The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability
When I initially saw the title of this book, my inner scale wanted to weigh its contents against my fifteen year decision to exclude eating anything that had parents. I also presumed the author was one of those pork slinging individuals who just couldn’t cut it as a vegetarian. The good thing about getting older, though, is the wisdom I have acquired in remaining open. Lierre Keith discusses three reasons—moral, political, and nutritional—why most vegetarians choose to adopt a meatless diet, and the misconceived notions that often accompany those reasons.
What stood out to me is Keith’s discussion of agriculture and its effects on land, society, animals, and the relationship between all three. The land that is used to cultivate all those vegetables that vegetarians feel so ethically euphoric about consuming must be cleaned and cleared of every single piece of lint in order to be successful in producing a single plant. Consequently, the animals and microfauna (bacteria, fungi, and yeasts) that symbiotically thrived off that land are forced into their demise, with the bison serving as an example. Keith states that the sixty to 100 million bison that existed in the U.S. in 1491 have been reduced to 350,000 in number today. Also, only 10,000 wolves now remain where there were once between 425,000 and a million. Once this relationship is forced to call it quits, the land that would normally nourish and replenish itself is now barren until another piece of land is taken over, or until fertilizer is used.
With political vegetarianism, Keith uses the symbiotic relationship of the many companies that are seen as profit-fueled while also holding a financial interest in those meat-free, so-called environmentally-friendly products we so proudly consume. Basically, that soymilk we may drink out of protest against Coca-Cola is owned by the same company that holds shares in that red can.
In the section on nutritional vegetarianism, of which I took particular interest, Keith explains the physiology involved in consuming a low-saturated fat, high carbohydrate, and high grain diet. She also gives a personal account of how this diet affected her own body resulting in fourteen years of sickness, nausea, and bloating. Not only in vegetarianism, but also in the diet many Americans have been scared into adopting, the above-mentioned way of eating is being attributed to cardiovascular disease. Some of the diseases Keith states are attributed to the “diseases of civilization” are arthritis, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and stroke.
What I thought would be a book filled with disgruntled accounts of a has-been vegetarian justifying the excuse to pig out on double cheeseburgers again, was actually a well-researched, statistically sound book that deals with truths from both a personal aspect and a social one. Keith, although opinionated in some places, still allows the reader to consider both sides of the vegetarian argument from three perspectives. For those who insist on one way versus another, The Vegetarian Myth presents us with enough information to wisely weigh whatever we choose to put on our plates.