By Natalie Butz
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