The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith

Today’s article is a review of The Vegetarian Myth, by Lierre Keith. Just as with the review of Gary Taubes’ Why we get fat, this is intended to provide a useful and convenient summary – reading the book for your self is still highly recommended. Also, as with the Taubes review, I will quote Keith verbatim where possible – her writing style is quite beautiful and should be read first hand. Gary Taubes has his critics on the internet, but they pale into insignificance compared to those queuing up to attack Lierre Keith. In Chapter 1 she says: “I got hate mail before I’d barely started this book. And no, thank you, I don’t need any more.” There are many similar ‘cute’ comments and humour throughout the book, which I really enjoyed. I also enjoyed the feminist passages in the writing, for which Keith has also been attacked. It took me back to my days at Cambridge when I saw an article written by the Student Union president referring to ‘she’ and ‘her’ all the way through. Why does this only apply to women, I wondered? And then, of course – silly me – this article does apply to both genders, but then so does every article talking about ‘he’ and ‘him’ and yet nothing ‘jars’ when we read that. Keith uses the female third personal singular a couple of times – just to keep you on your toes. She also gets (appropriately in my view) angry with those who think it has been OK to trash the planet during their infinitesimally small time as guests here – for their own greed and personal gain. They tend to be male (CEO’s, world leaders, lawyers etc) and they are certainly ‘macho’. Go girl! Attacking the vegetarian In Chapter 1, Keith notes exactly why her book has attracted the anger and outrage that it has. “’Vegetarian’ isn’t just what you eat or even what you believe, it’s who you are... I’m not just questioning a philosophy or a set of dietary habits. I’m threatening a vegetarian’s sense of self.” Keith herself was vegan for 20 years and describes the health complaints that she has been left with, as a result of her dietary choice: from degenerative spine disease (irreversible) to depression and anxiety (much improved since ceasing to be vegan). She still suffers nausea and serious digestive problems and pain, which make it difficult for her to eat in the evening (if she plans on sleeping that night). Keith explains the chosen route was an obvious one made by her and friends when young: “All the friends of my youth were radical, righteous, intense. Vegetarianism was the obvious path, with veganism the high road alongside it.” She pleads in the opening chapter: “You don’t have to try this for yourself. You’re allowed to learn from my mistakes... I’m asking you to stay the course, read this book, please. Especially if you have children or want to. I’m not too proud to beg.” Keith ends this introduction with the humble statement: “Ultimately I would rather be helpful than right.” I was very little way into the book before I realised she is both. The three arguments for (and against) vegetarianism (Please note – the terms vegan/vegetarian can be used virtually interchangeably throughout the book – Keith applies the same arguments to both views. One just draws the line in the sand in a different place). The book is perfectly structured. There are three arguments that vegetarians make as to why we should all be vegetarian and Keith structures the book in three parts to reflect this: 1) The moral argument – we should not kill; 2) The political argument – we can only feed the world if everyone is vegetarian; 3) The nutritional argument – it is healthier to be vegetarian. The only thing that I won’t be able to answer, while writing this review, is how I would have responded reading it, had I still been vegetarian at the time. It would be wonderful if any vegetarians in the club could try this and share their views. I know that there would have been a time when I would have been as angry as many vegetarian and vegan readers of the book have been. I don’t know, however, how I could have countered Keith’s arguments. I do know that I never believed that there was a nutritional argument for being vegetarian. I have known enough about nutrition, for long enough, to know that liver, meat and fish are incomparably nutritious. This is why I never considered becoming vegan. I could not think how I could get vitamin A, B12, D, iron, zinc etc in anywhere close to sufficient amounts without supplements and it never felt right to be taking nutrients in a tablet when food could provide them. I became vegetarian for the moral argument. I subsequently strengthened my belief by adopting the political argument. The essence of my belief was that I could be healthy enough without eating animals and animals would be better for this decision. I knew that I could not be optimally healthy, but felt that I was making a moral sacrifice in an age when humans were in a position to ‘do the right thing’. Keith knocks down all three beliefs as follows: The moral argument I am covering the arguments in the order that Keith does and I could not believe how quickly Keith changed my views in this first part of the book. Even though the Barry Groves and Sally Fallon Morell presentations at the Weston A Price Foundation conference in March 2010 had ended my 15 year period of being vegetarian, I still believed that there was a clear line in the sand on ‘killing for food’ and that vegetarians were on the right side of the line. Oh boy! In a nutshell the moral vegetarian argument is "we should not kill". Keith's response is:

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