Problematizing ecology, local, and grass-fed… again

March 30, 2011

I originally posted this as a comment, then thought, well, this is a lot of writing just to be a comment. So here goes:

Eighty percent of corn and soy crops are used for livestock feed, not for vegan food. The problems of grain, soy, and monocultures are simply not ones that can be pinned on the vegan movement. To paraphrase Gary Francione, the problem of designer foods is not inherent to veganism any more than the problem of designer clothes is inherent to wearing clothes. There are plenty of designer foods that meat-eaters eat, and there are plenty of vegans who eat mainly local and organic, plenty of vegans who don’t eat soy or tons of corn and wheat, etc. To claim that all vegans eat all grain and soy, or that a vegan diet only consists of grain and soy, is a disingenuous straw-man argument.

Veganic/stock free permaculture is a thriving practice all over the world. It seems many locavores are willfully ignorant of this fact, and I’m not entirely clear why. Veganic permaculture is by far the most sustainable farming practice. There are many books and internet resources on this if you need more information.

Grass fed livestock don’t partake in the problem of corn and soy feed. But pasture/grass fed animals require more than twice the land of factory farmed animals. Grazing is one of the worst environmental problems that exists. Overgrazing has trampled and compacted land and been the largest contributor to desertification. Two-thirds of the American West, for instance, is grazing land. Clearing land for pasture is the major reason for destruction of forests and biodiversity including the atrocity of rainforest destruction. This is simply not a problem with even the least sustainable plant diets. Even the most industrialized plant diets use exponentially less land per yield than meat diets, especially grazed meat diets. Grazing is one of the most ecologically absurd situations humans have ever created. One researcher, Vacliv Smil, who has done very careful math has estimated that by 2050, if we are to feed the world on a meat diet, we will need 67 percent more land on the earth. Again, there is no comparable number for even the least sustainable plant agriculture, as plant protein is much higher yield per energy input than meat, and is consumed directly instead of being turned into an animal first.

Cows emit massive amounts of methane, one of the worst greenhouse gasses, and it is well documented that this is a major cause of global warming, surpassing all forms of transportation combined.  Grass fed and free-range livestock emit many times more methane than industrial livestock, in fact, because they live much longer. Again, this problem is simply not comparable to the problems of plant agriculture. Plants are not farting and stomping us to extinction.

Raising livestock, even grass-fed, is also by far the world’s number one cause of water usage and water pollution. Again, not comparable to the water usage of plant agriculture.

Furthermore, the issue of transportation of food over long distances is often cited by locavores, but the truth is much more complicated. The simple equation of food miles does not account for whether or not irrigation is used, whether or not food is grown in hothouses, whether or not food is in season, how food is stored, how food is cooked, how much food was shipped where and how, whether or not it is animal or plant food, etc. In short, transportation is about ten percent of a food’s energy cost. To quote James McWilliams, who has many problematic ideas but is right-on when it comes to food miles, “To take an extreme example, a shipper sending a truck with 2,000 apples over 2,000 miles would consume the same amount of fuel per apple as a local farmer who takes a pickup 50 miles to sell 50 apples at his stall at the green market.” Furthermore, simplistic food mile equations do not account for people who live in regions where food is not available, which opens up a sizeable, incredibly complicated can of worms in terms of human rights and food access. The local ethic, despite its benefits, simply does not take responsibility for the problem of food access in a globalized world where food is an inherently global issue. I am not saying I have a perfect answer to this problem, but I am saying that food access in a globalized world is complicated, and it deserves to be dealt with in a complicated way, especially if people who have social and economic privilege are claiming to be concerned with human rights.

But I digress. I don’t at all mean to tear local agriculture a new asshole. There are many reasons to eat local, especially in places where, unlike the Arizona desert where local food–including all meat–is all sustained by irrigation, local makes sense. I support eating local for several reasons, and I eat local as much as I can (and I’m a vegan… gasp). The point, rather, is that just because something is local does not mean it is the most environmentally friendly option. A life-cycle assessment (LCA) is a much more honest and comprehensive way than food miles to figure which food is the most sustainable.

If you are going to eat animal food, grass-fed meat from permaculture farms is the most sustainable way to do it. But veganic permaculture is exponentially more sustainable due to the minimized effects it has on land, water, and greenhouse gas emissions. Many of the less sustainable techniques of plant agriculture are more sustainable than the most sustainable forms of animal agriculture.

And this does not begin to get into the issue of the rights and interests of individual animals. I happen to believe that an egalitarian and ecologically friendly world is not possible when our personal and mass psychology is imbued with the idea that it is okay to unnecessarily use most of the world’s sentient creatures as mere instruments to our own ends. But that aside, I do understand the issue of animal rights lives in complicated philosophical, emotional, and spiritual territory. However, the issue of whether or not eating meat is good for the environment, especially in the long run, is quite simple: it isn’t. And there are viable, thriving alternatives. We might not like them because they challenge our deep-rooted food habits and assumptions, but within this generation there will be 10 billion people in the world, and save hitherto unknown technological interventions, there won’t even be any more land for meat-heavy diets.

Advertisements

Lierre Keith, trans-hatred, veganism, feminism, liberation: a start

January 7, 2011

I want to thank the Transmeditations Blog for bringing this information to our attention in a post that elucidates Lierre Keith’s really unsettling (to say the least) and quite explicit hatred, sterotyping, and writing off of trans/gender queer folk. Please read it.

I repost this not in an attempt to take a shallow dig at Lierre Keith, though it is challenging for me not to take that dig. Indeed, this post, Keith’s simplistic and offensive comparisons between various complicated social identities, her lack of willingness to see the vast, matrix-like complicatedness of gender, sexuality, bodies, and minds, her use of assumption and stereotype, and her rehashing of old theories/writings from a particular group of notoriously trans-hating “radical”, white, US second-wave feminists — this all gave me a sick feeling in my stomach and made me feel deep anger and sadness. However, I’m reposting it because I want to question the whole idea that one can be effectively involved in radical food politics without a substantiated, nuanced, creative, and non-reactionary (a.k.a. fear based, backwards-looking) exploration of gender.

Another radical vegan explores Lierre Keith’s rabid trans-hatred here.

For now, let me say this: In this blog, we seek to challenge not only Lierre Keith (honestly, she doesn’t matter all that much in the grand scheme, not even really in the semi-grand scheme) but to challenge ideas being put forth by generally well-intentioned but reactionary critiques of veganism. Often these ideas leave out veganism’s critical and real connections to ecology, capitalism, gender, racism, and human rights in general. Lierre Keith represents just one of a group of thinkers who disconnect these issues explicitly and implicitly (usually implicitly). Indeed, hardly any of her core ideas are original. It is the picture she paints, the picture she supposedly lives, which lends itself to a larger analysis that goes far beyond her.

We are not only vegans, but human rights advocates. We see human and non-human liberation as intricately intertwined. We see connections between gender and veganism that go on for miles. These issues go beyond, even, ecology and environmentalism, leading us to questions like: What of domination, cages, jails, in general? What of questioning the very existence of breeding animals to be captive farming instruments/objects? What of our rabid defensiveness around this issue, our unwillingness to even entertain the  idea of a world without hundreds of billions of animal objects? What of the fact that animal agriculture represents the most large-scale, violent manipulation of reproductive systems, others’ sex, and bodies-in-general that has ever existed? What of challenging the deep-seated construction of the human/animal dichotomy that so mirrors the false dichotomies of human identities (black/white, man/woman, et al.?) I want to write a larger post on this issue at some point… a post about vegan feminism, about human and animal liberation, about so many ways in which veganism must be considered as a radical, liberatory philosophy and practice directly related to, and intertwined with, human liberation. I’ll write that post soon. For now, good night, and don’t forget to revolt.


“On Ex-Vegans”

December 21, 2010

Interesting commentary from the Unpopular Vegan Essays blog on why we should take “ex-vegans” with a grain of salt:

Unpopular Vegan Essays: On Ex-Vegans

From this essay: “When we combine the above varieties in meaning, character, reasons, and egos, as well as the individual anecdotes and tales of drama, we see that the stories of ex-vegans can tell us nothing of significance or of any reliability about veganism, what vegans are like, what being vegan is like, or what good reasons there are for going vegan. For that kind of information, we should consult longtime vegans, unbiased dietetic professionals and vegan nutritional books and materials, abolitionist animal rights books and education materials, and most importantly, commit to veganism and vegan education ourselves.”

Interestingly, there are several places in The Vegetarian Myth and in subsequent interviews with Lierre Keith where she states that she often “binged” on animal products; in other words, she wasn’t even a vegan: Here’s an analysis of a radio interview Lierre Keith did, in which she talks about bingeing on animal products once a week.


Carolyn’s thoughts post-book

August 22, 2010

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.


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.

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


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.


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.