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Has anyone read Lierre Keith's "the vegetarian myth"?

(78 Posts)
youretoastmildred Fri 04-Oct-13 13:44:46

And does anyone want to talk about feminism and vegetarianism?

I came across a line in a novel several years ago (as a post-vegetarian omnivore in a relationship with a vegetarian man - they always bring the steak to him) and the female 1st person protagonist (the author is male - another layer of confusion) expresses a political and ethical sympathy with vegetarianism, but is concerned that it is usually women who take it up, and says something about being unhappy about giving up high quality protein to the dominant, striding around gender (I paraphrase from memory)

Anyway I have thought a lot about food ethics and female hunger

I have never materially wanted for food but I have damaged myself and caused long crushing depression by being permanently hungry. How trivial, or frivolous, or vain, is real hunger, even in the rich western world, when it is insisted upon with real material and social sanctions, by a ruling class? And how self-indulgent am I being right now?

Let's talk about how we feel about ladies eating animals.

ithaka Fri 04-Oct-13 17:10:09

OP - are you aware that large portions of the world's population are vegetarian? Some how they all manage to cope without meat - you must be quite the biological exception.

Another veggie family here - me, DH, children, mum, stepdad, sister, BIL, all their children etc etc. And wow, we are all fit, string principled individuals who choose not to chow down on dead animals. That does not make us lacking, ill, or eating disordered.

Meat in a diet is a choice (one that is bad for the environment, admittedly) not a necessity.

bigmouthstrikesagain Fri 04-Oct-13 17:16:09

Mildred I don'y doubt your experience. What I am not sure about is the equation with vegetariamism.

For me being veggie solves a problem, I don't like eating animals so I don't. For my sister being veggie created a problem so she stopped being veggie (but isn't scarfingsteaks at every meal).

Vegetarianism may not suit everyone but if more people were veggie it would benefit the environment. That it leaves you feeling hungry ... It is very difficult to assign blame to the diet or your body's requirements. the widerissue of women and food and the pressure to deny ourselves or binge is complex.

youretoastmildred Fri 04-Oct-13 17:22:27

"Oh, and I'm not thin. I can eat al the bread and chips in the world as a veggie and even vegan!"
quite - I said the opposite of what you seem to think I said upthread - a starchy diet promotes bulk, ime

"are you aware that large portions of the world's population are vegetarian?" yes. I believe some of them are well and happy and some are not - not all of them are vegetarian by choice
of course there may be a genetic reason why certain people in certain areas do well on veggie foods (a la the milk-digesting gene, having it or not. Note I said "a la" not "eg" when you attempt some sort of snippy reply)

Mass agriculture - which is what is needed for a widespread vegan diet - is absolutely terrible for the environment. Annual crops destroy the soil. Shipping foods is wasteful. I know keeping animals is usually done horribly too btw. But grain is causing irreversible global damage

there is a huge food problem on the planet and everyone eating grain is not the answer (I mean I accept we could all survive on it. When I say it makes me unhealthy I don't mean I expect to immediatley starve)

I am getting really uncomfortable hearing all this hostility to eating meat because after what I have been through it sounds like "we want you to be depressed, ill and suicidal". I have to keep reminding myself that none of you has the power to make this happen

ithaka Fri 04-Oct-13 17:31:26

OP - you obviously have issues around feed. You have ascribed these to vegetarianism. I would think that vegetarianism cannot be blamed for your issues. None of my veggie family has food issues - the only disordered eater in my family is my MIL who 'loves her meat'.

Grain is causing damage because so much of it is required to feed the animals that the west demands for its meat rich diet. When consumed as a crop and not via an animal, it has a far lower environmental footprint.

GretaGroovy Fri 04-Oct-13 17:31:44

But who is suggesting that you eat a vegetarian diet? I mean it kindly...where is your fear coming from?

DoItTooJulia Fri 04-Oct-13 17:38:01

I was agreeing with you re the bulk!

And OP, I was interested in engaging with you on this, but I fear there is something else going on here. You asked for a debate and started off by saying vegetarianism is a cover for eating disorders, no wonder you've raised some hackles! You must see that!

Not one veggie has said that you should not eat meat or wish that you were depressed ill and suicidal. Therefore, I'm out.

Opalite Fri 04-Oct-13 17:44:24

Yourtoastmildred, a huge percentage of the worlds grain goes to feeding livestock. Grain isn't a staple for me, I am a vegan and very healthy. Shipping grain may be wasteful but surely it isn't as wasteful as the millions of animals being killed each day for meat?
There are plenty of healthy vegans and vegetarians, plenty of unhealthy meat eaters, you can be very unhealthy on a vegan diet and very unhealthy on a meat eating diet. ..

Opalite Fri 04-Oct-13 17:46:08

Please know that I don't want you to be suicidal or depressed or ill but I do disagree with the points you've raised, that's all

youretoastmildred Fri 04-Oct-13 17:50:19

Yes, I do have issues around food, no shit sherlock.
In the first place (nothing to do with vegetarianism) from my mother being obsessed with thinking she is fat, suffering and inflicting severe fat-shame.
In the second place, being told again and again that I ought to eat a certain way that was bad for me and that it was definitely not bad for me, in fact actively good for me (vegetarianism), to the extent that I could not begin to listen to my body over the vegetarian = good message

ithaka, right, grain being fed to animals is a shocking crime against the planet. but so much of it is fed to people too. If you stopped keeping the animals that are currently (wrongly) grain fed it would still leave vast tracts of desertification.
People can't digest cellulose. herbivores can. If we all ate truly locally, we would eat whatever local plants are available - often few digestible by humans - and the local animals that can eat the local plants. This is by the way not what I do - I wish - I am not pretending it is. I am just saying that with agriculture the way it is now, it doesn't matter if you eat grain or animals, it's all an almighty fuck-up. And my being miserable and unhealthy isn't going to help

bigmouthstrikesagain Fri 04-Oct-13 18:21:12

Um not sure how to respond op. You sound very angry and I am sorry that your relationship with food is making you so unhappy.

I don't entirely agree with your view point, but that is ok and par for the course in a debate. But I am not sure you want to engage in a debate judging by your responses. That is ok too but not for me. I shall bow out and hopefully someone you want to talk too will come on.

MrsMinkBernardLundy Fri 04-Oct-13 18:44:36

Most of the vegans i know (quite a few) are male.
Most of the people I know with MH issues are not vegans.

And I think you are confusing the role of gender and body facism in disordered eating with vegetarianism.

Again some of the people I know with disordered eating habits are vegetarian but not many and of the many male and female vegans/vegetarians I know most do not have an ED.

Also there are actual biological differences between men and women that do mean women are more inclined to carbs and men to protein.
although the sugar thing is a myth. men where chocolate is available eat just as much if not more than women (without the guilt and stereotyping)

DontGiveAwayTheHomeworld Fri 04-Oct-13 20:33:04

About the allergy excuse...I'm allergic to cheese. Like have to go to hospital level of allergic. Just cheese though, any other dairy is fine.

The amount of times I'm told that I should just say if I'm on a diet. Or worse, "don't worry about fat, you're so slim, a little won't hurt." Actually, a little could possibly kill me. It's not a fad, or a diet, or an excuse. I just can't eat the stuff.

So sometimes it actually is an allergy. Just wanted to point that out smile

exexpat Sat 05-Oct-13 09:54:18

OK, I have been a happy, healthy, non-eating-disordered, feminist vegetarian for nearly 30 years. The friends who first introduced me to the idea of vegetarianism were all male, and it was mainly about animal welfare and ethics. I enjoy food (possibly too much), eat a very varied diet, and definitely do not starve myself.

I also read Diet for a Small Planet around the time I turned vegetarian, so although environmental arguments weren't the main reason I stopped eating meat, they were a factor, and as far as I can tell, the environmental arguments against mass-production of meat have only got stronger since then. The UN has produced several reports on it - most recently this one, I think: 14.5% of global emissions and 30% of biodiversity loss come from livestock.

With some changes, it would be possible to produce meat in a more environmentally sustainable, ethical and animal-welfare friendly way, but it certainly wouldn't be possible to supply the entire world with the levels of meat they are eating now (or starting to eat - rising meat consumption in China is a major environmental threat). And I still wouldn't want to eat it.

I am sorry that you have personal issues with food, OP, but trying to blame it on vegetarianism is really not fair.

youretoastmildred Sat 05-Oct-13 11:09:10

I am not trying to blame it on vegetarianism, I am honest about the fact that it didn't start there.

I am quite surprised at how anxious and upset I got with this thread, clearly I am not ready to talk about food with other people, although I thought I was.

the conversation I wanted to have was about the book (but I don't think any of you have read it, have you? Not that you have to, was just wondering whether anyone had) and also about my sense (mistaken but ingrained) that part of being a woman was to be deeply concerned with everyone else, (even if at the expense of myself) - even animals.

I got very ill and unhappy as a vegetarian and carried on for too long partly because, as with so many other things, I discounted my own experiential evidence in favour of theoretical fervent insistence that "vegetarianism is healthy". I was really hurt and made bizarrely anxious by the snippy note from ithaka that I must be a biological oddity not to do well as a vegetarian. that note I read as a. clear disbelief, which I found very upsetting, and b. implying that anyone who is not a vegetarian is morally lacking, because it can't do anyone any harm and it does the wider world a lot of good.

Personally I take deep issue with both halves of that point b. I can argue it but I don't want to because I find that I am very stressed by feeling that I have to defend my right to be physically present in the world and feed myself in a way that keeps me well. It is horribly close to the sense that I was too big and must starve down. I have spent too much of my life genuinely, dangerously hungry and this thread is not good for me.

I don't mind people saying "vegetarianism works for me" but I do mind "and it would for you" and "it is better for everyone". I really have an issue with it and the snippiness of some (not all) posters and I am going to go.

Grennie Sat 05-Oct-13 11:28:05

I have read bits of the book actually - although not all of it in fairness. What I have read, I don't agree with.

What bits do you agree with mildred?

ArmyOfPenguins Sat 05-Oct-13 14:05:53

Possibly in the past being vegan or vegetarian was a way to deprive yourself, and it was an issue that far more women did so, but it's not the case now.

As a vegan in London I know a lot of vegans, about 50/50 male/female, and none of us are particularly more or less physically or mentally healthy than anyone else. They just talk about animal welfare more often - as well as other types of exploitation.

I also thought it was common knowledge now that veggie diets are far better for the environment.

I haven't read LK's book, but I did hear her discussing the main content of it on the radio a couple of years ago and disagreed with it. The science doesn't add up. She also blamed her illness on veganism, but in another interview she said that all the while she was vegan she ate eggs and dairy every chance she got. So, seeing as she wasn't vegan, it seems odd to blame her illness on veganism.

Grennie Sat 05-Oct-13 14:10:13

Leirre Keith has an unexplained illness. It is common for people with unexplained, but debilitating illnesses to try and find a reason for it. Occasionally this can lead to strange ideas.

I do think if you are vegan, you do have to plan your diet better to be healthy. But you can be an omnivore or a vegan, and eat healthily or unhealthily.

Also of course if you eat fruit and veg that is flown in from abroad, you will not have a positive impact on the environment. If you care about the environment you have to look at both what you eat, and where it comes from.

ArmyOfPenguins Sat 05-Oct-13 14:17:47

I think vegans, as conscientious consumers, do tend to think more about where their food comes from than others. Thought certainly not all!

nameimadeupjustnow Sat 05-Oct-13 14:40:49

Another happy, well-fed, feminist vegetarian here. With happy, well-fed, veggie DH & children.

Going veggie (loooong ago) solved a few niggling health problems I had as a child and young adult. It's had no obvious effect on my weight - which is dead-normal BMI as it was before (whether it has helped me stay in the normal range as I aged I do not know).

I also have a few veggie friends, and their diets could not be more different than my own. People tend to think, ahh, you're veggie, so you follow some specific veggie-diet that all veggies follow. Of course that's not true. So you saying, 'I was unhealthy on a veggie diet' makes me think that you were eating unhealthily, and that the amount of meat in your diet had little to do with it.

I am pleased you are feeling better on the diet you follow now, and if it works stick to it. I hope you can overcome your issues with food and feel healthy and well.

For me, I feel good in my health, I feel great about not eating animals, and I hope I'm doing something good for the environment. None of which in any way compromises my feminist principles.

ArmyOfPenguins Sat 05-Oct-13 15:06:04

I haven't actually seen any hositility to meat eating or meat eaters in this thread.

Unlike, "veganism, which I've always found to be practised by people who are slightly on the edge of a breakdown of sorts. sad"


HotDogWater Sat 05-Oct-13 15:08:28

What an interesting thread

whatdoesittake48 Sat 05-Oct-13 16:57:30

I went vegetarian because i thought I would lose weight. I put it on. I started eating meat and stopped eating gluten and lo and behold I was healthier and thinner than ever.

just sayin'. But i make no connection between my eating and my gender aside from the requirement for women to be thin which we all deal with in different ways.

if women really are the majority of veges and vegans I think it is likely to be because of the obsession with weight. I pretended for years it was about the environment or the animals. being honest with myself - it wasn't and never was. it was about my thighs and my arse. To my shame i allowed the views of others to influence my entire way of eating.

ArmyOfPenguins Sat 05-Oct-13 17:04:27

"if women really are the majority of veges and vegans I think it is likely to be because of the obsession with weight"

The vast majority of vegans I meet (don't know as many vegetarians) have become vegans out of compassion. Please don't dismiss it.

Obviously women worry more about weight than men and are more susceptible to fad diets. This has always been a feminist issue. However, I think it's that paleo thing now?

PeoniesPlease Sat 05-Oct-13 18:29:43

This is an interesting talk about the issues raised by some previous posters about livestock and the environment.

I think we don't yet have enough evidence to suggest that vegetarianism is definitely better for the environment. I agree that our current intensive approach to farming, be it arable or livestock, is completely awful for the planet.

My view is that if people are happy and healthy being vegetarian/vegan, that is great for them. I don't think it is a morally superior choice, and I think there are ways to eat very healthily which involve meat - the paleo lifestyle for example.

I tried vegetarianism, partly because I am an animal lover, and partly because of concerns about my weight. It didn't work for me, and I am now a happy meat eater smile.

OP, I'm sorry that you are struggling with these issues - there is just so much complicated shit to do with women, food, weight and health that I almost don't know where to start! I haven't read the book but it certainly sounds interesting.

I definitely think that there are factions amongst the vegetarian movement which target women and girls' fears about body image - PETA's use of naked female bodies to spread their message is really disgusting. (Disclaimer - I realise that not all veggie groups do this!)

ithaka Sat 05-Oct-13 21:52:54

OP, I can't believe you have the cheek to call my comment 'snippy' when you made such blanket, offensive comments about vegetarians & vegans.

Well, I was offended by your 'snippy' assumption that the only reason a woman would be veggie is because she fretted about her weight. Actually, no. I am one of those people who is lucky enough to stay slim, so my food choices have been motivated by something rather loftier than an obsession with the size of my thighs and arse. And yes, that was a snippy comment.

As a mother who has lost a child, my children's health matters a whole damn lot to me. Unlike you, I would not be 'very very very worried' if my surviving children announced they wanted to become vegan. I would support their ethical choices. Because being a vegan is a perfectly valid way to eat and far better for their health and the plant than chowing down on Macdonalds.

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