Carolyn’s thoughts post-book

There’s still a lot more coming, and apparently we can’t get our butts together enough to be linear! Keep coming back!!!

For now, I, Carolyn Z, offer my thoughts after a few weeks off to contemplate this book:

1. The mere existence of thriving, healthy vegans and widely successful vegan permaculture undermines all of Lierre Keith’s major theses in The Vegetarian Myth. The rest of my conclusions/afterthoughts are secondary to this.

2. When all’s said and done, this book is a veritable infomercial for “paleo” and anti-carb diets. It leaves no room for questions about dietary racism and classism; the problems of urban food accessibility and peak oil; the problems of overpopulation (she mentions it briefly at the end but offers no useful analysis and doesn’t problematize her theories in relation to it, which would upset everything she’s said); and tons of other problems that complicate what is ultimately a utopian vision, impossible to implement at the large-scale without a massive reduction in the human population– and that’s a whole other can of worms involving first world privilege, capitalism, racism, mass exploitation, and on and on.

3. This book isn’t about vegetarians. The title is disengenuous. The Vegetarian Myth is about vegans. It is unclear why Lierre Keith chose to focus her self-righteous passion on vegans, since we are about 0.5 percent of the US population, and the vast majority of people in the US are meat-eaters who subsist on cornstuffs and other products that Lierre Keith despises. Furthermore, upwards of 80 percent of the corn produced in the United States is used to feed cows for animal agriculture.

4. This book is not even really about vegans; it’s about Lierre Keith’s hatred of vegans. Excuse me for the following, but I’m a psychology nerd and I’ve held off ’til now: The Vegetarian Myth reads as a tortured letter that Keith has projected from her subconscious, as if she can only deal with her flaws (self-righteousness, ignorance, childishness, etc.– everything she charges vegans with) when she sees them in others. It seems Lierre Keith is deeply confused about her life and her own stance towards politics, and seems pathologically anxious/obsessive about her relationship to food-in-general, in a manner that goes far beyond politics. I would consider that much of her projected, seemingly debilitating anxiety about food might point to the fact that she has an eating disorder herself (something else she obsessively projects onto vegans), but I don’t think this is the right forum to get into that loaded discussion. Suffice to say, if it is true, then I implore Lierre Keith to get help for that serious issue, and not misguide the energy of it into valid, crucial food politics. Keith seems to have a really hard time with nuance, with not perceiving the world in reactive extremes– this, literally, developmentally, is what scared children do when they feel traumatized or unprotected. None of this makes her bad– at all. It just makes her human. I don’t hate Lierre Keith; I’ve never met her (though we do live in the same town. Say hi, Lierre, if you see me–I promise not to poo on you. I’m tall and white with a semi-conscious propensity for dressing like Oliver Twist, and I have really bad depth perception and am always walking into things– sometimes I’m hard to miss in that sense.) I just want her to admit that she’s human and that she has disseminated faulty information about issues that literally have to do with life and death. In short, a grounded, integrated person with a realistic relationship to their inevitably flawed human-ness and the difficult realities of a flailing, complicated planet, would not need to write in the manner Lierre Keith does. In fact, it seems they would try to be as accessible and non-judgmental as possible so as not to alienate and insult their intended audience.

5. A critical conversation about the destruction that’s been cause by human civilization and agriculture is necessary. A convenient, paleofantasy-based nostalgia for a perfect time that never truly existed is not. Not only does this paleofantasy reek of biological determinism, which should always be questioned, but it takes us away from present reality, which includes carnism and human privilege. There are significant reasons to believe that these things are a) hugely responsible for much destruction of the planet and b) one more violent, instrumentalist ideology analogous to sexism, racism, etc. Even if you disagree with theories about speciesism and carnism, totally leaving them out makes for a dishonest analysis.

6. Don’t listen to me. Read this book if you want. But no matter what your diet, take this book with a grain of salt. There is, objectively, a lot of misinformation in it. Do your own research. Get some perspective by considering this and other critiques, and by looking into the many complicated vegan analyses that Lierre Keith pays no attention to. We all know not to believe everything we see on TV… the same goes for books.

3 Responses to Carolyn’s thoughts post-book

  1. Robert says:

    I’ve loved your site so far. It is a valuable and necessary resource. I hope you will find the time to continue this fine work. I, for one, will keep coming back!

  2. Dustin Rhodes says:

    I agree with everything you write here. I, too, read the book more than a year ago. I posted a review (maybe that word belongs in quotes, as it’s not exhaustive or thorough by any means) on Amazon a while ago, and I still receive e-mails from the Weston Price whack jobs.

    I was interested in the book because I have heard so many people claim they didn’t feel well on a vegan diet. I think this is a phenomenon vegans should pay attention to, regardless of where we think this comes from; in other words, if it’s an “excuse” or all in someone’s head…but I suspect there’s truth in it for many people. There’s so much we don’t know about nutrition, and what individual needs are (the one thing Keith might be right about–might!–is the need for saturated fat; seems that I do, but I get it from plant sources, and it does make me feel good–but maybe that’s all in MY head?).

    However, there’s so much we already know, for sure, about animal agribusiness: it’s not good for animals. That’s reason enough not to eat them, regardless of where they come from and/or how they are treated.

    I agree wholeheartedly that Lierre Keith is projecting her own issues onto healthy vegans. The most offensive part of the entire book to me was how she kept asserting how vegans viewed the world and their own vegan actions—as if we really all believe that veganism equals a deathless world. I don’t know a single vegan who’s that ignorant, and that in and of itself discredits most of the book. The Vegetarian Myth is one of the most arrogant books I have ever read.

    Anyway, I really appreciate the existence of this website. It’s fantastic.

  3. Zoe K says:

    On page 53, Keith prints a half page long quotation that describes the world she claims she wants to live in. It is description of what I think of as a Hudson River School painting–otters playing in the plentiful river, thick forests scaling the mountains, bald eagles soaring through the air, and Indians in cartoonish, or stereotyped, teepees living in harmony with the land. As much as we all would love to live in this fantasy land, it’s gone, and it’s not coming back. I have only read the first few chapters of The Vegetarian Myth, but I found that Keith spends many pages looking backwards, not looking forward. Sure, it is important to look back on mistakes and try not to make them again, but wishing for the past to come true again is a waste of time. And seriously Keith, there are 6.4 billion people in this world. I haven’t seen numbers, but I seriously doubt 6.4 billion people could live on this earth without agriculture. I really don’t believe that it could be done.

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