Book review: Lierre Keith, The vegetarian myth

I heard that this is a very important book, and after she got pied with cayenne cream, I figured I’d find out what the fuss was about.

Yes, I think it is important; not perfect, but important. Keith basically interweaves her own experience as a vegan who destroyed her health,  with examinations of moral, political, and nutritional vegetarianism. As a person who has “been there, done that”, she is in an unusual position of being able to persuade vegetarians, which was why she was a threat to be chemical-weaponed off the stage. (Ironically, her big insight about moral vegetarianism is that grains have been exploiting the human race and waging chemical warfare against us via opioids, and that plant monocrops are intrinsically anti-animal. Thus, the cabbage-heads who attacked her acted true to form).  She is appealingly vulnerable and frank in discussing her own mistakes, such as comparing the friend who figured out in two weeks that veganism was not for her with her own 20 year pilgrimage, and noting that it did not make her look particularly bright. She won’t let traditional cultures off the hook; there’s a lengthy footnote describing Amerindian offenses against women. She assembles the nutritional arguments against vegetarian, the Standard American Diet, and government health theory into a tight, quick, lethal ride. Indeed, when writing about herself or about objective fact, she writes extremely well.

But when she writes about politics, the Starhawkian preachiness comes in and turns all into a grey fog. The same spirit that drove her to override her own body drives her to want to save the world. She’s the vegan equivalent of a dry drunk. Her policy recommendations avoid their real world results: quit farming (who starves first?), quit breeding (and when those intelligent and sensitive enough to do so are removed from the gene pool, what then?), don’t drive (and that local food all comes from within walking distance in the country? That’s radical locovorism for you.). She stresses the importance of knowing where your food comes from (which I agree with) but seems to think that other choices have no consequences. There are the namby-pamby appeals for the polar bears on the (now growing) ice caps, definitions of patriarchy as power -over (when has she challenged the current Head Patriarch of Color in the Pallid House?), attacks on the patriarchal religions (like the one that did so much for women and slaves in the Roman Empire and 19th c US?), a minimizing of individual decision over action (as if we were a hive of bees ready to repulse the invading beekeeper). Ultimately, there’s a disjuncture between Keith’s beliefs about animals, and her politics. If we are all equally animals and any other animal, unchecked by predators, will expand until it crashes its ecosystem, why should we be any different?  There is zero chance that humans will act against their own self-interest, even if it’s in the interest of future generations (e.g., the Federal deficit), and thus the human race will meet diminished carrying capacity, and there’s not a thing to be done about it. Now, all the politics might be selling points to the sort of people who really need to read this book, but for the rest of us, it’s a turn off. Still, if you can skim through that, it’s a worthwhile and entertaining read.


3 Responses to Book review: Lierre Keith, The vegetarian myth

  1. Linda Morgan says:

    What a kick-ass review! It is so thoroughly refreshing to see someone finally deal foursquare and head-on with the ghastly politics and poorly thought-out “policy recommendations” in this book that so many others have gingerly brushed aside and skirted past. And you do this betwixt and between nods where credit is due. Wow. Evenhanded and devastating. With real insight. Too wicked!

  2. jeffreyquick says:

    Thanks. I go with principles and cut the BS whenever possible. The fundamental issue here is human exceptionalism. I think that any honest person can observe and admit that We Are Not Like Other Animals. Vegetarianism is the bastard child of the “egalite'” of the French Revolution; when equality become the overriding value, it requires treatment of the unequal-by-nature in unnatural ways (ask Harrison Bergeron).

  3. Linda Morgan says:

    “If you see this boy,” said the ballerina, “do not – I repeat, do not – try to reason with him.”

    Oh that’s wonderful! I’d never read it.

    It’s both hilarious and sad that a few minutes of C-Span or any cable news coverage of DC antics would feature multiple equally(!) perfect candidates for the role of Diana Moon Glampers. Just one of many reasons I can’t stand to watch that stuff.

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