Lierre Keith suffers from numerous chronic health problems. Unable to secure a diagnosis for most of them, she decided that the vegan diet she had followed for twenty years was to blame. But she wasn’t content to add a few animal products back to her diet. Instead, she set out to prove that healthy diets require copious amounts of animal foods and that small-scale animal farming is the answer to sustainability. To prove it, she has cobbled together information from websites (yes, she actually cites Wikipedia!) and a few popular pseudoscientific books.
It’s next to impossible to review this book; it is so packed with misinformation and confusion that refuting the claims could be another book itself. This is a long post, and it doesn’t begin to address all of the problems in The Vegetarian Myth.
I read the section on nutrition first. Since it’s my area of expertise, I figured it would give me some idea of the quality of her research and analysis. But quality isn’t at issue here because there is no research or analysis. Keith doesn’t bother with primary sources; she depends almost exclusively on the opinions of her favorite popular authors, which she presents as proof of her theories. For example, when she writes about evolution as it affects dietary needs, and suggests that “the archeological evidence is incontrovertible,” she is actually referencing the book Protein Power, written by two physicians who have no expertise in evolution or anthropology. It’s a neat trick, of course, because we have no idea where the Protein Power authors got their information. By burying all of the actual studies this way, she makes it laborious for readers to check her facts.
I doubt she did this on purpose. And I don’t think she was being sloppy or lazy, either. She just doesn’t understand how complex the research is and she certainly doesn’t know much about basic nutrition. Worse, her conclusions are indebted to the Weston A Price Foundation, a non-credible group that bases its recommendations on the opinions of a dentist who wrote up his observations of indigenous populations in the 1930s.
Keith makes a big point about the fact that humans now eat foods—grains—that our Paleolithic ancestors rarely ate. But she never discusses the fact that dairy, a food she heartily endorses, falls into the same category. In fact, while grains could be gathered, ground and consumed by our ancestors, dairy is 100% dependent on agriculture. The fact that normal human development—throughout most of the world, at least—results in a decreased ability to digest dairy foods, should provide a major clue that humans did not evolve to consume them. None of this gets even a mention in the book.
Instead, we get page after page of contradictions, fabrications, and misinterpretations. Not surprisingly, given the sources she uses, Keith is woefully confused about fats. She believes that saturated fat is needed for absorption of vitamins and minerals, that polyunsaturated fat is “low-fat,” and that we have a dietary need for cholesterol. In fact, we have no dietary need for either saturated fat or cholesterol—there is no RDA for either. The liver makes all the cholesterol our bodies require. And the two essential fatty acids required by humans—both unsaturated—are found in plant foods.
On page 172 she suggests that fat intake has dropped by 25% over the past 15 years. Thirty pages later she says it has fallen by 10%. You might think that this discrepancy would send her to the actual data, in which case she would have found that fat intake has increased over the past 15 years. Among Americans, total fat intake is around 33% of calories and a good one-third of that is saturated fat—so her belief that Americans consume 30% of their calories as polyunsaturated fat is also wrong.
There is a long section on eating disorders with the popular claim that vegetarian diets are a cause. But the experts who have done research in this area point out that girls with anorexia may choose vegetarian diets as a way of masking their eating behavior. There is no evidence—according to these experts—that girls who are vegetarian or vegan are any more likely than anyone else to develop an eating disorder.
Like most anti-vegetarians she is vehemently against soy, insisting that it reduces testosterone levels and therefore male libido (there is no evidence of this) and she speculates that African-American girls reach puberty faster because they are more likely to be enrolled as infants in food assistance programs like WIC and therefore, to be fed soy infant formula. It’s true that African-American babies are less likely to be breastfed, but I couldn’t find any indication that they consume more soy formula. And, recent research has linked animal protein to earlier puberty and cow’s milk to excessive growth in children. There is no evidence that soy is involved in either; in fact, recent preliminary research suggests that soy could slightly delay puberty in girls.
On page 227, she notes that “Mark Messina, a champion of soy, thinks the Japanese eat 8.6 [grams of soyfoods] per day,” or less than a tablespoon. Really? Well, I happen to be married to Mark Messina, so I have a fairly good idea of what he “thinks” about soy intake. But even if I didn’t know him, I could read his 2006 analysis of soy intake data that was published in the peer-reviewed medical journal Nutrition and Cancer. Apparently, Keith didn’t or she would have seen that Asian soy intake is the equivalent of 1 to 1 ½ servings or more per day. Why did she get this so wrong? It’s because she doesn’t understand that there is a difference between soy protein intake and soy food intake. A cup of soymilk contains around 7 grams of soy protein, so the 8.6 to 11 grams of protein that the Japanese typically eat is equal to at least a serving per day.
(There is much more on soy in this book, covering all the usual criticisms, but I’m going to address that in another post; it’s a big topic.)
I’m less able to evaluate her discussion of the environmental consequences of animal farming, although it seems reasonable to assume that she gets as much wrong in this section. Some things did jump out. Notably, she points out that ten acres on Polyface Farm can produce enough food to feed 9 people for a year. But on his blog Say What Michael Pollan, mathematician Adam Merberg performs calculations which suggest that Polyface requires more calories in feed (for the chickens) than it produces in food. The numbers aren’t nearly as egregious as those for factory farming, but they suggest that there is no such thing as truly sustainable meat production. (For more on environmental questions associated with Polyface, I highly recommend Adam’s review of the Omnivore’s Dilemma.)
It’s true that Keith is vehemently against factory farming for both environmental and ethical reasons. But she remains convinced that food production is impossible without animal waste, which ignores the value of leguminous cover crops in fixing soil nitrogen.
But Keith didn’t give up veganism because of concerns about the environment; she gave it up because she didn’t feel well. Much of where she goes wrong is in confusing food cravings with biological needs. When she decides to eat her first bite of tuna fish after 20 years as a vegan, she says “I don’t know how to describe what happened next. […] I could feel every cell in my body—literally every cell—pulsing. And finally, finally being fed. Oh god, I thought: this is what it feels like to be alive.”
This, more than anything, shows that Keith’s conviction about her need for meat has to do with something other than nutrition—because food just does not work like that. Eating a bite of tuna—no matter how deficient you might be in a nutrient that it supplies—does not cause all of your body cells to start pulsing. It wouldn’t cause you to feel too much of anything. (At the very least, you’d have to digest and absorb it first!)
It’s true that some vegans are too skinny and are not healthy. They don’t eat enough fat or enough calories or they refuse to supplement with vitamin B12. Or they make any of the many mistakes that people make with all types of diets. But Keith insists that a vegan diet will damage us all–she is 100% certain of this–and it is simply not true. It’s not supported by nutrition science and it isn’t supported by simple observations of long-term vegans, not to mention vegan-from-birth children.
Interestingly, she never tells us what she ate when she was vegan or what she eats now that she is an omnivore. Except to say that she used to eat “all carbohydrates” (All? No wonder she was sick) and that she now eats mostly animals and their secretions. And while she thinks she understands “moral vegetarians,” she reveals her total disconnect from a vegan ethic with three short sentences in the closing paragraphs of the book, “I have looked my food in the eye. I have raised some of it myself, loved it when it was small and defenseless. I have learned to kill.”
This is ultimately a sad book. Lierre Keith has suffered from multiple health problems all of her life and was desperate to find an answer. She landed on vegetarianism and then spun a tale to support her theory. Her intent seems heartfelt; she sees herself very much as a savior of vegetarians and wants us to learn from her mistakes. And the book has been widely embraced by those who want to believe that meat-eating is healthy and just. The problem is that there is truly nothing in this book that accurately supports that conclusion.
Thank you much for reviewing this book.
There was ( and is ) a genuine need for people with real educations, real credentials and real experience in the fields Keith wrote about to publicly evaluate her mistaken claims.
By doing such a review you have prevented a number of people from being misguided by Keith's book into harming their health, harming animals and harming the environment.
If you haven't, please consider posting this review on Amazon to help those people avoid purchasing and subsequently being misinformed by her book.
Thank you, again.
Really? Because there are far fewer legitimate citations in this review than there are in Keith’s (imperfect) book. Not much of an argument against what Keith said, imho.
The fact that Messina is a dietitian, which requires 4 years of intensive study, as well as 1 year of internship experience, gives her a bit of a heads up in discussions about vegan nutrition.
That is a prime example of argumentum ad verecundium. An argument for authority.
Simply because someone has received some kind of an education on a topic doesn’t inherently mean their evidence is sufficient to support their claim. Frankly, people tend drift into these arguments to support their ideas when their supposed evidence hasn’t held up enough to do it for them.
No one should ever fall prey to the idea that professionals (in any given subject,) are any more than fallible human beings, just like the rest of us. It’s called human error, and it befalls everyone; even, and sometimes especially, the highly educated.
You have mistaken the concept here. The fallacy is not an “argument for authority”‘ it is in an argument from false authority. For example someone who, say, implies credentials or background knowledge of a thing, when that in fact is not the case. Lierre Kieth would be an example of that, Messina would not. I am sure she can provide citations for any scientific point, citations that would link to Bonaire peer reviewed journals.
logicandreason used the wrong word, instead of “for” she should have used “from”. It was a soft attention slip and despite the small mistake she is right. Chris, on the other hand, isn’t right on what she says. Her example “someone who, say, implies credentials or background knowledge of a thing, when that in fact is not the case” actually would qualify as lying, not the classic authority fallacy… ok
Logicandreason, your logic and reason fail you. To suggest that “professionals (in any tiven subject)” are any less fallible than the rest of us (in reference to those subjects) is to suggest that there is no such thing as an expert in any field, and that one persons gut instincts and dietary cravings are the equal of years of study. That’s pretty much the sort of argument global warming deniers use in discounting the overwhelmingly consistent views of climate scientists in favor of those of the local weatherman. It’s a sort of scientific solipsism, and an approach to knowledge that few actual adhere to when it comes to, say, a needed surgery or repair work on their automobile.
John Mayer, I think you are confused about what the word fallible means, because your first sentence seems to suggest you think experts are MORE fallible than a layperson, which I don’t think you actually believe. In any case, the whole value of being an expert is that Messina should have more familiarity with the research and can back up her claims. While it is true that a nutritionist is a more trustworthy source than a former vegetarian, it’s ALSO true that there are many different nutritionists in the world with contradicting claims about vegetarianism.
Professionals (so-called “experts”) are perhaps MORE likely to be biased since their income and prestige are tied up in their beliefs. Also, most ego minds are rather closed to ANY discussions which might challenge their cherished beliefs. It’s human nature…
That’s because this review is a couple of pages, not hundreds, long, and because it’s a summary.
No doubt when Ms. Mesina decides to expand this brief review into a full book she will include footnotes and references, and far more scientifically sound ones than Keith has done. No such bibliography is required or would be practical in writing every review. A frequent reviewer would never find time to do anything else.
I’m guessing you are more concerned with a perceived threat to your cherished preconceptions than you are to scholarly notation styles.
My thoughts exactly!!!!! Keith presents NO substantiated facts. She dismisses Weston Price Foundation in a sentence. I believe she has an agenda, and it is NOT the truth.
nutsnseedz, my thoughts exactly, good point. Even though the writer brings up good questions and speculations she doesn’t follow up her arguments. I feel like anyone could have written this high speculative review that obviously didn’t require much “professional” knowledge.
Great post, thanks for all your work, I am going to bookmark it!
I have one problem with this text. The author here says that vegans who are not healthy are mostly that because they don’t take supplements. So, this proves Keith’s text. Supplements don’t exist in nature, so if there is no industry to produce them, were are you gonna get them from?? Not everybody on this world lives in First World America. There are places so poor, so fucked up, that you don’t have any choice but to eat meat. I don’t think there are any vegan eskimos. Everything is easy when you are a middle class white American. Plus i have worked in agriculture. There is no way you are not going to kill something when you toil the land. Ants, worms, etc. They all gotta die. And they are alive too. Just because they are smaller from a, lets say, pig, that doesn’t mean that they are less important.
I have many problems with your comment. Vegans only need to supplement B12, everything else should be provided in a balanced diet. B12 comes from bacteria in the soil, which is ingested by animals, and is the reason they contain it. Prior to humans overconsumption of animal products, B12 was found in water. Water is no longer a source due to chlorination in the developed world, and thus needs to be supplemented. Vegans don’t expect those who are unable to go vegan to go vegan, that’s unrealistic. Are you suggesting that just because one cannot get rid of all harm and suffering that they should continue to harm those that can easily be unharmed? That’s a very unintelligent statement. Vegans aim to reduce as much suffering as possible. In addition, animals consume at least half of the food produced, so feeding food to animals that could be fed to humans with leftovers causes a lot more suffering.
John, most farmed animals are supplemented with vitamin B12 as well as other nutrients, as I’m sure you know. Meat eaters’ sources of nutrients aren’t as natural as generally assumed. What is important to many people is which sources do the least harm…to the animals, to the environment, and to ourselves.
"But she remains convinced that food production is impossible without animal waste, which ignores the value of leguminous cover crops in fixing soil nitrogen."
I'm an agronomist and I'm not convinced that food production is possible without animal waste. Have you seen any studies on sustainable veganic? It's being done in some small-scale settings, but it's not considering very promising. Of course sewage sludge and fossil-fuel derived fertilizers work very well productivity-wise, but there are other reasons not to use those.
But Melissa – animals don't create nutrients for the soil – they simply concentrate the nutrients from the plants they eat, and in doing so lose some of those nutrients in the process as they produce the manure. With the exception of some termites, I'm not aware of any significant amount of nitrogen-fixing bacteria that live inside of animal guts. You get more nitrogen in the soil if you use legumes as cover crops and then turn them under than you would by growing plants and having animals eat those plants and produce manure.
Veganic agriculture can be successful, as documented by the Vegan Organic Network, but yes, on the face of it the productivity looks to be less than either conventional farms or standard organic agriculture. However, this is because veganic agriculture generally tries to produce the large majority of its nutrients on-site rather than taking nutrients away from other locations. When organic farms use manure as a source of nutrients, much of the manure comes from non-organic farms where the animals are fed food grown using commercial fertilizers such as ammonium nitrate, produced using lots of fossil fuel. Thus, the organic farms are often using commercial fertilizers, but only indirectly – passing that fertilizer (in the form of grain) through animals and then on to the organic field. To re-emphasize – that nitrogen in the manure did not come from the animal – its origins is mainly the commercial fertilizer used to grow the grains or forage fed to the animals. Other organic farmers use fish waste – taking those nutrients away from the sea where they could have helped feed the ocean ecosystems.
If veganic agriculture used the same sorts of practices – robbing nutrients from off-site in order to boost productivity on-site – they could be just as productive as standard organic farms. However, that would be a false productivity, because there would be no overall increase in ecosystem productivity – only a concentration on where that productivity occurs.
Peter Spendelow, Ph.D.
Peter, organic beef production in Australia is generally free range, so it does not rob nutrients off site.
I profess I’m not an expert in this, but if animal waste is good for the soil / growing food then why not just use it. This isn’t an argument to then kill the animals for food, why not just let them live out their lives in a sanctuary type setting. I suppose feed costs still need to be considered, but surely there is a way to manage this and build it into the overall costs of food generation.
I appreciate your comments but your information is incorrect. Veganic agriculture has been around for a long time and is increasing in popularity. We all know that Organic agriculture has been proven to produce higher yields then conventional and also contains more nutrients. The cool thing is that veganic agriculture has even bigger yields and more nutrients! One example of this is wheat. Veganic wheat produces up to 10x that of conventional and about 3x that of organic. All while containing more nutrients.
I agree, vegan agriculture has been around actually forever. Take a look in the history about it – until people actually managed to create all other sorts of agriculture, vegan was the first one. Before vegan was I guess only hunting, that’s it.
This isn’t actually true. Europeans are responsible for the agriculture we know today but in the Americas there was nothing but “veganic” agriculture, supporting millions of people, because there simply weren’t any animals that could have been domesticated. Unfortunately when they were wiped out the founders of the new world carried on the old world’s agricultural practices.
“in the Americas there was nothing but “veganic” agriculture”
Except, supposedly, the planting of beans, squash & corn together was accompanied by a dead fish. Likely to happen only where fish were plentiful.
I’ve been making “cow-free manure” by composting grass clippings (a fairly universal resource in the U.S.) in large (7-10gallon) plant pots, and using the results to make manure tea, before tossing the rest into the compost pile.
Of course, if one considers the bacteria & other life forms that break down vegetation to plant-available nutrients, then I’d have to agree that animal waste is essential to farming that doesn’t count on petroleum-based resources. ^..^
You may not be “convinced” that you can produce food without animal waste, but I’ve been doing it for many years in my garden, which happens to be organic, but that’s pretty much just a whim; not all vegans are sold on the importance of organic farming methods (as I am not). My boyhood was spent on a small farm where we grew much of our own produce and meat. Much of our hog manure went into the garden, but that was a small portion of the fertilizer we used, which was mostly compost and, no doubt, occasional bags of 6-12-12. My mother, in later years, worked in ag information at our local university and they produced crops in a number of ways, experimentally, including without manure.
Thanks for a great (and very useful) review. I agree completely with your assessment of The Vegetarian Myth as a sad book, and I appreciate your rigor and clear, concise style. Keith could learn a thing or two from you!
Thanks so much for these comments–and yes, I will definitely put a review on amazon and also on goodreads.
Melissa, I'm not an expert on the agricultural issues at all, of course, so hopefully others can chime in here with more information. I'm familiar with one study–which I know about only because I read about it in Anna Lappe's book "Diet for a Hot Planet" (so I'm pulling a Lierre Keith by referencing it)–but the researchers said that the data suggest that "leguminous cover crops could fix enough nitrogen to replace the amount of synthetic fertilizer currently in use." Here is the reference: Badgley C, et al. "Organic Agriculture and the Global Food Supply." Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 22 (2007): 90.
Excellent review! I have not read this book myself (nor do I intend to) but it seems like a product many unreliable sources.
In regards to veganic agriculture, while it may not be practical to switch to veganic at this time we certainly are producing enough animal waste at present to not have to worry about it for a while. Even if it was proven that animal waste WAS necessary for large scale farming, it should not discount veganism altogether.
Another important point to remember is that if people switch to a vegan diet, it means that we would not have to waste all that land and all that commercial fertilizer to produce grain to feed to the animals. Throughout the high-productivity farmlands in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and other states much of the cropped land is used to produce animal feed – not human food. If this land was used for direct human food production, only a fraction of the land would be necessary. The remainder could be allowed to convert back to natural vegetation or used to produce biofuels or some other agricultural product. There would be far less need for commercial fertilizer, far less greenhouse gasses produced, and far less fertilizer/manure pollution washing down the Mississippi River and creating a huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico each summer. People were really upset about the BP oil blow-out, but the ecological damage caused by the huge hypoxic zone off of the Mississippi River is much larger, and it occurs every year, and is probably largely due to animal agriculture.
Peter Spendelow, Ph.D.
If you google on “remineralize”, you will see that simply grinding up rock can produce long lasting organic fertilizer which produces huge vegetables. Herbert Shelton talked about this decades ago, as have many others. See:
Essentially, by eating grass growing in pastures, cows through their manure are just concentrating the nutrients slowly weathering in the soil in big fields which the grass absorb. But you don’t need the cows to do this if you just grind rocks into rock dust yourself and use that rock dust as slow release fertilizer.
We can run rock crushers using renewable energy like wind or solar, without even needing batteries — just let the crushers idle when the sun is not out or the wind is not blowing.
the use of arable land to produce grain feed, for any domesticated animal, including us, is one of the thing kieth specifically calls out as an issue. vegan diet depends on grain and other annual domesticated plant life (soy, etc), the cultivation of which is detrimental to the intricacies of living topsoil. that said, kieth is a proponent of GRASS-FED large herbivores, not GRAIN-FED factory farm meat, which is actually aligned with your anti-grain-fed-meat stance (one that i subscribe to as well). the overall messages that she reiterates (over and over and over. oy.) are that 1) vegan diets are not death-free or cruelty-free by virtue of the fact that murder and cruelty still happen to the underlying microbes/companion plants/related polyculture animals and 2) perennial polyculture driven “agriculture”, when fairly accounted for vis-a-vis factory grain and meat farming, result in a net systemic and individual health benefit.
it also has a lot to do with living within the constraints of one’s “biome” or essentially what your local system would support. the industry necessary to support a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle is anathema to the usual purported philosophical underpinnings of those lifestyles, and tend to promote more imperial (other-ization, outsourcing, etc) activities than a (and this is an annoying repetition but a necessary distinction) well-managed perennial polyculture system, where the natural flow of all participant’s life and death and recycling are respected.
Thank you, JK, that’s exactly what I also think this book is about.
I agree too. Lierre Keith is primarily an environmentalist not a nutritionist. Her interest is in curtailing destructive agricultural practices more than promoting nutritious human diets. She does think that those two goals align though.
Thank you, M for the write up on Keith’s section on nutrition.
Thank you JK. Finally!
Thanks, Virginia, for wading thru this crap so that I didn't have to. Whenever I want to get trustworthy information about a vegan diet, I pick up one of the books by Davis and Messina.
-Greg, president Vegetarian Society of El Paso
bravo! i always enjoy reading your posts because they are so well researched. it's nice to actually have a vegan source backing me that's more than "don't eat meat… it's bad!"
I haven't done a good enough job of stopping by and telling you on a regular basis how much you have helped me in this first year as a vegan.
This review was outstanding…all your articles are.
When I have questions, I always come and look here for my answers. You are such an incredible resource, and I thank you.
Please follow through with that post about Keith's anti-soy claims. Even without Keith's book there is always flotsam in the air in regards to soy beans. Any factual article is always useful and welcome.
I'm amazed that any college graduate would think that popular books/secondary sources and web sites, let alone wikipedia are acceptable scholarly sources. Granted, it has been a while since I have been in school, but Keith and I are about the same age.
I'm not an expert in the field, but what would be the problem with using properly treated human manure?
I've read that human compost toilets have been very successful in communities in India and Africa, creating biogas for cooking and fertiliser for farms.
I don't think there is any problem if all you had was properly-treated human manure, but the problem with this on a large scale is that our sewer systems collect everything that is flushed down the toilet, so there might be heavy metals or other chemicals that you wouldn't want to spread in your vegetable garden or farm.
I remember asking the Soil Association in the UK why humanure is not an approved organic fertiliser, and they said that it is because of the metals. Where does the sewage system pick them up from?
I think the same problem with using human manure for fertilizer exists with using livestock fertilizer. The latter also is also laced with poisons. Things put in the feed, insecticide from the feed, drugs, hormones etc. I *think* that is one reason why chemical fertilizers are used and livestock waste has become a pollutant farmers get rid of in nasty ways.
There is no problem! As long as the person is eating a fully vegan diet it would be safe to use humanure. They used it for centuries before people started using flush toilets! A great book on this is The Humanure Handbook by Joseph C. Jenkins
On the sustainable farming topic, I would suggest looking up Ecology Action and John Jeavons' book "How to Grow More Vegetables."
The work they do involves some Biodynamic methods, but the changes made to create their "GROW BIOINTENSIVE gardening" system include leaving all animal waste out of the compost stream, and thus out of the food production. My understanding is that their system is one of the most productive crop production methods out there, in terms of calorie per square foot.
Thank you Ginny for an insightful review and Thank you also to Dr. Spendelow for the amazing information.
Thank you for the excellent analysis.
I wish everyone who read that book could read this post. I work in publishing, and I'm just sickened that a book as poorly researched as 'The Vegetarian Myth' even got published.
Excellent review! Thanks for posting that. I have the book on hold at my local library but have not read it yet. Reminds me of the book Real Food by Nina Planck. Why is it that some ex-vegans become so adamant that a vegan diet is not healthy for anyone? Why is it not enough for them to say, "it didn't work for me" and leave it at that?
Thanks for this review, Ginny, and thanks for the nice plug.
Incidentally, you write "a cup of soymilk contains around 7 grams of soy protein." Lierre Keith would have us believe that a cup of soymilk contains 60 grams of soy protein (see page 215).
On a more serious note, I'm glad that you bring up Lierre Keith's conflicting numbers on fat intake because it allows me to nicely illustrate the way she mangles statistics. To be fair, on page 172 she says that fat intake has dropped by about 25% over the last fifteen years, whereas on page 203, she is referring to the change since the sixties. Since she's talking about different time frames, it's not necessarily problematic for the numbers to disagree.
With that said, the latter number is completely wrong. Here's what she says:
"We’ve been doing what we’ve been endlessly badgered to do since the 1960s. We’ve eaten, according to the USDA, less fat, less meat, fewer eggs. Our dietary fat has fallen 10 percent, hypertension has dropped 40 percent and the number of us with chronically high cholesterol has declined 28 percent."
Her citation is to a passage in Gary Taubes's Good Calories, Bad Calories:
"Consider, for instance, that most reliable evidence suggests that Americans have indeed made a conscious effort to eat less fat, and particularly less saturated fat, since the 1960s. According to the USDA, we have been eating less red meat, fewer eggs, and more poultry and fish; our average fat intake has dropped from 45 percent of total calories to less than 35 percent, and National Institutes of Health surveys have documented a coincident fall in our cholesterol levels. Between 1976 and 1996, there was a 40-percent decline in hypertension in America, and a 28-percent decline in the number of individuals with chronically high cholesterol levels."
If you compare the two quotes carefully, you see that Taubes's quote doesn't really support Keith's claims. Keith tells us we're eating less meat whereas Taubes tells us we're eating less red meat but more poultry and fish. Keith is also very loose with her timeframes; one might guess from her exposition the changes in hypertension and high cholesterol are since the 1960s, but clearly they are not.
Most egregious, though, is the bit about fat. Taubes writes, "average fat intake has dropped from 45 percent of total calories to less than 35 percent," and Keith translates this to "our dietary fat has fallen 10 percent." First of all, a change from 45 percent to 35 percent isn't a 10 percent drop. It's a 10 percentage point drop. That might seem like a pedantic point, but I think it's pretty important. A percentage point is the unit for measuring differences between two percentages, so by calling this a 10 percent change, she obscures the fact that the numbers refer to percentages of the number of calories, rather than the total amount of fat. This point is particularly important because the USDA data (Taubes's source; http://18.104.22.168/Query.htm ) show that our calorie intake increased substantially from the 1960s to 1998 (the period to which he is referring).
Specifically, the data indicate that per capita per day calorie intake increased from 3100 to 3700 from 1960 to 1998 and that fat intake increased from 135 grams to 147 grams over the same time. That comes out to a drop from thirty-nine percent of calories from fat to thirty-six percent of calories from fat. Obviously, my numbers don't match Taubes's numbers, but I don't know exactly which years he used. He does seem to be correct in pointing out that the percentage of calories from fat has dropped. However, I would argue that he is on shaky ground using that as evidence that we are trying to eat less fat.
Lierre Keith, though, is wrong to conclude from this that dietary fat has fallen by 10 percent. She's also wrong to use our fat intake to argue that we're doing "what we’ve been endlessly badgered to do." The data show that our fat intake hasn't decreased, but we're just eating a lot more calories from carbohydrates and protein. (I'd be interested to know what proportion of those added carbs come from soft drinks.)
I would encourage people to exercise extreme caution in trusting any numbers found in this book. (Or, better yet, don't bother reading it.)
Yes, I had included a little bit of a discussion in my original post about the issue of fat intake, but cut it out because the post was getting too long. But you're right that this is one area where people get confused–because fat as a percent of calories has gone done over the past several decades. I don't think it was as high as 45%, but when I know that when I first became a dietitian people were eating diets that were around 36% fat. Now, diets are around 33% fat. But as you pointed out, both calorie intake and fat intake have gone up. Since calories have gone up proportionally more, the overall percent of fat is lower–but total grams of fat consumed is higher. Basically, we are just eating more of everything!
Just one small question, about dairy products. The indigenous peoples here in NZ had chickens from south America. The oldest known religions of Egypt revere the cow.
Also vegetarians don’t tend to evolve to be particularly intelligent, as their food source doesn’t move so cognitive ability is not required to develop to such a degree..
The current thinking ASAIK is that the very earliest ancestors of humanity were omnivorous. Starting with Shell fish and birds eggs.
By what criteria do you question Homo Sapiens long standing reliance upon dairy and or meat? (particularly the former obviously)….
There was a time when homo sapiens would have to scavenge for food and would eat crabs, eggs. Luckily we are intelligent enough…no worry about modern day vegetarians not evolving with the same intelligence as omni eaters….perhaps with even more empathy than the later…. We have evolved SO much that now we do not NEED to eat animals. You would not compare the tool use of early people so do the same for diet. We evolve. It evolves. Would you say that Indian culture, long time vegetarians, are not evolving with intelligence…they created such things as The Fibonacci sequence and early atomic theories…. not lacking much there.
My sympathies go to Keith for her health problems. Having said that, Keith is the sort who would say "a-HA!" and blame the vegan diet if someone sneezed on a cold day. She is a 'true believer' and sees exactly what she wants to see, no more and no less.
I have one quibble with the review, though. My observation of long-term vegans who 'refuse to supplement with vitamin B12' — that being, all the raw and wholefood vegans I know, as well as myself — brings up no examples of B12 deficiency. Instead, my readings on the subject (as well my own and others' experiences) suggest that B12 deficiency is caused by an absorption problem, not a lower than average intake; and that low B12 intake, or what is currently defined as low, has no direct link to health problems.
Non-supplementing has worked for me since early 1995 when I became vegan, and I've not taken a B vitamin in my thirty year lifetime. I know of raw vegans for whom the span is longer. Certain cases may warrant a supplement, but I fear that you're casting the net a little too wide; be careful not to lump those who are simply being empirical and conservative in their intake of large quantities of *any* nutrient with those who are irresponsible about their health.
Well, I would say that those vegans who are not supplementing with B12 (or using fortified foods) are, in fact, being irresponsible about their health! You can take a look at the research here: http://www.veganhealth.org/b12/adults
A lack of anemia is not necessarily a sign of adequate B12 status since the risks associated with low intakes can be subtle. The concensus among vegan experts is that B12 supplementation is absolutely necessary.
Vegans and vegetarians should take supplements in their diets. After all, pigs are Vitamin B12 deficient, and take supplements,(http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/203664/feed/67866/Basic-nutrients-and-additives) so why shouldn't people who don't eat meat take Vitamin B12 supplements directly from the bottle, instead of through the pig or whatever animal they are consuming. We shouldn't take chances. I try to take supplements when I can.
We have to face it that we are not in the 16th century anymore. There are no "natural" food sources left, so I just plan to try to stay alive by having the healthiest, lowest cholesterol diet available, even if it is with pills.
There is so much to say about this blog post. While Lierre Keith is factually right that we evolved differently from the Neanderthols and other primitive humans, and we ate meat to do so, there are so many other factors in homo sapian development. We had different vocal chords, which probably made us better hunters than the extinct versions of ourselves. Yet unless meat eaters can hunt, catch and fish for the food themselves, (and very few still do) it will probably contain an ungodly amount of other things besides protein that I'd rather not have in my body.
And the "high" that the author, respectfully, had was real. It was probably Hypoxanthine, something I first read about in a book I found at my dentist's office.
In western countries many processed foods are fortified with vitamin b-12. That could provide you with enough b-12 to avoid extreme deficiency symptoms. It doesn't mean you are getting optimum b-12 for your health.
You DO need to take a b-12 supplement. The effects of a deficiency may not show up right away they may show up later.
Oy. B12 is a necessary nutrient and you cannot get it from non-amimal sources. What happens when you do not get b12? Let me, who cannot absorb it from food and who did not know for many years, tell you: you will be exhausted like you have never felt before. You will black out in the middle of a sentence and have no idea what you were talking about — none. Your gait will become odd, your legs will shake. You’ll think you have MS. You won’t be able to form proper sentences anymore. And if you do not catch it, you will die. Take your b12 supplements. Take your shots, if you are like me and cannot absorb it. Methylcobalimin is better than cyanocobalimin, but both will do ultimately do the trick of keeping you alive.
About the idea that food cravings have nothing to do with nutrition: I call BS. Big time. When I was starving to death, quite literally, from lack of b12, I CRAVED meat and dairy. I trust my body to have a level of wisdom about what it needs. And it was right. It needed b12, which you can only get from animal sources. And when I got my first b12 shot, my body absolutely did tingle. Long before I read Kith’s book, I frequently say that I was half dead and now feel alive once again, thanks to b12. Do not discount the power of a healthy diet, with ALL the nutrients you need, to make you feel well.
Late to the conversation, but want to add something here. I also can’t absorb B12 from food and use a sublingual spray (in the past I I relied on the injectable form). At one point I was told I had been misdiagnosed and had no need to supplement B12. This was incorrect and three years after discontinuing supplements my son was born with major problems. He had delayed maturation of the optic nerve and was blind for the first 12 weeks. He now has many developmental and neurological problems. Anyone who is pregnant should be closely monitoring their B12 levels, regardless of their diet.
I have been irritated by the number of doctors who have told me over the years that because I can’t absorb B12 I should be eating meat- clearly they don’t understand what ‘can’t absorb’ means. That said, I have also been irritated by vego friends telling other people very confidently that there is no need to supplement if you are eating aloe vera…
So this isn’t so much related to whether we should be eating meat, just about ensuring B12 levels are good. My kids were all raised vegetarian and never had low levels of B12 other than the son I mentioned, which wasn’t diet related. We eventually moved to veganism and supplemented. Now some of us are moving back to meat (a hard transition emotionally after 3 decades of not eating flesh). Eat what you want, but monitor your health.
I have to wonder if this book was more of a personal rant that got out of control and brought Keith into the spotlight, when she really thought it was going to be nothing more than an extended blog post. I can't imagine she feels she could pass all this off as legitimate without going the normal route of citation and root sourcing, then again, she actually gives speeches on her "findings" now.
Regardless, I'd like to disprove all her theories with my own sort of science….in a foot race. Surely my 16 years of veganism has destroyed me and she should be able to defeat my sickly body with her pulsing cellular strength.
Well, that would be great–but unfortunately she says that she has suffered permanent damage from her vegan diet. And she is convinced that you will, too. Thanks for continuing to prove her wrong!
This is a great post, thank you for putting the work into researching some of nutrition points in the book. I have not read it, but after reading this review, I don't think I ever will.
>>she used to eat “all carbohydrates” (All? No wonder she was sick) and that she now >>eats mostly animals and their secretions.
Funny, this line made me laugh! I knew someone who was briefly vegetarian ("tried" going veg for a month) and claimed she had gained too much weight to continue on such a destructive diet. I couldn't figure out how someone could gain a significant amount of weight in one month! She told me she ate mac 'n cheese every night for dinner!! HA! Well, that'll make anyone gain weight! The same way that the Atkins diet (the second half of the quote) will make someone lose weight because they are deficient in carbs!
I have read a lot of these comments on this blog, but yours really annoyed me. I mean, why form your own opinion when someone else has provided one for you?
I think people should spend less time speculating whether or not the Author had an eating disorder or the wrong carbohydrates and maybe accept that agriculture is causing more damage than people realise?
Vegans remind me of the crazy religious zealots that go out picketing at soldier’s funerals and the majority of them are young brainwashed children that have no idea what they are talking about.
I do not agree with veganism, since I have switched to paleo and removed grains I have never felt better. My husband who was a vegetarian from birth feels the same way and has also moved away from vegetarianism.
Being a vegan is not the right diet for humans, period.
I’m an italian guy, graduated in food science, not vegan and not anti-vegan as well.
I’ve just started reading the book and, if You don’t get caught up in the small details (as the author of the review), You can find a lot of intresting points.
The funniest thing is that people praise the review without having read the book…really hilarious 😀 😀 😀 this is what I can’t stand about some vegans: they act like there were in a sect, they get information only from vegetarian websites, the read only article written by self-referential and self-styled experts and never try to challenge their ideas…how can You get an objective opinion acting this way? 😀 😀 😀
About the book, differently from Mrs. Messina I started…from the start and the first chapter contains intriguing argumentations about intensive agriculture.
I’m pretty sure that when I will face the nutrition chapter, that is my “area of expertise” too, I will find mistakes or imprecisions…but i didn’t buy this book to learn things I already know, on this my opinion is clear: You can have an healty and balanced diet both if You are vegan or if You are not: for example I eat red meat once a week or less, white meat twice, fish every other day, a lot of fruit and vegetables, only whole grain (including whole pasta and bread), no food or beverages with added sugars, a lot of what I call “smart food” like Nori seaweed, soy sprout, whole oat, nuts, superfruits, ecc…
I started reading this book to have an overview of the vegan world from an alternative point of view that took every aspect, expecialy those which belonging to “area of non-expertise”…
In the end, my advice to my vegan friends is “keep your opinion but, (sometimes) try to refute it”!
Best response yet. I thought the book was a good read.
I agree with Matty and etc, who have varying degrees of supporting comments for Keith’s writing. My husband and I were organic livestock producers, producing grass-fed goats. However I was not a very keen meat-eater, having always had a keen interest in whole foods healthy eating and gradually moved into being a vegetarian and finally a raw food eater.
Instead of improving my health, it deteriorated. My iron levels plummeted no matter what I did, developed thyroid issues, IBS, diverticulitis, overweight and diabetes.
So, gradually moved back to a paleo diet with almost nil sugars (so no fruit as well) – the diabetes disappeared. Literally. Not an issue any more.
Removed ALL grains and had a massive health improvement – brain fog disappeared, Aches and pains gone. Felt really well.
Was eating nuts more heavily – that complicated the IBS and diverticulitis.
Moved to more meats and for the first time in 62 years, my iron levels stablised and I no longer require any supplement.
Had a severe IBS encounter and tried the Specific Carbohydrate Diet which established that the one food that does not cause gut issues is grass-fed meat. So I lived on chicken broth for several months to calm my gut – which it totally did.
Began to research the one food I and every other person is told is the most dangerous to our health – meat.
Currently – I am a carnivore. Totally. Eggs, meat, chicken, cream, cheese. My health is amazing – aches and pains are almost nil, IBS is almost gone (meaning I only flare up if I eat carbs of any kind), my skin has improved, my thyroid issue is reducing (half the tabs gone now), diabetes isn’t even mentioned in the annual blood tests, iron levels have not been an issue for over several years.
So, to enforce a vegetarian lifestyle over a meat-eating lifestyle in any capacity, is not validating the instinct of the human body to eat what IT needs – but to answer to emotive societal tolerances and constraints. I will not tell any vegetarian here they are eating wrongly – don’t tell me the same. That is where humanity must draw the line.
As to Keith’s agricultural comments – having been organic grazing farmers for over 50 years – the animal v grass component in farming is both vital and real – the 2 are so intertwined that to separate them on moral grounds is outrageous to nature.
Nature itself deals in both grasses and animals – what human has the right to say nature got it wrong?
Thanks for an excellent review, Ginny! I am actually reading this book because I've heard so much about it via the vegan community and I wanted to see it for myself. I have to say that I haven't got past the moral vegetarians section yet. I read a few pages then get so aggravated by all of the assumptions, opinions, and just plain erroneous facts, that I put it down.
In the first few pages, Keith attributes all of her ailments to a vegan diet. While it's a sad story, any malnourished diet (or many other factors) can lead to the same diseases, but yet she tries to pin it on veganism. From reading her words, I get the impression that she was not eating a healthy diet. She talks about stopping menstruation. I'm not a nutritionist, but I do know that that can be caused from poor nutrition and excessive weight loss and not necessarily a vegan diet. To me it sounds more like she had an eating disorder that just happened to include only plant foods.
One other part that just aggravated me in her book is about the fence in Africa separating the carnivores from the herbivores. Maybe there are some vegetarians out there who just don't know any better, but the "forum post" that she describes sounds like a fake. All of the vegans that I have met are quite intelligent and well read. So, if the post was not a fabrication, then maybe it come from a very young person who just doesn't know much about basic science or nutrition. This point just sounds so ludicrous to me, a vegan; imagine how it sounds to a faithful carnist who wants to vilify us as unintelligent non-humanists.
I really hope to get through this book as it will help me polish my skills of rebutting vegetarian myths. Thanks again for the review!
I wouldn't be suprised if that post about the fence in Africa really did appear somewhere on the internet. I've heard crazy things like that from vegans and from vegetarians and from meat-eaters. I think if you want to make a group sound dumb, you can find a post on the internet to prove it! But, I have to believe that she knows very well that the vast majority of vegans and animal rights activists don't think this way at all. Her goal though, was to show that vegans are naive and "child-like" in our beliefs, and that post suited her purpose exactly. I agree–it's definitely the type of thing that drove me crazy about the book.
And I didn't want to say this in my review because I have absolutely no proof it it, but I agree that she sounds very much like someone who had an eating disorder.
I agree. Most of the time I've read about women losing their periods it has been the result of being an athlete like a long distance runner or the result of severe calorie deprivation and losing too much body fat. Ranting ex-vegans always *swear* that they were "careful" and well versed about nutrition. If her book doesn't show that Keith doesn't know about nutrition, losing her cycle does show that and does show that she was not "careful". Even women eating a mediocre diet don't lose their cycles.
I actually enjoyed this book a lot, and I thought the power of the book was in her systemic view of the food chain and how humans fit into it. Understanding how we fit into the ecosystem and how we take from it and eventually feed back into it was one of the strong points of this book. Anyway, I think it's difficult to paint such a broad stroke without offending others or without having citations for everything – it was a noble effort and I will continue to recommend this book to others, not because I think it's "right", but because it's good food for thought.
Excellent review Ginny. I 've had come into contact with some meateaters who reference this book as "proof" that humans aren't meant to be vegetarian. I didn't want to read it so I'm glad to have this post to refer to.Looking forward to your post about soy!
@Melissa. How about using your expertise as an agronomist to review the sections of Keith's book relevant to your expertise? You would be doing a public service like Ginny did. Keith's fans as well as her potential fans vote, spend money as consumers and influence other people.
Thank you for such an insightful review. It is really sad that the publishers would even publish that kind of crap without doing at least some amount of fact checking. I agree with BeforeWisdom – you should consider posting this on Amazon as well.
How is it good food for thought if it's inaccurate and misleading?
It might be provocative, but if its premises and conclusions are wrong, isn't it best left out of any arguments?
@Ben. I agree. The whole point of a non-fiction book is to give you facts. If the book has been shown to be faulty with the facts, the book has no value.
"People have an infinite capacity to rationalize — especially when it comes to something they want to eat!" -Cleveland Amory
I can't take credit for this idea, as a friend came up with it, but I think everyone should print out this review as an insert and head to your local bookstores…
[…] Ginny Messina just published a refutation of “The Vegetarian Myth.” Check it out here >> […]
I found this claim particularly bizarre:
"she speculates that African-American girls reach puberty faster because they are more likely to be enrolled as infants in food assistance programs like WIC and therefore, to be fed soy infant formula."
I happen to have some direct experience with WIC and soy formula and therefor I simply cannot believe Keith's claim.
The WIC programs generally choose the least expensive food items as well as the items that are most readily available. Soy formula is not only less common and less easily found in the stores that accept WIC, but it's also more expensive. And even though soy formula can be purchased without a prescription, WIC often requires a doctor's note that "prescribes" soy before they will pay for soy formula.
In other words, Lierre Keith has a habit of not knowing what she is talking about.
Thank you very much for reviewing this book. I began reading it but soon abandoned the effort. I saw that any attempt to follow any research she was relying on would require much more effort that I was willing to expend. That is where there was any reference to source material at all.
I have been hoping someone with some credentials in the area of nutrition would take the time to refute the obviously erroneous and muddled information she was presenting.
You mention the passage about her cells "pulsing" when she ate some tuna…..this is indeed strange.
I concur with your evaluation of the book as a sad one, I hope things go better for her with her health issues but anyone viewing her writing as anything but an extended opinion piece with no supportive source material is in for a grave disappointment.
Her conclusion that being willing to kill innocent and defenseless beings is a marker of being grown-up……………well…..what a pitiable and demeaning notion.
Thanks again, for wading through the book.
Thanks for the awesome review! It sounds like this woman just didn't eat a proper vegan diet and had a bad experience – no reason to write a book about it, rather one that condemns something that she simply does not really understand. If a vegan diet is hurting people, she should talk to all of the vegan athletes (elite and recreational) since they are pushing their bodies and nutrition to some extremes (ex. Scott Jurek). Sure there's a lot of variables to athletics, but nutrition is high, if not #1, on the list of functioning athletes!
I don't know if you're aware, but there is blog that is dedicated to busting myths in "The Vegetarian Myth".
So, for anyone interested, here it is:
Melissa wrote, "Have you seen any studies on sustainable veganic? It's being done in some small-scale settings, but it's not considering very promising."
That's not what Elm Farm Research Centre found, and they're not run by vegans.
How sad that those looking for a bogey man have another pack of fabricated falsehoods to cite as stunning evidence against Veganism. This smacks of the industry lies and misinformation that has been slipped into our porridge since childhood. I'm saddened by the fact that many minds already resistent to uncomfortable truths will automatically shut down. How many people have we all encountered who cover their ears like a three-year-old and chant "I can't hear you, I can't hear you?" Now they will cite this source as definitive proof that Veganism is a cult fad for wackos, many after only reading the title of the book. Does this author (a term I use loosely) realize how many people's health she will have damaged when all is said and done? No, because after all, it is a book about me, me, me … poor me.
Interesting comment Steve… to be honest I've seen exactly the same behavior you describe demonstrated by vegans.
You replied, twice, to someone who posted a comment named "Bill".
Very sad that Keith sold out to the Price "foundation" propagandists, but then again they are the go-to group for folks who are just looking for a reason to resume eating animals. Unfortunately, since they are a lobbyist group for meat/dairy producers ("farmers"), they are exceptionally anti-veg/vegan, with the result being incessant soy-bashing, and they actually work to create hostility towards those who choose the veg lifestyle. This of course is a huge community divider, and that is one of their exact goals. Thank you for this honest review, for helping to expose what this is really all about, and the usually hidden agenda-based interests behind it.
How can a Vegan R.D give a impartial balanced review of a book that is against Veganism? It’s a certainty that this review was going to be negative because the book challenges her core beliefs and her occupation. The book may be one sided but so is this review.
James. I know this is an obvious suggestion, but you can look at the arguments Virginia Messina made in her interview. You can then read up to see if the arguments conform to what is taught in colleges and what current research supports ( something Keith did not do, the point of her review ). If you don't feel confident in your ability to do that, you can go talk to a professional with similar credentials who you know keeps on the research, doesn't have her potential bias.
Beforewisdom…. In answer to your comment I have read up on Ginny Messina’s comments and the research Lierre Keith references (all of it). The only conclusion I can come up with is that this book is very subjective as well as the all the reviews. The opinions and reviews can classified into two groups people who support veganism/vegetarianism and those who are against it. I find that each group quotes professionals and cites scientific studies to prove that the other side is wrong. Each group will twist facts or exploit some subtlety of logic to prove their point…. often they use terms like pseudoscience or bad science to invalidate the other. I have a great interest in food and health but I’m finding there is too much self righteous closed minded behaviour by meat eaters and vegans alike.
Hi James. Do you have any specific objections to any of the arguments Ginny Messina provides against the claims in Keith’s book? Your sweeping comparison adds nothing without such details I’m afraid.
agreed. people missing the point here. the way food is made is killing the planet whether you eat meat or not. i see the book more as a call to stop dividing ourselves into groups like meat eaters and vegetarians because we can do that all day but soon we will all have NO food as a result of ravenous agricultural systems & corporations, something drastic has to happen.
But the key difference between the two is that the review uses facts based on primary scientific research involving large populations, while the book relies heavily on one individual's experience and opinion mixed with unsupported and misinerpreted 'data.'
"One-sided" based on facts is fine; "one-sided" based on pseudoscience is dangerous and misleading.
Thanks hugely, Ginny, for taking so much time to produce your vital, scientifically-supported review!
Thank you for the review. I am also looking forward to that long post about soy. It comes up so often…
1- Evolution affects dietary needs. I take it that if you believe in evolution, you MUST concede this is a necessary truth. Though, in this context it has no necessary relation to a meat diet or a vegan diet. I think I missed the inference the author referred to in the book that would make your point pronounced.
2- Grains were rarely eaten. Cow milk was rarely drank. However, I expect human milk was consumed by human babies. And with a life expectancy of 20 years, milk was likely consumed for a significant proportion of their lifetimes. Perhaps this information has something to do with dairies mysterious omission.
3- "There is a long section on eating disorders with the popular claim that vegetarian diets are a cause" Vegans often tout how healthy their dietary habits are. All claims of health/nutrtition are only loosely understood, at best. The pseudoscience of nutrition looks at the self-reported lifetimes of humans and make conclusions on cause and effect relationships, failing for the same reason that you point out. Constant conjoinment is NOT a determinant for causation. Sure, eating food is affective, but it's far from the only thing that's affective on our health.
4- "The numbers aren’t nearly as egregious as those for factory farming, but they suggest that there is no such thing as truly sustainable meat production." How do you define 'sustainable'? Nature is a massive feedback control system that is only poorly understood. Until the transfer functions are well known, I don't think we're at liberty to speculate on sustainability. And if sustainability is at risk, we should restrain charities to those below the poverty line, as linear food production and unchecked population growth comprise the real problem ("unsustainable meat production" would only be a symptom).
5- "Much of where she goes wrong is in confusing food cravings with biological needs." Food craving is a biological need by definition.
6- "At the very least, you’d have to digest and absorb it first!" Drug addicts feel good about new product before it's in their system, so it doesn't have to be 'in your body' to change the way you, as a person, feel. There's a discrepancy here, as the author is referring to her poetically put personal reaction, and you're analyzing it from a purely nutritionist perspective.
7- "Or they make any of the many mistakes that people make with all types of diets. But Keith insists that a vegan diet will damage us all–she is 100% certain of this–and it is simply not true." I completely agree with this point. A vegan diet isn't any more justifiably unhealthy than a regular one, there is substantial evidence to support your claim.
To summarize, I am concerned with certain critiques you chose, as your introduction implies there is a great deal wrong with the book yet many of those I read were either vague or blatantly incorrect (at least, easily disagreeable with someone who has a different, albiet justifiable, worldview). Certainly, your appeals to fat statistics, soy protein, and Keith's sensationalism (#7) seem well founded.
(To Alex, 9/23/10)
Just wanted to respond re your point #6.
While drug addicts may 'feel good' to know they've scored something for later use, that's in no way comparable to Keith's claim that her body "pulsed" the minute she swallowed food. She was not claiming a psycho-emotional reaction, but rather an intense biological/metabolic effect, which misleadingly implies some magical power of animal protein to instantaneously transmogrify the body.
As open as I personally am to mysticism and the innate wisdom of mind/body holism, there is simply no way that any branch of medical science even begins to support such a claim. I was actually embarassed by this on Keith's behalf, as it — sorry in advance — reeked so strongly of the blatant non-science where one claims a broad unbiased truth on the basis on a single personal experience.
Sorry, but my personal experience begs to differ. After years of not having b12 enter my system (undiagnosed pernicious anemia), one shot and I felt what could be called a pulse or tingle or whatever. And I know from injecting drugs. This was unexpected and different. This was after years of food cravings. My body carved what it needed.
Now, you cannot call a diet that REQUIRES supplementation of b12 a “healthy” diet. It may be ethical or moral or (arguably) sustainable, but it is not healthy. Although, it does seem to me that hominids lived off of ruminant meat and other paleo treats for hundreds of thousands of years and not only survived but lived in balance with nature. It isn’t until you introduce agriculture into the mix that it begins to break down. I think Keith;s point here is important. There is some evidence to suggest that the increase in the size of human brains is correlated to beginning to eat meat — first scavenged, then hunted. We need the calories to produce big brains. And even chimps eat meat.
I would love to think that my body did not need meat. BUt it does. And her point about death — how many organisms died to bring you that salad? — are well taken. I want a full accounting, too.
Excellent reply. The book resonated with me on many levels.
Vegan diet is not sustainable for a human organism – at least not without B12 supplementation.
A human body is simply not engineered to subsist on plant diet alone. We are made to be omnivores.
There is not a single instance of a human civilization that has confined itself to a vegan diet.
However, there are plenty of example of communities, including the modern day Innuit, that have thrived on essentially an animal-based diet.
Regarding soy: The information in "The Blue Zones" study reveals many cultures known for their longevity consume a lot of soya and tofu products. I don't think soy deserves the negative press it gets…
Anyway, thanks for this review… I've been waiting since this "VM" book was released for someone in the nutritional field to address it's misleading information. Much appreciated. It helps a lot!
What utter nonsense. Soy deserves all the negative press it has received. The consumption of soy products in Asian countries is greatly exaggerated by vegans and vegetarians that never spent a day there. Soy is used in very small amounts and they do not consume the products sold here in the West. Asians, when they do consume soy, use fermented soy products. Tempeh and natto are two examples of fermented soy food products they use. In fact, Asians rely on fish and pork for protein. Yes, tofu is consumed but definitely not as a primary protein source. Soy is a condiment. By the way, in case you're sitting there reading this comment assuming I'm a meat eater, think again. I'm a vegetarian transitioning to a vegan diet. Hopfully Ms. Messina has the integrity to allow dissenting views to be posted …
Robert, dissenting views are certainly welcome. But your view on soy is misinformed. Have you looked at actual studies of soy intake in Asia? They show a wide range of intakes, with an average of around 1 1/2 servings per day. And at least half of the foods consumed are unfermented foods including tofu, soymilk, and edamame. In fact, in some parts of Asia, unfermented foods make up the bulk of soy intake.
First of all I'd like to thank you for accepting and responding to dissenting views, unlike some other sites I've been to. Some sites are notorious for cherry-picking only those posts that agree with the beliefs of the site mediator.
Yes, I did mention that non-fermented soy is consumed. Tofu (obviously) and soy milk, edamame, etc but Asians, as a group, do not rely on these foods as a main source of protein. Pork is the most common meat consumed in Asian countries with the exception of Japan where fish is the primary source of protein.
Over the years, I've had the opportunity to work with Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese people as well as travellers who spent time in these countries. They confirm what I have extracted from the information that I've been able to find.
With regards to studies: Are these studies actually food surveys? I find surveys to be a haphazard, unreliable way of obtaining information about how a population eats. Also, how were foods categorized? Was soy specified as a unique food or was it lumped into a generalized group called "legumes". Also, how large was the sample size? Who funded the study? Did the researchers have any conflicts of interest? Its hard to comment on any study without known how it was designed. I'm interested in any study that can shed any light on this issue whether it proves or disproves what I currently believe.
As far as finding information on the Internet I try to avoid those sites that have an obvious bias, i.e. vegetarian/vegan sites, pro-meat eating sites like WAPF. Somewhere in between lies the truth and its difficult to find truly unbiased information.
Thank you again for responding …
Robert, you're right that anyone study has limitations but the data on soy intake are based on some very large studies using food frequency questionnaires that were designed to assess soy intake–so they were very specific about types of soyfoods. It's also worth noting that soy intake is different between older Asians and younger since many younger people have gravitated toward a more western diet. Surveying older people gives us a better idea of the role of soy in traditional diets.
Yes, to obtain data on their traditional diets its best to survey the elders. I found a comparison of the Okinawan diet and that of the rest of Japan (1949/50).
Legumes made up 6% (71g) of the Okinawan diet compared to 5% (55g) of the Japanese diet. I was surprised at how low their consumption of fish and meat was.
I also have a diet survey of the nutritional composition of Chinese centenarians from 2001. The sample was only 34 but we are talking about centenarians here. There was no mention of soy. Soy was probably reported under the "Bean" category. The daily intake for beans was reported as 32g. Vegetable intake was 465g and sweet potatoes 210g.
If either or both of these documents are of any interest I can email them to you.
Thank you for the AWESOME review! I won't even think about reading the book.
[…] Review of “The Vegetarian Myth” (The Vegan RD) – Ginny Messina absolutely dismantles the arguments in this book. She’s got the creds and it is great to see someone clarify the apparent wrongs in this book. […]
Great post, thank you for the fact that you have written it in simple english 🙂
I've know several people getting WIC assitance. They always have way more milk and cheese than they can possibly consume. If anything, those WIC children have had abnormally high dairy intakes.
"she speculates that African-American girls reach puberty faster because they are more likely to be enrolled as infants in food assistance programs like WIC and therefore, to be fed soy infant formula."
Indigenous cultures globally where survival due to uncertain food sources was a constant issue including if and when they have been living in the west with secure food supplies since thisis only a recent occurrence–2 to 3 hundred years–not long enough to change the DNA–all these societies had a built in biological imperative for females to develop early to perpetuate population –tribal life had high mortality and people rarely died old–nothing to do with soy–sorry —
The studies that show that puberty has been happening earlier over the past 100 years or so INCLUDE African- Americans. So, no, it’s not genetic. It’s the increased consumption of meat and dairy. And that comment about the food supplies is wrong and uncalled for. In the tropics food is available year round, if anything it refers to places with long winters like Europe.
I really appreciate that you put up this review! Thank you so much!
Wow……well written review. I have not read this book, but am rather interested to see for myself what it's all about. I didn't know there even was a book that claimed it was bad for you to be vegetarian/vegan. Hahaha….oh well. There's probably one for every diet. Thanks for this review 🙂
She must have been doing something really wrong to feel so bad as to start eating meat again. I am a vegan and I am healthier and feel better than I ever have in my life compared to when I was an omnivore and a lacto-ovo vegetarian for that matter.
Same here! I was born to meat-eaters, became lacto-ovo vegetarian at 17, then went vegan 1.5 years ago. Not only do I feel better, I’ve lost ten pounds, gotten rid of a chronic health problem, and best of all, my concentration and energy are both vastly improved. I would never go back to feeling like I used to. Keith does not produce any compelling evidence outside of her own personal experience for becoming a carnist. From the sounds of things, she was a junk food carbohydrate addict who wasn’t eating enough–a recipe for malnourishment.
I picked this book up from my local library and was going to start reading it tonight! Thanks for the review, i have only been a vegetarian for 3 weeks and seeking all the info i can find. Grateful for the heads up now as reading it would have confused me for sure!!!
I FEEL OFFENDED.
Why? Because you (the author) do not cite what published argument you are criticizing. In general, I would agree that it is good to cite and sad that the author of said book did not. And a blog is not a published book. However, when urging one to cite, do it yourself. What pages in this book are you talking about?
Also, as I have learned from college english 1xxx, the last paragraph is one of the most important. It summarizes main arguments. The sentences: "Lierre Keith has suffered from multiple health problems all of her life and was desperate to find an answer. She landed on vegetarianism and then spun a tale to support her theory." Have nothing to do with this internet, self published blog's main arguments. As you stated yourself in paragraph 3: "I read the section on nutrition first [since it’s my area of expertise]." That is good. Now, where are the sentences in which you claim to be an expert in human motivation and intent?
My problems with your blog:
1. You do not claim an area of expertise in psychology or other field which might enable you the special skill of discerning a person's inner motives and the root causes of their chosen actions.
2. Even if readers pretended and gave you (the author) the benefit of a doubt (you secret Ph. D in psychology you), your following arguments primarily address the logical and methodological inconsistencies of said author's work rather than prove that said errors are caused by lack of education. In addition to not citing credentials as a psychologist or other expert in analyzing human (or even just an author's) intentions, you do not cite (within your internet blog) your own credentials in education or knowledge. How do we know that said author really and truly "just doesn’t understand how complex the research is and she certainly doesn’t know much about basic nutrition"? How do we know that her errors are based on lack of knowledge and not some other cause? Perhaps the editors made typos, or she knows but just forgot? The word knowledge in and of itself is complex and not even satisfactorily defined. Are you an expert in evaluating knowledge? I would think it would take a team of R.D.s to come up with methods to determine whether someone is knowledgeable about nutrition or not. And even then after they come up with this means, it would be tested. One book can indicate competence. However, I have my own doubts as to whether one internet blog writer is a reliable evaluator of competence based on one book.
3. This internet blog's overall tone is demeaning. This type of tone in combination with the fact that you disagree with the book suggests to me that you take personal offense to the book. Perhaps since you appear to be vegan (hence, vegan r.d.) the author's desire to denounce vegetarianism perhaps offends you personally? And in order to exact your revenge, you write a scathing internet blog to vent all your rage and anger? And mask this anger, which is supposed to be "bad" with disgust? NOTE: I have asked you questions, I have not attempted to tell you (or anonymous others, for that matter) what your motives for your own internet blog entry is.
In summary, I feel offended by this article because I believe it has derailed from a civil, intellectual debate to a personal and political attack.
Great critique of the vegan RD’s blog post. I feel the intend of this post is not to review Keith’s book but a personal attack. I read Keith’s book and found it to be well founded, well written, intellectually and emotionally honest and scientifically sound. I am a nutritionist and a chiropractor who spent the last 30 years studying nutrition and healing. I have come to the conclusion that there is no one diet good for everybody all the time. Where we live, the climate, the weather, the emotional and physical demands on us and our genetic program affect our dietary needs. To insist there is only one way to eat, either veganism or omnivorism is intellectual laziness. Thanks for posting this response.
Hi! Thank you so much for this review, when I first read the book I was really worried, after all, it was a vegan for 20 years claiming that all our beliefs were wrong.
After I finished it I certainly didn't feel more omnivore or inclined to think that meat was necessary specially because all Lierre's conclussions were actually more anecdotic than scientific. However, a public refutation of this book written by someone who has credentials in the field is more than welcome for vegans (and non vegans who are planning to use this book as a guide or an excuse to keep eating animals).
I posted an spanish translation of your review, hope you don't mind http://mexicanvegan.blogspot.com/2010/10/resena-de-vegetarian-myth-por-una.html
Hi! Just wanted to say thank you for your work on this blog, especially this post. We've linked your article over at our Myths About The Vegetarian Myth blog. http://vegetarianmythmyth.wordpress.com/
There are millions of vegetarians in the U.S. and millions more across the world . Thousands of us work in the animal movement and have now been vegetarian and vegan for 25 to 40 years (me being one…vegetarian since 1975 and vegan since 1985) And we are perfectly healthy, and could NEVER think of eating dead animals ever again.
So to call the book The Vegetarian Myth is totally unfair, as though that in itself is a "truth" when millions of us survive and thrive on a vegan diet. She could have called it "My experience with a vegetarian diet" to be fairer. Or maybe interview of the long-term "survivors" of a vegan diet?
Thanks for the review. It is rather sad a book like this, with such false infomation, could be published. To her credit though my cells react the same way everytime I eat cake, cookies or ice cream. Though,It is called satisfying a craving, not getting nutrient you need.
i wonder if this person Lierre Keith has ever really been a vegan or vegetarian? Maybe its a person who alway had health problems all her life and who tried various cures, but never really was vegan. Who knows Lierre Keith ? Usually vegans do know other vegan/vegetarians, particullarly over a long time of 20 years, one does meet others when one is interessted in veganism. Maybe nobody knows her and the whole story/book is a fake and an attack from the vast circels of people against veganism, like meat and dairy industry ? That such a book is a welcomed gift for these industries is clear and also for millions of non vegans.
[…] of Keith’s criticism is off-base, and has been critiqued and refuted with considerable effort. And that’s good: it gives us a chance to hone our arguments. […]
I have seen quotes or heard a radio interview where Ms. Keith said she "binged on eggs and dairy every chance" she got. She was never vegan, as far as I know.
[…] because the conclusion favors yours is an unfortunate act of bias many vegans are accomplice to. Lierre Keith’s The Vegetarian Myth book also got on the priority list for debunking but what about Skinny Bitch? That has been around […]
[…] felt like déjà vu all over again. Just a couple of months ago I was blogging […]
[…] felt like déjà vu all over again. Just a couple of months ago I was blogging […]
[…] cholesterol!? Wholesome saturated fat!? Im sorry but as already stated in this vegan dietitians review of The Vegetarian Myth, “we have no dietary need for either saturated fat or cholesterol—there is no RDA for […]
As a pure carnivore, i also am dismayed by a "pop paleo" like Lierre Keith. There is such a large amount of real, valid science behind the paleo-diet school of thought, that we really don't need armchair amateurs like Ms Keith to speak for us.
Let me also note though, there one has no trouble at all in finding wingnuts of Lierre-Keith caliber… inside the vegan community.
Pure Carnivore? You really eat nothing but animal's bodies Alan? How well are you digesting bone, hair and entrails? Is it safe to be eating raw? Sounds like a real mess.
And now she's just a paleo wingnut instead of a vegan wingnut. Probably always been a wingnut who feels the need to strongly align herself with some dogmatic thought, she's just moving around in different spheres gaining attention for herself.
What a joke. Rampant vegetarianism is the least of our problems, ecologically and nutrionally. The idea that agriculture in itself is ecologically destructive begs too many questions – such as wise farming techiques of allowing the land to reocover, letting it lay fallow etc…Generally it is a preposterous claim. Agrarian cultures have survived for centuries.
Meat eating in this burger chomping culture is an easy sell of course. Especially when you throw in generous helpings of fat. Who knew the Happy Meal was the answer to all our dietary problems? It has nothing to do of course with child obesity and the high incidence of diabetes.
Perhaps the obession with fats is overstated – but as is anything – being thoughtless about such things is not the answer. We should pay attention to the kind and quantity of fats we consume. If you want to know what not to eat – look at what fat unhealthy people eat – high fat, high sugar, high salt junk.
The nutrional values of fat are unrelated to vegetarianism , though possibly related to veganism. In other words, if your main concern is dietary fat – you don't have to be vegetarian.
Eating low on the food chain and producing plant based foods is far more sustainable. The problem with the book is that it pulls so many random 'facts' from so many disparate sources that would take an inordinate amount of time to verify. Basically, its a dispute about nutritional, biological and ecological science and the piecemeal methodology of the book hardly satisfies scientific criteria.
"Agrarian cultures have survived for centuries"
Yes they have but you're missing the point. Agriculture, as practiced TODAY, is destructive to the environment. Anyone who thinks otherwise is kidding themselves. Comparing the agrarian practices of our ancestors with modern farming is an apples to oranges comparison. Many of the solutions presented by Keith are unrealistic. Can we turn things around in time? Is it even feasible?
I get it. But the argument against vegetarianism/veganism isn't conditionally based on how agriculture is done TODAY. It functions as a general argument inherent to homo sapiens and its survival on this planet. Also what you don't get is that monoculture grain farming is supported not to feed vegans and vegetarians but food animals (cows, chickens, pigs etc).
What, you mean all that corn is for human consumption??? That was sarcasm in case you didn't catch it. And yes, I've known for a long time that most grain is used for animal feed in North America. There's a surplus of the stuff and it is exported and sold at very low prices thereby undercutting local farmers' prices in those countries. Many farmers can't survive. Grain isn't even healthy for the animals. Its not their natural diet nor is it a part of our natural diet.
I mean people eat corn – but the aggressive monoculture farming of corn is primarily to feed the animals that are used for food.
As it turns out, Lierre Keith never was a vegan.
Keith admitted during a radio interview that she "binged on eggs and milk all the time" when she told people she was a vegan. For all Keith knows her mysterious illness could have come from one of the many diseases that factory farmed animal products spread. The quote comes at about 4:45 into the interview:
Wow, that is pretty interesting.
[…] the one hand, I can’t quite endorse the conclusions of Ginny Messina, who wrote in her review of Lierre Keith’s The Vegetarian Myth that the numbers “suggest that there is no such thing as truly sustainable meat […]
I've worked in the healthcare arena for 15 years. I am well versed in nutrition (or the lack thereof) as well as cellular metabolism as it relates to bio systems. You people are delusional. Though Ms. Kieth is somewhat off base on a few assumptions, for the most part she is spot on. If you really, REALLY want to live as nature intended….as your genes scream for you to, then accept that you are an omnivore NOT a ruminant. The modern paleo diets get as close to right as is gets. Wise up veg heads. You are all killers, of that have little doubt. But hey, go ahead and try to live on cow feed. You'll die. Slowly. Good luck with that. The 80% rule is the money shot. 20% animal flesh will keep you healthy. Otherwise you are food for grubs and tree roots.
I think John makes some valid points. Humans are not naturally vegetarians, but omnivores (just look at chimps, our nearest living relatives). We’ve been eating meat since we came down from the trees, and certain adaptations (bipedal locomotion, large brain, tool use) most likely came about as a direct result of hunting and eating meat. Nothing against anyone who chooses a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, but do please be aware that such a diet is not natural (I once had a vegetarian co-worker opine that eating meat was just a habit people picked up during the ice age because plant foods weren’t available!). I get a kick out of people arguing whether it’s ethical for humans to eat other animals; to me that’s just as absurd as asking whether it’s ethical for a lion to eat a zebra or, for that matter, for a deer to eat an acorn. I think the most important points Keith made were in regards to the evils of factory farming (environmental degradation, cruelty to the captive animals, etc.) and the ultimate inferiority, in terms of human consumption, of the products they produce. It’s too bad that her factual mistakes and her radical feminist rants obscure the reasonable, rational part of her argument, i.e. that we all ought to eat local as much as possible, and that when we eat meat, it ought to be raised and processed in a humane way. As for me, my preferred protein is the ultimate in free-range sustainability- Odocoileus virginianus, aka the whitetail deer. Anyway, if you’re interested in the topic of sustainable agriculture, I would highly suggest reading the essays of Wendell Berry (Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” is a good read, too).
I agree with much of what you say. What *is* unethical, however, is our treatment of animals. Its deplorable! Most people I talk to agree that this is one area we need to improve upon. I do run into a few now and then that simply could care less about animals and how they’re treated.
Meat-eating goes back a lot further than your co-worker states. Homo Habilis was perhaps our earliest ancestor within the genus Homo. H. habilis created only the most rudimentary of tools, such as scraping tools to cut meat and scrape it off the carcass. He was not a hunter but a scavenger. Scientists have also determined that the Australopithicines also ate some meat and insects as well as plant foods. A. robustus may be a possible exception. Based upon the fossil evidence it appears much if not all its diet may have included only plant material.
H. Erectus exhibits a smaller, less flared rib cage than his predecessors indicating a smaller gut size. This would be characteristic of a species on a diet of denser foods, i.e. meat, tubers. It is thought that H. Erectus was the first to use fire. Herbivorous species have larger rib cages to accommodate their larger gut size.
We have yet to find any evidence that any species resembling humans were herbivores or frugivores. Frugivore species predate humans by millions of years and more closely resembled today’s small primates such as lemurs.
“as your genes scream for you to?” What do you mean by that? I’m a molecular biologist, and I don’t at all see that our genes are screaming at us to eat meat. Our cells need certain nutrients to function, but cells don’t “care” where those nutrients are coming from, and you can get them on a vegan diet.
As for your warning to vegans that if we try to live on cow feed we will die. slowly. Uh, cows eat grass? No vegans i know are trying to subsist on grass. But thanks for the warning.
“Uh, cows eat grass?`
Only if they`re lucky! The rest eat an unnatural grain diet.
[…] From GINNY MESSINA TheVeganRD […]
Here is a link to a review on the concerned book on Amazon.
For some one like me who doesn't have enough knowledge to decide who is right and who isn't in this regard, this was more convincing that the fanatical ranting of extreme thinking people.
I cannot agree more with the conclusion of review. Please read it.
There is enough division conflict in humanity over religion and politics and it's disturbing and painful for me to see people getting further divided over the approach towards food. Food is the one common aspect of all the people on this planet. And yet there are so many who are deprived of this basic need. We need to find solutions and not psuedo-intellectual mish mash nor the disgraceful politicizing of Food.
I was right with you until you said there is no dietary need in the body for saturated fat or cholesterol because there is no RDA for them. Now that is a dieticians answer. A balance of unsaturated and saturated fat is required for proper cellular function. You are correct in saying that the liver will produce all the Cholesterol needed. Personally I eat and love to eat meat. I couldn't thrive in the manner that I do without it, trust me I've tried. I do not understand the reason that Vegans, Vegetarians and Omnivores feel they need to be morally right in their cause. The real disgrace with any way of eating is the lack of sustainability of what we eat, whether it is meat, fruit, vegetables etc.
I highly recommend the reading and review of The Perfect Health Diet.
I would be happy to hear your comments.
I didn't say that there is no need for cholesterol and saturated fat in the diet because there is no RDA for them. I said there is no RDA for them because we don't need them! We make the saturated fat and cholesterol we need. I'm not familiar with any evidence to the contrary. Can you point me to actual studies showing that humans require either one of these?
Great review! What you said here:
"And the book has been widely embraced by those who want to believe that meat-eating is healthy and just."
is what scares me the most. This book is being taken seriously by people who should know better. THANK YOU so much for this review!
I think that you're twisting her words a bit. She definitely says that we don't need to eat cholesterol. That is part of her deconstruction of the lipid hypothesis. I don't think it's fair to dig into her for feeling good when eating food that she has craved. She never claimed her cells were instantly awakened in a manner that implied she actually felt they were nourished at that moment. She uses literary flares to describe feeling good about what she eats.
All the people dissing the book on the comments without even reading it is ridiculous. How can you have an opinion when you have no facts? Is it because it fits your narative?
I know people on this blog self select, but it really is doing a disservice to yourself to not explore and be open minded.
Just to give a response, I do have read the Keith book like several others commenting I’m sure. It is the worst and most dishonest text I’ve ever seen. It gets nutrition wrong. It gets environmental science wrong. And it is a moral trainwreck. The review is if anything too kind to Lierre Keith. Her book is at many places outright dishonest. For example she props up a lot of straw men that she then swiftly attack. But she does not att all engage with the arguments for animal rights that have actually been put forward. To sum up, yes I’ve read the book and I recommend everyone to not read it. Now, how much animal rights literature have you yourself read. What is your take on Tom Regan’s arguments in his book the Case for Animal Rights?
Hello, I read Lierre Keith’s book, it was an interesting read, I think she let her emotions get the best of her at times, as most individuals do when they find “purpose.”
Her claims that vegan/vegetarian diets will hurt you are absurd, everyone’s body has its own specific needs and if you feel healthy then stick to what works; this outlook should be cast from both camps. So long as the meat eater is eating grass fed animal protein living in relative harmony with nature by making an effort to eat locally and decreasing the use of fossil fuels and the vegan/vegetarian is eating local organically grown then everyone’s happy.
People really need to get off of their ideological high horse, Lierre included.
Do what you can, but you’re not saving the world, not while trillionaires own and dictate life globally.
“Live life with Gusto, but don’t take it too seriously.” – Deepak Chopra
No matter what theory you believe, either the "humans are meant to be vegetarian"-theory, or the "humans are meant to eat meat, not grains"-theory….you will alway, always, always find evidence in favor of both theories. No one will ever know for sure how we are "meant" to be or eat and that is why we shouldn't attack eachother, but respect everyones individual choices.
Anna, I don’t think there is any particular diet that we are “meant” to eat. Since we’re omnivores–people who can eat a wide range of foods–there are probably any number of different diet patterns that can support health. And as long as that’s true, then it seems like we should choose the diet pattern that does the least harm in the world. My point in this post was not to prove that veganism is the natural diet of all humankind–only to correct some psuedoscience that was being used to suggest that vegan diets aren’t healthy.
We were “meant” to eat both types of foods – both animal and plant matter.
I never liked the term “meant to ..” It implies predestination. We’ve EVOLVED to eat cooked, mixed diets. The evidence is in the fossil record. Our decreasing rib cage size was in direct proportion to smaller gut sizes. Smaller, less powerful jaws and jaw musculature and smaller teeth are all adaptations to cooked food and increased meat-eating. Cooking was a major event in our evolution. It has allowed us to eat more nutrient dense foods, i.e. meat, tubers. It has also allowed us to get more nutrients, despite what raw foodists tell us, from the plants we eat. Also, our physiology is nothing like a herbivore and we are clearly not carnivores.
I think Michael Pollan summed it up best in his book “In Defense of Food” when he said, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Within that, I’d say eat the diet (vegan, vegetarian, semi-vegetarian) that brings you the best health.
My $0.02 …
I just started being a vegan and feeling good. Then I saw her video and became confused. I’ve started eating yogurt. But i don’t want to. Is there or is there not any important nutrient that I can only get from animal protein?
The only nutrient you can’t get from unfortified plant foods is vitamin B12–and it’s easy enough to just eat foods that are fortified with this nutrient or take a supplement. Otherwise, there is nothing in animal foods that you can’t get elsewhere.
Unless you have experienced eating flesh after not having done so for 20 years you can not comment on the experience. I too was a vegetarian for 20 years and had a very simlar experience after eating meat for the first time. So did my brother who was a vegetaring for 18 years. I have read other accounts of this from other recovering vegetarians. And, yes food can do that to you.
Until I see some hard science-based evidence I do not believe that the anecdotal experiences you describe for yourself and others have any objective physiological basis. I’m certainly willing to believe in a placebo effect, or perhaps in these cases, a nocebo effect, depending on one’s point of view. Do you have any evidence of precisely what nutrients could induce such an effect? Citations please.
I hear she supports very exteme ideas: http://www.facebook.com/huntgatherlove/posts/122144694550752 “Is Lierre Keith the next_Unibomber?”
Thank you for the review!! I love how you pointed out that while the author says our paleolithic ancestors didn’t eat grain, she fails to mention that they didn’t eat dairy either! And she’s all for dairy. I picked up the book at my friend’s house and skimmed through it. Every argument I read in the book left me thinking “wait, but…” so I was really hoping there were some good responses online. I follow a vegan diet, and I feel great! I am sorry to hear about the author’s health problems, and I wonder if she had food allergies or sensitivities (to soy perhaps?) or if she was lacking key nutrients.
I checked out one or two of the links concerning veganism vs. local meat and what is best for the environment. So if it is true that transport just accounts for 10% of the total energy cost of a specific food, that is good news since environmental arguments are important for me choosing to be vegan.
Still I´m concerned by the fact that almost all the legumes and nuts I am eating are imported from far away. I live in Sweden and even if it is possible to live on legumes grown here (and also nuts to some degree) it would be a very boring diet indeed. Still I have very little knowledge of how the food I eat is grown and handled before it is shipped here. Even if it is organic, there can still be social problems connected to production. Who grows the lentils or pick the nuts and under what conditions and for how much pay?
The relative difficulties for many vegans to live on local food seems like a real problem (or question) if you take both environmental and social aspects into account (would it be better for me to get half my protein from the neighbor´s sheep who are relatively well treated?).
I just wonder if anyone knows books or websites digging deeper into this. Or perhaps someone have some useful first hand information?
“would it be better for me to get half my protein from the neighbor´s sheep ”
I think that is an obvious and important point. and I think Yes.
The amount of “sheepness” you use to supplement your mostly vegetarian diet in a year would seem to be no more than you would be taking out of your local environment being the omnivore you are.
This assumes of course that you are not going to be eating the abundant insects you have in your own back yard, because if you do, then you don’t need the sheep.
Lol at all the angry vegans. Eat some meat, eat some fat, enjoy your lives. This was one of the finest books written on the subject and this review one of the poorest.
Asking for proof is not anger, it’s asking for proof. Why is this book fine and the review poor? Please explain. Be specific.
The fact that normal human development—throughout most of the world, at least—results in a decreased ability to digest dairy foods, should provide a major clue that humans did not evolve to consume them. None of this gets even a mention in the book.
as far as i’m aware the ability to digest dairy (or at least break down lactose) is thought to have derived from a single mutation in proto-europeans living somewhere in the caucasus.
because of genetic drift within a small population it would be possible for most clan-member to have that gene within a few generations, thanks to chance-effects.
if around that same time that community was also experimenting with holding live-stock you’d get a positive feedback loop, where the new gene makes holding live-stock far more profitable, while the availability of milk would cause positive selection-pressure for the new gene (they could now have animal protein without killing the animal, so one animal would provide far more nutrition)
non-europeans didn’t have the lactose-gene, so for them holding cattle was not worth it (they could only use cows and goats as meat), so they developed alternative protein-sources
We can keep us extremely healthy on a diet consisting only of meat also: Look at the oldest among the Masai, they are often in good health and vigorous, still capable of hunting. They have good cholesterol levels, even and stable blood sugar and otherwise healthy bodys that can easily withstand infections that we often get sick of today.
Looking back on the studies done on 229 cultures of indigenous people as you can see that none of them lived as vegans.
Most findings suggest today that animal source foods played a critical role in Human Evolution.
So why eat in a way that seems completely unnatural from the way we humans have been eating to become just what we are, humans?
When we talk about sustainable food production, I think we all should follow Joel Salatins concept. The plants need the animals, the animals need the plants and we need the animals just as they need us. We are part of a cycle with no end!
1. Orr J.B et al. Studies of nutrition: The physique and health of two African tribes. Spec. Rep. Ser. Med. Res. Coun. London 1931. 155.
2. Cordain L et al. Am J Clin Nutr 2000;71:682–92.
3. Milton K. J. Nutr. 133: 3886S–3892S, 2003.
5. Stephen Budiansky. The Covenant of the Wild – Why Animals Chose Domestication. Yale University Press, 1999.
Trying to realistically emulate a Paleolithic diet in this day and age is pretty much impossible. Unless you are as active as our ancestors were and consuming fresh game meat you’re not even close to duplicating it. Our food sources have more toxins in them no matter where on the planet you are living. The people coming the closest to following a real Paleolithic diet are the few hunter/gatherer tribes that remain and of these the ones that are the furthest from civilization and its influences. One other thing to remember, the key to human evolution or any other species for that matter is to simply live long enough to raise offspring and prepare them to carry on the cycle. Longevity doesn’t enter in to the equation. One interesting thing to note about the Massai; these people are pastoralists and walk 20 miles per day. Do you walk 20 miles per day? Also, the Massai do indeed get atherosclerosis, it just isn’t the main cause of death amongst this group. The diet of populations that do live long and healthy lives in modern times are highly plant-based.
Stefan, Let’s look at your first claim: We can keep extremely healthy on a meat-only diet because the Masai do.
Are we all genetically like the Masai? Of course not. Did they evolve to be different relative to other cultures? Of course. So you have committed a hasty generalization fallacy. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hasty_generalization
What do vegetarian mothers feed their newborns? Breast milk – an animal product. What did our paleo ancestors feed their children? Meat and foraged forest foods. Are you trying to deny that we are, by evolution, at bona-fide meat eaters?
Face it, most vegans are fanatics. They deny or are ignorant of the fact that they kill millions of life forms with each breath and that their bodies are always at war with bacterial and viral attackers. This is how we know how long a person has been dead – by measuring the elapsed victory of our enemies. Life and death are inseparable.
Furthermore you miss the entire point of the book, which is to say ‘agriculturalism’ and not veganism or vegetarianism per se has us on a death spiral to oblivion. If you looked past your own hurt feelings about having your group critiqued you’d see that her points are mainly directed at soil desalinization and big agribusiness which will inevitably cause mass hardship and likely horrific famine and death in the next couple of centuries.
Someone has to start somewhere. We’re all ears if you can find a sustainable way to feed the world. We are not doing so now. Last year’s (2011) huge spike in food prices is but a hint of what is to come. The 20-50% or so that will survive the inevitable apocalypse will likely make it a capital offense to run unsustainable food production practices.
Paxalot, be careful. Ofcourse humans feed newborns their milk – humans are mammals. You state that “our paleo ancestors” fed their children on meat and foraged forest foods, and then follow on that “we” are bona-fide meat eaters. But surely that mixed diet of meat and forest foods makes us, strictly speaking, omnivores. The balance between animal and plant has varied across cultures, which may suggest we are, generally, pretty good omnivores.
I have found the Paleo Vegan site very interesting, especially the point that natural selection doesn’t care what you eat, doesn’t care if it is “natural” or “healthy”, so long as it helps you to live long enough to reproduce. Omnivorism has done that for our species, but that doesn’t mean the adaptation ends there.
Veganism is a new variant on being omnivore. I say omnivore because, as I understand it, B12 supplements are derived from bacteria, and yeast foods from, well, yeast. Not animals, but all forms of life.
You are right to say we kill all the time. But we have no, or little, control over our immune systems killing bacteria or viruses. I think the point lies where we do have control and choice, and where we do have choice we can exercise moral and ethical concerns.
As for the issues arising from soil desalinzation and big agribusiness, I am not qualified to comment.
“natural selection doesn’t care what you eat”
Not arguing for or against, just wanted to point out that recent discoveries in genetics and evolution are beginning to show that in fact that is not true.
If you just google “We are what we eat” You’ll get a lot of cruft but in amongst them are some real info ration.
Here are a few links that I have not vetted but might contain real information:
“Face it, most vegans are fanatics. They deny or are ignorant of the fact that they kill millions of life forms with each breath and that their bodies are always at war with bacterial and viral attackers. ”
You’re right, Paxalot. Sometimes bugs die on the windshield of my car so now I make no effort whatsoever to avoid hitting anything, whether it be squirrel, dog, or small child. What’s the point? I’m always going to cause harm to somebody, right? People who try to reduce the amount of suffering they cause in the world are total suckers.
for posting this.
By the facts, we are 99.9% genetically identical to our ancestors, hunters and gatherers and then one can assume that we are made to eat the same thing as them.
If we check the facts so we can see that we (homo sapiens sapiens) has never quite been vegans!
Cordain L et al. Am J Clin Nutr 2000;71:682–92.
Milton K. J. Nutr. 133: 3886S–3892S, 2003.
” …then one can assume that we are made to eat the same thing as them.”
Well, YOU can “assume” whatever you like about how we are “made”. That doesn’t make it so.
Even if you could present some solid scientific evidence that we have the exact same physiology and anatomy as some earlier incarnation of ancestors that ate WHATEVER diet (all grubs for example), that would have nothing to do with the fact that we current humans can, and do, thrive on a vegan diet (yeah, I know, gotta get B12 from somewhere). Arguing from something that (may have) happened in the past does not logically lead to a conclusion about the present. Especially if one is considering the ethics of human animal and non-human animal interactions.
But it’s up to you. Enjoy the grubs and the raw corpses!
I’m not sure that you simply writing about how bad it is makes it bad, particularly since your post is actually almost the same in terms of science.
However I think we humans are far to quick to jump on some health issue that is later to be proven either false or harmful and I think more *unbiased* research needs to be done on exactly how our bodies react to our diet.
Certainly not all of what she is saying is bunk, so what part of it isn’t bunk?
Nothing wrong with being vegan or even just vegetarian for moral reasons, but those who would be vegan or vegetarian for health reasons actually do want to know… and those who do it for moral reasons, *should* want to know the real story
so they can properly supplement their diet.
So, no more bashing… do some real investigation and use the real information to become a better vegan.
[…] Review of “The Vegetarian Myth”. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]
[…] arguments in the past attempted to provide various justifications for eating meat, which were thoroughly analyzed, picked apart, and its scholarly failings highlighted. Even such arguments made by one of the judges chosen for this contest has been shown to be short […]
i am 71 and have been a vegetarian for 45 years, a vegan for over 10 years. The problem with those who attack the vegan diet is that there is no vegan diet. Given all the fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grains, there is a nearly infinite variety of diets possible.
Both my son, also a vegan, and I have not been sick in decades.
Those who “tried” veganism and didn’t do well with it no doubt were not eating a balanced diet.
It took me a long time to find the right balance. Here it is: each day, eat lots of fruit, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and grains. Any diet which concentrates on just one of these plant foods risks the imbalance which manifests as poor health.
My only deficiency appears to be vitamin D, discovered by my doctor. That possibly is the result of my avoiding direct sunlight for many years, fearing that my already sun-damaged skin would suffer.
I am following my doctor’s recommendations (dosing up on D) but also now getting a good dose of sun each day.
I have not had a cold or even a sore throat or phlegm for a decade.
I did have cancer and had my prostate removed; I now have zero cancer. The cancer developed before I became vegan.
At 71, I work full time and never feel sick or bored. Those who are not feeling well with a vegan diet need to talk to someone who is and find out what they are doing differently. It’s not about avoiding meat so much as getting the right nutrients from a variety of plants, from roots to fruit.
Tonight I had millet, shitake mushrooms,tofu, zucchini, carrots, and sunflower seeds cooked with olive oil and a few herbal seasonings.
I feel satisfied but not stuffed. For dessert, I am eating dried mango and I am also drinking a glass of pinot noir. Mnnnnnnnnnn.
I am a vegan for both moral and health and environmental reasons.
Since I stopped paying someone to kill animals to eat, I have enjoyed a deep peace and profound connection to all living creatures. Because my vegan diet is balanced and nourishing, I have no craving for meat….the smell actually sickens me (ah, dead animals…..).
I watch the meat eaters around me at work fall sick as I work day after day with no illness at all. Live and learn.
Dale, I have only been eating a healthy plant based whole foods diet for a year, but I am having the exact positive experiences as you. And thanks so much for your comment that “there is no vegan diet.” You have gotten to the main problem of this book, as far as I am concerned.
How can someone write an entire book about a diet that didn’t work for her, without including exactly what she ate. We can’t possibly understand what went wrong, because we don’t know what kind of vegan diet she followed. There isn’t a good nutritionist or doctor out there that wouldn’t expect a full accounting of everything Keith ate before recommending what changes she would need to get healthy. I have not read this book, but if the comments from those who have read it are correct, the reader is completely in the dark as to what Keith was putting into her body. Right there that completely discredits her and there is no real discussion of her dietary experience because we lack the knowledge of what her diet actually was.
Ugh, these kinds of biased reviews drive me crazy. Read FOOD AND WESTERN DISEASE for an unbiased review of the topic. Be vegan be vegetarian be whatever you want. But don’t deny our ancestral diets. And don’t deny our brain would not be as advanced as it is without animal meat/fish. You also can’t deny the low nutrient content of cereal grains and legumes when compared to that of meat and fish. If you haven’t educated yourself on leaky gut syndrome, do so now and tell me if you still want cereal grains and legumes in your diet.
Neil, in order to evaluate nutrient density of foods, we must evaluate the quantities of nutrients present on a calorie-per-calorie basis. When I went to the USDA Nutrient Database and compared Cooked lentils, 16070, to Beef, flank, steak, separable lean only, trimmed to 0″ fat, choice, cooked, broiled, 13069 (which I believe to be a far leaner and “healthier” choice of meat than the average North American consumes), the following information was reported:
Comparing 100g of cooked lentils to 50g of beef (which have more or less equivalent caloric values of 116 kcal and 118 kcal, respectively), the beef is significantly higher in protein, zinc, Vitamin B12 (lentils have none), riboflavin, and niacin. However, the lentils are significantly higher in iron, fiber, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, thiamin, and folate (lentils: 181 mcg_DFE versus beef: 4 mcg_DFE).
Comparing the nutrients values for these foods, it seems extremely misleading to make the claim, “You also can’t deny the low nutrient content of cereal grains and legumes when compared to that of meat and fish.” Although, it is true that, in general, nutrients like iron and zinc are less efficiently absorbed from plant than animal sources, many factors affect absorption, and there are steps vegetarians can take to increase the absorption rate of these minerals e.g. soaking of grains/legumes, fermenting (as in sourdough bread) and consuming Vitamin C with iron-rich foods.
It is also true that animal foods are generally far higher than plant-based choices in saturated fat. For the above quantity of beef, the saturated fat content was 2.77 g (which is about 14% of the daily recommended maximum saturated fat intake for only 6% of the total energy intake of a person consuming a 2000 kcal diet–which means this food is high in saturated fat). The lentils, on the other hand, contained only 0.053 g (less than 0.3% of the recommended maximum). Overall, the scientific literature indicates that for cardiovascular health, “dietary recommendations should emphasize substitution of polyunsaturated fat and minimally processed grains for saturated fat”. (Patty W. Siri-Tarino & Qi Sun & Frank B. Hu & Ronald M. Krauss. Saturated Fatty Acids and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease: Modulation by Replacement Nutrients. Curr Atheroscler Rep (2010) 12:384–390 DOI 10.1007/s11883-010-0131-6). Interestingly, this statement was made despite the article’s following Disclosure: “Dr. Krauss is a member of the Merck Global Atherosclerosis Advisory Board. He has received grants from the National Dairy Council, National Cattleman’s Beef Association, Robert C. and Veronica Atkins Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health. He is the co-inventor of two licensed patents for lipoprotein particle analysis and receives royalties from their use. Dr. Siri-Tarino has received an honorarium and has been supported by a grant from the National Dairy Council.” It would be difficult to contend that an article with this type of disclosure statement is biased in favor of vegetarianism!
What does our “ancestral diet” have to do with whether or not contemporary humans can thrive on a vegan diet? I won’t deny whatever your interpretation is of one or another “ancestral diet”. I’ll just deny it is relevant in any way to humans current dietary needs and ways of fulfilling them in ways that respect the ethical consideration of non-human animals.
Yes, I can deny that “our brain would not be as advanced as it is without animal meat/fish”. There how was that? I’m sure you know there is some disagreement as to the actual cause and effect for the increasing brain size of human ancestors. Since you are so well read on these topics, I’m sure you know that and just neglected to mention it, so I won’t bother to direct you to the resources.
Could you please provide several citations for your claims about “leaky gut syndrome” and the consumption of grains and legumes? Thank you!
Thank you, surfgeorge for your comment. Particularly “I’ll just deny it is relevant in any way to humans current dietary needs and ways of fulfilling them in ways that respect the ethical consideration of non-human animals.” Hear, hear!
With regards to numerous comments about our “large” or “advanced” brain which evolved through eating meat, I would like to ask, “Are you serious??” We have been, as humans, on this planet a brief time in comparison to other life forms, and yet we have managed to cause more violence, death and destruction in that time than any other in 2 billion years. Call that advanced? I call that reprehensible. While the ecosystem may collapse without without certain species of insect and bacteria, there is no doubt that planet earth would survive and thrive with the extinction of humankind.
Evolution of the human species would be to acknowledge that we are *all* part of the ecosystem. We are all animals. And if we would put our “big brain” egos aside, we would realise nutritionally, environmentally and ethically that *all* humans can survive and thrive on a well-balanced, diverse vegan diet!
(“The American Dietetic Association contends that carefully planned vegetarian diets, including vegan diets, are healthful and nutritionally sufficient for individuals of all ages, including pregnant or lactating women, infants, children, adolescents, and athletes. During pregnancy, adherence to a nutritionally adequate vegetarian diet can lead to positive health outcomes for both the mother and infant.
Furthermore, well-constructed vegetarian diets may offer health benefits in terms of preventing and treating certain chronic diseases, including heart disease, cancer, obesity, and diabetes. Vegetarian diets are linked to lower risk for death from ischemic heart disease, according to findings of an evidence-based review. In addition, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and body mass index appear to be lower in vegetarians than in nonvegetarians, as do rates of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.”
Journal American Dietetic Assoc. 2009;109:1266–1282.)
Talk about misinformation! Wow! They got the anthropolgy form Loren Cordain, PhD. As to dairy, that has been consumed by humans for over 100,000 years and is only recently, last 12-15,000 years tied to agriculture. And no matter how you want to believe, the protein nutrition from unhydrolyzed plant source proteins is just not very useable by humans. If you need to look at the reasons, they start in the gut and the lack of genetic ties to it over our evolution. I could go on forever about how poor and misinformed your response is, even though some of it in regards to her book may be correct.
I can’t find Lierre Keith’s credentials. Can someone post them?
She has no credentials.
Thanks so much for this review. I’m working toward veganism and reading up a lot on it. My friend is on the Paleo diet and sent me a post from http://www.marksdailyapple.com, which is basically the Paleo king of websites. I explored the site and thought about taking out grains, but ultimately, I don’t think I agree. Anyway, he did a review on this book and in the interest of being well rounded and open minded, I wanted to buy it. It was $15.99 though, so I got the sample. So far, I was unimpressed. Basically, she seems to think that if all agriculture is going to kill living beings, we might as well screw it and eat whatever we want. I disagree. That’s like saying one person can’t make a difference. And thank you for saying that she never discusses what she actually eats because that’s what I was most interested in reading about. The fact that she notes that she eats most.y carbs tells me enough. Thanks for saving me 16 bucks,
Thank you for reviewing this book, as I couldn’t bring myself to read it. When i found out that Derrick Jensen (who I’ve worshiped) is related to this book–however tangentially (…and directly, as I’ve since found out), I was a bit devastated. How can someone who writes so beautifully about the environment and zoo animals be so blind to the animals we rape for food?
Ugh, anyway, it sounds like this woman has no morals or compassion. Bravo to her. Keep enjoying the suffering of others.
Perhaps it would pay to read the book for yourself, instead of relying on an equally biased review of it, so you can develop an informed opinion on the issue. Claiming Lierre Keith has no morals or compassion based on a second-hand account is wrong. I do believe she wrote the book with the belief that she would be helping others by doing so.
An interesting review, however as mentioned by someone else before, both the original book and this article are biased. I think anyone reading anything needs to remember that what we tend to identify as ‘facts’ are only popular hypotheses that have yet to be disproved through research that has been undertaken to date. Keith has an interesting argument in that humans have been eating meat for millions of years, but it is hard to tell whether it is truly necessary in our diet or perhaps just easier and more efficient to consume. If you are truly healthy on a vegetarian or vegan diet, then good for you! Likewise as an omnivore. I think far more research is needed before we can claim either lifestyle is better in terms of social, environmental, physical benefits.
I see a festival of emotional responses. People that respond as if the information contained threatens your worldview.
If Ms. Keith were the only one saying the things she does, but the matter of fact is that there is a lot of people also writing about the role of macronutrients in the body and the implications of poor diets.
You guys may twist as much as you can but you cannot deny the facts.
The arrival of agriculture brought with it shorter stature, a host of diseases and crooked teeth. Pierce was not the only one to document it, only the more famous. This information is very accepted in modern paleontology.
High intakes of carbs will lead to insulin resistance and are implicated in alzheimer and other diseases. This is not hearsay, just perusal pubmed and see for yourself.
I could go on and on, but judging by the responses, I see that the person who reviewed this book has no understanding of biochemistry and human physiology, and the people who agree literally fear the book.
Some interesting articles:
Human Ancestors Were Nearly All Vegetarians
Neanderthals Ate Their Greens
Investigating the Diet of Neanderthals
What exactly is the vegan ethos? Is it to not kill?
If so what about the animals that are killed in agriculture?
animals displaced(I.e. driven extinct) by the land claimed for growing and the small rodents killed by combine harvesters.
Are they considered unfortunate necessities for food?
What is the worth of their lives versus the animals killed in civilization.
I’m just curious to hear a vegan’s view on this as it has kept from adopting a purely vegan diet
No reasonable person claims to be able to live without causing any harm. But one can try to minimize harm, consistent with living a flourishing life. In this regard, here’s an interesting piece: “Number of Animals Killed to Produce One Million Calories in Eight Food Categories”.
I wonder if Lierre Keith had delayed food allergies or perhaps celiac disease.
The standard kind of vegan diet has a lot of gluten, soy, corn – all major culprits in delayed food allergies.
By a “delayed food allergy”, I mean a kind of food allergy that doesn’t show up in skin or blood tests; it involves the immune system; it often has vague symptoms that one doesn’t associate with the food, like skin problems, chronic fatigue, hypoglycemia, joint pain. It may be diagnosed with a hypoallergenic elimination diet followed by food challenges, but many people don’t do this, and even if they do, the elimination diet/food challenges process is full of pitfalls, so it may fail.
People with celiac disease often have reactions like delayed food allergies if they eat gluten after being gluten-free for awhile. They may also develop delayed food allergies to foods other than gluten grains.
Some of Lierre Keith’s symptoms that she blames on a vegan diet could be from delayed food allergies, like depression, anxiety, “hypoglycemia”. With the hypoglycemia, she doesn’t say if she actually had low blood sugar or rather, what’s commonly called “hypoglycemia” – jittery feelings, fatigue, etc. after eating “quick” carbs.
She says she had a lot of depression and anxiety on a vegan diet, and that’s mostly what made me think of delayed food allergies and celiac disease, because depression and anxiety is associated with celiac disease. Anxiety definitely is, and also depression for me and a number of celiacs I’ve heard from.
The degenerative disc disease she has might be associated with celiac disease, see http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100629081632.htm
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease, and this article says that IL-7, a kind of cell involved in chronic inflammation in autoimmune disorders, can be involved in degenerative disc disease.
Anyway, it sounds terribly likely that someone might go on the classic type of high-grains, high-gluten, high-soy vegan diet, suffer a lot of problems from hidden celiac disease, blame it on veganism in general, develop a whole anti-vegetarian philosophy because of it.
I eat an unusual vegan diet, grain-free, legume-free etc. because of delayed food allergies. But I manage to do well nutritionally by eating lots of vegetables, and nutritious “grains” like quinoa and amaranth.
She actually didn´t eat a vegan diet, as she said she binged on dairy and eggs every chance she got also she ate beef once a week.Therefore blaming a vegan diet, when she actually didn´t eat a vegan diet, is nonsense.
“It’s true that some vegans are too skinny and are not healthy. They don’t eat enough fat or enough calories or they refuse to supplement with vitamin B12.”
Fat is an animal product and vegans do not eat animal products, therefore they will never eat enough of it as it is against their eating dogma.
Why are supplements required if a vegan diet is supposed to be optimal and healthy? I looked for foods high in vitamin B12 and I couldn’t find any vegan approved one’s that are not fortified with B12.
[…] far, I’ve not yet heard a story from any ex-vegan that sounded convincing. I was not convinced by Lierre, or Tasha or Alex. Again, it’s not to say that I know that they could have recovered their […]
i enjoyed this review…a reccent debate between my bf and I are whether or not vegetariansm is healthy healthful. My vote is that it is, and then he got his hands on this book… i couldnt agree more with the point that she is trying to find a scapegoat for her health problems, and laid blame on her diet.
It is interesting that she blames health problems on vegitarism, when there is continually more and more evidence that a properly balance vegetarian diet reduces the risk of many chronic diseases.
I am so fed up with people targeting vegetarians, when perhaps they should focous on their own eating habits, and the fact that many animal fats are huge contributers to heart disease, high cholesterol, higher rate of obesity, etc.
i really enjoyed reading this review, thank you
Thank you so much for your review. I’m going to read the book; as a vegan I feel I should at least be a well informed one and able to refute attacks on my beliefs. I will now (when I can find a book for free as I refuse to buy it) be vary weary of her facts and not be fooled (yet still have an open mind about her opinion – she deserve a chance I guess)
Hi Vegan RD, I think it’s irresponsible of you to leave such an unbalanced review on your website. You pick up on some inconsistencies in the book, sure, but what have you got to say about what Lierre is actually advocating?
If you’re vegan purely for nutritional reasons, fine, but
I don’t see how you could ignore the whole section on the true consequences of our food choices. You know, the part where she talks about how damaging agriculture has been for our planet, how the human population that would actually be sustainable is a fraction of the current one, how if we really want to do less harm we have to rely on local perennial polyculture…
You say it’s a sad book. Do you agree it’s sad that you have some commenters writing that they won’t even read it now? Now that they’ve read ONE incomplete review of it? Do you agree that wilful ignorance isn’t what the vegan camp needs?
You write “I’m less able to evaluate her discussion of the environmental consequences of animal farming, although it seems reasonable to assume that she gets as much wrong in this section.” Sorry, what? That’s the whole point of the entire book! You’re happy to assume she’s wrong? All farming, even veganic farming, is animal farming. Have you ever been on a farm? Animals are everywhere. You can plan to grow only plants, but however hard you try, you’ll be growing worms and slugs and ants and small mammals and birds and all sorts of other creatures too.
When vegans insist on consuming only plants, we think we’re being compassionate, but we don’t go far enough. We’re just like those vegetarians who think not putting flesh in their mouths is enough to change the world for the better. It’s not. You know it’s not. To be truly compassionate (compassionate, not sentimental) we have to accept our animal selves and change our entire way of living, not just avoid consuming the end products of one specific kind of exploitation.
Whatever you might think about Lierre’s writing style, health problems, degree of vegan-ness, etc, her point is that Vegan. Is. Not. Enough.
And I agree.
Have you ever tried being vegan? I’m guessing not.
just wanted to give my story ,i used to consume all the horrible stuff a western diet offers and last year was diagnosed with diabetes, went on a vegan diet and even my doctor seems unsure about whether or not i am diabetic now, and also all other blood tests are normal now( they never used to be)plant based seems to be the right way for me.
[…] though one should also dislike medical progress. Beyond this, though, the book was a scientifically illiterate attack on plant-based diets, that inspired enthusiasm only because it implied that even hippies […]
[…] their district for the opportunity to play for them and be noticed. Yes, the player can choose to Brandon Winbush Hayfield Sr go to a private school and not have to show an address change. "What killed us was that early […]
Well, even if I knew nothing about dietary needs and nutritional science, it´d be easy for me to see she´s wrong! 28 years of no meat and 5 years of veganism should have killed me by now apparantly. 😉 Instead I am 45 years old, very healthy apart from a few allergies (which I always had even while I ate meat) my skin is great, my body is healthy and 74% is muscle. So, how does that happen if I cannot digest plant protein or assimilate vitamins from plants *shakehead* the review was right
Apart from that, Lierre looks pretty unhealthy…
74% muscle? Really? Sounds really unbalanced to me.
I read the entire book: the Vegetarian Myth. It is like she went from vegangelical to paleovangelical in one quick jump. She is on a tear. The really depressing scary parts of her book (of which there are many!) include where she say those who want to feed the world ‘are asking the wrong question” ” humans have ‘overshot’ by 6 billion” “there are too many of us” “do not have Children” “tear down all the dams” “there need to be fewer of us” Also her resentment of whole grains, vegetables, fruits,,
I am not a fat phobe, since they ban or restrict healthy foods like unsweetened bakers chocolate, creamy unsweetened natural peanut butter, nuts, seeds, unsweetened fortified coconut milk which is so delicious, virgin coconut oil, etc etc,,
Of course if a chicken is living healthy happy free and laying bunches of eggs and you or I take and eat a few; that just does NOT feel like poison or murder to me; sorry!
If a person goes from consuming soda, sugar, white flour, & meat 3 times a day to having whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, with eggs or meat 3 times a month; that person should be congratulated; not called a murderer. While a peaceful happy healthy totally vegan world may be ideal and perhaps even possible; a pragmatic person with compassion for HUMANS must welcome all logical positive productive steps in the right directions.
I am disturbed by the way that the flexitarians, vegetarians who occasionally have free-range eggs or goat milk, are pushed out of the debate and how like Liiere ; you either “must” be fat-phobe vegan or you “must” be a Paleo Atkins Paleovangelical.
Earth needs logic, science, compassion, fairness, freedom, pragmatism, polite dialogue, for all people to be invited to join, people to have control over their lives and deaths. People to have good schools, good jobs, mass-transit, friends, healthy food,
We must lead, govern, and represent OURSELVES.
Lieire Keith seems not to truly understand this as she willing to condone infanticide and/or abortion, destroying cities + mass-transit + honest fair free trade + travel; thus turning Earth into giant open-air prison camp. Her extreme locavore rants are too much. If a farmer would benefit from sending his products abroad for sale; too bad; he has no such rights. If I would benefit from buying his product; too bad; I have no such rights under the Liiere Keith regime. Her greenwashing it as direct democracy does not fool me for one second.
and that” I am ALIVE I am ALIVE!!!” from eating meat or dairy; well those who have ever eaten meat or dairy; or any other food; know that her comments on this make NO logical sense; and have NEVER happened for any of us!
Watch video: Food Fight!
Read: Predictive Health
Read: The truth about Statins
Read: Medication Madness
Read: silence kills
Read: The china Study
Read: Sugar Shock
[…] kind of debate. But this information could save your life.” I rolled my eyes and shared a link to a review by a Registered DIetician and was completely dismissed as having an agenda. It was […]
[…] as well, helping me make an informed decision. Here's a critical review of it by a vegan: Review of “The Vegetarian Myth” | The Vegan RD Disclaimer: I eat 'meat and vegetables' ala Primal, although I don't agree with the carb curve. […]
In case someone hasn’t mentioned this already, Lierre Keith does mention what she ate as a vegan on KPFA 94.1 Radio on the 29th October 2010, when she states she “binged on eggs and dairy” every chance she got.
Thank you so much for writing this amazing review, Ginny. I’m trying to become a vegan so I was doing my review when I came across an interview to “The Vegetarian Myth” author. Of course listening to hear at first scared me, since although I have been doing a lot of research lately I’m not an expert in nutrition. By the end of her interview I felt confused because many of her affirmations didn’t make much sense to me so I started to research the author and her book. I’m glad I did because I get to this research which clearly points me toward the right direction, what I have been feeling: Began is the way to go for me, it resonates with my feelings or soul, my body and my mind. This being said I will add that through this review I have learnt that I must become a conscious, responsible and knowledgeable began. Because I don’t want to be like the author of that book blaming my irresponsible pseudo vegan diet just because I’m angry about my health problems. This is just my opinion but the author of that book looks and sounds very upset, unbalance and even confused at times during that interview. It doesn’t seem she is in a good mindset. I’m wondering if she is following her new flesh eating diet in a healthy and reponsible way as well…
Thanks for this useful review. I plan to check back here often. However, I do think you are too hard on poor Wikipedia. I don’t think I could have gotten through nursing school without it. Of course, the user must apply some common sense. No one seems to have much vested interest in altering the basic principles of chemistry, whereas I once had the entry on coconut oil changed repeatedly, every time I corrected it, till I was banned as a “vandal.” (Happily, I have been exonerated on that score.)
Thank you very much for the informative article. Lierre Keith says that in nature, predator animals kill other animals, therefore eating meat is a part of nature. Other proponents of eating meat say that we are biologically designed to eat meat because, for example, we have canines.
However, we are humans, not animals. We can think and feel compassion. We are superior to animals because we can control ourselves. Take religious celibacy for example. You could say it is unnatural because no animal practices it. That, however, does not mean that celibacy in men should be discouraged.
The same can be said about canines. It is not necessary to eat meat just because we have canines, as well it is not necessary to procreate because we have reproductive organs.
[…] the usual hodgepodge of questionable resources—in this case a few anecdotes plus comments from Vegetarian Myth author Lierre Keith. She also referenced two studies, one in Australia and one in […]
You are so biased and misinformated as to boggle the mind. You make statements like they are true just because YOU said them as if you are a big expert. Some of your statements about sat fat especially are troubling. Poly-unsat fats depress the immune system which is why they are given to organ transplant patients. With these fats in the diet, Drs. can prescribe less immune suppressing meds. What do you think they do for a normal person. You are so nutritionally ignorant, I dont how you are still alive. I was a vegetarian for 20 years through the Seventh-Day-Adventist church. It almost killed me. I weighed 270 lbs, had high blood pressure, and my blood sugars were all over the board. My Dr. said my triglycerides made my blood like ´syrup´. I could hardly walk even with assistance. The sad thing is I´m a retired nurse, I should have known better. But I believed the veg nonsense the church spouted. I started adding meat in copious amounts. Stopped the grains entirely and added sat fats and did away with the soy, corn and canola oils. Replaced them with butter. And within 7 weeks I lost 50 lbs without even trying, and for the first time in years and years, I began to feel well again. Its been 5 years and now I can RUN after my 6 yr old granddaughter and I just turned 63! Vegans and vegetarians LIE LIE LIE about everything they say. They have to because there is no truth to any of it. Dont be fooled.
[…] The Vegetarian Myth Debunked […]
Kieth lost me in the first few chapters when she confuses vegetarianism and veganism. Eating animal products has no relation to veganism whatsoever.
People have been eating meat for the majority of our history just fine and the few indigenous that remain still eat a lot of it. I’ve noticed not of these vegan rebuttals mention her writing on the destruction of the soil and how the entire agricultural model today is dependent upon oil based fertilizers. Agriculture isn’t and will never be sustainable. And btw Lierre Keith didn’t claim she ate nothing but grain, she meant she ate all kinds of carbs, simple and complex. Which of course all break down and are absorbed as sugar. The natives who lived here all ate meat and lived pretty long lives. Maybe the high protein/fat intake is what made them smarter than their grain fed invaders who ruined this continent. Just a playful thought 😉
Guys, this is meat industry propaganda – they are just fighting back.
Don’t underestimate how much their *billions* can buy.
Just keep spreading the love, veganism sells itself & a plant based diet will prevail 🙂
“Keith makes a big point about the fact that humans now eat foods—grains—that our Paleolithic ancestors rarely ate. But she never discusses the fact that dairy, a food she heartily endorses, falls into the same category. ”
I’m reading this book currently and she addresses this point on multiple occasions.
I think you can’t blame vegan/vegetarian for your bad health. It all comes down to what you choose to put into your body daily. It doesn’t matter if you are vegan, vegetarian or *not* you could still be healthy if you know well enough about nutrition and avoid high fat and highly process food. Some people called themselves vegan and they live mainly on food like chips and Coca-Cola (which is more likely to be the case of Keith).. of course this would in long term diminish your health. You could be eating meat but if you make sure it doesn’t become excessive and make sure you get enough greens, variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds you could still be living healthy life. So best is not try to blame each other weather you are vegan, vegetarian or not. Your health is in your hand (and on your fork).