Notes on meat-capitalism, paleofantasies, & Keith’s weird feminism re: chapter 4 resource analysis

July 23, 2010

Before we continue, some food for thought about our initial chapter 4 resource analysis…

1. Consider the connections between this low-carb, high-meat craze, how much money is made by the kinds of “brand” diets– capitalist business ventures–Keith is referencing, and how meat industries (including “humane farms”) stand to profit from it. Since only about 3.2% of people in the US are vegetarians, and 0.5% are vegans, we’re assuming this question about capitalism and ulterior motives does not pervade the public conversation re: plant-based diets the way it does re: the meat conversation.

2. A lot of the dietary “facts” Keith offers in this chapter, are based in assumptions related directly and indirectly to some kind of “paleo” diet, which Keith assumes (erroneously, if we look back at this article which takes us through the first-hand, peer reviewed sources Keith makes claims on but apparently hasn’t read) is based largely on meat. There is actually very little objective information about the diets our ancestors ate. The evidence we’ve found can only be speculated upon based on best guesses. This is the nature of paleontology– it’s the study of incomplete evidence. It’s an easy science to use, alongside evolution theory, if you’re trying to justify ideology. (Also see discussions here and here about how using the 3Ns– natural, normal, and necessary– is a classic way to couch bias and ideology.)

This New York Times article is worth reading: Evolutionary biologist Marlene Zuk makes some valuable points about different “paleofantasies”– nostalgia for a non-existent time when humans ate a diet somehow “perfectly” suited to them. Some of her thoughts:

“In short, we have what the anthropologist Leslie Aiello called ‘paleofantasies.’ She was referring to stories about human evolution based on limited fossil evidence, but the term applies just as well to nostalgia for the very old days as a touchstone for the way life is supposed to be and why it sometimes feels so out of balance…The notion that there was a time of perfect adaptation, from which we’ve now deviated, is a caricature of the way evolution works.”

“How much of the diet during our idyllic hunter-gatherer past was meat, and what kind of plants and animals were used, varied widely in time and space. Inuits had different diets from Australian aboriginals or Neotropical forest dwellers. And we know little about the details of early family structure and other aspects of behavior. So the argument that we are “meant” to eat a certain proportion of meat, say, is highly questionable. Which of our human ancestors are we using as models?”

This article by Greg Downey builds on Zuk’s and makes some interesting points. That the “perfect” or “noble” savage had a diet “perfectly” in line with nature is, according to Downey, “an adaptionist fantasy”. He states: “Zuk draws on Leslie Aiello’s concept of ‘paleofantasies,’ stories about our past spun from thin evidence, to label the nostalgia some people seem to express for prehistoric conditions that they see as somehow healthier. In my research on sports and masculinity, I frequently see paleofantasies come up around fight sports, the idea that, before civilization hemmed us in and blunted our instincts, we would just punch each other if we got angry, and somehow this was healthier, freer and more natural (the problems with this view being so many that I refuse to even begin to enumerate them). It’s an odd inversion on the usual Myth of Progress, the idea that things always get better and better; instead, paleofantasies are a kind of long range projection of Grumpy Old Man Syndrome (‘Things were so much better in MY day…’), spinning fantasies of ‘life before’ everything we have built up around us… So before we start waxing nostalgic about all the health benefits of a Pleistocene diet, perhaps we should remember that our ancestors’ food often came in this nasty packaging which tended to run away, attack them, or just go missing entirely when they were really hungry.”

3. It’s noteworthy, and upsetting, that Keith– supposedly a radical feminist– keeps citing from authors who are in some way proponents of fad diets, weight training, getting thin, anti-aging therapies, etc. We are radicals who see the intersections between animal rights and feminism, and we don’t trust things that come out of the mainstream “diet” industry, or support things that play a role in women hating the way they look. We thought Keith– veganism aside–supported women in this way, too. Why in the world is she giving so much credence and attention to these resources? And how, after all this, does she have the nerve, in other chapters, to a) simplistically critique vegans as eating disordered and b) conveniently reference Naomi Woolf’s The Beauty Myth, a groundbreaking and highly regarded deconstruction of the misogynist diet and beauty industry? For all of the energy she puts towards proclaiming all vegans as anorexics, she conveniently fails to discuss the connections between anorexia and low-carb, high-meat fad diets (whether it’s the atkins, the paleo, the south beach, or any other play on this theme), as well as the connections between low-carb diets, fad diets, long-term lack of satiety, and how this can incite bingeing and purging.

Not to harp on it, but this is doubly infuriating, since Keith and many of her positive reviewers (see amazon.com) “beg” us (see chapter one) to just trust her and give her the benefit of the doubt as a seasoned radical. We thought this was supposed to be a book about radical ecology, agriculture, vegetarianism, and meat-eating. What we find, instead, is a book that is subtly based upon– indeed, permeated with–information from quick-fix diet cures that prey on insecure people, brand-name diets with profit motives, and Atkins-style/”paleo” diet fads that help the both the meat and the woman-hating diet industries profit… and are, by a preponderance of the most reliable medical evidence avaliable, definitley unbalanced and most likely unhealthy in the long-term. All of this is couched in passionate–and patronizing– language about compassion, ecology, liberation, and the ignorance of vegans. She even says “duh” more than once in this book. Throw is kas-laamal, the idea she uses to state that vegans think like children, and it’s really hard to not envision Keith as a domineering, mocking, and psychologically abusive mother.


Chapter 4 resource analysis…

July 22, 2010

 

Of the 288 citations in chapter 4…

-28 (10%) are from the pop-science, brand-based book The Protein Power Life Plan by Eades & Eades. This book generally talks about low-carb diets like the Atkins. At least they are doctors. But here are some thoughts about this diet and similar diets, from other doctors:

WebMD, a conglomeration of different doctors,views the Protein Power Life Plan, as the authors seem to as well, as one which is largely useful for short-term weight loss. (See Keith’s many discussions in this book about how veganism basically equals anorexia, and feel free to scratch your heads like we did.) They also say that in the long-term, it can be “seriously deficient in important nutrients”. Bonne Brehm, Ph.d and nutrition scientist, writes: “In the short term, the low-carb diets are effective — we see weight loss, improvement in some metabolic functions such as blood pressure, loss of body fat, but their real hazard is that they are nutritionally poor,” she says. “They are low in calcium, low in vitamins C and A, low in fiber. We don’t know if taking a vitamin-mineral supplement is adequate. There are a lot of micronutrients in foods that are not in supplements, including some we don’t even know about yet. We do not have any long-term studies on these alternative diets with the extreme modifications of a nutritionally balanced diet.”

Famed vegan doctor and researcher Michael Gregor is the author of Carbophobia: The Scary Truth About America’s Low-Carb Craze, which you can read for free here. Here, you can also read about how the ADA, AMA, The American Cancer Society, The American Kidney Fund, and The American Heart Association have been warning about the health risks of low-carb, high protein diets for years. Etc.Make of this what you will. Dr. Gregor, in his aforementioned book, also talks about how the Atkins and other high-protein diets have directly profited the meat industries, while dismissing wide-ranging evidence that these types of diets are ultimately unhealthy. Then the Atkins Corporation threatened to sue him because, essentially, he was challenging this low-carb, high-meat industry.

-41 citations are from the book controversial book Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubs who, although he has studied physics and aerospace engineering, is also not a nutritionist or medical doctor. This book is also largely about obesity, dieting, and its relation to low-carb, high-protein diets. See above for other opinions about this diet craze. 6 more citations are from Taubs’ article “What If It’s All Been A Lie?”, so Taubs makes up 16% of Keith’s citations.

-12 citations (4%) are from Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions cookbook. Sally Fallon, like Keith, is also not a nutritionist, doctor, biologist, or trained in any health traditions. She is a “nutrition researcher” with two college degrees in English, who wrote a cookbook. This book has been criticized in similar ways to Keith’s: “While Nourishing Traditions has over 200 references, many are antiquated, with poor observations. For the most part, the authors reference their own articles and those of other Weston A. Price foundation authors. Only fourteen of the references are from peer-reviewed journals published in the last ten years, and for most of those fourteen, the authors misrepresented what was stated in the articles.” This critique goes on: “Nourishing Traditions… is a smorgasbord of woefully outdated and potential dangerous advice. For example, ‘If you cannot get your family to eat organ meats whens served as such, there are plenty of ways to add them to their foods without their knowledge… Poached brains can be ground up and added to any ground meat dish, as can grated raw liver.’ Even if it were not so clearly known that animal products in general need to be strictly limited in the diet, common sense should tell us not to eat the brains of animals in light of what is now known about mad cow diease and its human equivalent, Cruetzfelt-Jakob disease… Fallon and Enig perpetuate long-held  nutritional myths by referencing the same people who started the myths in the first place.”

-18 citations (6%) are from The Untold Story of Milk by nautropath Ron Schmid. Our friend (see above) Sally Fallon says this is a “fascinating and compelling book”. They publish on the same press. Actually, it is unclear whether or not Sally Fallon has something to do with the publishing and/or editing at New Trends Publishing. Let us know if you figure it out. There are 4 citations from another of his books, Native Nutrition, so that’s 20 citations (7%) from this author. We also feel the need to point out that this Schmid has a brand of various “formulas”, beauty products, anti-aging products, and other things he sells based on his ideas. Look, his shampoo only costs $17.

-32 (11%) citations are from the controversial Against the Grain by Richard Manning, who is a seemingly well-regarded investigative and environmental journalist but also not a doctor, nutritionist, or anthropologist of any kind.

-28 citations (10%) are from The Whole Story of Soy by Kaayla Daniels, who has a Ph.D in nutritional science and “anti-aging therapies”. She has never published a scientific paper. Furthermore, this book has been criticized as a pseudo-scientific–at best– rant that basically serves to uphold the theories of our friends, Sally Fallon and the rest of the Weston A. Price Foundation. In fact, Fallon is the editor of this book (see here, for instance). This org has what many consider to be an unreasonable and unsubstantiated bias against soy. And here’s an interesting review that breaks down the misinformation in Daniel’s book. And believe it or not, not all vegans eat soy or are ignorant to potential problems of soy (see our resources page for info about soy-free veganism), nor is everybody who eats soy a vegan. So even if it were a vaguely reliable source, this book only relates directly to veganism by a dishonest intellectual stretch. Keith cites it anyway in her case against veganism– 28 times.

-26 citations (9.7 %) are from The Great Cholesterol Con: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About Cholesterol, Diet and Heart Disease Is Wrong! by unabashed anti-vegan, Anothony Colpo. Colpo is an “independent researcher” and weight trainer and his controversial book is basically about what the subtitle title says. A lot of people seem to think he’s a bit off his rocker. Check out some of the posts he’s made about people who disagree with him, including Keith’s off-cited Eades and Eades. We don’t want to get our health information from someone whose only expertise is in weight training, who has not even the smallest bit of training in medicine or how to interpret the technical language of scientific articles. You decide for yourself.

-4 citations (2%) come from another book called The Great Cholesterol Con, by Dr. Malcolm Kendrick. This seemingly intelligent and in-depth review states:“Although it makes a number of excellent serious points, readers with a background in the relevant science might also laugh at some of the egregious scientific errors in the book and some of Kendrick’s poorly conceived speculations – or at least find themselves scratching their heads.” Again, you decide. Do your own research. Compare Kendrick and Colpo against thousands of peer-reviewed studies about cholesterol.

-11 citations (4%) are from an internet article by Ben Balzer that has no citations or references listed!!! The article is about his book, which also seems to be a brand, The Paleo Diet. Ben Balzer is a family physician, but he is not an anthropologist, paleontologist, or biologist. He even gives a disclaimer about his book on his own blog. When I googled Ben Balzer + the name of this article, the only thing that came up was it and a link to Lierre Keith’s website.

 

-13 citations (5%) are from two books by Julia Ross, The Mood Cure and The Diet Cure. Ross has an MA in clinical psychology and an MFT (masters in family therapy.) So, though not a psychologist (as that requires having a Ph.D and years of research experience, as opposed to clinical psychotherapy training), we’re sure she knows a lot about psychotherapy and mental illness. However, she is not a nutritionist or doctor. Her two books also seem to be some kind of brand. The Diet Cure website tells us, Here you can learn which of the eight key physical indicators is causing your particular problems and get an idea of how to use the book to correct them in 24 hours…You’re also in the right place for an image adjustment. You’ll find the healthy, sensual, immortal beauty of Venus throughout the site. Contrasted with her opposite, she is here as a reminder that a healthy body image is an important part of your Diet Cure.” No thanks, Julia.

****************************************************************************

The preceding citations comprise 80 percent of Keith’s “substantiating evidence” in this 105-page chapter… a chapter that supposedly makes scientific claims about health, carnism, and veganism, in a book that supposedly does the same. All of these resources are non-scientific or pseudo-scientific; not one is from an academic or peer-reviewed journal. For Keith, they are second-, third-, and fourth-hand sources. At least one of them has no references at all!

At least three of the authors– 20% of citations– are directly involved with the Weston A. Price Foundation, a controversial anti-vegan group. It is noted for its pro-meat, pro-animal fat diet, pro-raw meat and dairy regimen that runs completely counter to, and has been debunked by a preponderance of, modern medical evidence (again, a diet similar to those of the “paleo” and Atkins genres). It’s noted, also, for its zealotry, its intolerance and mockery for views and research that differ from its own, its constant referencing of its own members as “proof” of its theories, and its misrepresentation of the complicated and extensive work of Weston Price. See this resource or some of the above-linked articles regarding this. Or, get a copy of a book or two by these authors and skim through it. On the very cover of Fallon’s cookbook, for instance, it is dismissed as “politically correct” and “dictatorial” to talk about cholesterol concerns.  Many people believe that the hype about soy products being bad for you goes back almost entirely to this organization’s campaign against it.

Even the claims that come from people who have an academic background are written in a journalistic, editorial style, and/or are written about an subject they didn’t study in academia. And most of the information here is from books whose content is about what many people, both lay-people and scientists, consider, at best, silly and counter-intuitive, and, at worst, highly dangerous. Several of these authors are, in fact, marketing “diet brands” for their own profit. Many of the use manipulative, mocking language to suggest that if you disagree with them, you are being aggressive or naive. Perhaps this is where Keith gets her tone from.

We have a lot more to look at in chapter 4, including the remaining 20 percent of citations, a select few of which are peer-reviewed journal articles, as well as the particular ways in which Keith interprets and uses her references. Keep checking back.

******************************************************************************


Chapter 2: What about plants?

July 16, 2010

What about plants?

In chapter 2, Keith begins to write about an ongoing theme: vegetarians’ supposedly biased attitude towards vegetable life: “…if we’re extra eco-righteous, we throw the seeds on the compost heap, where time, heat and bacteria kill them. One goal of any good compost scheme, after all, is to kill any lingering seeds. None of this is what the tree had in mind. The tree isn’t offering sweetness out of the goodness of its heartwood. It’s striking a bargain, and even though we’ve shaken hands and collected, we aren’t carrying through on our side of the deal. There’s a glaring anthropocentrism in this argument, which is strange coming from people espousing a specific politic of animal liberation…Why are we humans allowed to take without giving? Isn’t that called exploitation? Or at the very least, stealing? Fruit isn’t, as claimed, ‘the only freely given food.’ The point of that fruit is not humans.”

She leaves this out: The point of animals is not humans, either. That animals have been held in captivity as farming instruments/food production is not what those animals had in mind. If farmed animals had not been constructed by centuries of genetic selection, and subtle and violent domination to make them docile, they would most likely never chose to be on those farm. If the gates, cages, crates, or whatever else were not there, do we honestly think those animals would stay? That they would asked to be bred generation after generation as instruments in captivity? Any reasonable person knows that the answer to this is a huge “no”.

She writes: “If killing is the problem, the life of one grass-fed cow will feed me for an entire year. But a single vegan meal of plant babies—rice grains, almonds, soybeans—ground up or boiled alive, will involve hundreds of deaths. Why don’t they matter?” The comparison between the death of sentient beings, and the death of plant, grain, and legume matter, is a disingenous one. Vegans do not have a simplistic idea of this, as Keith won’t stop asserting; on the contrary, vegans admit to and try to wrestle with how complicated the reality of sentience is, instead of throwing the issue out the window or genralizing sentience into absurdity, just because they can’t find a perfect solution. Plants and animals have wildly different interests, different mechanisms of life, and differently functioning bodies. There is, effectively, despite a couple of pop-science books about the issue, no scientific proof that plants feel pain or have awareness similar to that of sentient beings–especially intelligent mammals, who have complex nervous systems, emotional brains (limbic systems), and complicated pain mechanisms. Keith uses one of these pop-science books, The Language of Lost Plants by Stephen Harrod Buhner–who, like Keith, is certainly interesting but is not a biologist, scientist, or any other kind of academic or researcher with the credentials to make claims on science–as her resource for almost her entire discussion on the possibility of any kind of “plant sentience” that might resemble animal sentience. Citations 115-141 in this section are all Bruhner’s book, with three exceptions that have to do with secondary points.

This sentience is the objective difference that complicates the question of animal and plant death. In certain situations, not all deaths are equal, in that they do not embody the same processes, results, or implications. Consider this comparison (and remember that comparisons are not the same as equations): To get an abortion, to destroy a fetus, is not the same as killing an autonomous, born human. Most radicals– and Keith is a radical feminist– understand this critical differences between the death of a fetus—a parasitic organism that lives, but is dependent on its autonomous, born, adult host, and at most stages is probably incapable of feeling pain— and the death of an autonomous, fully developed human. Nobody is excited about abortion, but pro-choice people understand its complicated and necessary nature, and inevitability of having to chose between types of “death”. (I put this in quotes only because some pro-choice people consider abortions a necessary death, and others don’t consider abortion a type of death.)

The point is, humans inevitably choose between types of destruction– we certainly do not disagree with Keith on this point, and we’re glad she talks about it. But in terms of food, this is not the same as having a flippant disregard for plants. As a vegan, I’m attempting to find the solution that offers the least unnecessary human destruction. There is physically felt torture and pain involved in carnism, and this need not be inevitable, we need not add it to the endless pile of unnecessary destruction we’ve already caused. “What about plant life?” is one of the classic fallacious arguments against a vegan diet, one which distracts from the issue of the individual sentient animal by trying to equate the conditions of different life forms. To assert or imply that we “overlook” the deaths of plants because we focus on the supposedly more important deaths of animals, is a bit like saying that all genders won’t have true equality until male-bodied people can get abortions. It’s an irrelevant framing of the issue, a distraction from and unwillingness to deal with the issue’s complicated realities.

At the end of the day, the “what about plants” issue can be overridden by the fact that, no matter what you feed your farmed animals, no matter what your method of farming– even if it’s animal-based permaculture– these animals we force into agriculture are involved in the “hundreds of deaths” of plant beings, too. Even the most sustainable farms use large amounts of energy and water keeping and feeding farmed animals, where they could be growing sustainable plant-based crops and using non-animal methods to keep topsoil healthy instead. In fact, “humane” and “grass-fed” farms often use more than double the amount of land than “industrial” ones. The general erasure of this fact is one of the major myths about grass-fed farming. And there’s no way around the fact that raising cattle is the leading cause of global warming, surpassing all combined forms of transportation in its production of methane and other greenhouse gasses. At no point in this chapter does Keith give attention to the rabid destructiveness of animal agriculture– no matter what the type, large or small farms, grass or grain. Because animals need to eat if we are to eat them, then there is no way around the fact that a carnist diet—any type of carnist diet— destroys more plant and animal life than a vegan one. When we eat animals, we are eating/killing plant and animal life at the same time. This does not seem like the most useful or skillful way to minimize human impact on the planet, given the workability and possibilities of sustainable, local vegetarian agriculture. Keith does not want to see the fact that vegetarian permaculture is even possible. Her only “proof” of this is a personal anecdote about visiting one unnamed psuedo-vegetarian farm community that she insultingly, and without evidence, claims was filled with “anorexic” vegans who she has diagnosed with all of her own supposedly vegan-caused health problems.  See our “Busting myths-Vegan permaculture” page for actual information about vegan permaculture.

Another way to put it: Industrial vegetable farming is awful and unsustainable in lots of ways. Industrial meat farming is worse. Permaculture might be part of our solution. Vegan permaculture is more sustainable than animal permaculture. For every animal-based farming practice, there seems to be a more sustainable plant-based one.


Carolyn reads chapter one: part two

July 15, 2010

Claims about health
Page 9: “But I’m also writing this book as a cautionary tale. A vegetarian diet—especially a low-fat version, and most especially a vegan one—is  sufficient nutrition for long-term maintenance and repair of the human body. To put it bluntly, it will damage you. I know.” She goes on to talk about her negative experience with veganism, in terms of health. Here we go. Once again, Keith just “knows” and expects us to just trust her (after she’s repeatedly insulted us no less.) But once again, personal anecdote cannot be substituted for fact and, once again, the healthiness of different kinds of diets is an issue that, in the most “objective” of scientific communities, is up for serious debate. If you do a simple google search right on “human as omnivore”, you will find innumerable amounts of information regarding this complicated debate.

Suffice it to say, vegans can be healthy or unhealthy or somewhere in between. Keith’s bones, stomach, and other various parts were unhealthy, and no one should have to go through that. She was also depressed and anxious, which all of us can relate to. But again, she offers no evidence that this was related to veganism or not. I don’t doubt that her experience of feeling better when eating meat is true for her, but again, it becomes an argumentative fallacy since it leaves out the possibility of third party or extraneous variables. Any apathetic, hungover undergrad who has to get up at 8AM to go to Research and Statistics 101 knows that correlation does not equal causation. In regards to mental health, Keith does state the following: “And now I know why. Serotonin is made from the amino acid tryptophan. And there are no good plant sources of tryptophan. On top of that, all the tryptophan in the world won’t do you any good without saturated fat, which is necessary to make your neurotransmitters actually transmit.” But there are plenty of plant sources for saturated fat. Furthermore, it is straight-up untrue that tryptophan is hard to come by in plant sources. This is another fallacy often argued against veganism: that just because there are lots of animal sources for certain nutrients, there are no plant ones, or that the plant sources somehow have a different “type” or quality of said nutrient. Untrue. She seems unreasonably determined to blame her problems on veganism, as in the statement “if end up with cancer in my reproductive organs, I’m blaming soy.” Additionally, she is falsely equating veganism with soy conspumtion. Here, I offer a couple potential third party variables that could account for her health problems: familial health history/genes, being an angsty and hormonal teenager, being an unhealthy person in regards to food, the HPV virus which many people get through sexual contact and can lead to reproductive cancers, and environmental factors like pollution and toxins (never underestimate the unknown when it comes to this issue- for instance, my high school was built on a superfund site!)

Additionally, because veganism is a non-mainstream diet that even doctors and nutritionists don’t know much about (to be liscenced in the US, they must be educated under the USDA “food pyramid” model, which is largely based carnism and meat industry politics) it is easy to assume that veganism is the source of health problems when something goes wrong. Let me reinforce that I understand veganism can be unhealthy, if executed badly—like any diet. But Keith’s argument here is again based on assumption and anecdote and offers basically no scientifically or ethically valuable, solid information as to the healthiness of either a vegan or carnist diet.

For my part, the following things aren’t “proof” either, but can maybe give some needed balance: This guy’s not unhealthy. These people might be totally marginal in their own way but they don’t exactly apply to the stereotype Keith paints. For what it’s worth, their problematic politics admitted, the Amerian Dietary Association has done extensive research and concluded that one can be perfectly healthy on a vegan diet. On the other hand, people with adult-onset diabetes might die soon soon for reasons that are, by most educated guesses, in some way related to meat consumption; and it’s common knowledge that eating meat is often related to heart attacks. These are extremes and my guess is most of us fall in the middle, animal products or not. As a vegan, my personal belief is that most diets, so long as they include a balance of protein, fats, essential nutrients, and micronutrients, can be healthy—even a carnist diet. But I think all this could be beside the point. Vegans argue that humans are “natural” plant-eaters, carnists argue the opposite– both, largely, to support their ideologies. I do not use health arguments when advocating veganism for all these reaons. I think the controversial and unresolved question of health is often a distraction from the ethical issues issues that are almost impossibly hard to reconcile. Because of their difficulty, many of us throw these out the window altogether, but that doesn’t make them go away: I’m talking about issues regarding the domination, killing, and keeping captive of individual sentient animals.

We will talk about many more erroneous health claims when we explore TVM’s specific chapter on health.

Oh, Lierre…
Finally, page 11: “If I’m questioning your lifestyle, your identity, you might feel confusion, fear, and anger while reading this book. But take my word: you don’t want to end up like me. I’m asking you to stay the course, read this book, and explore the resources in the appendix. Please. Especially if you have children or want to. I’m not too proud to beg.”

Let me just say that, since a very small percentage of people are vegan, most of the beings in my life– my family, my partner, my house mates, my beloved feline and canine friends, many of my most respected human friends, professors, and mentors– are vegetarians or carnists. I do not get angry with them (the human ones) when they want to explore veganism me, when they are curious or critical. In fact, I love them very much and see them as complicated, compassionate people struggling with innumerable complicated questions. We have very calm conversations. Just this week I had two. They tell me why they eat what they eat, and I tell them why I’m vegan, and generally we are both the better for it because we respect each other and are having real dialogue in which we are assuming the other is coming from their best place. Maybe you don’t believe me, Lierre, because it doesn’t sound like this was ever your experience. But your experience is not the objective truth nor do you get to make sweeping claims about veganism because you were a vegan for two decades. This doesn’t give you extra “points”. This book, while completely complicating carnism (fair enough—meat eating is complicated), is framed with little to no respect for the various complicated theories and practices of veganism. It’s a one-sided polemic that leaves no room for reasonable dialogue. Vegans are literally written of as ignorant children, and that’s the end of it. What are people who disagree, or just want to engage in critical conversation, supposed to do with this? We have been defined and written out of the argument from the start. To me, this is a scary tactic that doesn’t deserve a place in radical debate. In the language of anarcho-feminism and some brands of ecofeminism, this tactic arguably enacts a patriarchal paradigm of “power over” as opposed to egalitarian one of “power with” and “power to”.

But you’re right, I’m angry reading this. I’m sure I have defenses I’m not conscious of; I am an emotional person known for having my fair share of knee-jerk emotional reactions; also, I identify very strongly as a vegan. (It seems most people who have conscious food politics identify very strongly with them, because they dictate a lifestyle… Lierre, you can’t possibly believe you’re exempt this?) But could you consider that my anger might be because you just made an extended analysis of my ignorance, my childish mind, and my lack of information? That you’ve erased those who disagree with you and literally do not see us as equals? Perhaps you are being as patronizing and self-righteous now as you, yourself, claim to have been when you were vegan? We’re eleven pages in, and already I feel no reason to give you, Leirre Keith, the benefit of the doubt. But I want to be fair and finish the book; after all, I consider myself a nuanced and open-minded adult, even if you don’t. Will you look past your own nose and hear us out in return—or at least respect us as intellectual equals? Will you consider a very valid critique of your research methods? Will you consider that there might be more than one “way”? Will you consider that veganism might exist beyond your personal experience and practice of it– that it is multitudes more complicated that you are painting it? Because that flavor of openness really where we have the potential to come together and start figuring things out. We have lots of things to come together on. I want to be in solidarity with you and your friends. I’m not too proud to beg.


TVM’s Research stats (courtesy of A. Perri)

July 15, 2010

Thank you to A. Perri, whose thoughtful review of The Vegetarian Myth on Amazon.com offered this breakdown:

The author sites 207 references in this book.
62 of those references are websites (~30%)
18 are newspapers and magazines (~7%)
32 are journals (~15%)
95 are other books (~46%)

First of all, think about that. 30% of the references in this book come from website information. Five of those 62 website references were Wikipedia. Wikipedia! One was Google Answers. I wont let my freshmen students use Wikipedia as a reference in their papers, why would it be acceptable for a book? Like websites, newspaper and magazine information needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Of the 32 journals less than half come from well known, peer-reviewed sources. The remaining 46% are books, which can truly say anything the author cares to print (as this one does) and only show that the author is getting her information from another source (and another opinion) aside from the primary one. The point of this is to make clear that this is a book that is sold as (and which many positive reviews hype as) providing scientific, factual, intellectual knowledge on the vegetarian/diet/health debate. In reality less than 8% of the book is coming from peer-reviewed, fact-checked sources which can provide unbiased, neutral information.

If anything I hope this review encourages people to get away from the bias on either side, find factual scientific sources instead of second-third-fourth hand knowledge, check information for yourself instead of blindly believing an author, and to question published material and push for it to actually be factual if it presented as such.


Carolyn reads chapter one: part one

July 14, 2010

My veganism

Hi, I’m Carolyn Zaikowski. For my part, save some teenage self-righteousness that’s become a more and more complicated analysis as I get older, I see veganism as a way to minimize destruction and death–not eradicate it. I do not deny the fact that death and destruction exist, which is something Keith states about vegans in several different ways. I fully understand the destructiveness of agriculture– this is a point on which Keith and I agree (and even the most “humane” farming, especially if it involves animals, is quite destructive.) I understand the politics of peak oil, permaculture, bioregionalism, local farming, soy production, industrial vegetable farming, etc. I’m not an expert, but I have been studying these issues for 15 years. As a result, I try my darndest to both eat vegan and local, as much as is possible. My goal is to minimize, in obtaining my food, the use of both animals and plants, in an attempt to balance my political and ethical concern for both individual animals and whole species. As a resident of the Northeastern United States, I have not found this diet impossible by any means. Challenging in some ways, certainly; requiring compromises sometimes, of  course, especially in the winter. My diet is ethically imperfect as any diet is, due to the unfortunate state of the planet. Keith’s is imperfect too. But she doesn’t earnesly admit it, which is a shame, because this creates a tone that distracts from some of her really important and critical points about the destruction caused by agriculture.

I rued the day in college when I had to take a research methods and statistics class, thinking, how will this ever be useful to me? I am a radical! I believe in direct action, not abstract math or “quantifying” human behaviors! I believe in the validity of complicated emotional information, not just cerebral logic–I am proud of my right-brain! Science is elitist and patriarchal! I never thought that one day, years later, I would come across a context in which I’d be so glad that I had learned about the most basic research methods and argumentative fallacies.

Are there ignorant vegans? Of course! Are there ignorant carnists? Of course! Ignorance is a trait that cuts through human life, far beyond dietary choices. Especially when consumer capitalism is brought into the equation, we see horrifying patterns in food production across the board. But, while it is entirely possible to eat an environmentally irresponsible diet as a vegan, it is not the fault of veganism, as a philosophy, that some vegans are self-righteous or do not have information about ecology. Just as, for better or worse, there are lots of reasons why people eat meat, there are lots of reasons why people are vegan, and there are lots of ways that people are vegan. Not all of us– maybe even not most of us, though I can’t say for sure, since there are no numbers– fit into the convenient stereotypes Keith paints. If we’re going to assume, then it is probably safe to say that most vegans, like most humans, have extremely complicated beliefs, lifestyles, emotions, and general ways of relating to the world.

Self-righteousness, fallacies, , “kas-limaal”, and erasure of vegan permaculture
My distaste and surprise at Keith’s arrogance and tone is solidified on page 5, when she posits that vegetarians have the minds of ignorant children, while people like her have the minds of integrated adults: “The only way out of the vegetarian myth is through the pursuit of kas-limaal, of adult knowledge. This is a concept we need, especially those of us who are impassioned by injustice. I know I needed it. In the narrative of my life, the first bite of meat after my twenty year hiatus marks the end of my youth, the moment when I assumed the responsibilities of adulthood. It was the moment I stopped fighting the basic algebra of embodiment: for someone to live, someone else has to die.” I begin to wonder why I should read this book, since it feels extremist and insulting in tone, and I haven’t been convinced to trust it, or her.

I can’t find any information on “kas-limaal”, a concept Keith refers to in one way or another throughout the book. I do not speak the language, but a simple google search shows many hits that refer to the word only in regards to Kieth, and one or two that refer to the book she quotes it from. My library search engine yielded no results. In a different spelling, “k’aslimaal”, I’ve found, refers to the name of Guatemalan organization who says that the word means “life” or “rebirth”. I haven’t read the book that Keith gets her information about “kas-limaal” from, but it is written by a Native American with roots in New Mexico and Canada, who moved to Guatemala and was initiated as a Mayan Shaman. I don’t doubt it’s a concept; but for what it’s worth, and considering the rest of sketchy information in Keith’s book, I think a little skepticism and our own research regarding Keith’s interpretation of “kas-laamal” could be useful.

Onward. Here is one of her first examples of fallacy: “I’ve heard vegetarian activists claims that an acre of land can only support two chickens. Joel Salatin, one of the High Priests of sustainable farming and someone who actually raises chickens, puts that figure at 250 an acre.” In the text, the former point is based on literal heresay, with no citation. The latter point, however, has one, which is an unfair way to argue. She goes on to spend pages talking about her negative experiences with vegans on internet message boards. She is actually using anecdotal evidence from message boards—and she doesn’t even tell us which ones, or who was talking. I hate to be a hypocrite and make assumptions myself, but I really think that most reasonable, curious people can understand why this does not equal reliable research. For instance, just now I googled “anti vegetarian” and found a facebook message board called Anti-Vegan Action Group upon which someone wrote: “since i’m in idaho for a year, i’m really picking up on my meat-eating, and it feels great – just like dennis leary said…vegatarians say, ‘you know, you eat red meat and it stays in your colon for ten years.’ GOOD! I paid for it, i want it there! anyway, i put a nice 3 inch steak on the grill for prob under 5 minutes last night and it was delicious. i like it bloody.” Most writers would never refer to this genre of source in a book that is touted as scientific and expected to be taken seriously. This is not even allowed on Wikipedia. Keith does not, as she could have, wrestle with the abundance of centuries of highly regarded first-hand research and accounts of innumerable theories and practies of animal rights, welfare, liberation, and abolitionism, from Pythagorus and ancient Greece, to Peter Singer and Henry Spira, to the intersection of feminism and anti-vivisectiion movements during US First Wave Feminism, to Mahatma Ghandi, to modern anarchists and ecofeminists, to sects of all the major religions. In chapter 2, she speaks generally about facets about humanism and the animal “rights” movement, but again fails to wrestle with, debunk, or cite complicated theory. Literally, all of her claims about animal rights theory and practice are unsubstantiated. In over two hundred references, she cites one– one!–pro-vegetarian resource, Diet For A New America by John Robbins. I (sort of) apologize for being flip, but if this is not a dubious and wildly biased “scientific” research style, then I have fourteen arms and twelve nipples. I recently finished writing a critical master’s thesis, and I never would have earned my degree if I had not considered the research and theory that challenged my thesis. There is a reason for this– it makes us more honest and gives us a deeper understanding of the issues.

Keith becomes very up front about, literally, how stupid she thinks her readers are when she states: “So, on the theory that many readers lack the knowledge to judge this plan, I’m going to walk you through this.”

Here’s some more of her selective information: “Because without grazers to literally level the playing field, the perennial plants mature, and shade out the basal growth point at the plant’s base. In a brittle environment like the Serengeti, decay is mostly physical (weathering) and chemical (oxidative), not bacterial and biological as in a moist environment. In fact, the ruminants take over most of the biological functions of soil by digesting the cellulose and returning the nutrients, once again available, in the form of urine and feces. But without ruminants, the plant matter will pile up, reducing growth, and begin killing the plants. The bare earth is now exposed to wind, sun, and rain, the minerals leach away, and the soil structure is destroyed. In our attempt to save animals, we’ve killed everything.”

This is the beginning of a discussion– grazers as necessary to keep soil healthy– that is one of the major themes throughout the book. In some ways this is right, in regards to how some grazing works. But what she leaves out here is significant: Humans have evolved many ways to renew topsoil with no or minimal non-human labor: crop rotation, companion planting, ley farming, composting, using human waste, green manure, and other ways, plus possibilities for the future. In farming, there is no necessary connection whatsoever between renewal of topsoil, sustainable farming, and grazing animals– there never has been– let alone killing them or using their products. In part, it seems, Keith makes these kinds of claims because she is invested in making a case for a return to prairie-style living, which we will get to later. But vegan permaculture is an established practice all over the world, in all kinds of climates. Keith’s claims about this impossibility, which she makes throughout the book, are a complete falsehood. I simply do not understand why Keith has not only erased this possibility, but this actuality.

Furthermore, grazers in the wild are much different from grazers in domestication, who have been constructed for centuries to be of human use, by various forms of domination, and kept in captivity. There’s no way, really, to know if or how we can compare them, their bodies, or their effects on the earth. But is my opinion that, if we are radical and looking to alter a paradigm, we must consider this wide-spread form of domination that is animal agriculture. Let’s, then, touch upon the phrase “in our attempt to save animals, we’ve killed everything”, which is an absolute falsehood. I am a great believer that emotional appeals and emotional information can be valid, useful, and based in reality. But this appeal is little more than a hyperbolic emotional reaction, not connected to any substantiated claim that is suitable for holding up a theory supposedly based in science. “We’ve killed everything” is an unfair, simplistic emotional manipulation, and it doesn’t admit to its own basis in biased ideology and knee-jerk polemics.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 63 other followers