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

The Vegetarian Myth

the vegetarian myth cvrWow.

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. Bunk!
    Some people’s systems JUST DO NOT TOLERATE MEAT!! All you carnivores, eat away……..but meat is
    not for everyone……..and believe it or not………vegetarians live longer and have fewer ailments!

    Jillian wrote on November 28th, 2010
    • A few of my favorites people in the world have been committed vegetarians for most of their lives, and they have some serious health issues (despite their youth). One of them was recently relieved to learn that she does NOT have breast cancer, as the doctor had suspected. Adding breast cancer to her already long list of ailments would probably kill her.

      She’s 23.

      I note that my own specific health issues (eczema, asthma, mediocre immune system) have pretty much disappeared since becoming almost exclusively carnivorous, as well as reaching a level of general health that I never have before. I used to think I was healthy, and so did everyone else, but I know now that I just didn’t know what being truly healthy felt like.

      If your digestive system can’t handle animal fats and proteins, that’s a sign of a physiological disorder. The intestines may be permanently damaged by years of exposure to toxic proteins like wheat gluten, or the microbiotic fauna of the gut may be screwed up. We all have the same basic genetic template for our immune systems, and the resulting organs are quite capable of digesting animal products by default. You can only change that by damaging them.

      Erik wrote on November 28th, 2010
    • Actually, they don’t. So sorry to burst your bubble.

      Griff wrote on November 28th, 2010
  2. Nuts and berries, anyone?

    Pete H. wrote on December 19th, 2010
  3. wow, seems to me like the biggest problem is consuming processed foods, whether they be veggie or non-veggie – i’m curious what health problems y’all who’ve tried veggie diets encountered & whether you are certain it is because you lacked meat in your diet – or perhaps because your diet was not well-balanced with a wide variety of plant-based foods – just curious – i was the biggest meat-eater my first 20 yrs of life – then went ‘junk-food’veggie’ then ‘junk-food-vegan’ and became obese, but i cut the processed foods & went ‘high-raw vegan’ (ideally 80-10-10 high fruit/veg carb, low protein, low fat, only sprouted grains & grasses – organic ripe fruits, land & sea veggies, sprouted nuts, seeds, dark leafy greens, spouts) & reversed all ailments & all the excess weight just melted off – i’m now 45 yrs old – i’ve run 5 full marathons, am a mixed-martial arts fighter – had 3 fights – beat women less than half my age – haven’t been sick once, not even a sniffle, since i went high-raw – and i am certain the remaining 10 lbs i need to lose would come off & my remaining allergies to cats would disappear if i could just avoid the bread/chips – because when i went 100% raw, i did lose those 10 lbs & my allergies did disappear – they just came back cause i started in with the bread/chips again – like some others, you could show me all the scientific proof in the world that we need flesh to survive, even to thrive, and i would still pass, but i am curious what awful diseases i should look forward to so i can prepare my living will

    Sue wrote on December 19th, 2010
    • Be prepared for diabetes, stroke, heart disease, migraines, and high blood pressure. It’s the carbs, not the processing or non-processing of them. Human beings were not designed or evolved to eat grains and grasses. I know. I tried for years and was a vegetarian for two of those years, eating all the healthy-whole-grain nonsense. Thank Ghu I had anaphylactic reactions to soy, or I could have ended up with much worse problems. As it was, I had severe arthritis, diabetes, IBS, migraines, you name it, I probably had it. Since going PB and ditching the ridiculous nonsense that is vegetarianism, I’m healthy and have no trace of any of those problems I used to have.

      You can either subscribe to an unsubstantiated and scientifically unsupported ideology (i.e. vegetarianism/veganism) or you can look at the science and accept the reality, which is that the human animal cannot survive and THRIVE without eating other animals. Period, end of story, and that’s all she wrote. There are plenty of resources on this site and others, but the best place to start is Gary Taubes’ “Good Calories, Bad Calories” and the Eades’ book “Protein Power.” And, of course, Mark’s book. Have fun.

      Griff wrote on December 19th, 2010
      • So far, my blood pressure is 96/67, and my cholesterol is so low the doctor called me to tell me how great it was, if those are supposed to be risk factors for heart disease. I have to wonder if your reactions to soy were because all soy is genetically modified unless organic, and even then, there is some contamination. But thank you – I look forward to experiencing the rest of the diseases, and I don’t pay science much attention as I use my own body as a barometer. Now I need to download Living Wills Online.

        Sue wrote on December 19th, 2010
        • My Grandmother also had rave reviews from her doctor about her low cholesterol. Since then, she’s had four strokes, the last leaving her almost quadriplegic. She was playing croquet and tennis right up til her 80th birthday.

          Read ‘The Great Cholestorol Con’ or look up scientists who explain the realities behind cholesterol measurement and the specifics of what to look for.

          I don’t care if you’re veg or omni or carni, but if you’re relying on GPs to tell you the truth about health and wellbeing, when all they really know is what the pharmaceutical companies tell them, then you’re putting too much trust into their hands. Your body won’t always tell you everything – you need to be smart about the choices you make.

          Girl Gone Primal wrote on December 20th, 2010
  4. Yes, Girl Gone Primal, I agree with you about cholesterol – that’s why I said IF you regard it as a risk factor. I do not, and that’s why I’m trying to get my parents off cholesterol lowering and blood pressure lowering pills. However, most people still do regard these markers as risk factors, and that’s why I mentioned them. I rely on how I feel. I no longer go to doctors. My choices may not be smart as far as my health, but I feel better than ever. I’ve been a vegetarian for 25 years and still do not supplement either. And even the vegetarian gurus tell me I will have b12 problems. I accept it all and will never eat raw meat to my deathbed.

    Sue wrote on December 20th, 2010
    • Sue, I think the key to what your are talking about, and what Griff is missing, is that you are high RAW foods. That means you aren’t eating the grains that Griff is referring to so you are not going to have the diabetes and other various problems associated with carbs. Eating greens and fruits is not the same as eating grains.

      I found this site coming from a raw foods diet at a time I realized that I probably couldn’t give up fish completely. I pretty much eat mostly raw with some fish and eggs. Many people on this site seem to have on their “meat-goggles” and miss the point that Mark advocates eating lots of veggies so once the word vegan, vegetarian or raw foods come up people want to stomp all over you. Mark’s wife eats much the same as I do. She doesn’t eat red meat or chicken and was raised in a veggie family. She is also in fabulous shape but I don’t think that gets enough attention on the boards.

      Anyway, I’m with you on the raw foods and mucho chlorphyll wave and I understand your aversion to animal foods. That doesn’t mean that you can’t eat the primal way.

      Melanie wrote on December 20th, 2010
      • Yes, Melanie, the emphasis would be on raw and unprocessed. I think the body can detox 5-10% of most anything other than raw produce, including meat, and including some grains. I actually do still eat sprouted grains from Mana & Ezikiel bread. Meat just doesn’t groove with my ethics, so I opt out. I just came on this blog to see what diseases I might want to prepare for. So now I’ve been warned, tho the list looks to me like diseases of affluence, dieseases associated with more with eating animal products than with eating plants. But I appreciate your gentle, accepting, and non-confrontational manner of speaking. Thanks.

        Sue Rushford wrote on December 20th, 2010
  5. I heard a talk by Ms Keith on my local public radio station when this book came out. She also emphasized that she suffered many health problems as a result of her vegetarianism–depression, anemia, chronic fatigue. Really good talk.

    Haven’t read the book yet but after reading this review, I’m going to have to rush out and buy it!

    fritzy wrote on February 5th, 2011
  6. This book was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me and veganism.

    Brilliant, just brilliant.

    I’m now eating primal and feel better than I have since I was in high school. Maybe better. I’ve effortlessly lost weight, enjoyed rich and delicious food, and – most important of all – have TONS of energy. I feel normal again.

    Thank you Mark AND Lierre!

    Gris wrote on February 11th, 2011
  7. This book has a lot of good points. I am a former vegetarian who is starting to introduce fish/meat into my diet after 10 years. However, it’s more about the books on Paleo that I read that persuaded me.

    Why?

    Because Lierre Keith is an a-hole.

    Sorry to get vulgar here, but listen to all these commenters (and Keith) talk about “Nobler-than-thou vegetarians”. Read a few pages of Keiths book and tell me that she is not the epitome of nobler-than-thou.

    She has no respect for vegans/vegetarians at all, and rather than give strictly rational arguments and gently guide you to her viewpoint, she uses demagogue tactics and contantly bashes vegetarian’s intellect. Gee, nice persuasive piece.

    Another problem she has is that she projects all her problems onto vegetarianism. All her physical problems are from being vegan.

    Really? What’s up with vegan powerlifters then?

    Being vegetarian makes you depressed and causes psychosis.

    Really? It’s interesting Lierre how you admit early in the book that you have a family history of mental illness and depression.

    She makes it sound like if you are a vegetarian, you will die. This is BS. There are plenty of healthy vegetarians, and I doubt they’re any more likely to be crazy, depressed, etc. I’m still exploring what the best diet is, but I wish this book was written by someone with half a brain who used more facts and less sensationalism, proofread their facts (there are plenty of errors even the casual reader can pick off), and actually presented in a way that was designed to go down smoothly. Remember that whole thing, more flies with honey than vinegar?

    Bobby wrote on February 12th, 2011
  8. The book comes across as well meaning, if a bit harsh towards the veg crowd. The points she make in the book are valid observation. The only issue is that the facts and science used to back up these observations is flawed, often selective to make “her” point and sometimes mathematical misconstrued from her source materials. Though it is well written and has rilled the the masses.

    B.G. wrote on March 7th, 2011
  9. I am a vegetarian, and I recently downloaded the and have skimmed parts of it (reading is not my strong suit). I have never been a vegetarian because I thought it was healthful. I went against all of my family’s concerns to be a vegetarian from age 3 or 4 when I realized what meat was (I was a stubborn, odd child). I have always been a vegetarian on moral grounds, but I have always thought that my health suffered as a result. I have had mental health issues and led a sedentary life for the last 8 years in combination with being on prescritpion drugs known to cause high blood sugar and even lead to diabetes. I asked my doctor for a blood sugar test and found out I have an A1C of 6.4, even though I am only moderately overweight. I found this out over a month ago and drastically changed my diet.

    Going against everything the ADA says, I have been trying essentially to eat foods that will not raise my blood sugar. I have had some good weight loss, as well, as a result, and my blood sugar when checking with a monitor has been normal (at least what doctors consider normal).

    But since this diagnosis (I actually wasn’t diagnosed with diabetes, but I could have been), I have struggled with the idea of eating meat. The thing is that I feel like I can easily get full now that I am eating more real foods–vegetables, nuts, nut butters, hard boiled eggs. I am not starving, and I am eating a lot less than I had been. I have pretty much cut out all grains. So I don’t even know if I will need to eat meat to continue seeing gains.

    My situation is also unique in that I never, ever felt that I was depriving myself by not eating meat. The one year I ate meat in third grade was when I lived in Sweden and my grandmother forced to me to eat meat. She was a doctor and worried for my health. I had to plug my nose as I ate it and chewed as fast as I could and swallow the meat with something to drink really fast.

    I don’t know if I could bring myself to eat meat beyond the moral issues. I simply find it disgusting. I find eggs disgusting too, and I will quickly eat a hard boiled egg and then swish my mouth with water and swallow fast to get it all down. I hate it. And I would hate meat even more. It completely grosses me out to think about what it is–it would be like that Fear Factor show for me.

    But anyhow, I may check this book out in case it turns out that I need to keep making changes to see more gains with my blood sugar and weight. As for right now, I can’t understand how I am not fighting hunger. I seem to have had a positive turnaround for about a month and a half now, but I won’t get my next A1C test to see if things really have improved for almost 2 months.

    This book could be helpful. It’s an odd thing to want to convince yourself to eat meat. I almost thought of asking my therapist to help me with it! But, again, because of my family’s influence, and now the research I read, I have never thought I was being healthier by being a vegetarian. It was always a moral thing and a disgust thing. If I could swallow a meat pill, that would probably solve 95% of the problem. Because if I’m honest, I already take fish oil every day, and so technically that goes against my ethics, but I don’t have to deal with the disgust of it. So maybe at this point, it’s less a moral thing, and more of a disgust thing. Because if someone gave me a nice leather bag, I’d probably take it and use it. I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy one though…

    Anyhow, enough of my late night rambling..thanks for the info on the book.

    Marcus wrote on March 24th, 2011
    • I, too, refrained from eating meat from age 20-26 or 27 (it was a long time ago) for moral reasons. I could eat eggs, but not caviar; that is, nothing that involved the death of an animal. (Chicken eggs that you eat are unfertilized.) Cheese and dairy were OK. What returned me to the omnivore fold was the beginning of Romans 14, in the Bible:

      “1. Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.

      “2. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only.

      “3. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him” (NASB).

      Of course, the OT is explicit about eating meat, so if I were morally afraid (Cf. verse 2), I should take the word of “the author of all things” that eating meat was OK. In fact, other animals do it, too, with nary a pang of conscience.

      But I think a careful (lacto-ovo) vegetarian diet can be healthy (although I eat meat now); the protein from the eggs and dairy could prevent one from taking that meat pill (which would be B complex vitamins). For a fish pill I would substitute a flax-seed pill. (Notice also that the Bible quote above does not denigrate vegetarianism. The same chapter, verse 20b, says “All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense,” which I would interpret as “If you believe it is a sin, then it is a sin.”)

      I bet there were some (actual) paleolithic vegetarians.

      Pete H. wrote on March 25th, 2011
    • Marcus, if you’re already incorporating eggs into your diet, then you shouldn’t need to add meat if you don’t want to. Eggs are just as high in fat, protein, and nutrients as pretty much any meat. Just make sure you eat plenty of them.

      An aside: replacing the fish oil with flax oil would not be a good idea. The body needs DHA, which is what you find in fish oil. The omega-3 element of flaxseed oil is ALA, which the body is extremely inefficient in converting to the DHA it needs.

      Buying omega-3 enriched eggs might be a good way to go if the fish oil starts to bother you. Or at least if you get tired of taking pills (I know I do).

      Erik wrote on March 30th, 2011
  10. There are certainly cases of vegetarians and vegans who don’t know how to manage their diet, so they get all the nutrients, including the essential amino acids and B12, but that are by far more meat eaters (MILLIONS!) who don’t know how to manage their diet and are in seriously poor health–on death’s door.

    Shawn wrote on March 29th, 2011
  11. I normally wouldn’t comment on a place like this, as my diet doesn’t bear much resemblance to the primal diet, but I just had to comment on this…
    I, like many ethical vegetarian/vegans, used to be a vegan. I thought one cow not killed equals one animal saved. Nobody ever proposed a bigger picture image to me, and I never thought of it myself. To be honest, it was reading the reviews of this page that really made me think about “am I really doing the right thing?” Anyways, after thinking about it for a week or two I decided the arguments were right, and that I really wasn’t saving the planet by being vegan, so I introduced eggs, a little goat cheese, and eventually some meatloaf (Yes mark, I’m aware enough of your views on the oats and would actually be appreciative if someone could give me feedback on how to avoid constipation without the soluble fiber, as I had this problem when I tried to eliminate beans/grains from my diet). I felt amazingly better, I felt much stronger, more awake, my digestive issues resolved, life was good. However, I don’t think this is a realization many vegetarians are able to make yet. When I try pose some of the arguments in this book to vegetarians I know, all they see is “you now kill animals, I dont kill animals, you traitor bad person.” Perhaps it’s because it would make them somehow equal to other people, which terrifies them. I guess I was just curious if anyone else has has experiences with such people who just seem so closed to the idea that vegetarianism isn’t morally superior? Would be cool to hear others experiences, thanks.

    James wrote on April 16th, 2011
  12. I suggest that anyone thinking of reading this book fist check out it’s top review on Amazon.com

    Apparently this book is only 8% backed up by reality.

    Porcus wrote on June 23rd, 2011
  13. Industrially grown corn is not even edible, it is used to feed the factory grown cattle (which they aren’t even designed to digest), and to produce high fructose corn syrup. So it has nothing to do with vegetarians. And if everyone was vegetarian, we would need much much less crops to feed everyone, which could be grown sustainably and organically. I have nothing against sustainably grown animals for food if someone wants to eat meat. Just industrial farming and agriculture – how it’s done and for what purposes (profits) – is the root cause of problems.

    Ernesta wrote on July 7th, 2011
  14. I would suggest, as has been stated before, to read the review posted on Amazon by an apparent Phd student on the apparent wild inaccuracies included in this book. The comment was far too large to completely paste in here but here are some excerpts:


    1) pg. 140: The author states that “Carbon-13 is a stable isotope present in two places: grasses and the bodies of animals that eat grasses”. She goes on to suggest that since there is no evidence of grass “scratch marks” on the human teeth found, that they must have been eating animals. There are many flaws in this thought process. First, I cant even begin to explain the preservation and degradation issues present in examining three million year old teeth for ‘scratch marks’. Second, carbon-13 is an isotope found in ALL terrestrial and marine plants, not just grass. Finding high levels of C3 or C4 (which are what carbon-13 breaks down into) in human teeth only means that that human was eating large amounts of SOME plant, seed, nut, etc. (not JUST grass) or the animal that ate those. It is not as simple as GRASS OR COW.

    2) pg. 142: The author states that there are no bacteria in the human stomach. This is simply untrue. In 2005 Barry Marshall and Robin Warren won a Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovering a stomach bacteria that causes gastritis and ulcer disease. There are currently over 130 known stomach bacteria.

    3) pg. 146: The author states a “rumor” authored by RB Lee about hunter-gatherers getting 65% of their calories from plants and 35% from meat. She states that this “simply isnt true”. First, this rumor-spreader is one of the most well-respected anthropological/archaeological researchers in hunter-gatherer studies who edited what is considered THE tome on hunter-gatherer theory, ‘Man the Hunter’. He isnt some random hack. Second, saying those numbers ‘simply arent true’ is simply not true. Hunter-gatherers did and do inhabit a huge range of environments and likewise their diets cover a wide range. Some do follow the 65/35% number. Some eat much more meat. Some eat much less.

    These are only three examples from a span of six pages. This pattern continues throughout the entire book. Fact is the authors ‘facts’ just arent believable (which, again, is a shame because a factual book on this topic could be powerful). She writes as if the anthropological and archaeological evidence she quotes is written in stone, when in fact many of these topics are constantly under revision or not well understood yet. Most importantly, I just believe that writing a book and promoting it as a factual, scientific account of a subject when it is not is doing a great disservice to your (mostly) unknowing readers. If you are not willing to put in the real research effort, write a book that is touted as a personal account and nothing more. Selling flubbed facts to people who are truly searching for answers, inspiration or (insert what you are looking for here) is just bad journalism.”

    The entire comment is here with subsequent comments made and I’d recommend anyone to seriously consider reading this before buying the book.

    I have my own views on the topic but for now, I’d rather leave it to the archaeologist/anthropologist who is qualified in the field.

    John wrote on July 21st, 2011
  15. I should preface this by saying, I am a vegan. I think killing/mistreating nonhuman animals is, all other things being equal, just as ethically problematic as is killing/mistreating human animals. I do not, however, find anything intrisically wrong about utilizing cruelty-free animal bi-products. I choose to be vegan because there is no for certain way to determine that your eggs or milk were in fact derived by cruelty-free means.

    OK…

    Personally, I roundly reject the idea that “doing what you ought to do” means the same thing as “doing what is ‘natural’”. First of all, while “Nature” may be an easy thing to grasp when talking about, say, the nature of a rock,talking about “human nature” is nearly impossible, since we are capable of deliberating about what decisions we will make, etc. Sure, we have biological functions, and psychological processes. But when it comes to determnining a basis for human behavior, the concept of “nature” is akin to the idea of “normalcy”. Simply put, the bases for these ideas are typically spurious. Moreover, even if one believed they had a clear grasp of what “the” difinitive nature of humankind is, it still would not follow that one “ought” to do what is in one’s nature. I’m not sure where this trope comes from, but it’s perevasive in our cultural mythos. Nevertheless, no matter how many people believe you can soundly base an ethic in a notion of human nature, it remains a flagrant violation of the “is/ought” gap.

    I also, personally, reject the idea that “killing” or “death” – where these terms are understood in opposition to “biological life processes” – are, in themselves, morally problematic. I see no reason to maintain that “killing” a plant is any more morally problematic than sanitizing one’s hands (i.e., killing bacteria), or even tearing a piece of paper. The reason for this is that plants, like paper, and bacteria, don’t possess sentience – a capacity to feel pain, or pleasure. Since they don’t have any “inner states” or “subjectivity”, plants can’t possibly have, much less express, a preference about what is done to them.

    Animals on the other hand (by which I mean all vertebrates, and some invertebrates like octopi) DO have such inner states. They are, like humans, capable of experiencing pain, suffering, fear, and anxiety. They do possess, and in most cases express, thier preference to not suffer, and of life over death.

    Moreover, the fact that some can say with a straight face that “100% cruelty-free living is not possible, therefore I should not try to live as cruelty-free as possible” is baffling to me. So, the Platonic ideal of “the Good” isn’t attainable. Is this a reasonable justification for having no moral scruples whatsoever? for being lax with your struggles to be ethically just? It seems like just so much lazy thinking, and living.

    It should be clear that defending the killing of vertebrates (and some invertebrates) for the consumption of thier flesh cannot be defended by the fact that the production of vegetables inevitably leads to the killing of inumerable slugs and insects, not to mention bacteria and the plants themselves.

    ALLLLLLEEEN wrote on November 23rd, 2011
    • I completely agree. Killing animals for food is wrong and also unnecessary. The death of animals in agriculture for grains and such is unfortunate.

      Many people on here (I’ve read all of the comments) say that we should make meat growing as sustainable as possible. Why not make growing plants as sustainable as possible too? If everyone ate right (fewer grains because many people have cited that these are the problems) and these plants were grown properly we could minimize ALL damage.

      Someone previously asked how the soil could accumulate. Let animals(ungulates) coexist, but when it comes to harvesting herd them away. Leave part of the field growing at all time so the system never crashes.

      I know that this will be impossible to coordinate because lots of people here want meat. But saying that vegetarianism won’t work to save the planet. Granted I haven’t read the book, but I feel as if it would be very challenging to feed 300+ million Americans on organic, free ranged meat at the same consumption rates we have now.

      So in short, eating less meat AND improving the way meat is grown (organic) AND improving plant cultivation must ALL be included if we are concerned about the environment.

      Gabe wrote on November 28th, 2011
      • Oops.
        I meant “But saying that vegetarianism won’t work to save the planet” doesn’t make sense to me.

        Gabe wrote on November 28th, 2011
  16. I didn’t read through all the comments (seems like this stirred up some debate!) but wanted to note that I read this and enjoyed it.
    Pros: passionate and poetic author, and most importantly, gets the gears turning on some really important issues regarding diet and sustainability. This book is what I call soapbox-vegan-DEET… I respect a good argument about anything but MAN vegans can get on their high-horse sometimes, and here you’ve got a bunch of valid arguments to present to get some intelligent conversation-a-brewin’.
    CONS: the scientific data is poorly presented. The nutritional stuff in this book would have benefited by a co-author with a scientific background. Luckily I’ve already read the science stuff, so I could brush it off, but a newbie could question the whole shebang based on this author’s presentation of the data. Also, this author is kind of extremist, and extremist feminist for sure, which kind of gets in the way. Her feminist comments aren’t even valid to the content half the time. Also, she recommends not driving a car and not having children to save the world, and I’m a big believer that our lives ARE our experience. Choosing to forego travel or child-rearing to save the planet really goes against my personal philosophy, no matter how “good” it may be. Just saying, brace yourself for some preaching that you may or may not agree with.
    Overall a good read, and I’d recommend it to any vegan or vegetarian, just to get them thinking about a different perspective.

    Kerry wrote on December 6th, 2011
  17. http://www.eatright.org/about/content.aspx?id=8357It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athleteshttp://www.spiralseed.co.uk/veganperm/

    jude wrote on February 7th, 2012
  18. after only reading the review, i just got to notice that most people are forgeting, that these animals need to be fed. so anyone who thinks the giant amount of meat we are even now consuming could probably be produced by wild living, grass eating cows is just a brainwashed naive moron. the industrial countries (US, canada, germany (general EU) etc) are AT THE MOMENT importing corn and soye from countries like argentine who destroy vast areas of rain forest to support this export. there are a lot of antibiotics getting into the water and lots of grain or soye “destroyed” by feeding it to animals. intensive lifestock farming NEEDS industrial agriculture to produce these amounts of meat.

    subversive wrote on February 13th, 2012
  19. I know this is an older post and I’m not sure of what type of response I’ll get (if any). However, I found this review on Amazon and thought it was pretty good. I have not read the book yet. After reading Mark’s review I was interested in picking it up(as an eight year vegetarian thinking of a switch). In the rest of this blog it is clear that Mark cares about facts and loves to share new studies. So I wanted to bring this counter review into the arena to see what the reaction was.

    To clarify, the bottom portion of this comment is NOT my review, but one I copied on here from Amazon.

    I’m interested to hear what everyone has to say about the apparent gap from Mark’s review to this one.

    I want to be clear about a few things:

    1) I am a female.
    2) I give the idea of this book 5 stars, but its execution 1.
    3) I have been a radical vegan, a rabid meat-eater and everything in between (currently in the in-between)
    4) I am working on an archaeological PhD on hunter-gatherer diets, subsistence, hunting and transition to agriculture.

    I picked this book up after reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Eating Animals”. I thought it would be interesting to read a different perspective on the vegetarian debate. I found Safran Foer’s book to be much more geared towards the inhumane practices of meat while Keith’s book is geared more towards diet/health.

    I admit that it took a very long time for me to get through this book, for several reasons. I purchased this book hoping to get something out of it. I am not an upset vegan who wants to hate it and I am not someone who bought it knowing Id love it. I was just neutral. There were two main reasons for my disappointment with the book. One minor, one major. First, I found the second agendas (specifically the radical feminism) distracting and unnecessary. I have nothing against the feminist agenda, but this wasnt the place to put it. Second, I found the book absolutely riddled with bad information, faulty facts and just plain lazy research (if you can call it ‘research’). As someone who intensively researches these issues on a daily basis, I found myself underlining items on nearly every page that I knew were just plain untrue or were ‘cherry-picked’ facts slanted to give a certain perception. This is such a disappointment as a really great case could be made for the author’s view if she had only put the real work into researching the book properly. Once you lose the reader’s trust that you are providing factual information what do you have? Ill provide examples:

    1) pg. 140: The author states that “Carbon-13 is a stable isotope present in two places: grasses and the bodies of animals that eat grasses”. She goes on to suggest that since there is no evidence of grass “scratch marks” on the human teeth found, that they must have been eating animals. There are many flaws in this thought process. First, I cant even begin to explain the preservation and degradation issues present in examining three million year old teeth for ‘scratch marks’. Second, carbon-13 is an isotope found in ALL terrestrial and marine plants, not just grass. Finding high levels of C3 or C4 (which are what carbon-13 breaks down into) in human teeth only means that that human was eating large amounts of SOME plant, seed, nut, etc. (not JUST grass) or the animal that ate those. It is not as simple as GRASS OR COW.

    2) pg. 142: The author states that there are no bacteria in the human stomach. This is simply untrue. In 2005 Barry Marshall and Robin Warren won a Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovering a stomach bacteria that causes gastritis and ulcer disease. There are currently over 130 known stomach bacteria.

    3) pg. 146: The author states a “rumor” authored by RB Lee about hunter-gatherers getting 65% of their calories from plants and 35% from meat. She states that this “simply isnt true”. First, this rumor-spreader is one of the most well-respected anthropological/archaeological researchers in hunter-gatherer studies who edited what is considered THE tome on hunter-gatherer theory, ‘Man the Hunter’. He isnt some random hack. Second, saying those numbers ‘simply arent true’ is simply not true. Hunter-gatherers did and do inhabit a huge range of environments and likewise their diets cover a wide range. Some do follow the 65/35% number. Some eat much more meat. Some eat much less.

    These are only three examples from a span of six pages. This pattern continues throughout the entire book. Fact is the authors ‘facts’ just arent believable (which, again, is a shame because a factual book on this topic could be powerful). She writes as if the anthropological and archaeological evidence she quotes is written in stone, when in fact many of these topics are constantly under revision or not well understood yet. Most importantly, I just believe that writing a book and promoting it as a factual, scientific account of a subject when it is not is doing a great disservice to your (mostly) unknowing readers. If you are not willing to put in the real research effort, write a book that is touted as a personal account and nothing more. Selling flubbed facts to people who are truly searching for answers, inspiration or (insert what you are looking for here) is just bad journalism.

    Ill end this review with some facts and encourage any readers (whether you liked the book, hated the book or havent read the book) to always question whether what you are reading is true and to do some research of your own.

    The author cites 207 references in this book.
    62 of those references are websites (~30%)
    18 are newspapers and magazines (~7%)
    32 are journals (~15%)
    95 are other books (~46%)

    First of all, think about that. 30% of the references in this book come from website information. Five of those 62 website references were Wikipedia. Wikipedia! One was Google Answers. I wont let my freshmen students use Wikipedia as a reference in their papers, why would it be acceptable for a book? Like websites, newspaper and magazine information needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Of the 32 journals less than half come from well known, peer-reviewed sources. The remaining 46% are books, which can truly say anything the author cares to print (as this one does) and only show that the author is getting her information from another source (and another opinion) aside from the primary one. The point of this is to make clear that this is a book that is sold as (and which many positive reviews hype as) providing scientific, factual, intellectual knowledge on the vegetarian/diet/health debate. In reality less than 8% of the book is coming from peer-reviewed, fact-checked sources which can provide unbiased, neutral information.

    If anything I hope this review encourages people to get away from the bias on either side, find factual scientific sources instead of second-third-fourth hand knowledge, check information for yourself instead of blindly believing an author, and to question published material and push for it to actually be factual if it presented as such.

    jhepburn wrote on February 18th, 2012
    • Bravo!!!

      Johnny wrote on June 24th, 2012
  20. HUH???!!!???
    What is ‘vegetarian agriculture’?! Agriculture is just agriculture! If there was such a thing as ‘vegetarian agriculture’, it wouldn’t exist to ‘eliminate’ animals. First of all, vegetarians want animals to be free to
    roam around in their natural habitats, and second, vegetarians don’t not eat meat in order to make cows extinct. What kind of ridiculousness is this?

    2nd – Agriculture is incredibly destructive, it is true, but which Agriculture?! Well the western world does need to realise that.
    A lot of that land is being used to grow food for ANIMALS that are being mass produced, injected with steroids and hormones, to be killed afterwards and sold as cheap meat… – and the land that the animal herds live on is even worse for the environment than cropland, I believe! So that is the bad Agriculture we talk about here.

    3rd – “the machines that worked the soybean fields were greased with the blood of a thousand organisms.”
    VOMIT! This is horrid horrid horrid! What loaded language! More ridiculousness! GREASED WITH THE BLOOD! Haaaaaaaa!

    Anyone knows that a good vegetarian/vegan is interested in the health of the planet, and is going make their choices, particularly concerning what they consume, accordingly. Most vegetarians are aware of the problems of agriculture and food production, and are interested in not only not eating animals, but in doing their part to not partake in the horrors of mass animal production and slaughter and the terrible environmental consequences of all that. It’s about being aware of where the world is now, understanding that it’s not great, and trying to turn things around. Not eating animals is a damn good start.

    For example, the livestock industry alone accounts for more carbon emissions than the auto industry (nearly one and a half times more, in fact – at least in the US, in 2006, according to the NMDL book). I’m not going to look up any more statistics right now, because this rant has wasted enough of my time already…

    So basically we need to be clear of which “Agriculture is bad”, when you say/read that. Well the bad agriculture is bad. The one that doesn’t serve its purpose, to feed hungry people. The one that feeds mass produced animals…! We have to sort that out.

    And I’m not going to go into why meat isn’t a good choice, and comparing with vegetables nutrition facts,
    Just watch a doc “Forks Over Knives”, “Food Inc”, “Food Matters”, “Earthlings”… and stats will tell you all…

    Johnny wrote on June 24th, 2012
  21. Yeah….has anyone touting the book as gospel, bothered doing a background check on this author? She’s a radical nutcase. Forks over Knives backs up every one of their claims with well documented supporting scientific evidence. After reading this book, it’s apparent the author can’t say the same.

    Alyssa wrote on July 15th, 2012
  22. I am not vegetarian, but I must disagree. Vegetables could be grown in building, different crops on every floor, thanks to technologies like hydroponic Gardening. That could free a lot of land space. Also the fact there is veganic agriculture, meaning they dont use the standard animal waste also further makes this less black and grey, as well as the fact that you could use Human manure -yes-. I really liked th emphasis on life needs death, which is obvious, but the other claims, are, still Hypotesis, to my increasing frustration with evidence on many different diets and solutions. Im just gonna eat whatever I want that isnt processed. Period. I dislike most meats. So ill just eat the ones I like, and something of everything.

    Liz wrote on September 8th, 2012
  23. Hi Mark! Really enjoying and taking in all of your posts and primal write-ups. I have three questions that I hope will be useful to all of your readers (as well as me!)

    Question 1: Would eating eggs as opposed to meat be JUST as healthy as eating meat, if enough is eaten (being a lacto-ovo vegetarian myself)? I eat boatloads of eggs every day with plenty of saturated fat, cholesterol, and protein–yum! Or is meat of higher quality.

    Question 2: Also, have there been long periods of evolution where primitive people lived on primarily egg-based with plants diet, for a very healthy life, equivalent to that of meat-eating populations?

    Question 3: And finally, what do you think of the argument that eating animals is better for the environment as htey give nutrients back to the earth–considering that they are not not dying on the land itself, but are being fed to us, and then we poop out those nutrients into the water system instead of the land? Any thoughts?

    Thanks Mark for all of your help before and the advice that you provide!

    Ben

    Ben wrote on September 29th, 2012
  24. Keith’s book is magnificent and life-changing. Regarding your son who is 16 and vegetarian and feels great– watch out! That was me, and now I am 30 and I have pretty serious health problems that were, without a doubt, caused by my 12 years as a vegetarian. I am recovering, but THANK GOODNESS I caught these issues before I had even more serious problems. Even if he feels great in the short term, he could be doing long-term damage. Read the book, and suggest it for him too! At least then he would be making better informed decisions.

    Ruthie wrote on December 27th, 2012
  25. Yikes, I missed the boat on this discussion for the better part of 3 months, but screw it… I’ll just add my two cents.

    The ecological arguments on both sides border on silly. The debate is not about whether vegetarian or omnivorous diets are “more sustainable” (whatever that means). Neither is sustainable so long as human population continues to grow exponentially.

    So far, I’ve said nothing revolutionary. In fact, what I said is usually a cop-out heard from people who don’t really want to partake in the discussion, so let me also submit the following: contraception is the key.

    If you want to save the world, you need to be fighting for active contraception (none of that abstinence-only bullshit that doesn’t work).

    As anybody who has ever studied ecology will tell you, in the absence of external intervention, an ecosystem’s population will approach carrying capacity asymptotically. This means that there will always be a a proportion of the population that will be malnourished. Contraception directly addresses this issue, so long as birthrates don’t exceed roughly 2.1 children per couple. The .1 children is there to account for baseline death rates, but it’s an out-of-my-ass guesstimate — the point remains the same.

    If you want sustainable agriculture, you should be in favor of birth control.
    If you want to save Africa, stop sending food and money (which will only increase carrying capacity, if that) and start sending condoms.
    If you want to save the rain forest or your local neck of the woods, you should fight tooth-and-nail for birth control.

    And lastly, you should consider a highly controversial viewpoint that I espouse: Having more than two children is selfish, irresponsible and immoral.

    Louis wrote on February 23rd, 2013
  26. It seems to me as if she’s suggesting that if vegetarians can’t combat ALL of industry (i.e., agricultural, as well), then we might as well not bother even combatting the meat industry, and I disagree. I can only speak for myself, but my veganism is certainly not an exclamation of support for the agricultural industry in lieu of the meat industry, nor is it an expression of any desire for a grain-based agricultural system (in fact, I don’t eat a lot of grain). I am not suffering from “smug elitism,” and am quite aware that the fruits and vegetables I buy still support unethical and unsustainable practices. And I’m not going to accept all the blame for this: most non-vegetarians are doing the same thing. Once I have the time and money, I will also seek produce only from farms that are treating their land as well as possible. For now, however, I am recognizing that my veganism will not conquer all the problems in the world, but will at least send a small message to the meat and dairy industries.

    Meagan wrote on June 13th, 2013
  27. The best rebuttals of both the China Study and Forks Over Knives is at http://rawfoodsos.com. The author there is another Vegan who has realized that this is a bad diet for health and the planet.

    Steve wrote on August 31st, 2013
  28. the best choice for the environment is for all humans to eat bugs and worms !!

    Mihai wrote on September 18th, 2013
  29. The notion that being a vegetarian is bad for the world is a very narrow minded stupid argument. The author implies that all vegetarians eat a lot of wheat (which is false) or eat a lot of soy (which is false) and that planting fields with wheat is bad for the world.

    IF the latter is true, then eating meat is the worst thing to do as 1 poind of meat requires nearly 10 pounds of food for the animal which mostly consists of grains, the very thing the advocates to be evil. That argument alone makes hers completely invalid. How ignorant can you be to say that eating wheat causes wheatfields which destroy the worlds when eating meat does the exact same thing -and- produces animal waste (too much for the land to handle!) and kills the animal as well.

    Eating meat has long been proven to be way more demaning on the world than a plant diet. And a plant diet is not the same as only eating wheat. Furthermore the author seems to project her own poor unhealthy life on the act of being a vegetarian, her ‘researched’ is based on -1- subject that probably executed the act poorly. I would love to meet with her and have her explain these holes in her book that is being praised like some sort of ‘new truth’ while it is nothing more than here own opinion.

    mark wrote on January 15th, 2014
  30. Interesting thread and comments. From a primal perspective, in theory the ideal is to be eating what our bodies evolved to eat, and of course this is all still up for debate as it’s difficult to figure out exactly what that was. There are some good sources that pose a reasonable argument that our evolution has been mostly vegetarian and that we ate meat only occasionally. The lack of carnivorous features like well developed canines, and our colons similarity to our chimpanzee ancestors/cousins for example. For a very long part of our evolution – some 12 million years as primates prior to branching off into the “homo” family of more upright primates in the last 2 million years or so.
    For 12 million years the only flesh we would have eaten would have been insects, eggs, the occasional birds and other quite small prey.
    Certainly steak would not have been on the menu until the last ten thousand years.
    The healthiest I’ve ever been in my life was when I was a vegetarian and the more I read, the more I feel that a primal lifestyle that leans more towards the vegetarian makes more sense evolutionarily so I am gradually cutting back my meat intake to find a level that works for me.

    Ken wrote on February 20th, 2014

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