On the Holy Grail of Nutrition

November 1, 2011

There isn’t one. Move on. First world humans spend undue energy searching for a perfect nutritional formula that will turn us into bronzed, teutonic gods. This is a little silly considering the fact that a fair percentage of the human population doesn’t get enough of anything to eat.

Getting enough calories is important. Getting enough vitamins is important. Not eating foods that make you sick is important. Beyond that, people are pretty adaptable. Most of us are just making do with what we can get. As a vegan, I could argue that dairy products are “bad for you” and “unnatural.” But clearly millions of people survive, many of them quite healthily, while consuming dairy. So I don’t make arguments about what a person should or shouldn’t eat based on nutrition. I make them solely on ethical grounds. I refuse to eat dairy not because it’s bad for me, but because it’s bad for cows.

The Paleo Diet: Not the Way to a Healthy Future

The Evolutionary Search for Our Perfect Past.

Eat with your ethics. Because you can.

Changes to the blog!

May 29, 2011

Hey, friends.

Carolyn and I just wanted to let you know that we’ll be making some changes to the way we run our blog over the coming weeks. We initially started this project because we were so disturbed by the intellectual dishonesty of The Vegetarian Myth. As frustrating as it has been at times to engage with such willfully obtuse writing, we feel like we’ve done a credible job of deconstructing much of the text. Our past posts will stand as a contribution to a growing knowledge base compiled by those who are skeptical of the ecological sustainability and ethical legitimacy of paleo-diets.

Food politics are more of a national conversation than ever now and that is a good thing. Even if they’re not sure what the answer should be, more and more people are trying to shake off the nightmare of agribusiness cartels, monocrops and CAFOs that have typified the last century’s food production systems. As radical vegans, we feel compelled to take part in this conversation on how to transition away from a manifestly unsustainable system. Specifically, we want the world to understand that there is no such thing as an “ethical” mode of food production that depends on the systematic murder, reproductive and sexual domination, castration and confinement of nonhuman animals.

Naturally, the marketing agencies employed by those aforementioned agribusinesses want to have their say as well. With budgets in the millions, you can bet that their voices will be heard. Major corporations seeking to appear ahead of the curve are aggressively selling us images of “happy” meat and dairy and, with them, a lower threshold of guilt. Carolyn and I have been at turns disturbed and disheartened by recent trends in what seems to be an anti-movement of reactionary ex-vegans and vegetarians. What made Lierre Keith’s book infuriating enough for us to dedicate so many hours of our lives to its deconstruction is that (presumably) she’s not on the take from corporate marketers! Rather, she purports to come from within our own movement: a self-described ecofeminist who nevertheless believes that other creatures actually appreciate her desire to violate their bodies owing to a connection she projects upon them.

But at the end of the day, though we feel the need to debunk her neurotic and manipulative narrative, we don’t find her personal contribution to food politics all that noteworthy. There comes a point with projects like this at which you either have to change topics or write a book. The Vegetarian Myth does not merit a rejoinder on that level.

What follows from here is going to be our contribution to the ongoing discussion of what our food should be, where it should come from and how it should get to us. We will be lending context to the status quo account of current affairs with the hope of enlivening our readers’ understandings of the ongoing relevance of radical veganism. We’ll be making connections between animal liberation, anti-capitalism, human rights, feminism, and other modes. We’ll be continuing to expand upon the conversation about ecology, agriculture, veganism, and carnism– especially carnism that’s wrapped in radical language. We will also be soliciting essays and articles from outside contributors on their own personal stories of ethical living and ecological wisdom. And if Lierre Keith says anything that’s just too dumb to pass up, we’ll probably comment on it.

Check back here soon for new content.

Carolyn and Alex

Don’t Buy This Book!

October 21, 2010

It’s always important to be familiar with what you’re critiquing, but that doesn’t mean you have to give Lierre Keith your money. Just download the book. I defy anyone to make it through the first chapter without clenching their teeth.

The “C” Word

September 19, 2010

(No, I’m sorry, it’s not “canteloupe.”)

A lot of what we’ve written on our blog so far is about details. Before we did anything else, we wanted to make it clear that Keith’s method of research is profoundly dishonest; that she is willing to distort, fabricate and manipulate as it lends false credence to her polemic against veganism. Suffice it to say, she has obliged us to do a careful, line by line reading of The Vegetarian Myth; there is simply too much wrong with this book to do anything else!

But, for the moment, I would like to take a step back from the details and talk about a particular pachyderm hanging out in that corner over there. He’s wearing a monocle and spats and makes you trade hours of your life for Illuminati tickets. Yes, let’s talk about capitalism, baby. People might misunderstand…but that’s a part of life.

Description vs. Manifestation

“Capitalism” is something of a lazy word to throw around. Like any theory it doesn’t really exist outside of the papers (or blogs) upon which we write its name. Capitalism, like communism, fascism, socialism, totalitarianism, etc. is a vision and an ideal. None of these theories exist in the real world, but would-be governors attempt to prise them from the minds of theorists and overlay them upon civilian populations. Naturally, there are always problems in translation. The unconscionable brutality of Stalinism barely resembles Marx’s hopeful tirade on an inevitable era of social equality, peace and cooperation.

So What Is Capitalism?

Theorists have come up ways to refine their definitions of abstractions like “capitalism” or “communism” by applying funny adjectives to them such as “late stage,” “techno” or “state monopoly.” Sometimes these terms are useful but I think it’s easiest if I just get to the point and tell you exactly what I mean. When I speak of capitalism, I am describing a vast set of economic relationships whose functionality is predicated on their ability to expand. The method of the capitalist system is to extract utility (use value) from resources (anything and everything) in order to maximize profit (monetary gain). This results in the accumulation of capital (money or resources) which is reinvested in order to extract utility from more resources. The drive to maximize profits corollates with an ever-increasing rate of resource extraction. This is expansion.

This cycle is never-ending. When it stops or slows down we end up with depressions, recessions and various other colorful euphemisms for “systemic failure.” The logical engine of capitalism drives toward the location of more resources and it always extract as much use value from them as possible. The ways in which this is problematic do not often occur to people until they think of ways in which workers can be seen as resources, rainforests can be seen as resources, non-human animals can be seen as resources, and so on.

So what does this have to do with Lierre Keith, paleolithic diets and veganism?

This fundamental mode of exploitation, which I argue is central to capitalism, is antithetical to the vegan ethic. Throughout The Vegetarian Myth Lierre Keith makes the assertion that what vegans cite as exploitation is merely the way the world works and that we should accept it. This opens some interesting ethical doors.

When Is(n’t) It Exploitation?

If we are comfortable with Keith’s proposition that killing non-human animals for food is not exploitative, then what would qualify? Certainly not the condition of the working class under capitalism, which could be easily understood as a kinder, gentler form of species-on-species predation. After all, employing an undocumented labor force that at times begins to resemble slavery is downright magnanimous compared to cutting to the chase and eating their bodies. However much green spin is put onto animal husbandry, it entails rape, castration and murder one hundred percent of the time. As malignantly oppressive as the modern institutions of wage slavery are, they have at least been ameliorated through labor and civil rights struggles to the point that workers have some degree of control over their own bodies (although we can see this being eroded through the criminalization of undocumented workers). To what natural law is Keith appealing that she thinks that we ought not do this?

If domestication and murder qualify as “holy” (23-24) then what on Earth doesn’t? The truth is, Keith has packed some abominably exploitative and speciesist assumptions into a Trojan Horse made to resemble ecofeminism and deep ecology. Wishy-washy spirituality notwithstanding, her project is to legitimize the use of nonhuman animal bodies as resources to be exploited. She attempts to obscure this by assuring the reader of that we are simply “eaten as well as eaters…tak[ing] our place at the table” (23). Keith would have us believe that we are not domesticators, but equal participants in domestication. Through some very convoluted rhetorical gymnastics and an anecdote about getting snow down her shirt on the way to feed her chickens, she arrives at the conclusion that domesticated animals are getting a better deal than the humans that eat their flesh. She makes the incredible claim that we are co-evolving with the nonhumans we domesticate in the exact same fashion that any other predator does with their prey. Nowhere does she make mention of the fact that humans wield ultimate biopower over their domesticated charges, binding them to rape racks and managing their (d)evolution so as to rear strains that are unable to stand. After all, they’re not supposed to.

Speciesism and Die-Offs

Once again we are left with this question: if Keith has no problem with managing the biological evolution of animals in such a way as to suit her whims, then why not manage the social evolution of people for the same reasons? The reason, of course, is that Keith is a speciesist who treats “Others” in a way she would never treat humans. Or maybe she would treat them that way. When one considers that Keith’s diet would require a mass die-off (she uses the colorful euphemism, “energy descent” [259]) to be sustainable, one wonders exactly what it is she’s proposing. The last time anything like the food-system she envisions existed, there were 90 million people spread throughout the Americas, many of whom did depend on “the ten-thousand year rupturing gash of agriculture” (271) to survive. With 300 million in the United States alone, where are we going to find the land to make this fantasy into reality? How do we attain this primitivist Eden when, to feed those suicidally noble New England cows Keith won’t shut up about, it would take 390,000,000 square miles of land? Oh, and that’s when you’re looking at a diet supplemented with grains. Suddenly, soylent green’s starting to look kind of viable.

I didn’t find an answer to these questions in The Vegetarian Myth. They weren’t asked. I found a lot of starry-eyed paens to animals that are totally okay with being raped and murdered as long as you pray over them first. I found a lot of fetishistic portrayals of non-industrial indigenous cultures whose lifeways Keith wants to appropriate. I found absolutely incessant invocation of a long-lost green utopia that Keith rhetorically hides from, tantalizes with and re-discovers for the reader. I found a lot of dumped quotes from Derrick Jensen, because he published her book. I found a disturbing amount of passages where Lierre Keith actually tries to write from the perspective of a voice inside the reader’s head. This book is actually a triumph of programming in the way it tries to seize on the reader’s perceived insecurities, works to break her down through a steady rhythm of emotional needling and then, when she’s at her lowest point, present Weston Price and Derrick Jensen cloaked in the language of woo-woo spirituality. This book is, as a good friend quipped, “fucking bonkers.” In my next post, we’ll get deep in to just how fucking bonkers it gets.

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.