A Vegetarian Myth?

forestwanderer05 at yahoo.co.uk forestwanderer05 at yahoo.co.uk
Tue Jun 30 22:37:39 BST 2009

Over the past couple of years, I have become increasingly fed up of hearing vegetarians & vegans advocate their diets as environmentally-friendly. I say this despite having been a vegetarian for 23 years. I have lost count of how many articles and environmentalists quote how livestock are responsible for 18% carbon emissions. As has been pointed out previously, (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/jan/30/climatechange.carbonemissions), this figure needs far greater scrutiny. A large chunk of this figure is due to Amazon deforestation for cattle ranching. Historically, cattle in the Amazon existed due to subsidies provided and national laws demanding specific ways to prove land ownership. It had little to do with eating meat and more to do with land speculation. I’m also a bit tired of hearing about carbon emissions as if nothing but carbon emissions mattered...not the loss of topsoil, nor the loss of species or damage to water bodies and
 other natural cycles and processes. 
I don’t like the vegans’ or vegetarians’ ‘green’ arguments largely because whilst they are blaming meat-eaters for environmental destruction, industrial agriculture as a whole goes largely unexamined or disputed. I imagine there must be some exceptions, there certainly are some vegans and vegetarians who have at least given thought to the damage industrial agriculture does, but I have found in my personal experience that most don’t. Most have no idea where there food comes from, how it is made and what the production of it has entailed (and I include myself in this because given the huge amount of disinformation spread, cover-ups, fine print, misleading or absent labelling, discovering truths takes time, effort and discernment). Whole swathes of land, whole ecosystems have disappeared for grains, vegetable oils and other monocrops, staples of many vegetarian diets. 
It was with this frustration in mind that I sought further information and discovered ‘The Vegetarian Myth’ by Lierre Keith. This book went way beyond my expectations. Not only was the “vegans /vegetarians are greener” myth totally shattered with detailed explanation, many other myths I had long held were too. In my opinion, this is a very important book, one I wished I’d read a long time ago. I would highly recommend that anyone who cares about the health of the land and its inhabitants read it. If you’re a vegan or vegetarian I doubly recommend it. Such misguided notions commonly held will only prevent solutions to our problems. This is a well researched book that exposes the very real dangers of continuing on the path of industrial agriculture. I learnt a great deal from reading it, and I speak as someone who has a backround in ecology and environmental studies and often reads about food and agriculture. Having finished this book, I could
 only wonder how I’d managed to miss so much. 
The author is from the US and many of the examples in the book are from the US. I am sure there are both similarities and differences between the UK and US, however many of the essential arguments remain whatever part of the world you live in. 
The book is split into several sections: 
Moral Vegetarians: 
This section looks at all the moral arguments that vegetarians/vegans come up with and carefully shows how most of them hold no ground. It needs to be pointed out that the author does not support unnecessary cruelty and in no way supports factory farming. The author was in fact vegan for 20 years, to the great detriment of her health and believed in many of the myths she exposes in this book.   
Some excerpts: 
“As I said, the native prairie is now 99.8% gone. Illinois was once swaddled in twenty-two million acres of prairie, with some forest groves and savannas. In Nebraska, 98% of the native tallgrass prairie is gone. There is no place left for the buffalo to roam. There’s only corn, wheat, and soy. About the only animals that escaped the biotic cleansing of the agriculturalists are small animals like mice and rabbits, and billions of them are killed by the harvesting equipment every year. Unless you’re out there with a scythe, don’t forget to add them to the death toll of your vegetarian meal. They count and they died for your dinner, along with all the other animals that have dwindled past the point of genetic feasibility.” (p.40) 
“Soil, species, rivers. That’s the death in your food. Agriculture is carnivorous: what it eats is ecosystems, and it swallows them whole. 
Could it be different? Is it the nature of agriculture or just the way we practice agriculture that’s destructive? In that regard, is agriculture parallel to grazing? Appropriate animals integrated into perennial polycultures will add to the fertility – indeed, they are necessary for healthy woodlands, wetlands, savannas, and prairies. But too many animals or the wrong kind of animals will degrade the land, sometimes to the point of desertification. As discussed, white-tailed deer are destroying the northeastern forests because there aren’t enough predators. Without wolves and mountain lions, there are more deer now than there were in 1491. Too –high stocking rates of cattle and goats are degrading land the world over. But that’s not inherent in the nature of ruminants; the destruction comes not from doing it, but from doing it badly. 
It is my conviction that growing annual grains is an activity that cannot be redeemed. It requires wholesale extermination of ecosystems – the land has to be cleared of all life. It destroys the soil because the soil is bared – and it has to be bared to grow annuals. In areas with inadequate rainfall, agriculture demands irrigation, which drains rivers to death and salinizes the soil. It also requires endless physical labour for sub-par nutrition. And it has devastated human cultures, leaving slavery, class stratification, militarism, population overshoot, imperialism... 
Has anyone been able to produce annual monocrops without the destruction? Can agriculture be sustainable? 
Wes Jackson writes: 
“Most of the northern European cultures and Japan have farms that are maintained in a seemingly sustainable way. But as we look at the success stories, we discover that a complex of factors exists, including the nature of the rainfall, the nature of the cropping system, the nature of the soils, and the nature of the culture, which combine in unique ways to promote a positively compelling sustainable agriculture. Even so, neither northern Europe nor Japan comes close to feeding itself. And the number of individuals or cultures that practice a sustainable agriculture that is positively compelling....is small indeed.”  (p.42-43)  
Political Vegetarians: 
Veganism/Vegetarianism will not create a just and equitable world. Nor will it feed the world or lead to a sustainable world. 
“Farming is a pyramid,” writes Richard Manning. “At the pinnacle...stands ADM, the nation’s largest buyer of grain.” They’ve flooded the world with cheap grain, and they’ve flooded the airwaves with their PR campaigns. You know the tagline: supermarket to the world. But do you understand what this tiny handful of companies is and what it’s doing? They’ve driven prices down below production costs and kept them there. They’ve gotten the federal government – the US taxpayers – to make up the difference. They’ve destroyed small farms and local economies across the globe. And now, they own patents on the seeds themselves. Those seeds represent the knowledge, labour and heritage of all humanity and their DNA is now owned by Monsanto and ConAgra and ADM. They’re the oligarchs of food, the pater familias of life itself. “The ownership, genetic code, practices and profits of agriculture are being collected in fewer and fewer hands
 – hands that have no dirt under their fingernails,” writes George Pyle. And those hands owe nothing to anyone: not the starving children who have become a marketing cliché while they continue to starve; not the farmers, north, south, east, and west, who might have fed them but who are losing their farms. Nothing to anyone except, of course, the stockholders.” (p.114) 
As an aside, for anyone interested in the corporations currently controlling agribusiness, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology globally please read the report “Who owns nature?” by the ETC group, I have already posted this before on the group notices. Otherwise, it is on the ETC group’s site publications.  I have also become deeply suspicious about food aid programs over recent years. The documentary of a media-propelled famine scam is one example, see here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4SYM8JsDg4 and then see all the other parts on youtube.  It is particularly sick that children dying from malaria were filmed and shown as famine sufferers. 
And what about feeding the world with monocrops? 
“The 4.8 pounds of grain fed to cattle to produce one pound of beef for human beings represents a colossal waste of resources in a world still teeming with people who suffer from profound hunger and malnutrition,” writes Jim Motavalli. Yes, it is a waste, but not for the reasons he thinks. As we have seen in abundance, growing that grain will require the felling of forests, the ploughing of prairies, the draining of wetlands, and the destruction of topsoil. In most places on earth, it will never be sustainable, and where it just possibly might be, it will require rotation with animals on pasture. And it’s ridiculous to the point of insanity to take that world-destroying grain and feed it to a ruminant who could have happily subsisted on those now extinct forests, grasslands, and wetlands of our planet, while building topsoil and species diversity. 
So you’re an environmentalist; why are you still eating annual monocrops? 
“According to British group Vegfam, a 10-acre farm can support 60 people growing soybeans, 24 people growing wheat, 10 people growing corn and only two producing cattle,” Motavalli continues. And he believes them? Set aside the fact that a diet of soy, wheat or corn will result in massive malnutrition – along with fun stuff like kwashiorkor, pellagra, retardation, blindness...The figure of two cattle might be true if you assume grain feeding, though I can’t make the math come out. By contrast a 10 acre farm of perennial polyculture in a mid-Atlantic climate could produce: 
3,000 eggs 
1,000 broilers 
80 stewing hens 
2,000 pounds of beef 
2,500 pounds of pork 
100 turkeys 
50 rabbits 
Not to mention a few inches of topsoil. This is the amount of food that Joel Salatin – one of the high priests of the local, sustainable movement – produces on ten acres of his Polyface Farm in Virginia. The chickens get some supplemental grain; everything else eats grass. That’s 6,800,050 calories. Figuring 720,000 calories a year (2,000 x 365), if they eat nothing but the above, that’s enough to support at least nine people and support them in full health by providing essential protein and fat. Add in the organ meats and the vast quantities of nutritious bone broth that could be prepared, and you have more crucial animal fats and fat-soluble vitamins. 
As I have said, two-thirds of the world is utterly unsuited to growing grain. And not just the mountain tops in far distant Nepal, but right here in, say New England. Cows are what grow here. So are deer, in their forest-destroying abundance. To eat the supposedly earth-friendly diet Motavalli is suggesting means that everyone in a cold, hot, wet, or dry climate would have to be dependent on the American Midwest, with its devastated prairies and ghostly Limberlost, and its ever shrinking soil, rivers and aquifers. It also means dependence on coal or oil to ship that grain two thousand miles.” (The Vegetarian Myth, p.101-102) 
Nutritional Vegetarians 
This was the section I was most ignorant about. I know from personal experience and the experience of several long-term vegans that a vegan diet can wreck havoc on your health. But there was a lot I was not aware about here. This section contains numerous ethnographical studies (and explains why ethnographical studies are often more trustworthy than epidemiological studies) and explains the dangers of eating high grain/carbohydrate diets. It also looks at the damage that occurs to domesticated animals when fed grain and soya. 
Prior to reading this book, I have to say I was frankly ignorant of the dangers to health from soy and soy-based products. It is fortunate for me that I never liked them. But I will include some information here because if you do eat soy or soy-based products I sincerely recommend you refrain or at least research it properly yourself. 
This is how soy protein isolate is made: The basic procedure begins with a defatted soybean meal, which is mixed with a caustic alkaline solution to remove the fibre, then washed in an acid solution to precipitate out the protein. The protein curds are then dipped into yet another alkaline solution and spray dried at extremely high temperatures. Some amino acids are destroyed, others are rendered toxic and carcinogenic. To turn the result into something a person might consider eating, the soy protein isolate has to be further processed using an alkaline solution with a pH above 10, more pressure and heat extraction, and an acid bath, then mixed with the various binders, gums, fats, flavours and sweeteners. This is exceptionally difficult to digest, which is why so many people that eat soy protein get digestive disorders. Not only that, it contains many toxins, the two principal ones are nitrosamine and lysinoalanine (Keith L) 
Nitrosamines are said to be carcinogenic and mutagenic, lysinoalanine can lead to kidney damage and mineral deficiencies. There's also exitotoxins, heterocyclic amines, furanones, chloropropanols, and hexanes produced. Soy is also high in phytoestrogens and affects hormones and thyroid function. In males it can reduce testosterone. Testosterone is  necessary for growth, repair, red blood cell formation, sex drive and immune function (Keith L) 
I found it particularly scary that babies have been fed soy formula: “soy formula provides 38mg of isoflavones a day. That’s a hormone load equivalent to that of three to five birth control pills each and every day.” (The Vegetarian Myth, p.220). Puberty is beginning earlier in some groups and this particularly correlates with groups fed soy formula as babies. A correlation does not necessarily mean a cause, because there may be a number of variables involved. But I can’t help feeling suspicious. 
Soy also has negative effects on the brain. In one study, those who ate tofu at least twice a week had accelerated brain aging, diminished cognitive ability and were more than twice as likely to be clinically diagnosed with Alzeimer's disease. They believe this might be due to soy isoflavones blocking tyrosine kinase, an enzyme needed by the hippocampus. 
So why are the mainstream pushing the vegetarian diet? I think the following excerpt at least partly answers the question: 
“Taubes explains that starches and refined carbohydrates are “calorie for calorie...the cheapest nutrients for the food industry to produce, and they can be sold at the highest profit.” The corn in your cornflakes accounts for less than 10% of the retail cost: sometimes the packaging costs more than the ingredients. Meanwhile, the production of animal foods like beef, chicken, and eggs cost 50 to 60 percent of their retail price. Isn’t it obvious where the people in control of the food stream would like to shift our diets? Those cheap carbohydrates have been the source of enormous profits.” (The Vegetarian Myth, p.197)

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