26.6.2015 | 01:05
Okay, deep breath….
Not too long ago, someone recommended a book to me. Because of some health and/or nutritional issues, I was faced with a major dietary change: My new Functional Medicine doctor recommended a diet for healing a “leaky gut,” possibly even SIBO (Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth), which would be comprised in large part of animal products. (High quality, organic, grass-fed/pasture-raised animal products, not those from factory farms.)
“Can I do this with a vegan diet?” I asked hesitantly, already knowing what was coming.
He looked me in the eye. I knew the answer was “No,” even before he opened his mouth.
(I have learned since that it may be possible to heal a leaky gut while maintaining a vegan diet, but it’s much more difficult and would take a longer time.)
I was already beginning to suspect that my diet was no longer serving me, but I was still resistant. I wanted to make the moral, ethical, environmentally sustainable choice, as well as the healthiest; the “food gurus” I most respected said this was a plant-based diet.
I was pretty distraught. I knew that, in the end, I would make the decision that best supported my health, but that didn’t make my moral quandary any easier.
The next day, I had my “B-School” bonus coaching call with Sean Croxton, to help me jump-start my nutrition coaching business. I had a lot of questions; I’d been floundering around trying to find my focus and figure where to begin.
As he was helping me narrow down my audience and my options for reaching them, I mentioned that I almost re-scheduled the call because of my personal setback.
He gave me a lot of names, a lot of sources, for vegans transitioning to a meat-based diet. And he recommended a book.
The book had a potentially inflammatory title: The Vegetarian Myth, by Lierre Keith.
I pride myself on having an open mind. Even when I was an adolescent, my parents never restricted my reading material. I got a degree in English at college and was a voracious reader on a wide variety of topics. And Sean thought it would help me come to grips with my situation.
So I got the book.
The day it arrived, I skimmed the first eight pages.
Then I told my sister that, starting that afternoon, all of my other commitments were on hold….
This book blew my mind wide open. It also broke my heart.
I’m sure a lot of people will say that Ms. Keith has an agenda. If she does, I would argue that that “agenda” is to protect other young women from falling into the same self-destructive trap of denial and dietary dogma to which she once subscribed. If that’s an “agenda,” I’d say it was a pretty noble one….
Before I read her book, I didn’t realize the disproportionate percentage of eating disorder sufferers who identify as vegetarian.
I knew there was a lot of negative information about soy and its estrogen mimicking effects, but I didn’t know that early-onset puberty symptoms were disproportionately high among minority girls — the same population more likely to have been given soy infant formula.
And even though I had read Jared Diamond’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Guns, Germs and Steel, and was therefore aware of many of the negative consequences caused by agriculture, I had no idea that the vast acres of mono-crop grains were far more destructive to the environment than the practice of sustainable animal husbandry.
And before anyone asks, no, I haven’t thoroughly fact-checked Ms. Keith’s information. The book was clearly quite meticulously researched and she includes scores of sources and footnotes.
More importantly, it is clear from her step-by-step account of her dawning realization of the level of her own ignorance and denial about how sustainable ecosystems worked that changing her diet — changing her entire mindset and worldview — did not occur overnight, nor did it come easily.
The description of her dawning realization that, to grow her own (vegan) food, she would have to rely on animal waste or fossil-fuel derived synthetics, is almost painful to read. You can feel her resistance to this idea, her desperate attempts to remain in denial, through the page.
And if Ms. Keith’s account of the moment when she could no longer avoid the truth of what she would have to do to have any remote chance of healing any of the damage to her health doesn’t move you to tears…. Well, suffice it to say, I can’t imagine anyone with a human heart not grieving at her final, irrevocable loss of innocence.
I can’t speak to Ms. Keith’s motives for writing The Vegetarian Myth, although I hope to interview her in the near future to discuss the diet doctrines to which so many of us cling, but it is my belief that she’s coming from a place of deep love for this beautiful planet which we call home. Yes, some of her conclusions are radical and unpleasant to contemplate, and yes, she probably harbors anger and/or resentment at those who have a vested interest in propagating certain beliefs. But neither of those matters detracts from her painful personal descent into Hell or her sympathy with the vegetarian movement’s fight against factory farming.
I feel that the more strongly you might wish to cling to “the vegetarian myth,” the more you may need to read Lierre Keith’s book with an open mind.