This post is a follow up on Part 1, a testimonal of my first-hand evolution of vegetarian ethical philosophy,
In this post I will delve into the popular thoughts of bloggers on both sides of the moral ground that where I’ve lived on–the Vegetarian School of Compassionate, Sustainable Eating and the Paleo School of Nutritional, Sans Grain Eating. Both have not only become a choice in eating, but dogmatic belief systems that inspire the same kind of defense and passion as religions pitted against each other. Thus, this post. What do they have to say about one another?
A wonderful case study on these sometimes two groups’ relationship with one another comes with a book I’ll focus on in this post– “The Vegetarian Myth.” The book is an interesting focal point because of how it has either polarized individuals after reading it, or, as I suspect, inspired the fundamentalists of each group to defend or refute its claims because they either support or challenge previously-held beliefs about eating.
Lierre Keith’s “The Vegetarian Myth” ties together many issues regarding eating animals and animal products–agriculture, civilization, organics, progressive animal farming, animal cruelty in factory farms, and more. Keith advances through the book by picking apart each vegan or vegetarian argument to pieces with many of her references (though I find some of them to be redundant or soft science; not to mention the “Moral Vegetarians” chapter just feels like the Botany of Desire all over again for a while).
Lierre Keith’s book caught my attention because it seems to be the minority compared to so many books about the morality of vegetarianism. In the library where I checked Keith’s work out (mind you I live in a place with few vegetarians) this book sat as the only one against about 20 books about the higher moralistic nature of vegetarianism (among them Eating Animals and Deep Vegetarianism). The book is intriguing to me (1) because Lierre Kieth was a vegan for many, many years and is now writing against it and in my experience ex-vegans usually go about being an ex with some sort of quiet guilt; (2) evolutionary living enthusiasts/paleos/primal blueprint folks seem to love it, and (3) vegans hate hate hate it and her. This feminist former vegan has sparked some fires with this one. Before getting into the actual content and arguments, let’s start with the emotions coming after, because they say a lot about who they are coming from.
Why is that? Why are these reactions so strong?
Ms. Keith is obviously a very passionate and opinionated individual, radical in many of her views as seen by her resume, and has the best of intentions, I believe, with her book. However, she has received mixed blogosphere reactions from sheer hatred to praise, usually depending on the “sphere” that reviews her (vegan bloggers vs. paleo enthusiasts). I conducted internet searches that were painfully simplistic–“vegan + vegetarian myth” and “paleo + vegetarian myth” and found stunningly patterned and predictable results. From those two spheres the reactions come because Keith’s book goes against/agrees with what they have already decided is their moral dogma, what they have already decided they believe, so they have a strong reaction in one direction. Vegans tend to believe in speciesism and the idea of animal murder and the lack of its necessity, so they hate this critique. Paleos tend to get their physique and sense of health from eating copious amounts of meats and shunning foods that have come since the agricultural revolution and the start of civilization, so this book is pleasant for them because it is morally justifying to their personal nutritional action. These are generalizations, and they are not meant to categorize every single person that shares these views, however. I am just trying to make a general point, so I have to generalize.
Here are examples of a book reviews from the vegan sphere–
“So [Lierre Keith’s] book offends me on two fronts, it offends my ethical sensibilities by justifying killing animals unnecessarily and having a flippant attitude toward human starvation.
Secondly it offends my rationality and love for science by cherry picking data and twisting the science to justify an abandonment of modern agriculture without any viable alternative to feed our population or reduce it. The psychology claims she makes are pure bullcrap and are extra offensive by using bad science to question the mental health of all vegans.”
“So, in sum, you can’t trust anything Keith says. She’s one of those authors who, if an utter fruitcase says something that supports what the author already has chosen to believe, whereas twenty independent studies claim to prove the opposite, calmly cites the fruitcase as the only known authority on the matter. “
And finally, a very excellent weighed, empirical rebuttal exists here.
Vegans felt so threatened by this book and by Keith that they even compiled a web site to compile evidence against all of Ms. Keith’s claims, purchasing the domain www.vegetarianmyth.com, to boot. In the introduction they state–
“This project came about not out of animosity toward Lierre Keith, but to set the record straight in the most direct, thorough and emotionally-neutral methods possible. We hope the information available here helps you to make an informed choice about your diet. VegetarianMyth.com is entirely volunteer-run and is not affiliated with any organization. Please contact us if you would like to assist in our efforts.”
From the paleo sphere, we hear quite the different story–
“But I can tell you that Lierre Keith’s book is beyond fantastic. It is easily the best book I’ve read since Mistakes Were Made, maybe even better. Everyone should read this book, vegetarian and non-vegetarian alike. If you’re a radical feminist, you should read this book; if you’re a male chauvinist, you should read this book; if you have children, especially female children, you should read this book; if you are a young woman (or man) you should read this book; if you love animals, you should read this book; if you hate vegetarians, you should read this book; if you are contemplating the vegetarian way of life, you should definitely read this book; if you have a vegetarian friend or family member, you should this book and so should your friend. As MD said after she read it, ‘everyone who eats should read this book.’”
“It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read, and I want you to read it too, if you haven’t already.”
“Although Ms. Keith directs her prose to those who eat a vegetarian, particularly a vegan diet, I think everyone needs to read this book. If you believe in agriculture as a way of life, i.e. you believe that agriculture will sustain civilization, and feed people indefinitely, you need to read this book.”
Can you tell the difference?
My best guess based on what I have read is that these groups have generally already decided what their views are before they touched the pages of this book. They make sacrifices to practice those views in varying levels of fundamentalism, and the higher the degree of fundamentalism the higher the degree of agreement or anger depending on how her views align with theirs. Hating on vegetarians and vegans is a normal practice on paleo blogs, as seems to be with vegans against anyone who eats meat (and I would imagine this gets pretty fierce against some who almost exclusively eat meat and advocate for it).
In a future post, when I am done with the book in its entirety, I will post my own review with all of these conflicting perspectives and reactions in mind. Until then, read the book. Whatever you think of it, it’s written in an engaging way and Keith’s got a great written voice. That’s worth something, isn’t it?