(I’ve only gone through this transcript once because it’s very long and I have many Life Assessments to do. So I apologize for any missed errors.)
Edited transcript (with unnecessary sentences removed and grammar corrected):
Simona: This is my first ever interview that I’m going to do and it’s with Lierre Keith who is the author of the book The Vegetarian Myth so I would like to ask you how you got into veganism, at what age, and what happened to your health afterwards.
Lierre: So I became a vegan when I was 16 and I did it for 20 years which is a long time. Actually, the number one way that people become either vegetarian or vegan is because they meet somebody who’s already a vegan or vegetarian and they become convinced. And that’s what happened.
I was this young teenager; I was very concerned about the planet and the state of the world and all the injustice that I saw. I was already somebody that was very motivated by those kinds of concerns and I met another teenager whose family where they were all really into being vegans and within two weeks of that first conversation with her I decided that this was what I was going to do and there was no stopping me.
So that’s what I did and I did it for 20 years. I ground to myself into the ground completely. It is way too long to experiment like that with your health. But I was very ideological and I was a fanatic, and there was no talking me out of it until it was too late.
So I ended up with a whole series of health problems some of which are permanent. If you want to hear about it I’ll tell you but I also know there’s nothing as boring as other people’s health problems so it’s up to you if you want me to give you more details.
S: I think it’s good to find out because maybe some of the people on a vegan diet are already experiencing symptoms of those illnesses so it’s best to talk about this.
Carbs break down into sugars which may cause diabetes
L: Well okay, so one of the first things that happened to me was I started to have blood sugar regulation problems and it is utterly predictable that when you are eating a diet that is nothing but carbohydrate our bodies were not designed through evolution to consist on only sugar.
It’s very damaging so what happens is you eat a load of carbohydrate and you can call it complex carb if it makes you feel better but at the end of the day it is a load of sugar.
All of that complex carbohydrate is broken down into simple sugars in your digestive tract. That is what your digestion does – it breaks everything down into tiny little pieces and with sugar that’s what happens.
It’s just broken down into simple sugars and then it’s absorbed into your bloodstream. So four, five, six times a day every time you eat as a vegan you’re spiking that blood sugar so there’s this flood of gar into your body and that’s a biological emergency.
Our brains can only function within a very narrow range of blood sugar. If it’s too high or too low you can fall into a coma and die. It’s not a joke. It’s very real and your body responds to that emergency.
So the first thing that happens is your pancreas will release a flood of insulin and that’s an emergency response that’s not supposed to happen three or four or five times a day. Insulin job is immediately to grab everything that it can out of your bloodstream and shove it into the cells for storage just so that your brain isn’t thrown into a coma.
So that means everything that you ate is now you know being grabbed onto by insulin and shoved away where you can’t reach it just to save your life essentially. And that’s fine if it happens a few times a year.
I mean as hunter-gatherers there would have been moments when we had a lot of berries or some fruit seasonally or perhaps somebody discovered a beehive and there was some honey. That would have happened every once in a while.
Once in a while you can handle it. You can’t handle it three, four or five times a day. So insulin does that but it’s a very blunt instrument so it takes out too much because it’s grabbing everything as fast as it can.
So if your blood sugar levels are too high insulin takes it all away. Now your blood sugar crashes and it’s too low; so now you have that desperate feeling “I have to eat or I’m gonna fall over”. Like “I’m gonna die if I don’t put food in my mouth” and that’s true.
You feel that way because your blood sugar is now too low and you can fall into a coma and die. You have to get your blood sugar back up and that started to happen to me almost right away, like within a few months of being a vegan. I was already starting to experience those swings. I had no idea what it meant.
I had never really experienced anything like it and I didn’t have a name for it. It just became normal that every few hours I had to eat again.
S: That’s why so many vegans make videos only about food. All their life starts revolving around food. They have to snack in between meals, they snack on fruit.
So you’re saying that even if they don’t consume white sugar, if they just eat berries and other kinds of fruit it’s still unhealthy for them?
L: At the end of the day it’s still just sugar. I was so pure [as a vegan]. I never ate white flour. I never ate white sugar. I never ate white rice. It was like I was trying so hard to be a good vegan who was gonna do it well.
I knew white sugar was bad but what I didn’t realize was that everything I was eating was sugar. It just was a little bit more complicated and again my body was gonna break it down into simple sugars. I didn’t know that. Nobody told me that.
I thought I was eating the right stuff. It was brown rice, legumes, whole wheat flour and then fruit. But it’s exactly that and so every few hours you have to put more food in your mouth because you’re on that roller coaster.
And then, of course, you’re wearing out your insulin receptors so every time you do that you’re wearing out the entire system. So the insulin is sort of like the key and the receptor is like a lock so they have to fit together. All your hormones are like that and insulin is a hormone.
But as you’re doing this three, four or five times; six, seven, eight times a day, every time insulin has to fit into a cell you’re wearing it down a little bit. So it’s like a really old locking key. Eventually it’s gonna stop working.
S: Then what happens when it stops working?
L: Then you’re diabetic. That’s the end of it. Then no matter how much insulin you make, you’re never gonna make enough because it can’t get into the cells anymore. It can’t lock on anymore and then you now shift all that sugar into the cells for storage.
The lock is leaky so it won’t work anymore. So now you have to keep producing more insulin every time. And eventually your pancreas just gives out. It just can’t make insulin anymore.
First you have type 2 diabetes where you can’t make enough insulin so your blood sugar is constantly way too high. So now you have to start injecting it or taking it orally. Eventually your pancreas will give out entirely and then you’re gonna be on those drugs forever because you have no way to produce it anymore.
So now you’re a type 1 diabetic as well as being a type 2 diabetic. That happened to my mother so I watched this whole process in my mother for the last 20 years of her life and it was horrible.
It would have been so easy… Like just eat a low-carb diet and she wouldn’t do it. So she just you know drove it into the ground and eventually died.
S: I usually stay in India and people there consume large amounts of carbs especially in the form of white rice and their desserts are so sweet. Most of the elderly and even many middle-aged people have diabetes.
L: Yeah, you can see it in their body types as well. I mean insulin is called the fat storage hormone because if you have too much insulin in your bloodstream you can’t stop because all this stuff goes into your bloodstream.
It is shuttled into the cells for storage and then you can’t get it back out if the insulin levels are high. It doesn’t go the other way so you can’t access any of that energy, any of those nutrients, and what happens is people keep gaining weight and they’re exhausted.
It’s not because they’re lazy. It’s because they literally cannot access the energy in their cells; like their bodies can’t bring it back out and actually burn it because the insulin levels are too high so when you look at people from countries like America or India where people are eating these high-carb diets, that’s what you see.
I’m not trying to say anything bad about fat people. This is not a political statement. It’s just a statement of physical fact. You keep getting bigger, but you can’t access that food. You can’t use it.
You’re exhausted. You’re tired and you’re just gonna keep packing on the pounds as long as those insulin levels are high. And that’s exactly what you’re seeing in India and what you see here all the time now in the United States. It’s just getting worse and worse.
Dangers of reduced hormone production
S: I saw some vegans who actually are gaining weight but there are many vegans that look malnourished. Why do you think that happens?
L: Yes, so then you have the other problem too. So I would say what I’ve observed mostly is that the women tend to gain weight and the men tend to get really skinny and there’s some crossover there where also some of the men will get really heavy and some of the women look emaciated. But it’s about 80% I would say by sex, and that’s just what estrogen does with women and what testosterone does with men.
S: You made me remember about hormones. That the body kind of stops body producing hormones when people stay vegan for some time, and then I noticed that men start looking more feminine whilst women start looking more masculine. That’s what I’ve noticed.
L: You’re noticing a real thing. So there are two things going on. There’s an
explanation for all of this – you’re not crazy – that is what you’re seeing. So the first problem is that all of your hormones, including your sex
hormones, are made from cholesterol.
Cholesterol has been vilified as the root of all evil. It’s actually the root of life. It is an absolutely life-producing, life-affirming substance. Every last one of your cells needs cholesterol for basic stability. Your brain is mostly made from cholesterol. We need cholesterol. You will die without it.
One thing that cholesterol does is it’s the mother hormone. It’s the base substance from which all of our other hormones are made. So if you don’t have any cholesterol in your diet, your body will slowly stop producing hormones.
So that’s what happens. Another thing that happened to me about a year and a half into being a vegan was my menstrual cycle stopped completely and for twenty years I never had a regular period. It’s very common among vegans and among any women who are eating very low-fat diets. A lot of athletes have this problem.
The puberty of the little gymnasts is put off for years because of this. So it’s very damaging. And because you don’t have enough hormones, what your body does is say “Okay, well, you don’t need to reproduce right now. So we’re gonna stop producing sex hormones and what tiny little bits of cholesterol we do have we’re gonna try our best to make the hormones that you need just to stay alive”.
It absolutely will do that, and there are many fallback systems like this about every biological process, because life wants to live and it figured out a long time ago what to do in such emergencies.
This is one of those situations or it’s like you don’t have to reproduce tomorrow to survive. You can’t reproduce next year or the year after. So let’s not worry about sex for now; let’s just keep you alive day to day and hopefully there’s better food in a month or two.
And when things are better in the environment and you have enough to bear a child, we’ll give you some sex hormones back, and then you can get pregnant if you feel like it. So that’s what your body does. It shuttles that off till later to keep you alive now.
We don’t need to have children every single day but we need to breathe, eat and do similar things right away. but you don’t need to reproduce all the time, so your body makes that kind of trade.
So that’s one thing that’s happening. And that is very commonly noted just anecdotally and also in the medical literature. We understand why it’s not a mystery so that’s number one.
Number two when you have those is that produced the high insulin levels insulin triggers a whole bunch of really destructive sort of a cascade of bad effects throughout the body including inflammation including damage to the blood vessels like all this stuff but one of the other things that it does in women it triggers an enzyme that converts estrogen to testosterone and in men it triggers an enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen.
That condition is here called PCOS which is polycystic ovary syndrome and all of their estrogen is being converted slowly to testosterone so they end up with having more masculine body. So they’ll get a lot of facial hair, their voices can deepen, and they sometimes get acne.
They have a terrible time getting pregnant and it’s because they don’t have enough estrogen and they’ve got way too much testosterone for a normal female.
Vegan voice change over years; feminine vegan men and masculine vegan women
S: I watched a video where it was shown how a vegan YouTuber’s voice changed over the years of him being vegan [it became coarse but female-like].
L: That video is correct. They are observing a real phenomenon and we know why this happens. It’s not a mystery, and then the opposite happens to men where now they’ve got too much estrogen and it’s not good for us to have our hormones out of whack. The effects are throughout the body but you know in particular with men, they’re gonna have not enough muscle.
So they’re gonna look more feminized. They’ve got that muscle wasted look underneath it all. There’s plenty of skinny men who still have like sort of good male development, but this is a totally different look. And you know what I’m talking about – they look muscle wasted and they’re gonna have all kinds of sexual health problems.
They won’t be able to have normal sex life because they don’t have enough testosterone.
S: I think that most of them have wrong view about the way that they look. I’ve noticed they have wrong self-image. They kind of convince themselves that they look very healthy and other vegans affirm that. But actually they don’t look healthy at all.
L: Yeah, it’s like anorexia. It’s like any of those kind of delusional states that people get with their self-image and their body image. And it’s really sad.
I mean… you can see the photographs they put up. I’ve seen ones that were people who were breatharians where they think they can live on air which is like a whole different level of insanity. And the ones who persist in that… they’ll put up photographs of themselves six months into being a breatharian and they look like they’re out of a concentration camp.
It’s terrifying. Their parents and families must be horrified. They just look like skeletons and they’re putting up these photos doing yoga poses or whatever, and they think they look really good. It’s like somebody with anorexia where you don’t see your correct body image.
This is just not reality and it’s terrifying when you get into that mindset.
Larger issue behind factory farms
S: You mentioned that one of the reasons why you got into veganism was because you felt bad for the animals being tortured. I think vegans really think that they are helping animals but then I’m thinking, okay, so if farmers don’t get profits from animals, they would not keep them. Then what would happen to those domesticated animals? Where would they go? How would that work?
L: Yeah, that’s number one. There’s a larger issue here because that is absolutely one of the things that inspired me to be a vegan. I saw the horrible pictures of the factory farms.
Very clearly these animals were in there being tortured. It’s terrible what happens and I do think that across the board this is something that everybody can agree. No sentient beings should be subjected to that.
We really should be able to build like a political consensus from every angle that this is wrong and that would be great if we could get rid of factory farming. So we all agree to that.
Put that aside, that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about something actually larger what is going on. So as a vegan what I ate was almost entirely agricultural foods so it was monocrop annual annual crops, so wheat, rice, soy and I did not understand where those things came from.
I just assumed, well, they’re plants so it has to be nonviolent and somehow morally ethically good. And I didn’t know anything better, you know, like I grew up in a very kind of urban environment. I didn’t know where my food came from. I had no idea what the cost to the planet was for me to eat something like rice.
I just didn’t know, and it took me a long time to get the information and then let it accumulate into some kind of knowledge that took me 20 years and it was a huge struggle for me because everything that I found out really contradicted what I wanted to be true as a vegan. So it was a big
struggle but at the end of the day this is the truth.
This is agriculture:
- You take a piece of land;
- You clear every living thing off it and I mean down to the bacteria.
- You plant it for humans only so excuse all those plants and animals that are supposed to live there – they have nowhere to go. All of them are just wiped out. So it’s biotic cleansing. I mean, we’ve all heard of ethnic cleansing where people are driven off. Well, in this case everything is driven off. It’s every kind of life.
It’s mass extinction so at this point in the history of the human race we are driving 200 species extinct every single day. This is quite serious and it’s basically because of agriculture.
S: And the way that agriculture works is that it results in topsoil depletion. Also, vegans don’t think that importing their fruits and vegetables from all over the world does anything bad to nature, though the way that I see it it’s such a huge waste of earth’s natural resources. If they would just eat local meat from a local farm rather than getting all those imported vegetarian goods, they would actually help the world much more.
Agriculture, not animals, destroys the earth
L: Yeah, so that’s the other problem with agriculture. It’s that it’s inherently destructive to soil. The moment you put a plough to soil you degrade that soil that it’s not something that ever happens in nature. The absolute opposite happens in nature where the ground is always covered and there’s deeply rooted perennial plants. And all of that is important – every single thing that I just said makes more soil happen and agriculture is the exact opposite.
When the land is constantly cleared it’s constantly disturbed and none of the plants that you grow have deep roots that actually repair and hold soil in place. So annual crops only live for one summer. they don’t have time to get really big.
They only live that one time, so all of their energy has to go toward making a baby. So it’s a big seed. Annual crops tend to have big seeds. That’s why we eat them. That’s why humans started doing that.
The seeds were big enough that it was worth the energy to harvest them. Small seeds are not really worth it. Big seeds would take too much energy to harvest and make edible, so that’s why it’s always annuals that we eat.
No perennials equals topsoil depletion
But the problem is that the root of the annuals is shallow. In nature around 95% of all plants are perennials. They live a long time so think about a tree. A tree does not grow in one season – nothing could get that big in one summer.
So they live many years. Where I live in the Pacific Northwest in America, the trees here are 2,000 years old. What that means is they have a really complicated root system under the soil and that’s what those roots do – a whole bunch of things but the most important is that they hold the soil in place.
Physically they are the matrix that keeps it there. Number two is they provide a channel for rain to enter the soil. If there are not those physical channels for rain to get in, it just runs off, and then it destroys the soil surface.
And if there’s any kind of a slope to the land, it’ll just run right off. And eventually it hits the nearest waterway and then clogs that river with all that silt. So that soil that needs to be on the land is now in the water.
So not only have you killed the terrestrial life, you’re now killing the aquatic life as well. And that’s what agriculture does over and over. So that’s another thing. And then the third thing that those giant roots do is they can actually get down to the bedrock of the planet.
They can eat rock like you and I cannot. We can’t get minerals out of rocks but roots in combination with various bacteria have the acids to do that. So they degrade the rock. They do kind of in exchange what the bacteria gives the minerals and the plant gives the sugar and they have a relationship. But
regardless, the roots then can bring the minerals up to the surface of the planet and that’s where the rest of us generally get our minerals one way or another.
That’s how that happens and without those deeply rooted perennials if you’re only growing annual crops, what you’re doing is called mining because you’re removing those minerals every time you plant an annual crop. You’ve got no way to replace them.
S: When you told about the necessity of the earth to be always covered, that reminded me a video I listened to of a women who was ex vegan and I believe she was from Romania. And she said that her people used to be nomads and when they immigrated to Romania and saw agriculturists, they were shocked because those people were digging the earth.
But that was against their traditions. They believed that the earth belongs to the dead and you should never dig it like this. That it was disrespectful of the earth. So those nomads would eat animals and what grows from the earth, but they wouldn’t till it.
L: I think this is pretty widespread belief. I think most indigenous traditions whether they’re from Europe or the Americas or Asia or wherever, there’s definitely this understanding that the earth shouldn’t be disturbed. Like the earth is doing its thing and we can never understand how complex that is.
There are places we don’t go, there are things we don’t do. We need to be so humble and respectful of those life processes that are keeping us alive. You and I have no way to make oxygen. We’ve got no way to do that basic recycling of nutrients. And we can’t take sunlight and turn it into our bodies as we aren’t phototrophs.
We aren’t plants – we can’t do that, so we are dependent on all of these other creatures most of whom we can’t see. Most of them are absolutely microscopic. They are the ones that do that basic work of recycling the nutrients and without them we’re dead.
I mean… it’s just over on planet earth and I think most people until very recently understood that we need to be humble in the face of how dependent we are and how lucky we are that the plants do this for us.
There are so many concepts of the plants being our elders, and that’s true. The plants are the ones that created the cradle of soil and the blanket of air – the atmosphere that made animals possible. So it’s true on an evolutionary scale that the plants were here first.
And then we were able to be here as species and we need to be thankful. Instead what we’ve done is we’ve destroyed them all. 98% of the world’s old growth forests and 99% of the world’s prairies are gone, and the reason that humans destroyed them was agriculture.
That’s literally what it is. We’ve taken everything that could be taken.
Vegans don’t understand the larger environmental issue
S: I have heard many vegans argue that actually it’s not agriculture but it’s keeping animals for our consumption that destroyed the earth. What can you say in response?
L: Agriculture was very destructive everywhere it’s ever happened. It ends up just being a desert so the very first place that’s where agriculture began – you can look at the Fertile Crescent Iraq-Iran Valley, the Indus Valley, and now it’s just desert there.
It’s covered in salt. Nothing grows there anymore. Then it moved on to the Mediterranean and you can see it’s just rocky outcroppings with some shrubs that used to be forests so dense that sunlight never hit the ground.
That’s what agriculture does. All of that’s been destroyed – all of that topsoil washed into the Mediterranean. You can read accounts from even the Roman times where they kept having to move the ports like ten miles because there was so much soil accumulating at the mouth of the rivers.
It was so bad that the boats couldn’t get in anymore. So they kept having to move those port cities so that the boats could still access them and that’s all the topsoil washing off the mountains down into the river and then accumulating there at the mouth.
So it’s just one after another, after another – this is what happens.
S: …even if it’s organic agriculture?
L: Organic it’s not the issue and it’s not like I’m for chemicals but organic does not even begin to touch what’s wrong with agriculture.
S: they basically deforest the area and what you said about roots; that there are no perennials growing so the soil cannot be held in place.
L: Yes, exactly. And then that soil can’t be replenished. So every year it’s drawn down. You’re just taking more and more; you’re taking the nitrogen out; you’re destroying the life of the soil.
The bacteria of the soil is devastated every time you do this, and eventually the soil substance itself just vaporizes. So here’s an interesting fact. Global warning is usually told to have started around the year of 1800. And that’s when people say that the fossil fuel age began, somewhere in there. And then you see this huge rise in carbon in the atmosphere.
Okay that’s true – the thing is, if you back that graph up 6,000 years start at the beginning of agriculture, we added as much carbon to the atmosphere from the year 6000 BC until the year 1800 as we’ve added from 1800 to now.
So it’s accelerant burning fossil fuel, but as much carbon was added simply by doing agriculture and it’s literally the soil is just vaporizing and all that carbon being released and going up into the atmosphere. So it’s the beginning of global warming.
This is where it starts. This is where the destruction begins – the moment that people decided to do it. That’s the problem.
The introduction of gas nitrogen and what it did
So agriculture itself is the problem. A whole other thing starts. The world was basically out of topsoil. We’ve used it all. We’d skin the planet alive and at that point the scientists had figured out how to make accessible nitrogen from oil and gas and that’s this thing called the Haber-Bosch process.
It’s a chemical process where at that point oil and gas were still pretty cheap. It’s very energy intensive but you can extract the nitrogen using this chemical process and that nitrogen was originally used to build bombs for the world war.
And then the war was over and you have all these factories that are kind of geared up to do this. And other scientists had long since realized that the world was running out of nitrogen. The soil was gone, and this was gonna be the solution.
We’re just gonna make nitrogen that plants need from oil and gas and we’ll be able to keep feeding ourselves eating fossil fuel at this point. If you’re eating grain, you’re eating fossil fuel on a stalk. That’s what makes it possible – oil and gas.
So what happens in 1950 is that they start doing this – they breed the plants. that’s called the Green Revolution. The plants are bred to be super short like as short as they can be so that not to waste any energy on extra stem and extra leaves – just as short as they can be with the biggest possible seed head.
Now those genomes have been stretched as far as they can stretch – you could not make a plant that was shorter with a bigger seed head. The thing will just fall over. So we’ve reached a natural end to what can be done to breed wheat, rice and other grains.
And what happened was that the world population quadrupled. So we’re in the same situation now. It’s just we’ve made it four times worse by this thing called the Green Revolution. But what happened in 1950 was because of this nitrogen and the plant breeding.
How factory farming started
All of a sudden there’s this huge surplus of corn [because of the Green Revolution] – there’s like mountains of surplus corn coming out of the American Midwest and Canada. And it had nowhere to go.
This stuff was so cheap and there was so much of the surplus that factory farming was created and the only reason it exists is because that stuff was cheap it suddenly made economic sense to keep animals in a completely bizarre environment which is horrible for them.
I mean… they’re living on cement floors and steel buildings being fed a very unnatural substance they’re not designed to eat. Corn all day in fact kill them, but economically it works because the same thing happens to cows that happens to humans – if you give them a diet of corn they get really fat really fast so from the point of view of capitalism it worked.
It meant cheap meat really fast and they could make more money and that’s really all that matters in a capitalist economy. And that’s why factory farming is here. It’s got nothing to do with the nature of cows, the nature of grass, the nature of the world – it’s all about the Haber-Bosch process and those who actually created it.
So that’s what vegans get completely wrong. They don’t understand the history of this and the political economy of it which is why their solutions aren’t gonna work because they don’t understand the nature of the problem.
Vegans don’t listen – they want to believe their ideology
And I really want them to understand this. I really really want them to, because it makes us look kind of foolish to be arguing things that aren’t really true and that aren’t gonna help and it’s only because they haven’t looked into it far enough to understand what’s really happening;
S: They don’t want to listen because they really want to believe that they are right and I’ve heard interviews of people trying to make them understand why they are wrong and they don’t listen.
L: It’s a problem with humans. We have a real tendency to create ideologies and then cling to them very tightly. We clearly have the capacity to be fundamentalists in our mindset and that’s just as true for people who ostensibly care about the planet as people who don’t.
And environmentalists do it, we all do it. It’s something that we have to always guard against because you end up on the wrong path. Like with the best of intentions you still end up with a solution that’s not going to work, that doesn’t actually help.
S: Ideology can completely become your identity and some vegans have their businesses built on veganism so it’s a big issue for them. They don’t want to open their minds because they would lose everything. So they’re kind of trapped.
L: Yeah, and they do too like we’ve seen this cycle how many times now: where a famous person, like an actor a sports figure, decides to go vegan. They think it’s the best thing for the world and then a year and a half later, or two years later they grind themselves into the ground.
They’re completely exhausted, they’ve got all these health problems. They can’t do it anymore. And then they have to tell everybody “Oh it didn’t work – I ate a burger and I feel dramatically better. I have to stop being a vegan”. And then they get 10,000 death threats.
Everybody hates them, and they have to close down other social media and not talk to anybody for six months.
How many times do we need to go through this – it’s an inevitable cycle. Nobody can survive on this diet. We already know where it ends. And yes, death threats are inevitable.
The cause of vegan aggression
S: What’s with the vegan aggression? I’ve noticed that some of them are so aggressive.
L: Yeah, so this is actually true and part of it is fundamentalism. I understand that they think they are motivated to save the world, to save animals.
But that alone doesn’t explain it. The problem is the low fat diet itself. It has a tremendous effect on the human brain and it absolutely affects your capacity to keep a stable mental state.
You can’t do it on a low fat diet. What we know about people on low-fat diets is that they’re three times more likely to have depression, anxiety, serious issues with rage; they’re more likely to commit suicide. they’re even more likely to be murdered, which seems so strange but that is what the studies show.
And it’s all about this – if you don’t give your brain what it needs, it can’t function the way it’s supposed to. So yes, you’re gonna have these emotional meltdowns and it’s either gonna be you with terrible anxiety and depression, and it’s gonna be punctuated with fits of rage, and you have no way to moderate it. And that’s just what the brain does when it’s starving.
So you don’t give it enough fat to function and then you also don’t give it the amino acids that it needs to create your neurotransmitters. So the famous one being serotonin and we’ve all heard about serotonin.
Well, where does serotonin come from? Ultimately from an amino acid called tryptophan and if you don’t eat tryptophan you cannot make serotonin. It’s the base substance from which serotonin is made.
And you can really get that out of animal products. So the moment you go vegetarian or vegan, you’re gonna have a hard time with things like depression.
S: The brain is 60% fat so if you don’t eat that then it will shrink. We know of vegan bone shrinkage.
L: Yes, there is – absolutely. You’re gonna destroy your joints, you’re gonna destroy your bones – it’s just not a diet that humans can survive on.
Yes, cheap meat can make you sick, but not good meat
S: Many vegans argue that actually more people get sick from eating meat but actually I would look into what kind of meat people eat. Most people eat cheap meat and of course this can make them sick.
L: Yeah, so this is part of the problem. If you’re eating meat that is from a factory farm. So, for instance, a cow who is eating nothing but corn for the last two months of her life. The problem is that besides all the ethical issues what’s happening to the cow, what’s happening nutritionally, the first problem is that there are two different kinds of omega fatty acids.
There’s the omega-3s and the omega 6s. They are different oils that we need. Plants don’t make omega 3s because they don’t need them. So the problem is that on a vegan diet you will always have too many omega 6.
It’s not possible to get omega 3s on a vegan diet like – you just can’t do it, so right away you’re gonna have too many omega 6s. Even if you’re not a vegan and you’re eating sort of a standard diet, if those animals are in that situation where they’re only being fed corn, it’s the same issue.
They’re being fed corn which doesn’t have any omega 3s in it – they only have omega 6s and within three days of being on a corn only kind of diet the meat and the milk from those animals omega 3s completely disappear and the omega 6s rise to really unhealthy levels both for the cow and for us.
So even if you’re eating meat, that’s gonna be an issue. Like if the cows aren’t fed correctly you’re not being fed correctly and then the other thing is that corn itself doesn’t really have any tryptophan in it.
It’s really low so again even if you’re eating meat, if it’s from one of those situations, there’s no tryptophan on that meat, there should be plenty of it, and there’s none. It’s because they’re being fed corn.
What to do if you can’t afford buying organic meat
S: Do you have any advice for people who can’t afford buying organic meat?
L: It’s hard… I mean, I know that the food can be expensive and if you want to eat the right food it’s definitely an issue. I don’t have a great solution.
Personally I only eat grass-fed beef. I don’t eat any other kind but I make that a priority in my budget but I know that that doesn’t work
for everyone so all you can do is your best.
Your best effort really is to find that available in your local stores but the cheapest way honestly is to find a farmer somewhere near you who is raising everything on grass, who’s doing it well. They’ve got everybody out on pasture.
You can go visit them. You can talk to them, ask them questions. You can meet the animals. You can look at the situation. Is the land is covered with grass? Does it look healthy? Is everybody out wandering around, having a full life?
All that’s important and if they’re doing it well then they’re restoring all that habitat and they’re also sequestering carbon probably at a pretty extraordinary rate. It really is our only hope but you can meet the farmers, see how they’re doing, and then you can buy directly from them – it’s usually cheaper.
And if you buy whole it’s even cheaper, so even if you’re alone, you can buy a whole cow with a group of other people, like three or four of your friends. I have a freezer that’s kind of what I do.
But I own a house so I can have a freezer. It’s harder in an apartment. I have had freezers in apartments, though, because it’s how I live. But I know that all of this it’s a lot of kind of adjusting of your personal life.
S: You have to prioritize. Your health is what matters most. So I think most people don’t prioritize. They think they will be healthy forever. It so much depends on the kind of food that you eat.
I also I live on my own land and my neighbors have goats and chickens. So I buy from them and I pay for everything sometimes even less than for non-organic store-bought things.
L: Yeah, it’s really great.
S: I hope that talks as such would encourage people to have their own farms.
L: This has always been my dream to have even just a little mini farm and it’s been really great having chickens and ducks and goats, and all of that. It’s so much fun. They’re just wonderful. And it’s really good to participate in the whole thing and feel like you know that it’s being done well.
I guess it’s not for everybody but I think a lot of us do have those longings to be more with the land, to be around trees and grass and animals. It’s like just part of our nature.
We are part of the nature community.
S: Yes, people who live in cities are usually very detached from how nature works and that’s why ideologies like veganism are born. Because they just don’t know how things work in nature.
L: I completely agree and I always say here in the United States that I think one reason that these ideologies take hold is because none of us are from places like Iowa or Nebraska. They don’t see what it’s like in the middle of the country where all that grain comes from.
If you had to drive through the miles and miles and miles of corn and see what that’s done to the land and see how there’s no animals, like there’s nothing there but corn, and the level of devastation to that soil and to all the local waterways… it’s just horrifying.
Just because vegans don’t eat meat doesn’t mean they don’t contribute to animal killing
And none of us see it. It’s not our reality. We live in cities on one coast or the other of the continent. We don’t have a clue what life is like, where this food comes from and we somehow think that “Well that must be the good food. It’s righteous, it’s not violent, there are no dead animals involved”.
And that’s all we know. We don’t realize how many dead animals are in that food. We’re not counting the bison. We’re not counting the prairie dogs. We’re not counting the wolves in any of it. It’s just “Oh well, this particular pile of food didn’t have a face therefore it must be non-violent”.
We couldn’t be more wrong. The entire ecosystems have been devastated permanently for that food.
S: So the they watch movies like Cowspiracy and that’s all their reference point. And then they start this diet and do you think that movies such as this have statistics that are biased?
L: Yeah, I mean I think that they’re completely on the wrong track. Obviously cows are not the problem. They never have been. I mean… I just to use common sense on this… When the Europeans first got to this continent there were 60 million bison ranging across the midsection of North America.
60 million bisons were traded in for 40 million cows. So there are fewer ruminants than there were. There were also something like 10 million mule deer, 20 million antelope, 10 million elk, maybe 5 million bighorn sheep and then as many as five billion prairie dogs.
So all of those creatures were here. They’re all gone. All of that is gone. All we’ve got is those 40 million cows but somehow the cows are the problem! Like dramatically fewer animals but somehow they’re wrecking the climate! It doesn’t even make any sense.
S: So what happened to all those animals?
L: They were all destroyed, one by one. They were all killed. They were driven off their land into extinction. Some of them are just hanging on by their fingernails.
There’s barely prairie dogs left. There’s 1,200 bison, that’s all that’s left out of 60 million. They’re gone. And all of that land was turned into monocrop for wheat, corn and soy. And then it’s true in the very western part of the continent they were replaced by cows.
So the land is no longer roamed by bison anymore. They were shuttled off into the National Park and there are only cows there. So that’s what happened to them.
They were all killed. You can see the photographs of the piles of dead animals that were just hunted into extinction. It’s just completely horrifying. I mean… that was a way of life. That could have gone on forever.
It’s absolutely a sustainable closed loop. It’s what evolution did it – it created these communities of ruminants, grasses, bacteria… Everybody plays a role and every year there’s just more life. And all of that was taken away.
What we have now is just these monocrops that every year are degrading the soil and killing everything.
S: Yes, so vegans don’t eat animals but they don’t realize that because they buy from companies that have those mono crops growing everywhere they are actually contributing to the deaths of more animals and deforestation as well as topsoil depletion.
L: It’s pretty much the end of everything and also, though it’s a minor scale, just a number of small animals that are killed when they do things like plowing and harvesting because all these animals are still trying to find a place to live… So again, if you were from someplace like Nebraska or Iowa in the middle of the country and you lived on a farm, and you watch, you can see what happens when the big combines go out to harvest at the end of the year.
It’s supposed to be something like a thousand animals per acre are killed. They’re literally just ground up in the machinery. So it seems like mice and birds and snakes that are still trying to find a place to live and they just get killed because that’s what the machines do. It just grinds them right up and it’s really horrible, but those deaths for some reason don’t count.
Vegans don’t know how many animals have to die for them to get their food. They just want to believe that they don’t cause any deaths and that’s not an option. No creature can live without something else dying.
That’s something very hard to come to terms with. I had a very hard time with it but it is simply reality.
S: Yeah, it is. You have to live with it. We came into the world, we did not create the system; we already came when the system was in place. So yeah, and when you look at farmers who have organic farms and they have their own animals and they treat them well;
And yes, they kill like one animal per year, like my neighbor does. But I think she does much less harm to nature than what veganism does.
L: Absolutely. Because as long as it’s done well you have a biotic community that could go on forever so you have the grass or the trees and the shrubs – it’s on her land there permanently, and it’s building soil, and those plants need to be browsed or grazed by the appropriate animals.
They evolved together so you can’t have a grassland without a ruminant – it will turn into desert. You have to have those animals doing their job and they all work together to make that happen.
Predators including humans play a crucial role in nature
There’s a role that predators play in nature too – to help keep animals in manageable numbers and to keep them moving; otherwise they’re just gonna eat and eat until nothing’s left.
So humans, wolves, grizzly bears and lions play an important role in keeping the nature functioning well. Cows that are moved from place to place by predators provide nutrients in the form of their urine and manure, and they stimulate grass growth by grazing and eating it.
But they won’t move on if nobody’s pushing them so this again is to say none of us are who we really are without our whole community. Like bison or cows are destructive without the other part of their community.
If we take predators out of this community the entire thing will collapse. You’ve got to have the bacteria. You have to have the ruminants. They have to have grass. Grass has to be there to hold the soil in place to keep the biological activity there. And then you need us, the grizzly bears and the wolves to keep everybody moving.
So it’s just this amazing thing like how can you not be in awe of what evolution does? Like over millions of years this is what made the world turn green – it’s because plants and animals work together and create these kinds of communities.
S: What you said about predators… that’s exactly what my neighbor farmer said. She said that she noticed that every time she had chickens something always happened to a few of them. Like nature takes the lives of some of them anyway whether in the form of a human being or another a predator, or even they die by themselves. Like her duck drowned somehow by itself.
L: Well, it’s hard but it’s life. You’re always gonna lose some. I’ve had chickens die from really stupid things. It’s kind of heartbreaking but it’s also just life. You have to come to terms with that.
I’m gonna die, you’re gonna die, the sisons gonna die. The grass will die… But the point is, life continues. So these are our only options: we can be a part of the cycle of life that makes life stronger as a whole, or we can be the death that’s destroying all of that cycle and those are our only options.
And I’m sorry but veganism is destroying everything because it’s agriculture. It’s not making the whole community stronger – it’s just taking, taking, taking and I know they don’t think that’s true.
That’s the problem. They think that they’re doing the right thing and that their values are correct. It wouldn’t be really clear like sustainability, justice, compassion for every living creature are the only values that are gonna get us to the world that we all want so badly.
But vegan diet is not the way to do it. They’ve got to see the system as a whole. Anything that destroys the basis of life is not going to be sustainable or kind.
S: I think that if we keep animals in humane conditions on their natural diets actually we would need to eat less meat because it would be more nutritionally dense. So there would be fewer deaths of animals too.
L: Absolutely. And also those thousand acres of animals per acre that are being ground up in machinery wouldn’t happen. So here’s a scenario. Let’s take one acre of land with enough rainfall so that you can have one cow and calf pair on that acre of land.
So that acre… you leave it the way it is. It’s got grass. Its every square meter should have 25 different plants on it but that’s how dense the life is in a good grassland and a healthy grassland.
But who else gets to live there? I mean… you’re gonna have ground dwelling birds, you’re gonna have migrating birds, you’re gonna have small mammals, you’re gonna have on occasion a large mammal coming through all kinds of reptiles, maybe some little amphibians.
So everybody gets to live there. All the bacteria in the soil. She soil itself is so alive. 1 tablespoon of soil can contain over a million different living creatures. We can’t see them – they’re there and our lives are not possible without them.
Okay, so that’s how much life should be in that one acre of land. Now at the end of the year you’re gonna kill the cow. Everybody’s eating – that’s the thing.
So I’ll grant you there is that one death. But the life of that one acre every single year just gets denser and better. There’s more soil. There’s more resilience. And we are not losing the lifecycle. We are helping it.
And then you could do something else with that acre. You could decide we’re gonna remove all that life, we’re gonna take out all those plants, those hundreds of plants that need a place to live. We’re gonna remove them. They don’t get to be there anymore.
All of those animals don’t get to be there. All of the bacteria in the soil bit by bit we’re gonna destroy it. Because we’re not letting the plants be there all we’re gonna grow is corn.
So now you’ve got your one acre of corn and every year there’s less life. Every year there’s less soil structure. There’s fewer minerals. The water table is shrinking so nearby the streams are drying up. Even the trees that live by the river can’t reach water any more because the water table cannot be recharged.
You’re killing everything. Everything is dying slowly and so now you’ve got this acre of corn and you can do one of two things with that acre of corn. You can feed it to people that’s called veganism, or you can shuttle that corn down the road to a horrible factory farm and feed it to a cow.
I don’t actually care what happens at that point. I don’t think one of these things is better or worse. The problem is the death of it itself and so the vegans want to say “Well, the problem is you’re given the corn to the cow and other people should be eating it, but otherwise it’s all good and groovy”. It’s not like you’ve destroyed that land.
You’ve destroyed that habitat. It’s no longer a home for anyone. That’s the problem. And year by year you’re destroying it more and more until eventually you’ve just got a desert like what Iraq and Iran look like now. That’s human-made, like a great deal of the Sahara Desert is human-made.
Veganism wins with short slogans; but the issue why it doesn’t work cannot be explained in a few slogans
S: Yeah, and why did you think veganism started? Why is this trend picking up so fast now?
L: I think there’s a few things. I think people are very concerned, and rightly so, about what’s happening to our planet. That there is you know that we push so many species to extinction. We can all see what’s
The global warming disasters are getting worse and worse; we’ve got fires, we’ve got floods, we’ve got permafrost melting. People are worried and they should be. And what they’re being told is a very simple answer – if you just eat a vegan diet you can do a huge amount to help this problem. So they got in first with their messaging, and part of the problem is that they have slogans, like it’s the vegan perspective – it’s really simple to understand.
And we don’t have slogans because what I have to convey to people I can’t do on a bumper sticker or a t-shirt. I have to actually walk them through: “Do you understand what a perennial polyculture is versus an annual monocrop? Do you understand that agriculture is biotic cleansing?”
Like I have to start there. This is how it destroys the entire planet. This is the beginning of the problem. So I have to walk them through all of that and they don’t know it. It takes time for them to absorb that information. So we have real information Whilst they have slogans.
That information takes time to percolate and then it has to make patterns – you have to be able to synthesize the information until you can actually see the pattern.
This is the issue. But that doesn’t happen in five minutes or ten minutes whereas the vegans can just show you a picture of tortured animals and that’s it. That’s what they’ve got and it seems to make sense.
So it’s harder because we have so much more. It’s a much deeper
conversation and honestly people will come back to you in three times because they still need to kind of wrap their minds around it.
Nobody’s talking about this. In the mass media all you hear is “Yeah, meat is so terrible and you should all eat less meat to save the planet”, and people want to help because they feel the emergency of it. So we have an uphill battle here.
We live in an agricultural society. It’s been our culture for thousands of years and we don’t even know the question. It took me 20 years to wrap my mind around all of this. 20 years of experimenting in my own garden to try to figure out if it’s possible to really be vegan.
And it wasn’t. I had to kill so many animals to grow my own food and then it was very clear that this soil wanted animals to eat like that the food soil eats is dead plants and dead animals. It wanted manure. It wanted blood meal. It wanted bone meal. And I was horrified by that.
It was very difficult for me. It was very emotional but I had to just acept it. I tried it myself like you have to add that stuff if you want a healthy garden. It was no fun so I kept having to make these sort of compromises. I had to keep drawing lines and then I kept having to push them further and eventually I had to realize you can’t draw a line – it’s a circle.
It’s the circle of life. I can’t get out of it. It’s like “Oh this death is okay but this death is not”.
S: It’s not possible to have a death-free option when you have your own land. You start planting things and then you have to compete for that food with slugs and insects that want to get it too.
L: Yes, you have to kill anyway if you want to survive. It’s really hard as a vegan so being in cities they don’t know this. They just think that just because that head of lettuce doesn’t have a face, that it’s not breathing, that they don’t cause any deaths.
They have no idea that if that lettuce is worth eating it means that a farmer somewhere killed a whole bunch of things to get you that lettuce and also like that land that grew that lettuce if it’s worth eating, had to be fertilized by manure, by blood meal, by bone meal. That’s what plants want to eat.
You can’t deny them that and have food that’s worth eating it. There won’t be any nutrition in it. You’ve got to make the soil healthy so that the plants can be fed and that’s how you’re gonna do it. That’s what soil is.
I didn’t know that as a vegan so I think a lot of people who get on a vegan bandwagon have absolutely the best intentions. They care very deeply about the planet. I’m all for it but they need better information.
S: So hopefully the videos as such would convince more and more vegans because I think it’s also important to get exposed to this information and the more videos that you watch the more you can open your mind.
L: Just explore it, that’s all I say to everyone. Just start investigating these ideas. The vegan thing falls apart pretty quickly once you start. If you come with an open mind because I’m just telling the truth here.
None of this is ideological. This is just how the world works. You have to have ruminants on grass and somebody has to push those ruminants along. This is how we all evolved together. It’s not actually that difficult to understand. It’s just information we were never given.
So if you can keep your mind open enough to engage, you’ll probably come to a different conclusion. I don’t actually care about what anybody eats. I mean honestly it’s up to you. You want to destroy your health, go ahead, but yeah, just politically we need things to be going in a very different direction than they are and that’s really my concern.
Because right now I mean every institution on the planet is pretty much headed in the wrong direction and the vegans are not helping with that. Not generally. So we need it to be going in the other way. We need to be repairing what we’ve destroyed. And agriculture is the destruction.
So we need to be repairing the forests and the grasslands. We need to begin growing as many ruminants on it as possible. That is the only way we’re going to sequester all that carbon. It’s the only thing we can do and we’ve got to do it now.
S: Do you personally eat any vegetables or is it only meat and dairy?
L: I definitely eat some vegetables and then the rest of it is basically just meat and eggs. I actually live in a town that has a cheese factory and all the cheese is made from local grass-fed cows.
I’m incredibly lucky because I can just go downtown and get it really cheap. It’s great stuff, all sourced very locally and well done. So I know that I’m very lucky in that regard. I have lived in places that it was harder to get but it was worth it.
I would drive to farms where I could get raw milk from grass-fed cows and it was absolutely worth it to me to pay the extra money and even to travel a bit of distance. But it really sucks that any of us have to do that.
Like this food should be in our stores, and until very recently in human history it was that food. It’s really only since 1950 that the whole thing went crazy.
S: And so to end this conversation, can you share with us what projects are you working on and how people can reach if they want to get in touch with you?
L: Yes, so my website is well this is kind of a joke. I always say that’s really easy, it’s just my name Lierre Keith but that’s a joke because I have a funny name and you have to know how to spell it!
But actually the easiest way to find me if you can’t remember my strange name if you just google The Vegetarian Myth, I am the only person who wrote that book. So if you just google the vegetarian myth you you’ll find me.
All my other books are on my website. You can listen to all kinds of podcasts and interviews and see me talking on YouTube and you can find all my stuff there. And my email address is there, you can always email me and sometimes I have time to answer questions – I’m happy to help people if I can.
And yeah, so that’s that’s what I’m doing and the most recent book that I’ve been working on we’re looking for a publisher for it now. I wrote it with two friends and it’s a similar theme about how solar and winds and hydropower and so-called green energy is really not any kind of a solution.
So very similar to the vegan issue. We have been told kind of a pack of lies about all of this and it’s really because nobody wants to face what’s really at stake here. And yeah, so anyway it’s not a fun book.
I’m sure people will find it depressing but I do feel I need to tell the truth about these things. So anyway that’ll be coming out hopefully soon.
S: What were the reactions to your first book The Vegetarian Myth?
L: It created two very extreme kind of reactions. So the first set of people who were very grateful and that was mostly people who had been down the same path who shared my values, cared very deeply about the planet, thought they were doing the right thing to be vegan, and however many years they did it, it didn’t work and they killed themselves over it.
Like ended up with permanent damage, all kinds of health problems and could figure out why it didn’t work. In their own minds they just made peace with it and moved on. They found you know all this information about traditional nutrition and you know grass-based farming and they’re really happy now that they’ve found a better way.
But they still have to have these arguments with people and they were really glad that I just laid it all out. Like I always get this email that says “Oh thank God you wrote that book because now I don’t have to”. Like thank you for doing that job, well done, so I’m really happy with those people and then the other reaction of course is the vegans who want me dead.
So I get death threats and really disgusting emails from them – just
straight-up hate mail and it’s really boring after a while. It’s one of the reasons I have two giant dogs – because I get kind of tired of the death threats and who knows how serious they are.
But you have to at least take them a little bit seriously. So yes, I have two giant dogs and all kinds of security measures around my house and that sucks that we can’t just live in a world where people have different opinions. But here we are, so you have to take it seriously.
But it’s interesting because there are definitely vegans who write to me and they’re upset which is understandable and they need me to explain things a little bit more and I’m always happy to do that. Like if they can do that without being abusive I’ll talk to them because I’ve been where they are and I know how upsetting this is.
It’s the moment there’s a crack it’s like the whole thing is about to collapse. Especially the one – and this is almost all of them – they’re having health problems and they know it. Like they’re infertile, their joints ache every morning, they’re so depressed they can barely get out of bed, they’re exhausted, there may be children involved and they’re terrified for their kids because they can see it’s not working.
They don’t know why – they know they’re gonna lose half their friends if they have to change their minds about this, so it’s like global, you know. Their whole life is affected and they don’t know what to do.
They’ve managed to either find you a talk by me or an article and they’re terrified and they’re angry, and they don’t understand, and there’s a mass confusion. And I’ve been there so I’m happy to hold their hands and kind of help them out.
And then usually a few weeks or a few months later I’ll get another email that says “Alright, I did it. I ate some meat and I feel so much better. You’ve saved my life. Thank you.”
So that’s really all you can ask as a writer.
S: Although you had death threats and many negative emails, you still think it was worth it because you changed the lives of many people?
L: Yes, yes… Way more than not. And I feel like I’m part of a movement that’s trying to get this better way out, you know, of the predicament that we’re in as a planet. Like it’s not that hard to come to grips with the fact that we need to restore the prairies, restore the forests, restore the wetlands, let the animals be themselves and then we take our role again inside those living communities rather than imposing ourselves across them.
And that is not a hard concept to get. I think at the end of the day the vegans would want that too – they just need to understand that their diet is not the way forward.
S: But there’s so many people now working on it that I feel hopeful that we can still do this.
L: Yeah, and I also see more and more people talking about this so it’s good.
S: Okay thank you so much for agreeing to do the interview with me. I really enjoyed this conversation and I think my readers will be very informed now because you’re so knowledgeable about this subject .
L: Well I try, and I just have to say on a personal note you know my family’s from Latvia. I was born in the United States but they emigrated, and God you sound just like my grandmother!
When I left I was fairly young but my grandmother, my grandparents always had you know an accent and it’s your accent.
S: That’s really funny, but I have an Indian accent when I’m in India and then it changes to Lithuanian when I’m here!
L: We are little parrots, like we become who we’re around for sure.
S: Yeah, exactly. So thank you very much for spending time for this interview and have a great day- now it’s daytime there in a California I suppose:)