Eating to Save the Earth

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February 19-20, 2011. We came to the Bay area on Saturday to view the San Francisco premiere of "END:CIV" a documentary by Franklin Lopez based on Derrick Jensen's monumental book Endgame. We had taped a conversation with Derrick in December 2010 (to be produced), and found the documentary a solid introduction to Derrick's big picture perspective on how industrial civilization is killing the planet.

Sunday dawned bright, with sun streaming in the crisp air after an unusually cold storm left a rare frosting of snow across the Bay Area hills. It perfectly reflected the strikingly clear articulation of our guest Lierre Keith, author of The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, Sustainability.

Lierre's central message is that a vegetarian diet is healthy neither for humans nor for the planet. A twenty-year vegan, Lierre had undertaken this diet to avoid animal cruelty and to help save the planet. She found, instead, that it did just the opposite. The vegan diet trashed her body.

She explained that the humans evolved by eating nutrient-dense meat and animal fats: our large brains (mostly fat) and small stomachs say so. We cannot extract protein from plants like the herbivores — we have no way to break down the cellulose. Plus animal fats are the sole source of important vitamins A, D, E and K.

She cited the work of dentist Weston Price, whose worldwide research in the early twentieth century located some still-extant traditional cultures with "perfect health" — all without degenerative diseases, and with strong bones, no cavities, beautifully spacious mouths and teeth. They had in common a diet based on nutrient-dense animal foods like fish, organ meats, and animal products.

The diseases we've come to see as normal — heart disease, cancer, diabetes - were unknown prior to agriculture. They are the diseases of civilization, Lierre said. When humans began eating annual grains, our stature decreased, bones weakened, and the degenerative diseases appeared.

At the same time, agriculture destroys the earth. Nature creates complex polycultures like in a forest or prairie, with many interdependent species of plants and animals building topsoil and much more. Agriculture of annual crops (grains) means clearing the land down to bare, lifeless soil each year  — what she calls "biocide", essentially an ethnic cleansing.

She quoted Derrick Jensen that "forests precede us and deserts dog our heels." The fertile crescent of the middle east was once covered with cedar forests so thick you couldn't see the sunlight. Now, desert. And we've run out of places to expand agriculture into.

Lierre said that if we simply got out of the way, stopped the annual clearing, earth would replenish the forests and prairies in a surprisingly shorter time than I expected. Decades, not centuries.

We also touched on factory farming of animals, corporate control of agriculture, overshoot, and population reduction.

Robyn and I have been reading aloud The Vegetarian Myth for the past few weeks, much of it underscoring yet going beyond what we had found to work in our own diets (including our videotaping Shan Kendall's in-depth cooking classes in Traditional Nourishment.) Lierre has distilled and made accessible important information with directness, passion, and lyrical eloquence.

After we packed away the video gear following this fast-paced conversation, Robyn, Lierre and I shared a meal prepared by our hostess Saba Malik and her family. A chicken curry, grass-fed beef and stewed pastured pork graced the table, supplemented by salad greens, Greek yogurt and nourishing conversation.

Over this deeply satisfying feast, Lierre remarked that for many vegans and vegetarians, their diet is not simply the food they eat. It is who they are, their very identity. And many, like her, have difficulty hearing this information because it threatens their very identity. My hope is that my conversation with Lierre can open hearts and minds towards deeper health for both our animal bodies and the Earth body. [lierrekeith.com]

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