If you’re consuming what you’re growing in the back yard by the fence, you might also be fielding potshots from friends who, at the mention of the V word, react with “Plants have feelings and they choose not to be killed,” “It’s all right for you, but I was just diagnosed with ____ and I have to eat meat,” “Do you know how many nematodes die for your crops?” etc.
Objectors to vegan living have a perennial supporter in the Weston A. Price Foundation, a group promoting animal fats as essential to perfect health. The group seeks universal access to raw cows’ milk, and butter and full-fat milk for babies and school kids.
A former Price Foundation director, the late Stephen Byrnes, wrote The Myths of Vegetarianism—a manifesto attacking vegetarian living as inconsistent with the habits of our Paleolithic ancestors; associating vegan-organic growing with agrochemical use and low cholesterol with suicide; and calling Benjamin Spock’s encouragement to vegetarian youngsters “genocidal misinformation.”
In a newer book, this one titled The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability, author Lierre Keith appropriates vital concepts—justice and sustainability—to praise animal agribusiness some more. The Vegetarian Myth associates vegetarians with bulimia, rickets, rage and low test scores, and asserts that animal fats promote longevity. Vegetable cultivation itself brings disease, writes Keith, whereas “no one speaks of ‘the diseases of hunter-gatherers’ because they are largely disease-free.”
The concept of an average healthy caveman (or is it caveperson?) is the Paleo muse. Most Paleo-dieters avoid peas, peanuts and beans; but they do eat a lot of meat, often cooked in animal fats. Most stay away from junk food, processed grains and dairy products, because those weren’t around in the stone age. But Lierre Keith, like the Weston A. Price Foundation, endorses dairy products.
One of Keith’s house guests, we learn, was given eggs, and “stammered in awe” at the offering. Keith explains, “She’d never had eggs from chickens who happily lounged and hunted and lounged some more in woods and pastures, nor cream from heirloom cows who spent contented lives with their heads in the grass.” Keith’s tome gets a “thumbs up” from the Weston A. Price Foundation.
Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm appears in The Vegetarian Myth as a sound alternative to feed crops, and Salatin as “one of the High Priests of sustainable farming.” Yet Polyface does rely on grain, and likely requires more calories in feed than it produces in food, according to mathematician Adam Merberg.
Lierre Keith claims to suffer from multiple, long-term, degenerative illnesses caused by eating as a vegan for long periods, and reports feeling alive again after returning to flesh foods. Any pangs of conscience? Not very strong ones. “I have looked my food in the eye,” writes Keith. “I have raised some of it myself, loved it when it was small and defenseless. I have learned to kill.”
Keith derides vegans because some of them want to put up fences to protect prey from predators. But moral disdain for carnivorous animals is a common human error—not arising among vegans only.
Keith suggests that eating free-range chickens, grass-fed cows and sheep will bring wolves back. It won’t. Free-range farmers kill predator animals with a vengeance. Keith decries domination, yet promotes beef cattle and dairy cows—animals who would not exist apart from domination. “If we want a sustainable world, we have to be willing to examine the power relations behind the foundational myth of our culture,” writes Keith. But … exactly. How Keith’s book got endorsed by Alice Walker, who famously compared the use of animals to sexism, is anyone’s guess. Pacifica Radio’s San Francisco Bay Area radio station, KPFA, has also promoted the book, saying it’s been called “the most important ecological book of this generation.” (By whom?) Endgame author Derrick Jensen’s cover endorsement for The Vegetarian Myth states: “This book saved my life.”
And here is another funny thing.
Lee Hall is Legal VP for Friends of Animals, a candidate for Vermont Law School’s LL.M. in environmental law (2014); and the author of On Their Own Terms: Bringing Animal Rights Philosophy Down to Earth (2010). Lee presented work at the nexus of intersex and animal-rights activism at the University of North Carolina Asheville Spring 2013 Queering Spaces – Queering Borders Conference.