The Truth About Vegetarianism: Reformed Vegan Visits WC for Lit Festival

By Natalie Butz
Copy Editor

After Lierre Keith’s physician gave her the ultimatum that she would have to eat meat or die, the longtime vegan was forced to reexamine her diet and came to some pretty startling realizations in the process. Keith’s personal experience with veganism, and the moral and political implications behind the food we eat, will be the subject of “The Vegetarian Myth,” a lecture she will give in Hodson Hall this Friday.

“The values at the heart of vegetarianism and veganism are not wrong because they are based on compassion, justice, and sustainability. It’s the information that’s wrong,” said Keith in a phone interview from San Francisco, California.

Keith originally became a vegetarian to help alleviate the problems she saw around her.

“I met other vegans and became convinced by them that all these problems could be solved by one simple act. I could save animals and feed the hungry and help the earth. As it turns out, none of that is actually true. But it made sense at the time because I didn’t have any other information,” said Keith.

According to Keith, agriculture is both not sustainable and inherently earth’s forests and 99 percent of its grasslands. But Keith knew none of this until, after nearly 20 years as a vegan, her health began to deteriorate.

“I had destroyed my body through my diet, which is not unusual for vegans,” she said.
Keith was initially repulsed by the meat she now had to eat to survive. But once she overcame her reluctance and redefined her diet, she also began paying attention to information she had previously ignored.

“Veganism and vegetarianism are not the panaceas I had believed them to be. They are not the ultimate moral answer to the larger problems because they are based on agriculture, which is the wholesale destruction of living communities,” said Keith.
However, Keith is not critical of vegans or vegetarians. She believes that many people swear off meat and animal byproducts with the best of intentions.

“The people who get drawn to vegetarianism and veganism are very compassionate and socially aware. Their hearts are in the right place. But there is a profound cultural ignorance about the nature of agriculture,” said Keith.

Tara Holste, the Program Director of the Center for Environment and Society, said Keith makes audiences question the morality of what they are eating.

“She’s a very controversial author. I think ultimately the message is to carefully consider all the choices we make especially what we eat and what effects all those choices have,” said Holste.

Keith will be just one of many speakers featured this weekend at the Locavore Literary Festival. Food writers and journalists from all over the country will be speaking in Chestertown about sustainability, buying local and the moral implications of the food we eat.

Holste said she and Andy Goddard organized the event because they want to help educate people about food and local farming.

“There are so many exciting things going on in the world of food today and so many wonderful authors are writing about food. I think it’s a topic a lot of people are interested in and we thought it would be a great thing to bring to Chestertown, where we have such a lively food culture,” said Holste.

Senior Kat Muller, the president of the Anthropology Club, said she expects a big turnout for the Lierre Keith talk and hopes that students will also attend other Festival events in town.

“Students could definitely learn about the local food movement [from the Festival]. Every region has its own local culture and cuisine and if we don’t learn more about that, then it becomes in danger of being forgotten,” said Muller.

Holste said she believes there is a lot that both students and Chestertown residents can take away from the Festival.

“It’s not only a chance to learn about different perspectives, but it’s that time of year again when the farmer’s market opens back up, so it’s a good time to be thinking about food and the choices we make when we eat,” said Holste.

But Keith ultimately hopes that individual choices will lead to a global movement to repair the planet.

“As it turns out, eating vegetarian isn’t actually the best way to embody the underlying ethics of vegetarianism. So we need a whole different paradigm for human behavior and for human culture, one that is based on participation rather than domination,” said Keith.

Her lecture may be the perfect time to begin discussions for what that paradigm might look like.

The Locavore Literary Festival will be this Saturday, March 25 and Sunday, March 26. For a complete listing of all the writers speaking at Locavore, consult the Center for Environment and Society’s website. The Festival is sponsored by the Center for Environment and Society, the Anthropology Club, Chestertown Natural Foods and Local Eastern Shore Sustainable Organic Network (LESSON).

March 25, 2011
Volume LXXXI Issue 19


  1. I’d love to see a followup that actually includes some of the information Keith wants us to know. As a vegan for 5 years and a vegetarian for over 20 years I haven’t had any health issues, and I have realized many benefits such as better regularity, and an absence of migraines and heartburn, which were common when I ate more processed foods and animal products. One must make sure to eat lots of leafy greens, supplement B12, and seek out foods with healthy Omega fatty acids that one might not usually eat, like walnuts, flax, etc. Omnivores will also benefit from this.

    It surely can be difficult for a person on the go to keep up a vegan diet and maintain health, but it’s not impossible. It requires a continuous and consistent effort, support from people with experience, and paying close attention to your body’s energy needs. Most of all it requires the regular preparation of nutritionally-complete foods. After all a diet can be technically ‘vegan’ without being healthy.

    It has been seen that as people try to get away from meat they may start eating more processed foods. This can lead to increased yeast in the colon and reveal previously-unseen sensitivities to allergens like wheat. Thus a lot of people who go vegan find themselves needing to reduce their intake of bread, sugar, and alcohol to improve the robustness of their digestive system. Hydration becomes more essential on a vegan diet, especially as one becomes more active.

    In any case, if the thesis here is that some meat is more beneficial than no meat, the jury is still out on that in spite of the anecdotes of ex-vegans. There is nothing special in meat or dairy products that one cannot derive from other sources in perfectly digestible forms. I would hate to see people attend this talk and come away with the idea that Keith’s experience is an inevitable result of giving up meat, dairy, and eggs. It’s not.

  2. I looked into Lierre Keith’s book with an open mind, but I have to say I am significantly disappointed and even appalled. Keith reports “facts” that are complete erroneous, and in doing so continues to muddle issues about health and nutrition, and perpetuate myths about plant food. For example, she makes claims that we cannot get essential vitamins, such as A and D from plant material, but instead should be getting it from organ meats. The human body is able to synthesize vitamin D in the presence of sunlight. Additionally, for those living in less sunny parts of the globe, leafy green vegetables such as kale and collard greens are extremely rich in vitamin D. That is the same way large herbivores get vitamin D. Vitamin A is not found in plants, but cartenoids are and cartenoids are easily converted into vitamin A by the human body. A vegetarian or vegan that consumes appropriate amounts of fruits and vegetables will not be deficient in any nutrient, except B12 which can be easily taken as a supplement.
    Furthermore, as an educated engineer with a strong background in science currently working towards a PhD in the biological sciences, I find it insulting that Keith would write a book touted as factual without either sufficient education or sufficient research to make her credible. I have carefully looked through her website and am unable to find any information regarding her education. What is her educational background?
    Of course Keith (and everyone else) is entitled to a personal opinion, which can also be made into a book. That being said, she should not purport it as scientific without some serious fact checking. I feel that she was going for shock value, and that is what she is getting.

  3. I’m confused here. How does Kieth think the animals she now eats are being fed? “Agriculture” is a very vague term here. Please explain more as right now if the main problem is that agriculture is destroying the world, we should use less agriculture, therefore stop eating animals as they are wasteful consumers of what we produce!

  4. This sentence is gibberish, It’s says nothing.
    Besides meat production is also dependent on agriculture only to a much more destructive degree.
    So I don’t see any argument against veggies.
    “According to Keith, agriculture is both not sustainable and inherently earth’s forests and 99 percent of its grasslands.”

    This can also be said about many Americans who suffer from diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, etc.
    Because it’s not about the diet per say but just exactly what you eat and don’t eat.

    ““I had destroyed my body through my diet, which is not unusual for vegans,” she said.”

    Certainly it is:

    ““As it turns out, eating vegetarian isn’t actually the best way to embody the underlying ethics of vegetarianism.”

    Let her tell us just what is wrong with Vegetarian diets.

    Lets hear something substantial from this lady., besides nay saying.

  5. This women is under the notion:
    “Grain didn’t exist until humans domesticated annual grasses”
    It’s all about selling her book.
    Which this statement is from.

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