does anyone seriously believe those products are helping in the fight against world hunger. Yet no one seems to be questioning this waste of what would be prime range land that could be sustainably producing hundreds of millions of pounds per year of high quality protein and healthful fat from grass fed meat. Well, maybe Ms. Keith questions it in her book but my copy is still on order.
by cjhannah
well, if that's any indication of the argument and composition of the remainder of lierre kieth's book, i deeply regret having just ordered a copy from PM Press.

that chapter is so maudlin and flimsy it almost seems like a parody. could it be a parody?? my god. how embarrassing.
Lost in the reality that the book is quite ridiculous is the fact that the author "splits her time" between Massachusetts and California.

Someone who has that big a carbon footprint (no matter how she travels across the continent, it's way beyond sustainable) has no business directing others to change their habits "in order to save the planet."

I'm going to slog thru the book and write a review for
by Barb Garner
As an ex veg, I was incredibly impressed with Lierre's book. It wasn't perfect, but it was brave and honest. Your arguments against it can't really hold for two reasons. Yes, meat production uses a lot of resources. But grain has allowed overpopulation to the extreme- it keeps starving people alive through reproduction age, too, prolonging their starvation. It meant we all started having more kids historically, whereas in nature- which is beautiful but cruel- kids both human and animal frequently died in exposure to elements and as prey. So we didn't have fifteen kids replacing two adults. Grain did that. It made more offspring with weaker genes, bones, hearts, etc. Two, regardless of whether or not meat production is disastrous on today's scale, humans are designed to eat meat. If vegans want to ignore their heritage diet, that's a personal choice. But I'm not willing to sacrifice mine, any more than a cat would be willing to live on potatoes instead. It is absolutely true that those who don't accept this are not grown up. They have willfully lied, manipulated, and scared entire nations into carb based crap diets with a severe illness toll. The only animal I didn't care about when I was a veg was the human animal. It's not Lierre's self hatred- it's yours. The ascetic denial of meat is the denial of being human. Choose it if you will, but allow others to choose their rightful heritage diet if they are lucky enough to have that chance.
Really? You gave up on doing the right thing. Just accept your own self-weakness. Don't force some half-baked ideology on the rest of the world.
by Neutro
I have read the book and have been looking for the opposing side view to get a balanced argument, and the opposing argument is really lacking. The main rebuttal to the book seems to be 95% of food animals are factory farmed, a statement repeated a number of times and that this is not sustainable; the book agrees with this so how can that possibly be a counter-argument?
As an omnivore looking for ideal nutrition, the book convinced me to no longer consume factory farm products which I think is the point. The book in no way advocates eating meat even if you can only get factory farmed products.

I have yet to read a counter to the book that really holds ground.
Veg*n Antagonist Lierre Keith Pied in the Face Yesterday at 2010 SF Anarchist Bookfair

Bound Together Books and PM Press continue to try to prop up and foist veg*n antagonist Lierre Keith onto the radical community in the Bay Area. Today, at the 15th Annual San Francisco Anarchist Bookfair, where she was scheduled to be a featured speaker, Keith was served her just deserts for her obnoxious attacks on veg*ns in The Vegetarian Myth. She was pied in the middle of her speech in the main auditorium at the SF County Fair Building in Golden Gate Park.

As for information on her bad science, check this for a teensy taste:

Just because someone like Keith throws around a bunch of numbers and sounds scientific doesn't mean that she is being honest in her citations or correct in her deductions.
by Cameron Murphey (murpcam [at]
Pardon me, but this is a horrible review. You've missed the whole point: any diet that destroys topsoil is unsustainable, vegan or not. All sustainable diets come from their landbases, not an -ism. The movement is blessed to have Keith sharing her knowledge with us--if only we would listen!
by Eric Brooks
This argument is the biggest load of horse shit that I have ever seen.

Ms Keith, you apparently never learned basic Newtonian laws of physics when in high school.

The fact that animal flesh is somewhat (and only somewhat) more dense in most nutrients than properly diversified vegan food sources, is utterly counterbalanced by the fact that while a meat/dairy animal is alive if constantly burns vast amounts of food energy just to -stay- alive.

So, when a person switches to a vegan diet, they immediately cancel out almost all of that wasteful food burning. As a result, a vegan eating a well balanced diet requires far less land, water, and resources than a meat eater, by any method, permacultural or otherwise - period.

This is basic physics and it is astounding that you do not grasp such simple realities.

Therefore it would take -less- of the supposed 'marginal' land that you propose using to grow pastoral meat, to feed vegan diets instead; especially when employing modern perennial permaculture based multi-layered diversified forest gardening, which sustainably produces its own soil integrity and nutrients without any artificial inputs; while storing massive amounts of carbon both in trees and soil. And the 'marginal' land saved by not pursuing energy wasteful meat eating could then be returned to the original carbon soaking habitats that it once housed before humans launched -both- pastoral and grain agriculture and destroyed those habitats in the first place. That, Ms Keith, is a recipe to save the planet.

It is much more likely that we -might- support billions of humans through such a veganic perennial farming future.

Contrarily, it is absolutely impossible by those basic laws of physics you seem blissfully unaware of, to feed those billions on a pastoral meat diet, no matter how well done through permaculture. Under such a scheme, all but about 500 million of us would have to die -very- quickly for there to be enough land (either arable or 'marginal') left to support it.

Are you going to choose which 6 billion humans will be murdered so that you can live in your fantasy land future of edenic meat eating?

I'll bet you would, wouldn't you...

Your book is transparent anti-civ clap trap that doesn't belong in print.
by beanphed (beanphed [at]
I cannot believe how much vegans are frightened about this book?

As a recovering ex-vegan myself I'm well aware of the abundance of "pro-vegan" materials out there. Why not just promote them?

Why are so many going though such drastic efforts into discrediting this book. And I'd be really curious to know who actually read this book, or who took a gander at the title and said "they're attacking me".

There is something disingenuous about potential reviewers who have not read the book already having a negative view on the subject. So much for subjectivity.

by Skeptical Vegan
I used to live on a small farm in Amish country in Oklahoma. People who slaughter animals for sustenance or worse for profit tend to be callous toward animal life, it makes wrapping a chain around the cows feet, hoisting it in the air and slitting its throat much easier. My grandma jokes about how she liked to toss the still twitching bodies of freshly beheaded chickens at her younger sister as a prank.

No matter the size of the farm or how well the animals are raised they still must be murdered to consume them. The act of slaughter on a family farm is not all that different from the halal market down the street or a factory farm.

Stop having kids, go vegan, and be conscious of what you buy and you will do a good job helping the environment and more importantly not contributing to the MURDER of sentient creatures when there are more humane and sustainable alternatives.

Does Keith really mean us to believe she avoids all products of industrial agriculture? Surely not, but a vegan diet make use of the smallest possible amount of farm land (or foraging space...for you primitives)

Native peoples have lived vegan for centuries in peace. How does Keith explain the society of the Aryans in India?
(and no they dont have anything to do with Hitler neither does veganism as Hitler consumed animal products)
by Jesse
It's obvious who has read the book and who hasn't. I am an ex-vegan as well. I started attending a nutrition program at a holistic school because I thought I knew everything there was to know about nutrition...because...well I was vegan. I was RIGHT. Well...I was WRONG. This book really supported everything I learned in my holistic nutrition course. Buy local, buy grass-fed, and STOP supporting factory farms and big corporations. Buying grains grown halfway across the country or around the world is NOT sustainable. Grain is a COMMODITY, NOT A FOOD. They are owned by huge corporations. Go to your local farmer's market and tell me if you see people selling rice by the pound. It doesn't make them any money! Corn is cheaper to buy than it is to grow, people. This causes everyone around the world to buy from the US. THAT is inhumane, unjust, and just WRONG. Grain based diets are enslaving nations around the world. Way to go, radical vegans.
by anti-civ&anti-keith
chi gong teacher??!?!!? too bad Keith didn't consult with Dr. Kevorkian first.
Do some research before laying false claims. Most artificial fertilisers are NOT derived from petroleum. That's just an urban legend.

Also, there's one piece of (mis)information (among many others in the book) in the first chapter of 'The Vegetarian Myth' when she talks about tryptophan not being available from plant sources. That's just bollocks. Not only tryptophan but also all essential amino acids can be found in plants. We simply do not need to consume any animal products in order to get appropriate levels of them.
There is an old law that says that nothing is wasted in nature but all is transformed.

I am not a specialist, merely trying to work out the facts for myself. But when you talk about energy you talk about carbohydrates, which is what enable our daily moves. But the real bottleneck for biomass might berather the nitrogen. It is not difficult to get carbon in to the biomass. It takes more effort to convert nitrogen from the air into chemically active form. And without nitrogen, no life, no food.
This takes time and special plants, in fact bacteria. You cannot easily and fast refill the land from the nitrogen you harvest + the one you loose from erosion (it is very hard to stop agro erosion and impossible in intensive land use). You have to refill.
So You can use:

1) fertilizer= oil (we use oil to replace bacteria to make the difficult chemical reaction faster), that is what we eat now massively
2) time, with letting the land at rest and putting some plants that can refill fatser with nitrogen. Interesting plants for that are not at all edible by human. They can be grazed with care (if eaten too fast i have seen cows having too much gaz, they would die without human help) and shitted back to the soil to even accelerate further. That is the 200-300 year old dairy rotation that functions when there is no oil.
3) you do not refill, your land is wasted for a lonfg time. You starve like in the middle age before the agreo pastoral revolution opf the 18th century

To current knowledge option 2 is the only likely sustainable option.

In term of protein, whihc is the essential thing (otherwise nitrogen fertilizer would not have been The magic fertilizer), the natural meat production, integrated in the crop cycle, is by no way a loss. Animal do not breeze out nitogen or degrade it's chemical active form. On the contrary it accelerate soil regeneration, can fertilize other soil also or perenial plants (fruit trees,shit is travelling with the beast oir can be used). This is the initial benefit and reason of survival od grass eating animal in the iniitial ecosystem. And the proteiin they store can be eaten weither it is in the milk or the calve.

So without oil, you probably need grazing again. what is to be accepted or not is very simple: there should not be meat sold that is using more vegetable protein from its winter food than the actual protein it gives back to human. If animal use yields to protein increase, why should men avoid it, knowing that many people are undernourished.

Pouring fertilizer in third world countries is extremely dangerous. When oil is gonna run out, they will starve. Instead, they have to learn how to maxiimize crop rotation efficiency with the use of animals. Animals accelerate the cycle because they can collect all the bit and put them in a digester heated up at 37 degree. And everybody know that when it is hot chemistry goes faster. We have lost here the knowledge and species, let's fight against agro firm not to spread their short term practice to the thord world.
Large scale agriculture is the very last thing they need.

by luscious still
Ha !
Lierre /Liar is full of it.
I used to know her too.
I stopped doing activism with her because she was such a nut job.
She used her 'feminism' to emotionally abuse & blackmail other female activists,
especially younger feminists.

She always needed someone to hate.
Now she hates vegans & is blaming vegans for her health problems.
What a load of bullcrap.

Why didn't she go see a vegan or veg nutritionalist ??

So Liar are you hunting & dressing your own meat now ?

Treating that woman like a piece of meat ??

Hmm so the 'rape rack' for female animals is okay cause it is organic meat ???

And shame on PM Press.

Thank You to the pie brigade who pied her, but I do wish some of
the pie throwers had been female!
by Janet Shold
I have read the book, and can't not notice that the criticism here is biased So much so that there is no credibility to any rebuff of the book's statements.

You haven't addressed facts at all. Not one sentence did anything to discredit Lierre Keith's hypothesis.
You come off sounding like an enraged veg*n who will not see another point of view at any cost.
by Spock
For those of you waiting for your copy of 'The Vegetarian Myth' you might wanna read this book while you wait: "100 proofs the earth is not a globe"

It does an excellent job of explaining the mythology surrounding so called round earth theory. Using numerous examples, scientific reasoning and clear logic the author eloquently demonstrates how the earth is in fact a flat surface. It exposes inconvenient facts round-earthers (and others who dismiss the book often without even reading the whole thing) would rather not think about.
by Lierre Kieth
the rant against's Keith's book is laughable in its' rage against anyone who dares to question vegetarianism or veganism from a personal viewpoint. I also have read the book. It is not a text book, but unlike the rant against it clearly sources the science she puts forth . I was very impressed that a book about a forward-looking plan for the planet would be so well cited and sourced. The rebuttal really does fit in nicely with the vegans who pushed a plate of cayenne pepper into Keith's face at a conference. Well done. (not).

The funny thing is that the book really isn't about vegans or vegetarians. It is about the circle of life and her views on how to preserve life. It is not an attack on anyone. Her title could easily have been "Earth: The Bacteria Planet" and would have been just as correct. I think she chose the title she did in order to differentiate her own experience from say the POV of "the Omnivore's Dilemma". But she couldn't win up against the resources of the vegan zealots. No matter what she would have said she would have been attacked.

As she says , their virulence proves her point better than she could about brain damage.
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