Skip to content

The Book That Saved Derrick Jensen’s Life

The book, which I have not read, that saved Derrick Jensen's life is called The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability by Lierre Keith, who was a vegan for 20 years, suffered serious medical problems, and started feeling better when she recommenced eating animals. Here's a review by vegetarian Mark Hand, who still eschewed "meat" even after reading the book. Here are some tidbits:

  • Keith believes humans need to embrace the consumption of animal products, including beef, or else face severe and chronic health problems. “All the friends of my youth were radical, righteous, intense. Vegetarianism was the obvious path, with veganism the high road alongside it. And those of us who did it long term ended up damaged,” she writes.
  • Some might argue that Keith has simply become an advocate of “happy meat”—local, grass-fed, sustainably produced, and humanely raised meat. But that would be unfair. If there were ever a movement devoted to the principles set out in The Vegetarian Myth and if it proved successful, such a movement would easily result in a spectacular reduction in the suffering and torture of animals, compared to what they experience today in factory farms and due to ecosystem devastation.
  • Throughout the book, Keith mocks vegetarians and vegans. She portrays them as adolescents. “In the narrative of my life, the first bite of meat after my twenty year hiatus marks the end of my youth, the moment when I assumed the responsibilities of adulthood,” Keith writes. “It was the moment I stopped fighting the basic algebra of embodiment: for someone to live, someone else had to die. In that acceptance, with all its suffering and sorrow, is the ability to choose a different way, a better way.”
  • Clinical studies, according to Keith, have found that low-fat diets increase anger, depression and anxiety. Low cholesterol levels occur more often among criminals, individuals diagnosed with violent or aggressive conduct disorders, and homicidal offenders with histories of violence and suicide attempts related to alcohol.

Keith's argument is not alien to vegan-environmentalists, and it of course ends at places like Polyface Farms (according to Hand's review).

I'm going to see if my library can get the book because I am curious about why Keith would consider vegans "naive, unhealthful and destructive," and I'm interesting in her explanations/rationalizations. I think there are people (and dogs) for whom veganism is nutritionally difficult and who have to work hard at getting and assimilating what they need due to their own unique constitutions and combination of health challenges. But to generalize that humans should be consuming other sentient beings because of that is, I think, a stretch.

Hand isn't convinced, but does steer us to happy meat in the event of health problems caused by our veganism. And with regard to killing in order to survive, there's a difference between "killing" a carrot and killing a cow, whom you know is just as sentient as your dog or your child.

If anyone has read the book, let me know your thoughts.

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. Hi Mary,

    I have not read this – but it looks for all the world to be an account of a "health vegan" with little ethics involved.


    May 6, 2009
  2. This kind of thing makes me want to poke out my own eyes.

    May 6, 2009
  3. It has been 29 years since I went vegetarian. The last 14 years I have been a vegan. I started off as what is derisively called a "health vegan". My motivations for staying vegan have since changed. However, starting off as health buff, I have kept well read about nutritional issues since then.

    To be absolutely clear, I am not a health or medical expert in any capacity.

    In the past 3 decades I have seen two things happen repeatedly:

    1. Research confirming and discovering new ways in which vegan diets are

    2. Authors with questionable health/medical credentials, with an axe to grind or money to make, stating extreme claims about how unhealthy vegan diets are. Often some of them are ex-vegans or ex-vegetarians who claimed to do everything right.

    In regards to #2 I have yet to see any such claims stand up to scrutiny.

    In regards to her health issues it seems as if most people, vegans, non-vegans as well as some doctors don't understand the importance of not confusing correlation for causation. If we as society understood that the fad diet book industry would vanish overnight.

    I've had chronic debilitating illnesses. It can make you angry about what you miss out on and it makes you feel powerless. You want something to blame. I don't begrudge Keith for that very human motivation and I sincerely hope she is freed from her spinal issues (whatever it was caused by )someday.

    If Keith's book does not have footnotes/endnotes and citations to clinical studies it is an anecdotal opinion as far as I am concerned, of very little factual value.

    If she does have citations I would love to buy a copy and send it to Dr. Michael Greger M.D. of the HSUS. He keeps up on the latest research and he is quite good at evaluating citations. A good example of Dr. Greger's expertise in evaluating citations is in his book Carbophobia, in which he rips apart the claims of the Atkin's corporation for their diet being validated by scientific research.

    May 8, 2009
  4. TomOfMaine #

    Sadly, Lierre has been snared, thoroughly conditioned by, and with this book has sold out to the vehemently pro-meat/dairy, anti-veg/vegan weston price foundation (wpf). This is a DC-based lobbying group whose members consist of "farmers", which of course means they breed, confine and kill animals in order to sell their parts and fluids for profit (not to mention their own culinary enjoyment on top of that). The wpf and it's disciples are completely responsible for all the soy/vegan-bashing of the past decade, with the reason being that their main agenda is to scare/persuade caring, compassionate people, who have either chosen or are thinking of choosing veg, into either continuing or resuming their consumption of animal parts and fluids. They bash, demean and fearmonger against the compassionate veg/vegan lifestyle to the point where their followers become hostile to it, which is their goal. They claim to be anti-industrial agriculture, eco-concerned, etc, but then instead of focusing their energies on eliminating animal agriculture (which is responsible for 80% or more of all industrial agriculture due to the fact that the vast majority of all crops (including soy) grown, are funneled through animals for meat/dairy production), they instead attack the vegetarian lifestyle. It is a very selfish, sad agenda, and is yet another strike against the planet. By the way, I asked Derrick Jensen exactly how this book "saved his life." His response, "it got me off wheat", which of course has nothing to do with the "vegetarian myth". Very misleading and very sad.

    May 15, 2009
  5. All Means Justifiable #

    How it saved Derrick Jensen (who is a vegan, as far as I know)?

    Well, the following is from another forum ( ):

    For the record, I wrote Derrick Jensen a little while back just to find out exactly how that book "saved his life".
    The answer, which has nothing to do with the "Vegetarian myth", was that it "got him off wheat". So he must have had a wheat allergy/sensitivity, and didn't realize it. Sadly, many of his fans will see his comment about the book and assume that it is in reference to something to do with being veg/vegan.

    May 18, 2009
  6. There is helpful discussion about this book in the comments section at:

    May 18, 2009
  7. Mark Hand also wrote another blog post on this book at:

    May 18, 2009
  8. All Means Justifiable,

    Derrick Jensen is not vegan, he eats animal flesh. Disregarding his own ethics, Jensen consumes the flesh of "domesticated" animals, thus supporting food-industry enslavement and slaughter as well as wholesale environmental destruction. In my opinion, animal rights advocates should cease giving Jensen any support.

    May 19, 2009
  9. Lierre Keith should watch this short video and then explain, how do Shaolin monks thrive on a vegan diet?

    BTW, I have been veg for over 30 yrs now, and a practicing martial artist for just as long.

    June 17, 2009
  10. Anna #

    I can"t believe how many people critize this book while openly admitting they didn't read it!
    read it, for god's sake, it's so much better than you think. don't just believe random quotations. the book is a beautiful pro-life statement that clearly explains that life is sacred. what it does is to explain the connections between agriculture, meat production and the destruction of the environment. read it, you won't regret it, especially if you are vegan, it's essential knowledge for all of us, no matter what diet we prefer.

    September 24, 2009

Leave a Reply

You may use basic HTML in your comments. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS