The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, And Sustainability

After living a vegan lifestyle for nearly twenty years, author Lierre Keith nearly destroyed her health. Her body’s basic structure was caving in slowly, she was cold nine months out of the year, and she couldn’t produce a baby if the future of the species depended on it. “Pain was the inhabitant of my body, and I was only the shadow it cast,” she said.

Ultimately, she had to abandon her veganism. She had been convinced that the vegetarian ethic would save her health, the hungry, and the world. Yet this virtuous diet left her chronically exhausted, depressed, and sick. Her ideology had blinded her.

Now she’s regained her health by adjusting her diet to include sustainably raised animal products, avoiding processed newfangled foods, and adopting a much more paleolithic or primal diet.

You absolutely MUST listen to her recent interview on the Our Natural Life podcast. In it, she reads the passage from her book documenting her conversion from veganism. It gave me goosebumps! As the interview progresses, she touches on a number of interesting subjects like what’s wrong with our industrial food supply and what’s right, compassionate, just, and nutritionally valuable about its more sustainable alternatives. But perhaps the BEST part of the podcast was simply her story.

Whether she was talking about how her vegan diet harmed her (particularly in relation to having a crushing depression and chronic mental health problems), or sharing practical advice about how to re-introduce meats into your diet, I loved what she had to say.

She also has a great, long rant about the evils of soy! If you eat soy anything, you can’t afford to miss this.

I’m going to get my hands on her book and write a review of it for you, but in the mean time, check out Dr. Eades’ review.

Now, go listen to that podcast.


  1. says

    YAY! I’m so glad you posted this, Kristen.

    I thought this was a brilliant interview.

    And I immediately downloaded Lierre’s book to my iPhone and started reading it last night. I plan to write a review, too. This book needs wide exposure. So many people need to hear this message.

  2. says

    Kristen, thanks so much for promoting Lierre’s book. She has a great story to share and wonderful information about sustainable, healthy eating. Her story has really resonated with people, as I’m getting a fantastic audience response. We appreciate your promotion of Our Natural Life, as well. I was going to link the blog post on Fight Back Friday, but no need, now!

    On October 7, Sean Croxton will have Lierre on his show, so if you liked her you can hear some more!

    Our next interview, releasing around Labor Day, is with Jeffrey M. Smith of the No GMO challenge! Thanks to CHEESESLAVE for hooking us up with his agent. He is truly awesome!

    Thanks again!
    .-= Cathy Payne

  3. christopher james says

    Alright, i have to be biased.

    Veganism/ vegetarianism unfortunately groups too many bad practices under one roof. Theres completely raw, cooked, use of oils and chemicals… and the like, sprouters, and do on…

    I have to laugh when people eat tofu, its processed garbage. We all would like to think were doing whats right for us. I will never eat soy or wheat because they both make you sick. Wheat is a universal allergen. i dont eat bread. Soy will cause thyroid/energy/hormone problems. Yes theres many books about it. to be a shadow of oneself is rightly the iodine deficientcy caused by soy. TVP contains MSG… people are so unaware that meat substitutes will kill you.

    Advertising brings us many “products” said to be good for vegans. notice “products” not produce! natural dressing with chems in them all pasturized…. Chips and crunchies with the semblance of real food, marketed as real food.. but far from it.

    Im am only upset that this post discredits a lifestyle based on one persons experience when many do well. I would sooner call it.. how not to be a vegan. as overwhelming proof of health is found in others. And VEGAN means many different things to different people. Information is power. Misinformation is however a great sorce of income.

    Ps: even hemp hearts are the best high protein grain ive found. better than meat in almost all amino acids.. so dont feed me bull that you have to eat meat. Its jsut a matter of how informed you are. Even i can admit im always learning, when i say i know it all ive been doing it for years… ive stopped learning and will suffer for it. Someone who thinks theyve been vegan are rightly so in thier own mind, but are they?

    just think… its all i ask.

  4. Jennifer says

    I recently finished reading this book. It’s a great read for anyone, vegetarian or not. As a Holistic Nutrition student, I especially found the nutrition section of the book outstanding. Lierre is spot on regarding soy, and the lack of important nutrients in a vegetarian or vegan diet.
    Thank you!

  5. says

    Jennifer — Glad to hear you liked it. I can’t wait to read it!

    Christopher — I recognize that there are different ways to “go Vegan.” And in some cases (particularly if people stick with eating Real Food and go high-raw), going vegan for a short while has a way of cleansing and healing the body. But as with anything medicinal, too much can cause more harm than good. It really is true that our bodies can not be sustained for very long on a strictly vegan diet. It’s why there are absolutely NO traditional societies that are vegan. And even among the small groups that are vegetarian, they still eat sea food, raw milk, eggs & the like.

    Cathy — You’re quite welcome. I *loved* this interview.

    Cheeseslave — Oh, lucky you. I’ve got to wait until I can get a hard copy in the mail.

  6. says

    Wow, thanks! I was looking for exactly this kind of story and didn’t know where to go. I’ve never been vegan nor vegetarian but have kind of experimented with both kinds of eating with bad results. I have vegan and vegetarian friends whom I’d like to introduce a healthy and environmentally sound food alternative.

    Do you happen to know a similar story from a Spanish speaking person? I’d love to have an interview for my podcast and information for my Spanish speaking audience.

    Kristen M – Yes, no traditional societies 100% vegan, as some people feel so proud to call themselves. I live in Ecuador and all traditional food is high in animal fat.
    .-= Monica

  7. says

    I tried an exclusively raw vegan diet and it almost killed me after nine months! Though there are value in raw foods, we should not go into extremes with any way of eating. I will have to check out that book!
    .-= Carla

  8. Mary P. says

    Thank you for posting your thoughts and the links about Lierre’s book, I have read it and have recommended it to others….. I am glad it is finally catching some interest as her story is important for all to hear. Thanks again!

  9. says

    I will have to check this book out, I have often thought about becoming vegetarian. Im a little afraid of what she might say about soy though.

  10. says

    It’s good to see this because it helps to discredit the myths of veganism. Veganism is fine for people to choose as a personal choice but it is not sustainable. Veganism requires shipping vegetables in from long distances much of the year in much of the world or resorting to supplements which are again shipped in. Ironically, a vegan diet means large scale raising of veggies which means tremendous animal deaths in the tilling, weed and pest control and harvesting of said veggies. Meat is an excellent way to store sunshine for the winter and we’re well evolved to use it. Veganism rejects nature. We are part of the natural system.

  11. Felicity Brach says

    What a load of rubbish! To think vegans and vegetarians are going to believe this nonsense. I don’t think so!!! Some one has an agenda, oh yes, indeed. My husband and I are extremely healthly on a vegan diet, and run rings around all the rest that eat animals. Please, check out, Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine, on the benefits of a vegan diet. They are great!
    Thank you,
    Felicity Brach

  12. says

    Felicity — Before you pass judgment, why not read the book? Or at least listen to her interview. Clearly, this is a woman who spent twenty years(!) as a confirmed vegan. It wasn’t just a fad for her. It was her LIFE, and breaking away from veganism was a long and arduous journey for her. To call her experiences rubbish totally lacks compassion. Furthermore, it demonstrates your unwillingness to even engage in the conversation and LISTEN to another human being. As for an agenda — OF COURSE she has one. As do you. Please try to be fair.

  13. Jenny says

    I will disclose that I have NOT read the book so please realize this. I’d just like to say that I think it is already discrediting to know that this woman ate a high soy diet as a vegan. I do not believe that diet is healthy at ALL and therefore, it is not her vegan diet that was unhealthy, it was the fact she was doing it wrong. It also troubles me the way she seemed to almost chain herself to this diet/lifestyle. It doesn’t appear that she did any serious research about being vegan, which is why she was deteriorating. If you are going to force yourself to eat a certain way and then resent it, there is something wrong there. Like someone else said, the term “vegan” is so general and really discredits how incredibly healthy AND sustainable a properly based vegan diet is. I really think that if people approach a vegan diet solely because of ethics, they are asking for health problems. I think that people that eat a high animal protein based diet are also asking for health problems. I ALSO think people that eat a diet with any form of processed soy are asking for health problems. So can’t it be that it wasn’t because she wasn’t eating meat, but because she was poisoning her body with processed soy? It drives me crazy that vegans binge on sugar, wheat, and processed meat/dairy substitutes all in the name of how high and mighty they are for being vegan. I’m sorry if that sounds a little hostile, but it really discredits a true healthy lifestyle that people THRIVE on.

    You can’t judge a proper vegan diet if you haven’t tried it. Kristen – I don’t think it is fair for you to say “It really is true that our bodies can not be sustained for very long on a strictly vegan diet.” That is a very poor statement that has no scientific proof. The fact that there are no vegan societies does not correlate with that idea. Just because we CAN eat something does not mean it is good for us. Not to mention 1) societies thousands of years ago did not eat NEARLY as much meat as we do. 2) Meat today does not even resemble what it was thousands of years ago. I don’t care if you are buying free-range or whatever helps you sleep at night. It is still a form of mass production to accommodate this country’s infatuation with meat and dairy.

    It doesn’t escape me that we are very fortunate to be living in a day in age where we can scrutinize nutrition, study it, and have the option of where we buy our food. But I have to ask you, have you read the China Study? Doesn’t that have any effect on your desire to consume animal protein?

    PS: Please do not take any of this to be hostile, it is not my intent. I am biased obviously because I don’t see any health benefits to meat and dairy, and can’t grapple with the way animals are exploited today, regardless if they are raised “sustainably” or not. I always enjoy reading the other side, but my main point of this is to say that right off the bat, I’m already put off by this woman’s history of being vegan because she really doesn’t seem to know much about health in the first place. However, I do plan on reading the book just to see what she has to say and see if my first impression is correct.

  14. says

    Jenny — I’m glad you’ll be reading the book. I know I can’t wait to. As for the China Study, I have read it. But to those with a more scientific bent (like me), it was full of holes. I don’t want to write a post on it in my comments as there’s a lot already online about it. One really helpful resource is the online debate posted between the China Study’s author and Chris Masterjohn along with Masterjohn’s review of the book:

    As an Orthodox Christian, I am a conscientious vegan for roughly 40% of the year. All our fasting seasons require us to eat a vegan diet. So, I have a lot of experience trying to feed myself healthily on a vegan diet for extensive periods of time (and I think I do an okay job at it, too). That said, even with my Real Food nutrition background and the help of B-12 and iron supplements, I still find that on a vegan diet I’m mildly anemic, easily aggravated, and that I slip easily into depression if I’m not careful. Different people have different metabolic types, and mine does not agree with even the most carefully planned and nutrient dense vegan diet I can muster.

    Furthermore, I really feel that we have to ask WHY in the entire history of the human race there has never been ONE documented vegan society. Even societies that are mostly vegan most of the year will put their women (and sometimes men) on fertility diets rich in animal fats, organ meats, and seafood in order to help them get pregnant, carry a healthy baby to term, and nurse that baby for a year or two. We have to ask ourselves WHY, and we have to prepared to deal with the answers when they come.

  15. says

    I cant wait to read this book, I have it on order still.

    At this time I cannot believe that a vegan diet made her so sick. But like others have said there are vegan diets and there are vegan diets. I have been a vegan for the most part of 20 years. I believe that a little good meat is healthy during the winter. Eat with the seasons. And meat doesnt mean feedlot junk either, that isnt even food.

    As for soy, I believe in miso as a very healthy food, other than that I cant think of a reason to eat more soy. Maybe all the soy she ate was genetically modified soy (GMO). That would certainly make someone sick.
    .-= Sam´s last blog post …Boost Your Immune System and Fight Disease =-.

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