The Vegetarian Myth review
For someone who's so much against agriculture, Lierre Keith certainly enjoys straw men a lot. Some may not be pure straw men in the sense that some vegans (including obviously her past self) could hold these views. My point is not to argue about the definition of veganism, but to argue that her attempt to justify raising animals in order to kill them is fallacious.
Straw man #1: veganism = vegetarianism
The book is called the Vegetarian Myth, yet she tried and criticizes only a vegan diet.
Straw man #2: veganism = eating grains/cereal
Her whole criticism of agriculture may have some valid points, but it's off-topic. There are gluten-intolerant vegans who eat no grains, there is the raw food vegan diet which is also mostly grain-free, etc. She criticizes vegans for making the straw man argument that meat = industrial grain-fed meat (which it currently mostly is anyway), yet makes the same assumption that agriculture = current agriculture. But there may be more efficient ways of growing plants as well.
Straw man #3: veganism = jainism
She defines living creature widely, then proceeds to show that you can't live without killing other living creatures. Well thus defined, duh. When we get sick, we kill or try to kill viruses or bacteria that harm us. We kill insects who bother us or risk harming us. We kill wolves who threaten us. Do I need to explain the moral difference between killing a virus or wolf in self-defense and castrating piglets to improve the taste of their meat?
Straw man #4: veganism = anti-specism
She criticizes vegans for drawing a line somewhere, killing micro-organisms (or even "killing" vegetables) but not killing mammals etc. Well duh, yes, you gotta draw the line somewhere. If you can't see the moral difference between eating a seed and castrating piglets, again, sorry for you. Where does she draw the line? She doesn't say. What would be her case against cannibalism, murdering people for their meat? I do wonder, and good luck to build that case on her premises. Most people draw the line at cats and dogs. Horses are controversial. Vegans don't seem to have a clear cut line too, but they draw the line a bit further, and more consistently. My view is that the best approach we've come up with so far is some combination of 1) what she'd call specism being a priori more sympathetic towards animals that resemble us, ie share common characteristics with us, such as consciousness, feeling pain, taking care of your babies, having sex, etc. Try to make a table of characteristics for lettuce, pig and human, and see where it makes more sense to draw the line. 2) some form of the non-agression principle, however loose.
Incidentally, the drawing the line is also necessary for things like abortion or contraception. I don't think vegans ever condemned spilling thy seed on grounds of spermatozoids being alive.
On a related note, if you think all living things should be equal, than how would you justify our taking land from animals? Whenever you chop down a tree or build a house or whatever, you can be pretty sure some animals will either die directly or have less land available, etc. Human life has priority over animal life. Again, how do you jump from recognizing that to castrating piglets (or farming beef or whatever, I don't wanna fall into a straw man myself if she doesn't eat pork), I fail to see.
Straw man #5: veganism = no animal products
She defines animal products as anything that comes from animals, including cadavers and manure. Yes, she does. Then she discovers that manure and bones are necessary for gardening for good plant growth (compost seems to work pretty well for me, but that's irrelevant). Again, do I need to go into the moral difference between using horseshit and killing horses? My stance is clear: I don't want to be killed or harmed, but please help yourself to my shit. And when I die, please, by all means, use my organs to save lives, trade them, eat my body if you wish whether you're human or animal, dissect me for scientific experiments, and use the rest as fertilizer. By all means. She'd dismiss this as anthropocentrism, but I'm goint to assume that animals feel the same way, and if they're dead, they can't feel anything either way, so who cares.
Straw man #6: veganism = not having seen The Lion King
The author discovers the theory of circle of life, that plants eat dead bodies, we eat plants, etc. I saw that in The Walt Disney 1994 movie The Lion King. She refers to this as "adult knowledge" (sic). Again, she doesn't seem to grasp the difference between castrating piglets or dragging a cow to the slaughterhouse and plants decomposing our bodies once we're already dead.
My definition: Veganism = not killing or exploiting harmless animals unnecessarily. And if it's absolutely necesary to exploit them or kill them, do it as little and as painlessly as possible.
A concurring review from another vegetarian who also notes the straw man:
The reason why Keith thinks that the use of blood meal and bone meal in fertilizers threatens vegetarianism is that she attributes the views that she had when she was a vegan to all people who are vegetarians for moral reasons, seeing them as utopians trying to change the world and remove all death from it (p. 14, 16, 18). This is really setting up a straw man, though, for I have never seen my vegetarianism as part of a project to remove death from the world. My principle has always been that if it isn't necessary to kill animals for food, clothing, medicine, or other means of survival, then it is wrong to do so, and when it is necessary to kill them, then it should only be done to the extent that it is necessary and in a manner that inflicts as little suffering on the animal as is possible.
I'm willing to hear good cases against veganism, such as the empirical question of whether it's the healthiest diet. Lierre Keith doesn't make one so far.
This is from the first chapters of the book, and this post will be updated while I read along.
If I tell you what does a vegetarian eat, you'll say... vegetables! (Unlike a humanitarian who eats humans, goes the joke. The word vegetables appears 8 times in her book. The word grain 163 times, agriculture 144...
After having finished the book, some other fallacies committed by the author:
The conservative fallacy
That for some reason the way the earth is and the species that exist at year x are to be preserved, but not the status of the earth and species of the year x-1 or x+1.
The collectivist fallacy
That we should care about the survival of species. Only individuals can live, love, eat, suffer, die, etc.
The survival of species is only relevant in a "zoo" mentality, and vegans are against zoos.
The list of fallacies could probably go on and on. Then there could be the list of cherry-picked studies about questions like whether soy is healthy or not, whether vegans have more or less cancer etc.
My anthropocentrism beats yours fallacy
That somehow it's more "natural" to have meadows and wetlands rather than farmland, desert, or whatever, that somehow it's what the earth wants. No, it's what you want. Value is a human concept. The earth doesn't give a shit, we do.
The author despises civilization. I don't want wetlands with bugs, I want civilization. It's a matter of human preference.
Idiot of the Week: the anti-masculinity, anti-civilization, anti-porn feminist lesbian Lierre Keith, for all of the above ans also:
- for remaining 20 years on a low-fat low-prot diet that she recognized as hurting her body after two weeks
- for managing to include a chapter against masculinity in a book supposedly about vegetarianism.