Books on Food – October, 2011

I have started a new blog section called Books on Food, where I plan to review some of the books about food that I read on my own, and others that are assigned as coursework towards my degree in Gastronomy.

For my first Books on Food review I am featuring two personal narratives about meat – the first, The Vegetarian Myth, is a bitter anti-vegan argument for meat, and the second, Eating Animals, is a passionate argument for a vegan diet, completely free of meat and animal products.

The Vegetarian Myth, by Lierre Keith – 2009

This book was required reading for one of my classes this semester that focuses entirely on meat – the good, the bad, the ugly – of meat. This is one of six books we were assigned about meat and was by far the most extreme.  It was a dense and disturbing look at our American agriculture system and the environment .

Lierre Keith was a vegan for twenty years which resulted in depression, anxiety, hypoglycemia and degenerative disc disease. Understandably, she is no longer a vegan, and her book advocates eating meat and animal byproducts because, as she claims, it is a better diet for us individually and more sustainable for the planet as a whole. Keith adamantly argues against the moral, political and nutritional reasoning behind a vegan diet, and some of her points I found to be extremely valid and worthy of further discussion.

That said, I think Keith might need therapy. Her rage and regret run rampant throughout the book which distracts from her message. It was almost like she was jumping out to yell at me personally as I turned each page. If I was having coffee with her right now, I would recommend that she step back and address her immense bitterness with some positive thinking, personal reflection and maybe a little yoga.

There, now that you have been warned, I still would recommend this book. Although her suggestions for ‘how to save the world’ are a bit extreme, she makes some valuable arguments and brings to light many important topics that do not get enough attention. One of the biggest takeaways from this book for me personally was the background information on soy. I had no idea that soy was big business or that it is so completely controlled by our government. Soy is marketed as healthy and natural, and yet in reality it is chemically processed and may increase the chance for cancer, other diseases and medical issues. I am not changing my standard thai food order from tofu pad thai just yet, but she has encouraged me to do further research on my own.

Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer

I read this book on my own this summer to gear up for the meat class I mentioned above . Eating Animals differs from The Vegetarian Myth because it is less bitter, lighter in content, and easier to read overall. Of course, it is even more disturbing, as Foer takes us deep into the American meat industry describing terrifying graphic scenes that belong in a horror movie not our dinner table.

Foer wrote this book after he had his first child, and began to think deeply about his diet, and how he would explain to his son that we eat some animals, but keep others, like dogs, as pets. The combination of his painstaking research and his storytelling talent blend perfectly to keep the reader entertained, intrigued and appalled.

In contrast to Keith’s argument, Foer believes that we should refrain from eating meat, seafood and all animal byproducts. Like Keith, he makes a valid argument towards his version of the ideal diet as he paints an image of the  atrocity that is our meat industry.

This book had a great effect on me and I would definitely recommend it. Foer did not present  much new information to me; from my degree program and my own personal research I had a pretty solid understanding of how disgusting our American meat industry is, but he provides a fresh look at this issue, a very personal and passionate argument against factory farmed meat. Anyone who is interested in learning more about our meat industry should start with Eating Animals.

I cannot review two books coming from such extremes without explaining my personal thoughts on the ‘ ideal diet.’ I recommended both of these books, despite their drastically different messages, because I think it is important to acknowledge the controversy that is meat. I believe that it is invaluable to take two extremes on a subject, analyze them both, and then decide, where do I stand?

In response to that question, I eat a mostly pescaterian diet. I will never be vegan, because I love seafood and cheese. I eat very little meat, and I stay away from factory farmed meat as much as possible – the more you learn about our meat system the less appetizing meat gets. Awareness of what you are eating, and who or what you are supporting with that decision is very important. I believe strongly in moderation in one’s diet, but at the same time food is a gift, which should be explored, treasured and respected.

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