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20 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A profound reflection for those swayed by vegetarian dogma, 8 Nov 2012
This review is from: Vegetarian Myth, The (Paperback)
Keith brings together some diverse and important ideas in a timely fashion. For me the important myths she tackles are (1) that vegetarianism is more healthy (2) that plant diets derive from a more sustainable form of agriculture and (3) that a vegetarian diet is more ethical. These ideas have become so widespread in the public psyche, and have taken on such stature among modern progressive environmental movements that to turn on them intelligently is both brave and daunting. Many of her detractors have criticised Keith for claiming she is a reformed vegan. Spitefully they condem her as never having been a real vegan. Regardless, the one thing you cannot doubt is that she is an environmentalist through and through. The real, unspoken, rage from the vegan community is that Keith has taken an axe to their claim to be on the side of the Earth, of the species over which we have dominion, on the side of the animals - she challenges their core ideals to such a depth that they react with undisguised venom. (read the one star reviews).

Keith bases her attack on the nutritional vegetarian myth on the growing scientific consensus around health benefits of eating a genetically-adapted palaeolithic-diet and the harm caused to human health with a switch to an agrarian lifestyle, circa 5000 BC. Keith summarises these important ideas, catching the main thrusts of the arguments about man's ancestral hunting past, but inevitably failing to elucidate the full depth of detail that is out there if you want to research further. This is a necessary shortcoming as the subject is vast, and Keith wants to forge links with other important ideas that need the page space. Many of the one-star reviews on Amazon attack this brevity quite unfairly in my opinion accusing Keith of being unscientific. Having read dozens of scientific papers on this subject I would say she has done a pretty good job, at least sufficient to provide the broad brush strokes needed to stimulate further research in the reader, whilst providing enough to forge links to the other areas of her book.

For me, one of the most important ideas Keith explores is the environmental impact of vegetarianism. Many vegetarians have an air of smugness of the righteous. After all we all know that vegetarianism is a more sustainable, planet friendly lifestyle don't we? Keith destroys this position roundly. I started to question this myself a few months ago. Behind my house is a commercial arable farm - producing the food vegetarians depend on: acre upon acre of lifeless soil, monoculture and machinery. In contrast, the farm where we buy our milk and meat has rolling pastures, full of wildlife, healthy living soils and free roamming cattle. Both produce food, but the arable crops come at a much higher environmental cost. When I read Keith's book the penny dropped - the idea that vegetarianism is an environmental solution only stacks up if you base your sums on factory farmed animals fed on grains! Keith's message, and it is one that resonates with many who occupy the middle ground in this debate, is that no form of factory farming, animal or vegetable, will save the planet - it will only lead to further environmental degradation, and the only truly sustainable farming is permanent pasture. Unfortunately that leaves us with no solution for the burgeoning population. Keith is not the first to point this out, but she is one of the first to point out that vegetarianism will take us towards the precipice more quickly and completely.

The third aspect of this book, that makes it so important and controversial, is Keith's attempt to point out the hypocrisy of the moral stand that vegetarians rely on. The quasi-religious belief that killing animals for food is wrong. This is the one that will push the buttons and get the reaction, but after being a vegetarian for 28 year's myself it was a position that I had come to realise was both false and blinkered. When I chose plant proteins over animal protein I was responding to the childish and immature emotional prejudice towards large mammals. I didn't want to kill a cow so I could live. To maintain this I had to ignore the facts that Keith drives home in this book - when we shift our diets to soy instead of free-range steak we condemn another acre of biologically diverse pasture to the plow. For each cow thus saved from the chop by our misguided vegan principles, we destroy the lives and habitats of millions of those less charismatic organisms - wild plants, fungi, insects, worms, nematodes and the whole irreplaceable ecosystem within the soil. Hardly moral is it? Indefensible in fact. Hence why the vegans are baying for blood, and Keith deserves an accolade.
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