The Vegetarian Myth

The Vegetarian Myth


The other thing that you find
in the archaeological records is that humans are long,
and tall, and strong, and they keep
all their teeth, and their bones
are disease free, until you hit
agriculture. And then suddenly everybody
shrinks six inches, and they loose
their teeth, and their bones are
riddled with disease. This is peak
moment. We’re living at a peak
of human innovation, information, wealth
and health. But we’re also at a peak of
population, and consumption, with rising temperatures
and declining resources fueled by cheap
oil and gas. Peak moment
television, bringing you examples
of positive responses to energy decline
and climate change through local
community action. Hi, welcome to
Peak Moment. I’m Janaia Donaldson. My guest today
is Lierre Keith, who’s a writer
and author and radical
feminist. Her book is
The Vegetarian Myth. I need to thank you,
Lierre, for being
with us. Robyn and I have
read aloud a handful of
books together and yours was
one of those few. This has been
riveting. Thank you. Some of the writing
is lyrical, it is passionate. But what you are
saying is so critical for of us to hear
right now. What I understand
you to be saying is that the vegetarian
way of eating, which many people
are turning to due to climate change
and so on, doesn’t nurture
the human being. It doesn’t nurture
our bodies and it is destroying
the planet. Do I have this right? Yeah. So why isn’t a
vegetarian diet, which sounds like the
right way to go, why isn’t it good
for people? Well, there’s a
human template that needs certain
nutritional elements, and they are not provided
by a vegetarian diet. You can go back
four million years to the very beginning
of the human race and there is no question
that we were hunters. This is what we ate for
literally four million years. And it’s the reason that
we have really big brains. We have the largest
brain of any primate and we have the smallest
digestive tract, “How are we going
to feed that brain?” Our brain uses 25%
of our energy needs. You are not going to
get that out of plants, there is not
enough energy. We must have
been eating meat in order to develop
brains that are this large. In the archeological
record you find that humans
are tall, strong, they keep all
of their teeth, and their bones
are disease-free until you
hit agriculture. And then suddenly everybody
shrinks six inches, they lose
their teeth, and their bones are
riddled with disease. And the concept, the
“diseases of civilization.” There are no diseases
of hunter-gatherers. Let me back up
for a second here. Part of how you got
into this is because you yourself were a
vegan for 20 or so years? So you are looking at not
anything from animals. Right? Right. So fill us in on
that story as well. You were not just
looking at this template. Why did you choose
to be a vegan? Well, I started when I was
very young, at age sixteen. I met another
vegan. At that age you are very
idealistic and impressionable. I was already impassioned
about saving the planet and the political concerns
regarding oppression. It all comes together when
you learn about veganism. You can stop
oppressing animals, you can stop
hurting the earth and you can feed hungry
people, a complete picture. You have a total plan
if you just eat this way. And at age sixteen, I had
no counter-information and thought it seemed
like it made sense. And it’s wonderful, honorable,
laudable, you can do
just that and it affects much more
than just yourself. Yeah, except that
none of it’s true. And that’s
the problem. So I believed
that for 20 years. The problem
was that, I kept accumulating
information. I didn’t
stop there. All of the counter-information
that I was gathering, I couldn’t
look at. One of the things
about being a vegan is that it is not
just what you eat. It becomes
who you are. And that makes it
really hard to examine new information,
because it’s a threat. You are threatening
‘who’ you are. So every time I got information
that was different from what I believed,
I had to set it aside. I was living with
a tremendous sort of gap in
my consciousness. Eventually when I had to
give up being a vegan, I was able to examine
all of that information and embrace
it more fully. But, it’s a long
hard process, and I know it’s very
painful for most people. And there’s a whole
generation of us who have gone
through this. Tried it, it
didn’t work. Our health collapsed,
and then we had to find
something new. Then there is something
in animal meals that we do not get
in grains and such? Well, it is nutrient
dense food. For a start, you get
the complete proteins. The problem with protein
from plant sources is that it’s wrapped
in cellulose. And we have no way
to digest cellulose, we’re not
ruminants. We have the one
stomach and we don’t have the bacteria
that can do it for us. So we can’t
eat grass. We have no way
to digest it. So we can’t get
to the protein, which is why it is called
‘poor quality protein.’ It’s not
complete. Right away, you have
the protein problem. It is not really assimilated
by humans. And then there
are the fats. There are fat
soluble nutrients that you cannot
get from plants: vitamin A, vitamin D,
vitamin K2, vitamin E. You cannot get
these from plants. Not at all? No. They don’t exist
in plant foods. And they
are essential? You will die
without them. And they are
important for every aspect of human
biological function, especially the brain,
everything. So you are going to end
up with deficiencies. Another problem
is CoQ10, which is only available
in meat. Heme iron is only
available in meat. And then the fat itself
is very important. Your brain is
almost 80% fat, so you have
got to eat fat. So if we call somebody
a ‘fathead’ we are being
accurate? Yes, and that should
actually be a compliment. It’s not, but
it should be! So there are things
that you are not getting, but then there
are also things that you are getting too much
of in an agricultural diet, essentially, way
too much sugar. You can call it ‘complex
carbohydrate’ if it makes
you happy, but at the end of the
day, it is still sugar. Yeah, because the starches
that are in grains break down quickly
into sugar. So then, what is
wrong with that? Well, it is way
too much insulin. It requires an
insulin response. Your brain can only
function within a very small range of
sugar, blood glucose. So if you put
in too much, it is a biological
emergency. And then
your pancreas has to secrete
all this insulin which will grab it
and sock it away, usually in
your fat cells, as fast as it can,
or you will die. So it’s an emergency
response. And this is not what
insulin was meant for. So every time you eat
one of these meals, you’re demanding
that your body produce that
much insulin. Then there’s a cascade of effects that happen
from having this constant blood sugar
roller-coaster effect. These include not
only diabetes and hypoglycemia,
but also cancer. We know two
things about cancer. One, is that insulin provokes
the growth of cancer cells. And, two, what
cancer eats is sugar. So if you put people on
an agricultural diet, they are going
to get cancer. This is why cancer is unknown
amongst hunter-gatherers. You could read statements
about this in medical journals
even until the 1950’s. We all know that the Eskimos
didn’t get cancer! That’s why. They weren’t
eating agricultural foods. So your book says
that hunter-gatherers not only had
no cancer but no heart disease or
diabetes as well? And no auto-immune
diseases. All of the chronic
degenerative diseases that we are used to
thinking of as normal are not
normal. There are entire
groups of people that never
get them. Now those people have
been fast-disappearing with the onslaught of
industrial civilization but, even a hundred years
ago, you could still find them all
over the globe. There is a lot of
documentation about various imperial armies
that were traveling around with a doctor who
is French, English, etc. And he documents, “These
people have no cancer!” “They have
no diabetes!” “Look at these teeth!
This is amazing!” The broad jaw, the
gorgeous facial structure. So over and over
you find these accounts. Until the 1950’s, this
was still observed, these people
still existed. I think one of the parts
that really struck me was the work of Dr. Weston
Price, the dentist. Tell us a bit
about this. Price was a dentist
originally from Canada but who lived in
the United States. In the 1930’s, he had
been observing for 10 – 15 years in
his dental practice that suddenly there
were children whose teeth did not
fit in their mouths. They had terrible
malformations and all kinds of
bizarre problems that he had never
seen before. His thesis was, this has
something to do with nutrition because,
at that point, corporate America was
already beginning to take control
of the food supply. The food supply
was being flooded with cheap
vegetable oils so all of the traditional
animal fats were being removed
from the diet. And lots of white
sugar and white flour. He believed that this
was why these terrible dental problems
were suddenly popping up
in young kids. He then decided to
test his thesis. So he and his wife Flora,
who was a nurse, traveled to every
continent in the world on which
humans lived and find at least one
group of people who had achieved
‘perfect’ health. That meant freedom
from chronic and degenerative
diseases, freedom from
mental illness, ease of childbirth generation
after generation, woman going into labor
and four hours later there’s a baby,
real easy. Yes, because of the
beautiful bone structure. And so on every
continent, he was able to find at least one
group of people that met
such criteria, and no dental problems,
‘perfect’ teeth, no cavities. He started in Europe
and went up into the mountains
of Switzerland and found
such people. He also went
to the outer Hebrides in
upper Scotland and found another
group of people who were totally free
from what he called “the displacing foods
of modern commerce.” “The displacing foods
of modern commerce.” Eating their
traditional diets, they achieved
this perfect health. They spent
years traveling from continent
to continent, finding these people, and
then documenting it. Photography had
gotten just good enough that you
could travel with it. Another
ten years would have
been too late, most of
these people would have
disappeared; But it was the
exact moment with photography
and the survival of traditional
people. there was just
enough overlap that he could
document it. So what conclusion
did he come to? This is his
brilliance, because the macro
nutrient ratios are really
different. People living in
the outer Hebrides are going to eat
something very different than people living
in Central Africa. But he realized
that it was the animal fats
in particular, vitamin A, vitamin D,
and vitamin K which had not yet been
discovered in the lab. He knew that there
was a third nutrient but he didn’t
know what it was. And he has been proven
correct. It was K2. So there were
three nutrients, that were
very condensed in these
animal foods. These animal foods
were considered sacred. Something like raw
liver or fish eggs. But the fattiest
part of the animal is the most
nutrient-dense. Meat is at least
100 times more nutrient dense than
vegetable matter. And the organ meats
are at least 100 times more nutrient dense
than the muscle meat. And in this culture
right now, it’s complete
insanity, we throw
them out. The stuff that
people used to leave for
the dogs, that’s what
we’re eating. And we’re giving the
dogs the good stuff. It doesn’t make
a lot of sense. Those are the
most nutrient dense parts
of the food. Everywhere around
the world that he found these
healthy people, these were the foods
that were most valued. They had sacred ceremonies
involved with these foods. He discovered the significance
of these foods, especially the fat
soluble vitamins, and a high levels
of minerals. The human body actually
cannot absorb minerals without the
presence of fat. This is one of the problems
with a low-fat diet. It is why there’s osteoporosis
everywhere. I ended up with osteoporosis
as a vegan, a degenerative disease
of the spine. Now I understand
why this happened, but that is the update
on Weston Price. There is great nutritional
information out there. A wonderful group of people
have revived Weston Price. His book was a basic text
at Harvard for years. Then the sugar industry
took over and his book was removed
from the curriculum. They literally said
“You can’t do that”. Well, are we surprised?
Not entirely. But it seems to me
that the food industry has stolen good
nutrition from us. I was raised with,
you eat low-fat foods and vegetable
fats. People think the
way to lose weight is with a
low-fat diet. This means that you
are starving…everything! From your
brain on down. People who eat low-fat
diets have suicide rates about four-times higher
than the average. Not only suicide rates but
violent death and murder. You are not stable when
you don’t eat enough fat. People are getting like
80% of their calories from cereal grains with
the agricultural diet? They think less
carbon is produced, you don’t have the cattle
emitting methane. Vegetarians say
this choice is better for both the planet
and for humans. They base these statistics
on the factory farm model. And anybody with a
beating heart agrees that morally, ethically,
even spiritually, factory farming has
just got to go. Factory farming didn’t
exist until 1950. We have it is because
corn became so cheap. So you have to ask five
previous questions to this. Why did corn
become so cheap? It was the
“Green Revolution.” People figured out
how to take oil and gas and turn them into
nitrogen fertilizer. When oil and gas were
cheap and abundant, it meant that fertilizer
was really cheap. They also did a lot
of plant breeding and now genetic
engineering. These plants
didn’t produce much of the stalks
and leaves but they produced
the grain itself. That together with cheap
fertilizer and you get a mountain of corn has been
produced since the 1950’s. There was no place else
to go, it was so cheap. It made economic sense
to take animals away from their habitat and
put them in cities, they now live
on concrete. They are fed corn which
is not their native diet. It kills
them. If you are eating
grain-fed beef, you are eating
a sick animal. Yes, grain-fed. This is not their
native diet. It literally
kills them. It burns holes
in their stomachs and destroys
their livers. Which is why they
give them antibiotics? Yes, it is the
only way that they can
survive that. So we are all
eating sick meat? Yeah,
we are. And that is possible
because of fossil fuel. When you do these
statistics based on what is happening
in the feed-lot, it looks like all of these
resources go to them. But to back it up
one more step, that is not the reason that
corn is being produced. Not because a demand for
factory animal products. And this is not an
excuse for eating them. But withdrawing from
factory-farmed meat will not stop one farmer
from over-producing corn. The reason it is
produced is because there are six corporations
that control the world’s
food supply. They have
a monopoly and are able to drive
the price of corn below the cost
of production. So every year in
farm country these farmers have to
produce more corn. And they still can’t
make a profit so, every year, they have
to produce more. And every year there
is a bigger surplus, the price
goes lower, and the farmers have
to produce even more. They are on this
hideous treadmill. The number one
cause of death in the farm country
is suicide. There’s no way for them
to ever get ahead. And then the government
steps in and provides a subsidy
to give them just enough money so they
don’t go bankrupt. The corporations do
not own the land. If they owned the land
they would have to pay the farmers
a salary. And this way they don’t
have to pay them. The farmers will work
until they’re dead, and we don’t
have to pay them. The government
steps in instead. It’s completely
corrupt. That’s why there’s this
mountain of corn, it had nothing to do
with the fact that animals are being tortured
at factory farms. We’ve had this backwards
for about 30 years. And the people who originally
wrote books about this did not understand
it because they’re not
from Nebraska. So it looks like
it makes sense but it’s not
accurate. That this is the one part
of the vegetarian myth that bears no
relation to reality. Some of it is at least
true to a certain extent, but this is completely
wrong. And then the
other half is, “If you eat like
this then you will feed the hungry people.”
It’s not true. It is like
Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart comes
to town, it sells everything
really cheap, it drives all of the
local businesses out, and then it
has a monopoly. Well, this is
the same model. When I say that there
are six corporations that control
the food supply, this is not
a metaphor. This is
for real. They control
everything. They can go to
poor countries and do “agricultural
dumping.” This is what causes
starvation. It drives the local farmers
off of their land. They cannot
compete. And, as groups
like OXFAM explain, American corporations
can sell their grain at half the price that
local farmers can produce it. So farmers
are driven off of their land into
urban squalor. And this is what is
causing world hunger. The last place
you want to put those cheap
commodities is near chronically
hungry people because it is destroying these local
economies the world over. Again, we have this
part of it backwards. It’s kind
of crazy. And it is not truly
feeding people. Yes. We have this other
problem which is that agricultural societies are
always on overshoot. And that would include
the current situation. Agriculture
is drawdown. Talk about
agriculture. Why is that even
not healthy? You have to understand
what agriculture is. You take a
piece of land and clear every
living thing off of it. And I mean everything,
right down to the bacteria. Then you plant
it to human use. So this is biotic
cleansing. We all know what
ethnic cleansing is. It is all of life.
Biocide. You said that there
is something like a million different
organisms in one tablespoon
of earth? Yes, that is what we kill
when we do agriculture. So, in nature, you have a
few different templates but it is all
the same idea. There are a whole
bunch of different plants that live for
a long time, communicate with
each other, and form
a community with the basic goal
of creating more life. They do that
by creating soil because soil is the
basis of land life. So all of
that material, whether trees or
plants or whatever, they are protecting the
soil from exposure, their roots literally
hold it in place. And then there are all of the
other biological functions of the bacteria and
micro-organisms. They degrade the
dead matter and make the
nutrients available. Another thing
that plants do, at least perennial plants
with deep root systems, they draw up the minerals
that make life possible through their roots from
the rock that is our planet. That is the basic template
for life on earth. All of these plants are working
together to create more soil. The problem with
agriculture is that it wipes
out all of those plants and you
are only planting one or two
plants instead. And these are annuals,
so they are short-lived. You keep wiping these
off every single year. Every year.
This is a war! This is why Iowa alone uses
the energy equivalent of 4000 Nagasaki bombs
every single year. In fertilizer? Yes, and in other
kinds of energy use. You need those big machines to
get out there and clear the land. The world does not
want to be a mono-crop. Nature does not recognize
this as a living system. And she does everything in her
power to repair that wound. Agriculture
is a wound. So it’s a war every
single year, driving out the plants
and the animals. They need
a home. This is a nice way
to say extinction. And this is what agriculture
has done around the globe. We’re out
of continents. It’s been draw down, of soil,
of species, of water. It’s been 10,000 years,
we’ve trashed the planet. When you think about the
fertile crescent isn’t fertile. It’s a desert. There were cedar
trees so thick sunlight never
touched the ground. My favorite Derrick
Jensen quote is “forests precede us and
deserts dog our heels.” That is the path of agriculture
around the globe. We have
hit the end. We have no
more continents. We have been out
of soil since 1950. The human race
is at the cliff. That is the main reason
that I wrote this book. The people who care the
most are environmentalists. Even of them,
I would say that the most impassioned
people are the vegans. The values are
not the problem, justice, sustainability,
compassion. We have the
right values and we’ve got the
passion to institute them. But the vegetarian/vegan diet, we’ve been pointing in the
wrong direction for 30 years. I want people
to understand the real damage that is
being done to this planet and what it is going
to take to repair it. We are going to have
to give up agriculture if this planet
has any hope. How can we
give up agriculture and still feed the
7 billion of us? Nothing we can do is
going to feed the 7 billion. So the question is, are we going
to have a soft landing? or are we going
to have a crash? If we could get all
of the institutions that rule the
planet on board, we could have
a soft landing. This would not
be that difficult. But I don’t see the evidence
that we are doing this. I think that the privileged
are going to hang onto this until the very
last moment. And I think that things
are going to be very ugly. I hope that things
will be different, and part of my goal
in writing this book is to get people
to understand. First, we have to identify
that we have a problem, and then we
have to identify what solutions would match
the scale of the problem. People get upset when you
talk about population. But we don’t need
to be upset. There are only two reasons that
we have overpopulation. One is global capitalism and
the other is patriarchy. What we know about people’s
reproductive lives is that, when they are poor, they
have more children. And when women cannot
control their own fertility, they have more children
than they want to. The number one
thing you can do to reduce the
birth rate is to teach
a girl to read. When you give women
a bit of empowerment, they can control their
reproductive lives. We are all going
to have to be feminists to
save the planet. Oh gosh,
what a shame. And we’ve got
to stop the rich from stealing
from the poor. So we’re going
to have to be against global
capitalism. A lot of these things we
should be doing anyway. Justice should
call us to these. But if we could
do those things, the birth rate
would drop quickly. We’re all going
to die one day. We just need
to reproduce at less than
replacement levels. You are describing
is a decline, that is the
soft landing. Meanwhile, we need to shift
our agriculture from these huge crops of
annual grains, to what? My slogan is “repair,
restore, rejoin”. We have to repair the
forests and the grasslands. We have to restore the animal
cohort that should live there. My big passion
right now is the grasslands
of North America. We need to restore
the prairie. I’ll walk you through
one scenario here. Given enough rainfall,
in a lot of areas, you can take
one acre of land and you can do
two different things. You can wipe
everything off of it, drive everything
away, kill all life down
to the bacteria, the tiny microorganisms
that make all life possible. Plant it to corn
and dump a whole bunch
of fertilizer on it. Much of it will
run off and take the topsoil with
it into the water. The fish and other life in
the local river will be killed. The water table
will keep dropping. The trees will
be gone too, they cannot
reach the water. It’s basically a desert,
at some point. With that acre of corn,
you could feed it to tortured animals
living on concrete. At the end of that year,
you will have produced two cows for human
consumption. Or on that acre,
you can leave it alone. You will still have all
of the prairie life, all of the mammals,
all of the reptiles, all of
the birds. Everybody gets their habitat,
which is their home. They get to
live there. Leave the
grass alone. The cows will
eat the grass. So all of the animals
and all of the plants are part of a
living community. You could come
back in 10,000 years and the only difference
would be a few more
inches of topsoil. So it is a closed
loop system. The rivers are
in good shape, the water table stays
the same. Life is good! And at the end of the year,
you have two cows that could feed the
same number of people. So one way kills everything,
the other way is a system that could go
on forever. Because it’s not a system,
it is a living community. So these are
our choices. What a comparison,
what an image. Whoa! We took 60 million
bison and turned them into 40 million
tortured cows. And destroyed the continent
in the process. It doesn’t even
make any sense! But this is the insanity
of industrial civilization. In our last two minutes,
how can people find you? www.lierrekeith.com. It’s easy, you just spell
my name [laughing] l-i-e-r-r-e,
like Pierre You can get my book and all of
this information is there. I want to say that this
should be required reading for
every human! For people who are
starting to eat in a new way, for environmentalists, and for people concerned
about the planet, you have woven
together a community. Like the land community
that you talk about, the political and economic
considerations in addition to how we
can feed ourselves. This is
beautiful. Is anybody turning
this around yet? In a small
scale. What do you see
that is hopeful? That is moving in
the right direction? If we took all the
trashed grasslands, 75% of the world is
trashed rangelands, we could restore it
from agriculture back to functioning
prairies with their animal
cohorts. Within fifteen
years, we could sequester all of
the carbon that has been released since the beginning
of the industrial age. So I find that a hopeful
thing because, frankly, we just have to get
out of the way. Nature will do
the work for us. This planet wants to be
grassland and forest. It does not want to be
an agricultural mono-crop. Look up “Chernobyl”
online. People have not been living
there since the accident. What has happened is an
incredible return of life. There are plural packs of
wolves at Chernobyl now. All of these rare animals
and birds have returned. So which is to say,
in a really scary way, a nuclear disaster
is better for the planet
than civilization. Because it took all
of the people away. Well, I shouldn’t say
all of the people. Do you know
who is still there? Old women who refused
to leave their land. And they are not
hurting anything. So you have the old
women and the animals. That is who
is there. I love the
picture. The healers,
the grandmas. Thank you. You’re
one of them, a little young
for that. I’m on my way,
thank you. A healing
mother. Thank you for
joining me. This has been
enlightening. And I bet you are
enlightened too. You are watching
Peak Moment, locally-reliant living for
challenging times. My guest is
Lierre Keith, the author of
The Vegetarian Myth. Read it. And join
us next time. Captions by www.blogdisidente.com