Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Vegetarian Myth

The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and SustainabilityThe Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability by Lierre Keith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An important book with an unfortunate title. Keith has some pretty rough feminist axes to grind which occasionally cloud (though also occasionally enhance) her message as it regards our food supply, but what she has to say about the way we eat is important for ANYONE to hear. You can absolutely feel her passion as a "recovering vegan," and the pain it causes her to denounce something she once so passionately believed in. I don't like the title, because my fear is that vegetarians/vegans will look at it and discount it immediately (as you can see from the "reviews" from vegetarians/vegans who haven't even read/finished the book), and omnivores will look at it and think there's no message there that they need.

She does tend to go on a bit, but the message boils down to pretty much this: There is no opt-out of the food chain; we're all part of it, like it or not. There is no plant life without animal contribution and death, and vice-versa. The only way for our planet to keep feeding its inhabitants into the future is if we abandon the industrial agriculture model we've adopted. Monocropping of non-native species is killing our planet, and darn quickly. We're starving ourselves with our ever-increasing focus on genetically modified cereal grains and soy. The only sustainable way to feed ourselves is to do it on a small, local, native scale that includes animals (remove animals from the equation and topsoil vanishes). There's really nothing to argue with there.

I absolutely believe in the tenets set forth in this book (no big shock to anyone who knows me), and go out of my way to find local, organic sources for 100% pastured, grassfed meat and dairy. I buy produce from within 100 miles of my home almost exclusively. I invest in healthy fats, raise free-range chickens for eggs and meat, etc. I won't go so far as to absolutely denounce vegetarianism, but I do believe that it has to fall under the same guidelines: local, sustainable, native. While I really didn't discover anything "new" to me in this book, it certainly drove home the urgency of the locavore movement in ways that Pollan, Kingsolver, et al did not. This book has a bit of a desperate tone, because we're facing a desperate situation. I very much recommend this book to anyone who eats. Take Keith's angsty, patriarchy-hating melodrama (I couldn't say I disagreed with her points, and Heaven knows the patriarchy needs some hating, but it was just disruptive in this context) with a grain of salt if need be. The message is worth indulging her a bit there.

I was first made aware of this book in a blog entry by Dr. Michael Eades, in which he tells of Ms. Keith being the victim of a terroristic attack at a reading, and bought it partly in support of her in the face of that treatment. I'm glad I did. I'm also glad I'm not her, because this is a woman (I'm sorry, "womyn?") operating under extreme anxiety a lot of the time, it seems. But then, maybe we should all be feeling that pressure--we don't have much time to put things right.

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