The Vegetarian Myth

I’ve been reading “The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability” and I can highly recommend it to vegans, vegetarians and meat eaters alike – but it needs to be approached with an open mind.

The controversial book was authored by Lierre Keith, a vegan for nearly 20 years who became disillusioned when discovering the true nature of her plant based diet.

The whole meat vs. vegetarian diet debate issue aside, it contains some fascinating information about our food. For example, I never realized that livestock were never really meant to eat grain – in fact, it can make them quite sick over time.

While humans can eat grain, cows were meant to eat grass and other cellulose based materials – what we can’t; and there’s the beauty of the system that nature put in place.

This is an incredibly important aspect; one that points to how meat can be sustainably kept in our diet without so much land being destroyed and other resources, such as water, consumed to the levels they are in meat production.

In regards to water, Lierre also challenges the virtual water footprint of meat when raised correctly and obtained locally and points out that plant based foods can have a very high water footprint if produced a long distance away from the plate; i.e. food miles.

She also raises the specter of our reliance on artificial nitrogen based fertilizers upon which agriculture has become dependent. These fertilizers are often created from fossil fuels.

The other issue that never really dawned on me was the fact that plants need certain nutrients that can really only come sustainably from the manure and *decomposition* of animals at some point. A good example of this is phosphorous.

Those animals have to come from somewhere and there needs to be lots of them in order to even sustain a vegetarian diet for the human population. Some of these animals will need to be eating other animals – again, the carnivore connection to a plant based diet.

The balance must be right of course, but the bottom line is in order for something to live, something else must die, sad as that may be.

For example, when tending to our veggie gardens, we might use cow or sheep poop as manure – but not thinking about the animals that produced it; how they were raised and their final destination – an abbatoir or a knackery in the case of dairy cows that have outlived their usefulness in the eyes of the industry. Perhaps they’ll be ground up and used in fertilizers themselves – fertilizers applied to plant crops.

Yet another interesting point posed by Lierre in regards to how we have food consumption all wrong used the example of an apple. When we eat the apple, what do we do with the seed? Usually nothing; it’s thrown out or put into a compost heap where it is destroyed. What happens to the apple after we’ve digested it? In most cases nothing – it’s dealt with by our sewage system.

The apple wasn’t designed as a free lunch, that edible part is there for a reason; to either act as a compost or to entice animals to eat it who then spread the seed in manure, also courtesy of the apple.

I haven’t read the whole book as yet, but the crux of it is that meat/dairy/poultry can and should play a role in our diets not for just health reasons, but for a balanced ecosystem – but of course nowhere near the consumption levels or the way it is raised and produced in many instances today.

It also drives home the point that even the diet of dedicated vegans may have a very strong connection to the meat industry; that many vegans have been misled to believe their diets are based on no-kill whatsoever.

The book also discusses alternatives to industrial farming, reveals the risks of a vegan diet, explains why animals belong on ecologically sound farms, the importance of eating locally and sustainably and encourages those with the resources to grow their own food.

Regardless of which side of the fence you sit on, or if you are just sitting on the fence itself, it’s all very interesting food for thought.

Lierre has much more eloquently addressed these issues than I can summarize here – you really start to understand the thread that binds it all together. You can read much of “The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability” free on Google Books or purchase a full copy through Amazon.


Cutting meat consumption
Heritage and heirloom seeds