Monday, February 1, 2010

Mini Book Review: The Vegetarian Myth

I recently finished reading "The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability" by Lierre Keith. It was a book recommended on a blog that I read regularly. I've read many books over the years that strongly advocate a vegan or vegetarian diet for humans, for many reasons. One of the primary reasons is that modern methods for growing and processing meat are horribly inhumane and produce a product that is not healthy for us, especially in large quantities.

This book did not argue in support of factory farms. In particular, the author is just as adamantly against our current methods of meat "production" as the authors of books in favor of vegetarianism.

To open the book, the author took on the concept of vegetarianism from three perspectives: moral, political and nutrition.

In each chapter, she goes after reasons for people being vegetarian or vegan from the chapter's "title" perspective. In the "moral" chapter, she decries modern meat production and suggests that we should eat meat, but in a manner differently than most people eat meat.

In 2005, I spent a year as a vegetarian for many of the reasons listed in the "moral" chapter and some from the "nutrition" chapter. But, my athletic performance suffered badly that year, and after a year, I returned to eating meat. Because of the books I'd read while being a vegetarian, I returned to meat eating with a different attitude towards my food. I started to buy local grass-fed beef and refused to buy corporate meats. Most of the animals we eat were not meant to eat a diet of grains, and the grains make them sick. Their lives are miserable.

I now eat local beef that lives in a pasture for its entire life. No confined feeding operations, no grains, and no corporate slaughterhouse. My chicken is local and organic, but I'm pretty sure the chickens are fed some grains. Pork is local and not grain fed. I try to eat only wild-caught and sustainable fish and shellfish, such as Alaskan salmon and halibut. I feel that most of the animal flesh I eat lives more humanely than most corporate meat. The animals mostly get to eat the foods they evolved to eat. And, I think that food raised properly results in healthier meat. I also go out of my way to use every single part of every animal that comes my way. In this way, I feel that there is no waste from the death of the animal. For example, on Saturday night, I made duck for dinner. I made four different courses from two ducks, using the livers for a pate, the skin and fat to make cracklings, and I used the carcasses to make stock. The leftover fat will be used for cooking in the future - no waste at all.

So, I found myself agreeing a lot with what the author wrote in the first three chapters. She is really adamant that oil-based fertilizer is unsustainable and that mono-culture crops are destroying top-soil. The rotation of crops and animals on land is necessary for the creation of fertile nitrogen-rich topsoil. She uses the same example that Pollan used in "The Omnivore's Dilemma" - Polyface Farms in VA - as the ideal farm scenario.

I think it would be an interesting and challenging book for anyone interested in long term food sustainability to read. It will certainly challenge vegetarians and vegans, who will likely find many things to argue against. In the end, her solutions to long term sustainability are fairly extreme, but they may be the correct and necessary steps to save humanity and the planet: don't have children, don't own or use a car, and grow as much of your own food as you can. I can't imagine that many people could pull that off in today's world, but it's an intriguing goal.

My biggest problem with the book was how the author injected her feminist politics into the book in places where her politics seemed to be a complete non-sequitur. I don't object to her politics and I know that being a feminist activist is her primary professional role. But, I found some of her points completely out of place and out of context, and some of them seemed to be just plain mean. Yes, I understand and agree that men have treated and continue to treat women badly in our world today. But, the book, in places, seems to be full of outright hatred for men, which to me, seems unlikely to result in people thinking differently. It may be that fighting fire with fire is the only solution because others haven't worked. But in the end, I think that many men will be offended by some of the comments in the book. I'm not saying the comments are undeserved, but they will offend.

I'm almost afraid to hit the publish button with that last paragraph in there. But, I guess it will be a good way to find out if anyone who cares about the modern feminist movement ever reads my blog.

1 comment:

Laurel said...

I have tried various types of diets, including vegetarian, and found them restricitve. My body tells me what it needs and I listen to it.

My "redneck" son, who has no "Green" agenda whatsoever, is more self sustained than a lot of self proclaimed enviromentalists. He hunts, fishes, and gardens and eats EVERYthing (or at least attempts to) that he kills or raises. I have seen him eat bait fish when he knew it wouldn't keep until the next time he went fishing. He doesn't like to buy his meat at a store, he thinks it's cheating. One deer will last him a year,eating about 3-4 meals of venison a week. Most of his other meals are fish he catches. In past years he has raised free range turkeys and chickens for his own personal consumption. No one taught him this stuff, he just has a deep respect for all things living.

I'll look for the book. I think I'd find it interesting.