Elevate Difference

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.

Written by: Olupero R. Aiyenimelo, August 13th 2009

I am a vegetarian AND I have read the book. I was looking for someone else who has also read it, but it seems that most people commenting on it haven't...

I thought it was very interesting. The author backs up all of her points with scientific research. She isn't "anti-veg", she just points out the hypocrisy of vegetarian diets not being a sustainable way of feeding the population. (Because many vegetarians/vegans use that as a reason.)

It seems that this book made a lot of people upset. I initially had a very defensive outlook as well... After all, she's telling me that after all the years of dietary restrictions and research, that I'm essentially wrong.

In my opinion, she doesn't attack vegetarians, she is just trying to inform people of a different and possibly better way of doing things.

I suggest that people at least read it all the way through. Even if you reach the end and still believe the same way you did, its always good for you to expose yourself to different views. (you can't grow if your only informed by people just like you)

re: anonymous "millions of people live on rice and beans in India"

True, but Indians have 4x the rate of heart disease as Americans despite an extremely high proportion of vegetarians.


as a vegan from america i think one reason we consume so much soy is because of the many ways it can be prepared.

my constant struggle as a vegan is searching for a way to enjoy alternatives to the comfort foods i enjoyed as a child. mac and cheese, pepperoni pizza, bologna sandwiches, cookies and milk.

as we all know these are things that can be reproduced using soy.

the same goes for many of my veg and vegan friends. while we enjoy vegan ethnic dishes that may not contain soy products, sometimes we want to eat that same garbage that the american culture holds so dear to them, the crap that we grew up on.

the easiest way for us to do that is to search out soy based alternatives.

as for suffering through "fourteen years of sickness, nausea, and bloating" that will happen in any diet that is not balanced. i'm sure we all know that. i suffered for several years from gastric troubles as a vegetarian. however i wasn't the healthiet veg out there.

now as a vegan i have researched my diet, and eat accordingly. and at 30 lbs. lighter i have never felt better.

i would love to see the authors views on veganism.

i'm also sure the government has a hand somewhere in the soy market. because we put it in everything. not just veg food.

i may just read this out of curiosity.

I too am surprised that a "well-researched, statistically sound" book could overlook the fact that food animals by and large eat agriculturally cultivated plants. And the fact that companies selling soymilk are as exploitative as companies selling soft drinks is a problem with capitalism, not being vegan.

Does Keith dare tackle the ethical reasons for veganism?

I don't think the book really makes any sense though. For one - most of the meat eaters I know in the world - still eat a lot of grain, still eat a lot of vegetables and still don't bother buying as local or sustainable as possible. My problem with the book is that she totally points all the blame on roughly 5% of the population. Clearly if veg*ns only make up such a small portion of society - they can't be blamed for all of the destruction (it would be one thing to focus on agriculture alone but to bring vegetarianism into it, makes it extremely bias). Not to mention - most of the grains grown (soy included) is grown to feed - cattle, chickens and pigs. Sure - maybe grass fed animals are "better" for the environment but to claim that they are better than just eating plants directly is a bit sensational. Especially since the MAJORITY of "grass-fed" animals are given hay - which is grown and harvested elsewhere - the same way in which other edible plants are grown. I think the major point she really seems to ignore is that we could not sustain human demand for meat using grass fed animals. It's sort of a hypothetical claim - that really has no place for reality in current/modern society. If we were only going to eat grass fed animals from areas where grass grows naturally - it would still have to be shipped. Cows in areas that have four seasons would starve during the winter. There is A LOT of things that she leaves out - for example - people refridgerate meat - whereas, a bag of dried beans doesn't need to be and it has a longer shelf-life, so it won't be wasted (all of that could change if people were willing to eat rancid meat). The other point I wanted to make is that she seems to compare the worst kind of vegan to the best kind of meat eater (meat eaters who actually concern themselves with where their meat comes from). In my experience - very few meat eaters try to eat sustainable. Most of the vegans that I know - try to eat local as possible... but of course - like with meat eaters, there are those who don't give a shit. She completely ignores crop rotation and other sustainable farming practices that would be a million times better than grass fed animals, if utilized. I also wanted to point out that the buffalo thing was a pretty rediculous point.... Remember how the white people were mass slaughtering them to run the native americans from their native land?

This is the first positive review I've read of this book. Even if this isn't a book for some people (myself being vegan, it's not too high on my list at the moment), it's nice to hear that it offers something worth considering to even people who don't eat meat/consume animal products. Nice job Olu!

The vast majority of those soybeans feed cattle, not people. It takes many times more land to make a pound of steak, fed on soybeans, than it does to grow a pound of soybeans (which have the complete set of vital amino acids) for the vegetarian. It doesn't sound like the book is at all statistically sound.

I'm pretty sure soy beans are one of the crops grown in America, so it's not a surprise that we'd be pimping soy products the way we do.

re: drinking water, in my last comment I meant to make it clear that I drink tap water, not water sold in a bottle (also available from Coca-Cola).

Re: "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." Hey, doesn't anyone drink water any more?! I must be the last person on earth who does.

Also, being a vegetarian does not mean you must consume soy products. Millions of people in India are vegetarian and live on beans, rice, fruits and vegetables. Only in the US does there seem to be this strange conflation of vegetarian diet with soy products (probably there's a profit motive somewhere - I have not studied the issue).

I believe that there are several studies showing that the amount of both land and water required for farming animal products is much greater than what is required for farming fruits and vegetables. I don't think it's the same thing to compare hunting wild animals (and would that even be a sustainable source of food these days? enough land for the wild animals needed for meat production?) with the huge farms of cows and chickens where most people actually get their meat and dairy products.

I don't care what other people eat (don't want to make McDonalds illegal, for example) but I do find it rather strange that anyone would care whether I'm vegetarian or not and would want to change my mind. If it works well for me, why do others care?

As for vegetarian nutrition, here's a recent medical study:


Thanks for the review. We humans are mismanaging the planet and there are many symptoms as a result.

Thanks for the review. Last year I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I think Kingsolver, who is not a vegetarian, but who strongly advocates substainability and who pragmatically talks about communities where vegetarianism is not possible presents logical arguments on why an simplistic either or way of eating is problematic.

"fourteen years of sickness, nausea, and bloating."

I suspect this is the main motive of the author to question vegetarianism/ veganism as she does. I am now a vegetarian for about 6 months, and I experienced none of these complaints. Neither do the vegetarian people that I know.