The (Actual) Truth About Soy

June 7, 2011

This warrants reposting. A few years back, we were seeing a lot of stories in the mainstream media suggesting that high soy consumption could put you at risk for breast cancer, amongst a host of maladies. Most of the news agencies (even Fox) have since recanted, deferring to a litany of peer-reviewed research of the kind Zen Habits cites. Unfortunately, they seem to have inadvertently made a lot of two-drink experts (you know, they kind of person who becomes an expert on everything once he gets two drinks in him) with their initial misstep. As we all know, the best way to send them sulking back to the bar is to arm yourself with information.

I won’t allege any sort of media conspiracy to turn people off healthy food and onto meat and dairy; the media mirrors the United States’ obsession with finding some kind of perfect nutritional formula to make our bodies run at mythological efficiency. The media, in their ever frantic scramble for eyeball hours, seem to have seized upon a meme planted by the Weston Price Foundation in spite of WPF having been roundly and repeatedly discredited as purveyors of pseudoscience.

We live in an unprecedented age of information sharing. It’s never been easier for any old yahoo with a library card to, oh I don’t know…let’s say, start a blog to deflate a would-be demagogue through elementary fact checking. That’s why it’s such a shame how many people are willing to cede instant credibility to any soundbite followed by a citation. It may make a good conversation piece at parties or it may make your viewers stare at the screen just long enough to see the first few seconds of the commercial break, but it can’t be the groundwork for an intellectually honest conversation about issues that matter. If we take questions of sustainability, food justice and animal rights seriously, then we need to make a serious effort to educate ourselves. That involves doing primary research and not simply relying on syntheses by authors who support opinions we already hold. Like they say at l’Académie Française: “get off of Wikipedia, I’ll see you in the stacks!”1

1Nobody at l’Académie Française has ever said, written or thought this. You see why it’s important to check footnotes?

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.