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on March 24, 2016
I'm 1/3 of the way through this book and it still hasn't covered what diet a person should be eating. I thought that would be the whole point behind a book like this. It's more on the moral complications of what to eat and the consequences of it. I like how it shows what agriculture is doing to the planet and at the same time what confined animal factory operations are also doing. It's more of a message to the world that we need to stop what we're doing and how things have spun out of control the way it is. It's also a wake-up call to vegans and vegetarians that their diet is lacking in some areas that could result in irreversible damage to their bodies. I think the bottom line is try to eat smart and while the meat in the supermarket may be a bad choice health-wise and world-wise, meat is still essential for good health.
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This book is as the description says, 'part memoir, nutritional primer, and political manifesto.'

Lots of books talk about the harm eating processed foods and high levels of sugars and grains on our health, but this book is one of the few that combines this with information about the effect all these many grain crops have on our environment and on many different ecosystems.

The author talks about all the hidden death that is involved in the production of foods such as grain crops, and why vegan meals may involve far more death than the more obvious death of a single animal to provide a meal for an omnivore. Many animals are made extinct when land is cleared for grain crops and billions of small animals such as mice and rabbits are killed every year by harvesting equipment, for example.

The book explains that buying a soy burger may give you an emotional quick fix but it does nothing at all to deal with any of the bigger issues, is terrible for your health, and gives money to some of the biggest corporations that are causing some of the worst problems in worldwide hunger and so on. To be truly moral in our eating habits involves more than just extending morality to a few animals who are most like us. The rest of the world, all those billions of other lives, count too.

The author also writes about how our soils need to eat and what they need to eat is either fossil fuels or animal products such as manure, and that there is no way around this. That we are part of a circle of life and trying to separate ourselves from this cycle is causing a lot of problems for our environment.

The author explains that we are designed to eat meat and that the shocking figures often quoted about the huge use of resources to produce meat are not only inaccurate but also misleading as they are always based on grain-fed animals that are factory farmed. Grass-fed and free range meats are a different matter entirely.

Some quotes:

"Soil, species, rivers. That's the death in your food. Agriculture is carnivorous; what it eats is ecosystems, and it swallows them whole."

"A vegan agriculture is an ecological wasteland."

This book warns against the very real health dangers of a low-fat and low-protein vegan diet. Despite the title, this book talks little about vegetarianism, and is really discussing issues around veganism, mostly.

The Weston A. Price Foundation, which I agree with the author is the best website on nutrition that is available, says that one can be healthy eating a vegetarian diet that includes liberal amounts of healthy fats such as saturated fats from coconut oil, organic/free range eggs and good quality fresh milk. A vegetarian diet can be done healthily, they explain, although you do still miss out on some of the most nutritionally dense and important foods such as liver and bone broths. So it can be done healthily but isn't exactly the same.

It is also true that some of us really can't feel well eating purely a vegetarian diet while for others, done right, it seems to work for them. People have biochemical individuality and just because some can be vegetarians it doesn't mean we all can.

Veganism is different to vegetarianism, nutritionally speaking, and is not supportable particular when it comes to pregnant women and children. (More information on this in the brilliant book 'Deep Nutrition.')

Some of the personal memoir parts of the book were very well done and very moving. The most moving was the author's description of the day she started eating meat again. I admire the authors writing style as well as her immense bravery in writing such a book and I'm sad she has had to cop so much unfair criticism. This book is not harshly written and the authors deep compassion for people and animals and all forms of life shines through every part of this book.

The sections on nutrition were excellent. The author discusses lectins, the problems of a high carb and high sugar diet, how little difference there is in eating sugar or grains - which the body turns into glucose just as it does with sugar, the cholesterol and saturated fat myths, the problem of opiates in grain and dairy products, the lack of vitamin A in plant foods and the need for fat in the diet to absorb fat soluble vitamins such as vitamin A, the huge problems with soy and especially pregnant women and babies, and small kids eating soy, and the importance of fat, protein and animal foods. The author also summarises the work of Weston A. Price and Sally Fallon, Gary Taubes, Schmid, Eades and Marg Enig PhD very well.

For more information on nutrition I'd recommend readers check out the books by all those authors, they are all excellent.

This book is essential reading if you are following a low-fat vegan diet, if you think any type of low-fat diet is healthy, or if you think eating lots of wheat or soy foods such as soy milk, soy burgers and soy shakes is a healthy and highly moral choice and makes you part of the environmental solution rather than the problem. Read the book with an open mind and then make up your own mind.

I'd also recommend this book to everyone who eats food as you are bound to get something useful from this book, whether it is a new way of thinking about food or the environmental impact of our food, or some new ideas on making different food choices. This book doesn't discuss every issue surrounding this topic, and isn't all you need to read all on its own, but does make some very valuable contributions to the wider discussion of this topic.

The idea that we need to eat the foods our genes evolved to eat to be healthy makes so much sense. It also makes a lot of sense that this applies to animals as well and that feeding cows grains, which make them ill, is a very bad idea - as is growing food in ways which aren't sustainable and which negatively impact our health, so many other living things and the health of our planet.

Despite its imperfections this book well and truly deserves 5 stars.

Jodi Bassett, The Hummingbirds' Foundation for M.E.
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on March 13, 2015
Well written book! I ate a strict vegan diet for 5 years. I did plenty of reading and believed my decisions were leading to a death free diet. Lierre Keith with a few pointed facts and scenarios showed me that I had missed taking certain details of my food production into account. I was still leading to many animal deaths unbeknown to me at the time. This book has plenty food for thought and I felt the book non judgemental or pushy... Good read! And a small shout out to Steven Crowder for the Lierre Kieth interview.
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on March 19, 2016
Though I think the book is mistitled, I will be recommending it to everyone I know. Beautifully researched myth-busting on what humans are at root and how agriculture has ravaged every environment. I loved it.
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on October 25, 2012
This book features an incredible body of research, it is well written and easy to understand. Any negative feedback is due to a lack of understanding or ignorantly hanging on to desired believes. It is a must read for anyone concerned about their health as well as the health of our planet. The author masterfully covered a variety of different subjects and concepts.

This book is thoughtful, thought provoking and well thought off .... in one word exceptional.
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on April 13, 2011
Keith wears her heart on her sleeve and never holds back from inserting her personal opinions. She also thoroughly documents what she so passionately expounds. There's no stepping back or hiding from the implications. Agriculture has screwed up the planet. Every plowed field represents thousands of deaths and degradation of the soil on which we depend. Not eating meat does not make us innocent. We are all culpable, and there are no easy solutions, but we can still change.

I remember years ago seeing Joseph Campbell quoted as saying, "A vegetarian is someone who's never heard a vegetable scream." Keith honors all beings - plants, animals, stones, soil. One by one, she slashes through the practices and beliefs that are destroying the planet, then offers sign posts for a new path.

This is an important book that doesn't allow the reader to hide beneath any mantle of righteous action. Read it. Discuss it with friends. Be prepared to be uncomfortable. Be prepared to change.
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on April 7, 2010
It takes a brave and honest soul to write a book like this, not to mention a sharp and inquisitive mind. Lierre Keith should be applauded for her courage, curiosity and insight. I was blown away by this book; I could not put it down. I have never been a vegetarian, but her story is one everybody needs to hear. Vegetarians and vegans will find her approach very understanding and sympathetic towards those beliefs, even as she explains why they are misleading and destructive.

This book is exhaustive in its research, heart wrenching in its honesty, and mind blowing in its brutal truths. Keith deomolishes the animal-products-are-bad-for-us-and-the-planet diatribe with reason, heart, science, and personal experience. She examines the 3 major philosphies behind veganism (moral, political and nutritional) and shatters them one by one. She then explains her views on what might work to feed the planet and keep us healthy, and it is not by growing monocrops of wheat, corn or soy. My mind and eyes were opened wide by this book. I am amazed at how much I learned from Ms. Keith.

Despite my overwhelming applause, I must admit to having to brush away several spots of male bashing now and then. Keith has very strong feminist views that cloud her otherwise clear voice in a few places. But these spots are very brief and easily skipped over. The information she offers is sound, she has researched her topics thoroughly and her writing style is fluid and captivating.

As I said above, this is my #1 pick for the year, and I read a lot of books on a wide variety of topics. Give this to someone you care about, especially if they are thinking of going vegan or care about the planet and sustainability.
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on June 19, 2014
This is an excellent, impassioned analysis of exactly why vegetarianism won't save the planet and is actually harming the ecosystem and the health of the people who practice it. It delves into everything from loss of topsoil to eating disorders and is just perfectly focused and sharp. I love the author's mix of anger and love. If every ten year old girl in the western world were handed this book, it might actually make a significant impact.
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on September 5, 2012
The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith is well-written and appears to be well-researched, on the surface.
The book makes a lot of points about our food system, but the one that Keith most wants vegans to accept is that a decision to not consume animal products out of a desire not to kill anything is a dishonest one. Every means of feeding ourselves requires that organisms die. Monoculture, particularly as applied to the production of grain, relies on herbicides, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers. This results in the degradation of soil and the death of every living organism that lives in it or creates it. Vegans, according to Keith, rely on grains as a staple and therefore their lifestyle is just as damaging as a lifestyle that relies on animals for food.
That's an indictment of agriculture, and not of plant-based nutrition. I think people are increasingly aware that monoculture is degrading to the earth. Plants consume more than just nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), and potassium (K). Feeding plants with commercial NPK fertilizers starves the plants as well as the soil. People are also increasingly aware that the grain we eat in North America is overly refined, hybridized and genetically modified, to the extent that it's not a healthy food. In terms of solutions, it would be more reasonable to look at sustainable and natural methods of growing plants (and of raising livestock).
When Keith writes that all food choices mean that something must die, her argument against veganism loses momentum because vegetarianism or no, something must always die. In that regard, it doesn't matter what you eat.
Keith then goes on to assess the human digestive system and its bearing on our ability to eat plants.
There is a table in Keith's book that shows the physical characteristics to support her argument that we are not meant to eat plants. It's taken from Walter Voegtlin's book The Stone Age Diet. Many of the data points in the table are simply incorrect.
- The table shows that the human jaw is capable only of vertical (crushing) motion and not rotary (grinding) motion. Our jaws move in both a vertical and a rotary fashion. We close our jaws vertically until the teeth make contact, then we rotate slightly to grind the food.
- The table shows that mastication is unimportant to human digestion. On the contrary, mastication is the first step in human digestion; it breaks the food into smaller particles and mixes it with salivary amylase which converts starch to sugar. Humans who do not properly chew their food have a myriad of digestive ailments.
- The table shows that gastric acidity in human stomach is strong yet the digestive activity in the stomach is weak. That's like saying the acid has no purpose.
- The table shows that food absorption in the human stomach is non-existant and that's true but irrelevant because we absorb through our small intestines. However the table skips the small intestine completely, which is necessary if you want it to support a claim that we are not meant to ingest plants.
- The table shows that humans can survive without a stomach, colon, cecum, microorganisms, and plants but not without animal protein. That claim is absurd and easy to ignore in light of the lack of data to support it.
- The table says the ratio of body length to digestive tract in humans is 1:5 and less than that of a dog. Keith has been badly mislead by Voegtlin's 'data'. Body length for purposes of comparing digestive systems refers to the distance from mouth to anus. A human's body is between 2 feet and 3 feet long, and our digestive system is about 27 feet long (with 23 of them taken up by the small intestines), which gives us a ratio that ranges from 1:13 to 1:9. The fact that most of the digestive tract is devoted to the small intestine, which Keith ignores in her data, very clearly shows that food is intended to take a long time to get through the system. This clearly supports the inclusion of plant matter in our diet.
Keith claims that 'vegan guru' David Wolfe writes books about diet without knowing a thing about how humans actually digest. Wolfe argues that you can get protein from plants as shown by the capability of gorillas, hippos, zebras, giraffes, rhinos and elephants to build muscle from plants. Keith argues that the gorilla can build muscles from plant protein only because of microorganisms in its gut that can digest cellulose. Keith argues that humans are not physically designed to eat grains (or even plants) because we cannot digest cellulose.
Keith's argument fails in several ways:
First, very little of the plant's protein is found in its cellular membranes (cellulose): most of the protein in plants is in the form of enzymes. Enzymes contribute to all chemical reactions in the plant, and after being consumed by animals, those enzymes contribute to the digestion, absorption, and utilization of the plant's nutrients inside the body.
Second, cellulose, or undigested fibre, promotes the movement of food through the human digestive system. Without it, we suffer from the effects of constipation. Without regular elimination of body wastes, toxins remain in the body longer and cause more damage.
Third, cellulose is found only in the outer membrane of the plant's cell walls. We can break the membrane in our consumption of the food, by chewing, and in our preparation of the food, by chopping, cooking, or fermenting. After the membrane has been broken, the macro- and micronutrients are easily accessed.
It appears that Keith has a poor understanding of both plant physiology and human digestion.
Keith's arguments also tend to be weighted heavily towards protein. Plants provide far more than just protein. There is a growing body of evidence to show that we need the vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients in plants to stay healthy. More evidence is produced daily to show the effects of plant-based nutrients in the prevention of lifestyle-related conditions such as heart disease and cancer.
I don't advise people to avoid reading Keith's book. It is important to understand the arguments that people make against plant-based nutrition. After reading Keith's book, I deduced that agricultural practices are the issue here, and not plants as a food source. It might not be as easy for everyone to disregard the 'data' that Keith uses in support of her argument against eating plants. To that end, I suggest that you research digestion and nutrition yourself or consult with a qualified holistic nutritionist.
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on July 31, 2011
This book was written by a very courageous woman. It clearly shows the detrimental effects of BELIEF. In her case the belief that vegetarianism is good for you and all humanity. The consequence was that she wrecked her health. Her exploration into the effects of agriculture on our planet and on society at large is a painful eye opener. It explained to me the state of the world and society and the future looks grim until we ALL together make a choice for change and act on it.
Highly recommended.
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