TheVegetarian Myth: food, justice, and sustainability

by Lierre Keith
Tuesday 27 July 2010 by anik

This was not an easy book to write. For many of
you, it won’t be an easy book to read. I know. I was a vegan for almost
twenty years. I know the reasons that compelled me to embrace an
extreme diet and they are honorable, ennobling even. Reasons like
justice, compassion, a desperate and all-encompassing longing to set
the world right. To save the planet—the last trees bearing witness to
ages, the scraps of wilderness still nurturing fading species, silent in
their fur and feathers. To protect the vulnerable, the voiceless. To feed
the hungry. At the very least to refrain from participating in the hor-
ror of factory farming.

These political passions are born of a hunger so deep that it
touches on the spiritual. Or they were for me, and they still are. I
want my life to be a battle cry, a war zone, an arrow pointed and
loosed into the heart of domination: patriarchy, imperialism, indus-
trialization, every system of power and sadism. If the martial imagery
alienates you, I can rephrase it. I want my life—my body—to be a
place where the earth is cherished, not devoured; where the sadist is
granted no quarter; where the violence stops. And I want eating—the
first nurturance—to be an act that sustains instead of kills.

This book is written to further those passions, that hunger. It is
not an attempt to mock the concept of animal rights or to sneer at the people who want a gentler world. Instead, this book is an effort
to honor our deepest longings for a just world. And those longings—
for compassion, for sustainability, for an equitable distribution of
resources—are not served by the philosophy or practice of vegetarian-
ism. We have been led astray. The vegetarian Pied Pipers have the best
of intentions. I’ll state right now what I’ll be repeating later: every-
thing they say about factory farming is true. It is cruel, wasteful, and
destructive. Nothing in this book is meant to excuse or promote the
practices of industrial food production on any level.

But the first mistake is in assuming that factory farming—a
practice that is barely fifty years old—is the only way to raise ani-
mals. Their calculations on energy used, calories consumed, humans
unfed, are all based on the notion that animals eat grain.

You can feed grain to animals, but it is not the diet for which
they were designed. Grain didn’t exist until humans domesticated
annual grasses, at most 12,000 years ago, while aurochs, the wild
progenitors of the domestic cow, were around for two million
years before that. For most of human history, browsers and graz-
ers haven’t been in competition with humans. They ate what we
couldn’t eat—cellulose—and turned it into what we could—protein
and fat. Grain will dramatically increase the growth rate of beef
cattle (there’s a reason for the expression “cornfed”) and the milk
production of dairy cows. It will also kill them. The delicate bacte-
rial balance of a cow’s rumen will go acid and turn septic. Chickens
get fatty liver disease if fed grain exclusively, and they don’t need
any grain to survive. Sheep and goats, also ruminants, should really
never touch the stuff.

Read the pdf.

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