Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
25 Nov

The Vegetarian Myth


It isn’t often that I write book reviews (have I ever? – serious question), but it isn’t often that a truly important book like Lierre Keith’s The Vegetarian Myth pops up on my radar just begging for one.

You may remember it from a brief mention I gave back in September, or maybe from Dr. Eades’ endorsement of it. You may have even already read the book yourself. If you haven’t, read it. And if you have? Read it again or get one for a friend.

That goes double for vegans, vegetarians, or anyone on the cusp of adopting that lifestyle. If you fit the bill, especially if you’re considering veganism/vegetarianism for moral reasons, drop what you’re doing and run to the nearest bookstore to buy this book. It’s incredibly well-written, and the author has a real knack for engaging prose, but that’s not the main reason for my endorsement. The real draw is the dual (not dueling) narratives: the transformation of a physically broken moral vegetarian into a healthier moral meat eater; and the destructive force of industrial agriculture. The “Myth” in question is the widely-held notion that vegetarianism is the best thing for our health and for our planet. On the contrary, Keith asserts that a global shift toward vegetarianism would be the absolute worst move possible. It’s vitally important. It’s definitive. It’s somewhat depressing, and it’s brutally honest. It also might be the book that changes your life.

Lierre Keith is a former vegan/vegetarian who bowed out after twenty long years of poor health and paralyzing moral paradoxes. Her original goal was to explore the question, “Life or death?” as it pertained to food. She, like most vegetarians, assumed she had a choice between the two, that it was an either/or thing. Eating tofu and beans was life, while a burger represented death. Life didn’t have to involve death – that was the weak way out, and the honorable (and difficult, and therefore meaningful) way to live was by avoiding animal products of all kinds. No blood on your hands or on your plate meant a clean moral slate.

Or so she thought. See, Keith began as a moral vegetarian. She never espoused the idea that meat was inherently unhealthy or physically damaging; she was simply a young kid who “cried for Iron Eyes Cody, longed… for an unmolested continent of rivers and marshes, birds and fish.” We’ve all heard of kids who “turn vegetarian” when they find out their chicken nuggets once walked, clucked, and pecked. Well, Keith was that five year old who bemoaned the “asphalt inferno of suburban sprawl” as a harbinger of “the destruction of [her] planet.” Hers was a deep-seated commitment to the preservation of all living things, not just the cute and fuzzy ones.

That expansive scope meant she looked at the big picture, and suffered for it. She never got to enjoy that oh-so-common smug vegetarian elitism, because she was too aware. Seeds were living things, too. They may not have had faces or doting mothers, but they were alive, and that meant they could die. Killing slugs in her garden was impossible, and deciding whether to supplement the soil with actual bone meal was excruciating. Unlike most of her peers, she knew that avoiding direct animal products didn’t mean her hands were clean. They might not be dripping red, but living organisms died to make that head of lettuce possible. Fields were tilled and billions of microorganisms were destroyed, not to mention the mice, rabbits, and other wild animals whose environments are leveled to make way for industrial farming. And so whichever direction she went – home gardening, local produce, or grocery store goods – Keith was contributing directly and indirectly to death.

What’s a moral vegetarian to do?

She briefly entertains studying with a mystic breatharian, hoping to (tongue-in-cheekily) learn to subsist purely on oxygen. She spends hours picking slugs from her garden and goes to relocate them. Nothing works. She keeps coming back to death.

“Let me live without harm to others. Let my life be possible without death.” Keith realizes this vegetarian plea (which “borders on a prayer”) is impossible to fulfill. She can’t live and eat without something dying, and that’s the whole point of it all. Death is necessary and natural. Circle of life, you know? Without death of some sort, life would get a whole lot worse.

Keith ultimately sets her sights on one of our favorite human “advancements” at the Apple: agriculture! Readers of MDA already know how agriculture altered our trajectory forever, but maybe not in such vivid detail. We focus on the lowered life expectancy, reduced bone density, compromised dental health, and the stooped, shrunken skeletons of our Neolithic ancestors, but Keith shows how grain agriculture actually destroys the land it touches. The Fertile Crescent, ground zero for grain development, used to be, well, fertile. It was verdant, lush, and teeming with life – including nomadic hunter gatherers. Paradise, you might even say. Animals grazed on perennial grasses, pooped out nutrients, and gradually those nutrients would work themselves back into the soil. It was a beautiful, natural life cycle that worked great for millennia. But once grains were grown and the land was irrigated, everything changed. Perennial renewable grasses became annual grains. Animals no longer grazed and replenished the soil. The top soil was robbed of nutrients and faded away. Irrigation meant crucial annual floods were disrupted or even halted. A massive monkey wrench was thrown into the system, and rather than coexisting as a complementary aspect of nature, man thus commenced the conflict with the natural world that rages to this very day.

And that’s the crux of her argument – that modern industrial agriculture is wanton destruction. Grain-based, vegetarian agriculture is even worse, because it attempts to eliminate a crucial player in the normal life cycle of the planet. Animals, which provide manure, calcium, and other nutrients for the soil, have to be part of the equation. Whenever a culture turns to a grain-based agricultural system, these same problems arise. Annual grain crops killed the American prairie and, for the vegans out there, they kill the millions of animals, bugs, and birds that rely on specific ecosystems to survive. The vegan’s soy burger has nary an animal part, but the machines that worked the soybean fields were greased with the blood of a thousand organisms. The vegetarian’s wheat crops feed millions, but robs the land of nutrients and destroys the top soil necessary for life.

Primal readers won’t be surprised by what they read. They may be horrified at the extent of the environmental damage caused by industrial agriculture, but they won’t be surprised (given agriculture’s poor track record with our health). Keith lays out an effective case against grains (and for a Primal-ish, low-carb, high-fat diet, believe it or not) on nutritive, moral, and economical grounds that’s tough to refute. The nutritional information will come as second nature, but the sources are sound and the references are powerful.

There’s more, far more, but I’d rather not spoil the entire thing. Just read it and rest assured that it’s worth your time. The book is a must-read, and a great ally for anyone interested in promoting a healthy, sustainable, omnivorous future. Read this book and distribute it to your vegan friends.

Primal approved!

Check out excerpts on Google Books, read the first chapter here, or purchase the book here or here.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. haha – clearly the entire premise is ridiculous, but even if it vegetarianism could be blamed for industrial grain agriculture – why do you think we grow so much Grain??? The U.S. ALONE could feed approx _800 million people_ (back in 1997) with grain that livestock eat.#1 Seems to be a case if ideology before facts me thinks…

    Adriel wrote on November 27th, 2009
  2. So what should we be eating? Meat from factory farming is of course bad, and apparently agriculture is bad, but if everyone ate grass-fed meat, wouldn’t the environmental impact of that still be pretty bad? Grass-fed is better, but animals, especially cows, still harm the environment. I guess there’s just too many people on the planet for there to be a good solution?

    cassie33 wrote on November 27th, 2009
    • That’s right, Cassie.
      Plus grass fed cows produce much more methane. Grass fed cows could not possibly be a solution to feeding the world’s population by a long shot and it accounts for a single digit fraction of cows “raised” for human consumption.
      Again, as I said above, eating animals is not only unethical because they are sentient beings, but it is also totally environmentally unsound for the current population, or even a small fraction of it.
      Grazing cattle is the #1 cause of top soil erosion and desertification, water pollution, and all around environmental degradation from small to large scale, much of this caused PRIOR to industrial animal ag.
      we have the current intensive, grain fed system because it’s the ONLY way the current population of omni’s can eat the meat and secretions they want. However it’s an inefficient use of resources from water, to grains, to land (especially in the case of grass fed), to fossil fuels and, as said above, it’s destructive to the planet. How many of you unapologetic omnis have read a pro vegan book? I’m willing to bet it’s not many if any at all because most folks seem to believe whole-heartedly what keith says although much of it’s been debunked over and over and over again.
      I’ve read the book and I find it amazing that people here think much of her info is true. I mean just in her introduction she makes elementary factual errors like saying there are no plant sources of tryptophan or saturated fat. She could have at least done a simple google search, and you all could too.
      She does do a decent job critiquing industrial ag, I’ll give her that. But her conclusions are as sloppy as Griff’s writing skills. ; ).

      C wrote on November 27th, 2009
  3. Just read the part in the book about sprinting where Carl Lewis is mentioned as one of the best sprinters of all time. Ironically Lewis is a vegan who credits that fact as one of the most important factors in his performance.

    I don’t offer this as an argument to PB; only a fact to be pondered by those who are a little too single minded or believe that there is only one way to achieve great health and performance.

    Del Mar Mel wrote on November 27th, 2009
    • Actually Carl Lewis didn’t turn vegan until 1990, and he frequently tested positive for performance enhancing drugs both before and after he switched his diet. I wouldn’t exactly hold him up as a good example of successful veganism under those circumstances.

      Trish wrote on November 27th, 2009
      • Understood that he didn’t go vegan until 1990 but he credits the switch in his diet to his highest athletic performance. In 1991 he set the world record in the 100 meter dash.

        Unfortunately, it seems most of the US Track team is on performance enhancing drugs. Just read an article in an issue of Self Magazine about a female sprinter who was stripped of her titles after she began working with the team “consultant” and tested positive for drugs. Basically she couldn’t compete if she didn’t. Sad state of affairs in pro sports today. It would be nice to see pure athleticism without the use of drugs.

        Even without the drugs, Carl Lewis would clearly be a competitor. Just thought it ironic that the very sprinter Mark mentions in the book is in fact a long time vegan.

        Del Mar Mel wrote on November 27th, 2009
  4. @C

    My, my, where to begin.

    First, please read the book we all started talking about. It might just be the awakener and educator that you clearly need. I have read the modern “bible” for vegetarianism, the China Study, and am well aware of many other vegan/vegetarian screeds. But, because I read other stuff (unlike you, I suspect) I can clearly tell the wheat from the chaff (pardon the grain-based metaphor).

    Humans are meat eaters, please look at actual, modern, biological, archaeological and anthropological sources. Of course, it’s possible that our distant ancestors –Lucy, and the like, were primarily herbivorous, but not us. Oh, wait, I forgot the 35,000 year old cave paintings showing humans hunting spirolina and goji berries, so I guess you must be right. Sheesh. All you need do is read Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, by Weston Price and you’ll see what a true scientist, WITHOUT AN AGENDA, can do.

    You know, I have a number of friends whom I cherish dearly, but whom are vegans, as well. And, try as I might –gently, of course — I just cannot get through their kale-addled brains enough for them to begin to even entertain other viewpoints. This is most frustrating because they are getting sicker and fatter.

    Frankly, this issue might be the most fundamental difference between those who pray to the veggie gods and those who kneel to the meat deities; most primals/paleos/etc., HAVE actually examined alternatives, they HAVE educated themselves –usually extensively (speaking for myself and, I know, a number of others here) — and have finally come to their fact-based conclusions. Vegans, by and large, have not.

    Juan wrote on November 27th, 2009
  5. Since this seems to be a site for true believers, I won’t waste much space trying to refute claims that vegans are all weak and sickly, etc. (The ones I know personally, including an international track medallist, seem remarkably healthy.) But I will note that if Lierre Keith thinks that killing microorganisms presents a moral dilemma for vegetarians, then perhaps she’s met some unusual vegetarians; in any case, she has a very poor understanding of the the ethical basis of vegetarianism. At the risk of having this post moderated out of existence for including a link, I suggest that anyone who is seriously interested in the ethical debate about animals read this book:

    While some sort of “paleo” diet is no doubt sustainable for a small minority, it is not sustainable for billions of people and will not become sustainable globally unless we bomb ourselves back to an uncivilized state of existence. A CIVILIZED global society can minimize negative environmental effects by becoming vegetarian — thus radically reducing the amount of agricultural land required to feed everyone and maximizing the amount of land available for wildlife. Also, a vegan diet minimizes the number of sentient creatures killed:

    Beast Man wrote on November 27th, 2009
    • @Beast man

      You seem not to have read the book so I would say that it is not Lierre Kieth who has a “poor understanding”. Kieth’s commitment to vegetarianism rested on a wide spectrum of beliefs, not just the trivial one you cited. She speaks with first hand knowledge of the various moral, political, and nutritional beliefs of vegan/vegetarians.

      Unfortunately, there will be far more head-in-the-sand vegan/vegetarians who will not educate themselves, than whom are willing to potentially disabuse themselves of long held dogma by at least exploring what Lierre Kieth has to say.

      Juan wrote on November 30th, 2009
  6. This book is an important work and Lierre Keith is an author to watch. This book helped me end my 12 year stint as a vegetarian and vegan. I agree with most of her conclusions and agree with most of her sources. I don’t always like her sources (Weston Price Foundation has made some questionable claims about homosexuality, but their food and nutrition facts I find mostly accurate), but mostly I do. I find this a fairly agenda free book in regards to capitalism. Now who is going to tackle the question of over population and not have it turn into a thin veiled racist polemic? That’s what I want to know. Peak oil, climate change, monocropping, overpopulation, and about every “ism” you can think of is a hard battle to win. But they are all related and interconnected. There is a hard road ahead and Lierre Keith’s book helps up head down that road and in the right direction. The last thing Keith would want would for this book to turn into a dogmatic cult-like movement, so let’s help her out by incorporating the messages into other existing movements. Cheers everyone.

    Bigby Suvins wrote on November 27th, 2009
  7. I like the vegetarian concept of ahimsa, and so tried to be vegan for an extended period. I got sick and stayed sick, with a variety of imflammatory illnesses. Tried PB and these illnesses vanished. Repeated this twice more with similar results. Not scientific proof I know, but good enough for me.

    Phil wrote on November 28th, 2009
    • What is PB?

      Sue wrote on January 13th, 2010
  8. thanks for the review mark…and for your book. The journey towards this lifestyle has been remarkable for me. As a pastor who believes that we’re body/soul/spirit, I was particularly intrigued by the recurring theme Vegan Myth Book: No Life without Death! – That’s the message of Christianity, all the way back in the garden when God kills a couple of animals to provide coverings for the first couple.

    Hoping that you’re familiar with the work of farmer/poet Wendell Barry too. He’s a huge advocate for localized economies, and this is the place where my faith life joins all that you’ve been teaching. It’s a beautiful synthesis of realities!

    Richard Dahlstrom wrote on November 28th, 2009
    • Richard:

      My last reply is baggage, and having read your reply again, I want to just say that in spite of that difference, I wish you all the best in health. For you and yours.

      I have pastors who are family and I love them, in spite of the fact I no longer value their religious beliefs. But I do value them.

      So, my former comment ought not be taken too harshly, I hope.

      Richard Nikoley wrote on November 28th, 2009
  9. “No Life without Death! – That’s the message of Christianity, all the way back in the garden when God kills a couple of animals to provide coverings for the first couple.”

    Laf, but SUPER points for style & entertainment!

    (former fundie baptist and now athie for 20 years)

    Richard Nikoley wrote on November 28th, 2009
  10. I ordered the book for my wife. I was a lacto-vegetarian for about 3 or 4 years back in the early 90’s. Although my health seemed acceptable back then, I had no way of knowing for sure since I was a broke grad student with no medical healthcare benefits (still broke, but at least I have a job with health insurance) … but I do know that I never felt as good back then as I do now with the PB dietary foundation.

    Back then I was searching for a non-religious spirituality in a very agnostic Gaia hypothesis sort of way and vegetarianism seemed to fit into my life at the time from both a spiritual and health quest perspective. I still wonder about the inter-connectedness of my life with the planet and although I would still consider myself agnostic, I feel that I have drifted more and more towards the atheistic end of the spectrum. And though I still wonder about my connectedness, I no longer have a need or desire to be connected just as I no longer see a need or desire to be vegetarian.

    I also have no need or desire to argue with ignorance (at least relative to my own) … so I’ll avoid trying to convince anyone of what way of life is right for them and instead sit back and read the posts for entertainment and/or a learning experience.

    Roberto wrote on November 29th, 2009
  11. Perhaps the book covers it, but what this blog entry doesn’t convey is that raising grain-fed meat is FAR more destructive to the environment than raising grain for people to eat.

    Modern agriculture in the US uses about eight times the arable land, water, and petroleum products to produce one pound of cheap, factory-farmed beef as it does to produce one pound of grain. EIGHT TIMES.

    Recommended film for those interested in US food production: “Food, Inc.”

    I have no moral qualms with grass-fed meat, or meat that comes from animals responsibly hunted, but do not eat factory-farmed products. I end up eating legumes & nuts almost daily, along with piles of vegetables, mostly because it’s actually easier & cheaper than procuring all of the grass-fed meat. Pastured turkey for Thanksgiving, the occasional buffalo burger or serving of fish, maybe some of my uncle’s venison at Christmas, that’s about all the meat I’ll have this year. Sorry, not going to can my values for the paleo craze.

    Oh, and as to healthy vegans: a certain Crossfitting, ultra-running Ironman I know is in great health right now — knocked nearly an hour off his best ironman time last weekend, and went totally vegan a while back. So if we are going anecdotal, spare me your “all vegans are unhealthy.” We should WISH to be as unhealthy as that guy!

    cp wrote on November 30th, 2009
  12. The entire “environmental destruction” issue – no matter what side of the meat-eating issue you’re on – misses the point. Was the environment “constructed”? Not unless you believe in God (and even then he did a damn poor job because if the Earth were a house, the plumber, electrician, and every other specialist would be over every day fixing the details).

    Look people, evidently 6 billion people is “sustainable.” If it’s not, then global warming and soil depletion will stir up a few natural disasters, famines, and resulting wars to take care of all of those extra humans. But one thing is for sure: without all of that big bad industry, 5.9 billion of those people wouldn’t be here.

    So what if the number is, say, 7 billion? Alright, let industry run free until the planet is “destroyed” all that much more and those extra billion people can live. And then, once that happens, the Earth will lash back and drop us back down to 6 billion (or whatever number it can really support).

    No amount of government action, dietary activism, or anything else is going to change the actual number of people the Earth can support. Hell, we can’t even figure it out except by finding out the hard way.

    So let’s stop talking about it, shall we? It’s a waste of time. The only reason anyone should ever be discussing vegetarianism vs. eating meat is for the dietary considerations.

    Grant wrote on November 30th, 2009
    • Grant, very good. Obviously, you’ve read or at least heard of, James Lovelock. So ultimately you may well be right and it’s pointless to discuss these matters. However, I’d point out that the sustainability of 6 billion people is not possible, as you suggest. Lierre Kieth’s book goes to some lengths to demonstrate this. (It really is a good read, you know.)

      The point she makes is, we are NOT currently on a truly sustainable path and THAT is why there’s all the fuss. If Lovelock and Kieth are right, then there’s nothing we can do to stem the tides of change anyway. Many will die. What she and others are saying, however, is ‘let’s see how we’re can survive or even thrive during the coming changes’ and let’s try to do it without everything turning into Mad Max.

      Juan wrote on December 1st, 2009
      • Whenever someone concludes that doing something is pointless and unnecessary, but that it should be done anyways, he or she is trying to sell a book, win social prestige, garner political power, achieve some kind of unsustainable internal peace, or some combination of all of those things.

        I’ll say it again: if 6 billion people is too many people, the extra people will die. Period. Do you think that doing it preemptively – by regulating the economic activity which made possible and maintains those extra people – is going to make them go quietly? You don’t want a “Mad Max situation”? In other words: you don’t want them to resist since that would destroy not only the portion of the economy they depend upon, but other portions as well? Fine, then you’re going to have to round them up and exterminate them. I suppose a “Nazi Germany situation” is preferable to a “Mad Max situation”?

        Here’s the solution (assuming you’re right that what we currently have is too many): no regulations whatsoever. Let the people who don’t achieve it die from their lack of access to fuel, clean air and water, nutritious food, and their protection from natural disasters. They’ll die in little spurts, and it will be entirely their own faults for losing at “musical chairs.”

        But, of course, environmentalists will never let this happen because – as I said above – their real agenda is to control other people’s lives, or to exploit their ignorance, so that they don’t have to have real jobs.

        (and no, I’ve never heard of James Lovelock. I realized the point I’m making all by myself).

        Grant wrote on December 1st, 2009
        • Grant,

          You say: “Here’s the solution (assuming you’re right that what we currently have is too many): no regulations whatsoever. Let the people who don’t achieve it die from their lack of access to fuel, clean air and water, nutritious food, and their protection from natural disasters. They’ll die in little spurts, and it will be entirely their own faults for losing at “musical chairs.”

          Well, that’s probably more like what is to happen, although I wouldn’t say the loser of the musical chairs is “at fault” for anything, other than being born in the wrong place and at the wrong time. My Mad Max allusion was not meant as you interpreted it. I didn’t take the time to think of a better one, I guess.

          You say: “(and no, I’ve never heard of James Lovelock. I realized the point I’m making all by myself).”

          Congratulations! No insult to your intellect was intended in my post.

          Juan wrote on December 1st, 2009
  13. Vegan, high-raw (the difference maker for me) here. I recently made the switch and I personally feel great.

    In my opinion, Tte problem with the fundamentalist claim that vegetarians or vegans have health issues is the fact that you can eat poorly on ANY diet, including a plant-based one.

    So, I must mention: The modern bible for vegetarians/vegans is actually Thrive, by Brendan Brazier (not the China Study). Pro Ironman triathlete, spent 17 years honing his nutritional approach. You can eat unhealthily on ANY diet, he shows you how to “thrive,” and other than a bias against supplemental support (which I think is good for your everyday health-conscious person) and a bit of misinformation about agave (the book was published before this, but new research shows it is less healthy than previously thought, with fructose levels as high as hfcs), he is spot on. Great book about nutrition in general, even non-vegans have enjoyed that one.

    Also, just for an eye-opener, check out – browse around, I suggest you click profiles.

    And if you’re in the mood, there’s

    Again, regardless of this author’s experience, you can eat unhealthily and have health issues on just about any diet, one that’s high in animal products/cholesterol/fat, etc., or one that is high on organic plant matter.

    Meat or no meat, cooked food or no cooked food, I think a diet that is plant-based is great. With the open mind I had going into this, I still say “Don’t knock it til you try it!” And by the way, you don’t have to be vegetarian or vegan to enjoy vegetarian or vegan meals and foods.

    I say try everything, be knowledgeable with whatever you’re doing, keep an open mind, and with that open mind – one that listens to find out rather than to confirm – be willing to possibly change or evolve (slowly at your own pace and on your own path of course).

    And again, if you are thinking of trying vegetarianism/veganism or a high-raw or 100% raw lifestyle, I suggest you check out the above resources, in addition to the myriad others that are out there.

    One more (one of THE BEST!): Go to youtube and search “Karyn Calabrese part 1” and watch the 4-part interview (the ten part is great too, when you get the time). That woman is 61, has been vegan for almost 40 years and raw for 20+ years. She looks amazing, and her health perspective is very interesting.

    Enjoy the links. Best of luck to all. Peace and good food this holiday season :-).

    Roxie wrote on December 1st, 2009
    • Roxie, thanks for the various links. I will check them out as time allows.

      You make a very good point that any diet can be unhealthy. This is indeed one of the overlooked points in the “raw/vegan food is better for you” camp, isn’t it? The fact that people who switch to a vegan diet from their really crappy diet to something that is more fresh and whole is regularly overlooked. It is the vegetarian vs. meat-and-fat issue that is trumpeted. This is the message of many including Campbell and the “Food Matters” people, and many, many others. Another oft-overlooked point in almost any of these discussions — yet it’s something Mark has pointed out repeatedly — is that when vegetarian diets are compared to meaty diets and found to be “better” in some way, the “researchers” NEVER seem to correct for, or even check for, refined carbohydrate intake. They always point to meat-and-fat as the culprit. It is insidious.

      As regards Brendan Brazier, I would simply repeat the comments I made above about the Crossfitter ultra-triathlete fellow.

      Further to that, though, Brazier is still a young man, plus he has to jump through immense hoops to “thrive” as he does. One of the very precepts of the Primal or Paleo movement — call it what you will — is it’s rather simple. Being a raw/vegan is much more complicated and difficult. Unless, that is, you don’t want a nice variety of tastes and foodstuffs. And, it’s nearly impossible to thrive as Brazier does without supplementing, big time (Vega shake, anyone?). But, on a Primal type of diet, it is relatively easy to thrive.

      I know a man who has eaten an all-raw, primarily meat and fat diet for the past 35 years (meat/fish/fowl). He, like your vegan example, is 61 years old and looks amazing, too. (62, actually). His health perspective is definitely “interesting”. (Hell, I think a raw meat diet trumps a raw vegan one any day. LOL) However, most people would simply shy away from it because of all the pro veggie hype there is in the world.

      All is not quite as we think it is, I am sure.

      Juan wrote on December 1st, 2009
  14. @cp
    You are right that growing grain to feed to animals is a big part of the problem. However, it is not “far more” destructive than growing grain for any other reason; it is the same. If you mean that there is more land devoted to grain for livestock, then you would be correct. But, either way, the destruction to the land/environment/ecosystem is equal. Obviously, you haven’t read the book, nor much of Mark’s blog because these issues are dealt with variously.
    Also, as regards your anecdote about the ultra-triathlete Crossfitter being healthy “right now”, well, I’m sure it appears that way to any who would care to look. Although, the words “right now” are perhaps telling. Who knows what the constant inflammation of his heart will do to him in the long run. Perhaps nothing, perhaps something. Same goes for the very high carbohydrate, or at least high calorie, diet he needs to be on to sustain the energy levels required to be in an “ultra” sport. How long can that be sustained? Don’t know. What happened to Steve Redgrave, the Olympic rower (type 2 diabetes) is not unexpected if you look into these things.

    Anyway, maybe the question should be, “do we equate what “ultra” athletes do or eat to “health” or instead, to performance?” I would say the latter. If you are an ultra anything, you are extreme. To be extreme is probably not the same as being “healthy”. Marathoners are known to die during competitions. This is unheard of for power and strength athletes such as powerlifters and Oly lifters, although many of the higher level ones do have shorter life spans which has often been attributed to steroid use. My point, though, is that both of these groups ought to be considered as very fit as measured by their level of performance — one is endurance, the other is strength, power, and explosiveness — but are they healthy?

    Juan wrote on December 1st, 2009
  15. I will pick up a copy. I’m a vegan. I’d like to see the other perspective. Although I don’t think this simple book can alter my lifestyle. Veganism is NOT something you can just reverse in one day and frankly these don’t seem like strong enough arguments. Factory farming is not natural PERIOD.

    Jennifer wrote on December 1st, 2009
  16. Look – I’m a cancer researcher and I just want to point out two things. 1) We are genetically quite different and react to drugs and food in very different ways. One can NEVER say that an individual cannot live as a vegan. This is nonsense. Some people will benefit hugely and others will suffer. The emerging field of personalized therapeutics and dietomics will reveal this. It will take a few years but you will see this happening. So please be careful with generalizations. I have known people who stopped getting ill when they stopped eating meat…OK they ate some fish. I know some extremely healthy vegans and I have met others who have become ill while a vegan. There are various reasons for this difference two of which are effort (completeness of the diet) and metabolic pathways (i.e., genetics).

    2) A philosophy that attempts to minimize the amount of suffering that animals go through should be seriously considered. The suffering these animals go through is very real and unnecessary in that it can be reduced greatly. So if one chooses to not eat meat because they have compassion for animals and do not want to participate in the meat industry, then I applaud their efforts. Watch I Am an Animal: The Story of Ingrid Newkirk and watch your reactions carefully.

    JOE wrote on December 7th, 2009
  17. I find this standpoint very interesting indeed. I have to agree with the author when he states that something is inevitably going to die in the production of any sort of food. That’s just the way the life cycle. I live a mostly vegetarian lifestyle because of factory farming methods and because free ranged meats aren’t always free ranged (I know, I know, the food industry has never lied to us before). I do have no qualms about meat gathered either by my own hands or someone I know. Fishing or hunting, much like Grok would have done it. Its and odd lifestyle choice I know. I feel animals and humans should all be apart of the cycle. Factory farming looks a lot like a scene out a horror movie. I feel vegetarians can do very well and I personally have (granted I need to be more careful of grains), but it isn’t to say that the world should convert over night. We have to find that fine balance.

    Josh wrote on December 16th, 2009
  18. Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach is an interesting novel from the 70’s about the 3 west coast states seceding in 1999 (it was the future in the 70’s 😉 from the union and building a sustainable eco state, combining the best of green technology with the greenest best practices. Factory farming was eliminated, wildlife came back and the people once again actively hunted for a significant portion of their food and regressed to a more “primitive” (ie. primal) society.

    I spent a couple years on the vegetarian lifestyle. I quit many years ago around Christmas time as I went with some vegan friends to get real Christmas trees. As we loaded up our cars, I wondered why it was wrong to eat an animal but A-OK to kill hundreds of millions of trees every year (which lived 10-20 years before harvest) just to have it in our living room for a few weeks and then throw it out on the curb. Why was the tree not afforded the same respect as a chicken? Then I saw that same no-win abyss of guilt that Lierre Kieth saw. The guilt of just being alive.

    I realized vegetarians/vegans tend to personify animals. You are not eating chicken, you are eating a dear innocent animal named such and such. What they do not do is consider the big picture as outlined in “The Vegetarian Myth” where a grain based society may actually cause more environmental destruction, animal death and suffering. It’s the forest for the trees thing. It’s a poor chicken instead of populations of species.

    Unfortunately for cosmic randomness completely beyond our control, life MUST die so that life can live. And on a daily basis. And if you don’t think it is random and believe in god, then blame her. It was a diabolical idea indeed.

    Lee wrote on December 28th, 2009
  19. Why the hating on vegetarians? I’m not one, yet some of the comments here seem as silly as the ones on vegan blogs which claim human beings do not have the proper teeth to ingest meat.

    Human beings as a species, omnivores that we are, can thrive on a fairly wide range of diets. Evidently certain kinds of diets at the fringe, such as extremely large amounts of saturated fats, show specific bad results in many predisposed people.

    As much as the vegans might wish it would happen, it is unlikely that the masses are going to reject meat eating and bring on the dire consequences described in this dystopian tome.

    The diet that is most healthy for one individual may not be the best for another. Complicating matters, some people will sacrifice their health for reasons emotional or ethical or hedonistic; for others, health trumps all.

    Barbara Saunders wrote on January 6th, 2010
  20. Why oh why oh why oh why! do Paleo’s and eat advocates ALWAYS falsely typecast and strawman vegetarians and esp. vegans as HIGH GRAIN/GRAIN DOMINANT consumption… grains are NOT a part of healthy, human diet… fruits/veggies/greens/seeds/nuts ARE…

    they are not equivical…. because one is a vegan per se, doesn’t = they are grain consumers, hence vegan diets (as falely and largely portrayed) are unhealthy and unfit for human consumption….

    ridiculous… I swear, I can’t believe the entire Internet is RIFE with all thee inaccuracies on BOTH sides….

    Chris wrote on January 7th, 2010
  21. Its not a vegan or vegetarian vs meat eater paradigm. Its RAW vs cooked!

    Morgan wrote on January 14th, 2010
  22. The bottom line with vegetarianism is that humans are privileged to have a choice in what we eat. (At least for now, god help us.) Sure we kill organisms walking around or fighting a flu but that is certainly no argument for purposefully killing creatures to eat them. Elsewhere on this blog you’ve argued that animals kill one another for food, therefore it’s “natural” for humans. By that argument you could endorse cannibalism and infanticide as OK since chimps do it. I am not a vegetarian but my boyfriend is and I respect his decision. I try to eat healthfully, but obsessing over what or what not to put in my mouth and in what ratio, what time of day, and how often is not my idea of healthy. I am just thankful I can afford and have access to healthful food and clean drinking water.

    Christina wrote on February 5th, 2010
  23. To a few posters, such as griff who write that living without meat or eggs is impossible;

    i’m a 21yo male living in UK, been vegetarian all my life and never eaten a single egg or single piece of meat.

    Im about 10% body fat and do gymnastics, karate and competitive swimming

    go figure

    Sachi wrote on February 12th, 2010
  24. @Sachi: Give yourself a few more years. And read Lierre Keith’s book “The Vegetarian Myth.” You will be sicker than a dog the longer you go on not eating what human beings evolved to eat, and it will be your own fault.

    Griff wrote on February 12th, 2010
  25. I also know a strict vegan that is in exceptionally good health, never gets sick, and is very strong physically. So I think some people do well with that method of eating. I myself do much better on the low carb high protein method. Sugars and grains make me feel terrible. One has to figure out what works for their own body.

    Bev wrote on February 15th, 2010
  26. @Griff

    I love the fact that your bashing something like veganism just because you obviously didn’t when you tried. I sense butthurt

    Charlie wrote on March 1st, 2010
  27. I’m reading this book now.. It’s so informative yet it’s saddening as you realize what has really happened to the environment around us. This is a book everyone should read.

    Lillian wrote on March 6th, 2010
  28. Author Of The Vegetarian Myth Attacked By Militant Vegans

    March 13th, while speaking in the auditorium at the 15th Annual Bay Area Anarchist Bookfair, Lierre Kieth was assaulted by pie throwing goons. The 3 pies were laced with hot pepper and therefor had an effect similar to pepper spray, blinding the author for a time. The painful attack was was carried out by three masked, militant vegans unhappy with the substance of the authors new book, The Vegetarian Myth.

    Bill wrote on March 15th, 2010
  29. I’ll toss this one in here as well, which Mark was kind enough to Tweet earlier.

    Richard Nikoley wrote on March 15th, 2010
  30. ru 12? ur making me lol.

    Juan wrote on March 19th, 2010
  31. The most important thing is that we gain not only knowledge but some form of understanding. What someone sees as destructive practices others see as a livlihood. We cannot pass judgement b/c we’re all guilty of some form of industrialized practice that harms the earth. Will you stop driving your car b/c of emissions? No. There are alternative fuels yet they still produce emissions and harmful by products. Will we stop eating veggies from the grocer? No. not everyone can afford organic veggies and even if the nutritional level is under scrutiny its still better then going to the dollar menu at McDonalds. We have to do what we can within our own limitations. Of course the world would be a better place if we could do this or do that but our populations have grown so much that we truly don’t have a choice but to do industrialized farming methods to feed everyone.

    Matt Forrester wrote on March 25th, 2010
  32. This book was one of the most powerful I’ve read – couldn’t put it down until the last bit in which she dives off into her progressive philosophy. Your summary, Mark, was excellent. Get it, read it.

    Apolloswabbie wrote on April 5th, 2010
  33. Ha, give this book to your vegan friends if you don’t want them as friends anymore. I am a vegan(4 years, vegetarian 9 years). I take a b12 supplement, and think that prioritizing a “natural” diet as one without supplements is more arbitrary a purity standard than a cruelty free diet. Even if being veg was guaranteed to shorten my life by 10 years, I would still not eat meat.

    someone mentioned that athletes had to eat meat, so I thought i would post this here: he is a vegan marathon runner

    Deborah wrote on May 20th, 2010
  34. JT wrote on May 31st, 2010
  35. People get way too attached to a particular viewpoint. Why do we need to shout people down and call them ignorant, etc? A few other points:

    More thinking at the margin- people tend to think in terms of categorical differences. Is it “unsustainable” for someone to eat grass-fed beef once a week? How about once a month?

    I do know one person who is vegan, 59, and seems very healthy. I find paleo convincing, but some of you are probably too confident in your beliefs. Let people experiment!

    I think the economy, agriculture and our interaction with nature are highly complex phenomena, and we don’t understand them very well. We’re probably best off with different people experimenting with a variety of lifestyles/ means of production.

    I have to say I find the sentience argument for veg hard to dismiss. I think what both sides overlook is the necessity of trade-offs. How many killed worms are equivalent to a killed rabbit, say? The answer is unclear- not sure which side it would favor.

    Vegs: Is there a method of agriculture that does not require animal stuff like manure? Not a snide question- I genuinely don’t know. If not, how do vegans deal with that? (Though I know in China they use human waste…)

    Sorry if this is too vague. Feedback is appreciated!

    Nico wrote on June 1st, 2010
  36. The reviews indicate that there is a lot of misinformation in this book.

    joe wrote on June 3rd, 2010
  37. Hi people,
    very interesting post and comments as well!
    I believe that the best thing you can do for yourself is to eat real natural foods. Now about vegetarianism, I am not sure what to think anymore…in a way, it sounds natural and normal to consume meat here and there (natural life cycle, I get that)but what about our digestive system, our teeth…why aren’t they similar to any other meat eating specie? What about the welfare of animals in our days? Seriously, I had to forget about what I was actually eating to be able to swollow it! What about the leading cause of death: Cardiovascular diseases…too much bad cholesterol (animal-based foods). I remember thinking to myself as a child, why do we drink cow’s milk? Isn’t that for baby cows…loll, well I ask myself that question again today, why all of those animal based foods…why so much, milk, yogourt, cheese, ice cream etc. Do we need it because it contains some good nutrients? Because many things do, yet it does not mean that we consume them! And last point, what’s up with the protein obsession, do cows need meat to get huge…?
    About a month ago I changed my eating habits, I eat far less animal based foods and feel much better…
    I’d love to hear from you guys and have some questions answered…

    Isa wrote on June 29th, 2010
    • “What about the leading cause of death: Cardiovascular diseases…too much bad cholesterol (animal-based foods).”

      …you really need to do some more reading around on this site.

      I’d like to briefly address the question “what’s up with the protein obsession, do cows need meat to get huge… ?” No, cows clearly don’t need meat to get huge, but they certainly do require protein (and fat). They get it by feeding carbohydrates (grass) to the microorganisms that live in their complex guts (those stomachs are referred to as “fermenting chambers” for a reason). Those microorganisms digest those carbohydrates (which are structurally useless to a cow and inefficient for energy compared to fat) and produce proteins (which are structurally vital) and fats (also structurally important and the preferred energy form for mammals and most other animals). These microorganisms are then digested and assimilated by the cow. When you work out the chemical processes, the cow itself actually consumes a near-zero-carb diet.

      I used to have a link to a study that analyzed the digestive systems of various animals. The actual macronutrient ratios assimilated by all animals involved was heavily skewed toward fats and proteins and low on carbohydrates, which makes sense considering that the biochemistry dictates that the actual metabolic requirement for carbohydrate is minor forcomplex animals (obviously plants and the orders of microorganisms are a different story).

      The most important thing to note here is that cows have a digestive system that converts their preferred food (grass) to the nutrients they need (fats and proteins). Humans do not have a digestive system adapted to meet that requirement; we can get what we need from plant sources but it’s highly inefficient and has harmful side-effects in the long run. Consuming animal products is ideal for humans; that’s the reason for the physiological difference between ourselves and our close cousins, the gorillas. They are grazing herbivores with specialized digestive systems to match, and we are active predators with the capacity to take advantage of plant foods to supplement. Our digestive systems are more similar to other omnivores and carnivores than to specialized herbivores.

      One might note that teeth are not an indicator of diet; gorillas have massive canine teeth despite their vegetarian ways. The evolutionary history of humans indicates that we used teamwork/strategy, primitive tools (particularly throwing, for which we have uniquely adapted shoulders), and a physiology suited for endurance to capture and kill our prey. Unlike lions that use their teeth in the act of killing their prey (thus requiring large hook-like teeth that inflict injury and hold securely), we just needed teeth that would give us the capacity to eat the meat we killed once it was dead (since I can eat a steak without trouble, they obviously get the job done). Developing big sharp teeth would be a waste of mineral resources by the body.

      Now that I’ve written way too much, I’d advise you to read some of what Mark’s written about cholesterol, and consider looking up Dr. Eades’s blog (I think that animal-digestive-system link I mention was found there somewhere), which I find to be one of the best sources of in-depth exploration of the human specie’s natural dietary habits on the web.

      I too went through a period where I lessened the animal products I was eating (I was dating a vegan) and I did indeed feel better. Now I know that that was because most of the animal products I was eating were heavily processed junk cooked in vegetable oils and frankenfats. The “feeling better” part didn’t last. After developing some noticeable health issues I did a lot more research (some of it here) that led me to my current very-low-carb eating habits, and not only do I feel the best I ever have, I’ve managed to put on an extra ten pounds of muscle in about a month (traditionally I’m a skinny hardgainer), even with regular fasting periods. I could go on about the positive effects I’ve observed, but I don’t want to let tonight’s steak marinade too long.

      Good luck with finding the answers to your health questions.

      Erik wrote on November 28th, 2010
  38. I havn’t read the book, just this review but the basic argument seems to fall down on a couple of points.

    Firstly it ignores the agriculture required for the production of meat (or other animal products). it takes far more grains, water, resources to produce the same amount of animal based foods than plant based.

    Secondly, and maybe this is something that you have brought to the for front and is not such a major concern in the book(?) the effect on the soil of heavy agriculture is a modern problem due to a lack of crop rotation. This is GCSE biology ( taught to 14-16 yr olds in the UK)

    Thirdly anyone who seeks perfection will always be disappointed, for most vegetarianism and veganism have more realistic exportations.

    alf wrote on July 12th, 2010
    • @alf: you assume that food animals like cattle and chickens are supposed to eat grains. They’re not. Pasture them! Let them eat what they’re supposed to eat – grass (and in the case of chickens, bugs). Eating meat is not the problem; feeding the meat animals stuff they’re not supposed to be eating is the problem.

      I won’t compromise my health that way; we shouldn’t compromise the health of our food animals either. You are what you eat, but you’re also whatever it ate. It makes more sense to feed them what they would eat naturally (grass) than to force them to eat what they don’t eat naturally (grain), doesn’t it?

      Griff wrote on July 12th, 2010
  39. Everyone should read this book, vegetarian and non-vegetarian alike.

    vivetra wrote on November 11th, 2010
  40. Griff – do you raise, pasture and butcher your own animals? Without grain? If not, perhaps you shouldn’t be asking someone else to.

    TE wrote on November 22nd, 2010
    • @TE: No, I don’t, but I do my best to buy grass-fed, cage-free, and pasture-raised whenever I can. And your comment seems to come from out of nowhere – would you like to explain why you think I’ve said people have to raise, pasture and butcher their own animals?

      Griff wrote on November 22nd, 2010

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