Lierre Keith is a writer, radical feminist, food activist, and environmentalist (three out of four isn't bad). She's written a book, The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability, that exposes the cult of veganism and how it is destroying the planet (literally).
Part memoir, nutritional primer, and political manifesto, this controversial examination exposes the destructive history of agriculture—causing the devastation of prairies and forests, driving countless species extinct, altering the climate, and destroying the topsoil—and asserts that, in order to save the planet, food must come from within living communities. In order for this to happen, the argument champions eating locally and sustainably and encourages those with the resources to grow their own food. Further examining the question of what to eat from the perspective of both human and environmental health, the account goes beyond health choices and discusses potential moral issues from eating—or not eating—animals. Through the deeply personal narrative of someone who practiced veganism for 20 years, this unique exploration also discusses alternatives to industrial farming, reveals the risks of a vegan diet, and explains why animals belong on ecologically sound farms.
Agriculture is tremendously destructive of the environment. The vegan lifestyle is actually the least environmentally friendly of all possible options. Forests and fields need to be cleared, habitat needs to be destroyed, aquifers need to be drained, and oil needs to be drilled to make fertiliser. The system of agribusiness we have in place right now is only possible due to massive government subsidies and petrochemical fertiliser. 5 billion people are alive today because of artificial phosphate fertilisers and ground water irrigation. Those phosphates won't last forever, and neither will the groundwater, just like the guano. Personally I suspect there's two or more centuries worth of oil that remain to be exploited, but phosphates and ground water are being depleted faster than they can be replenished, and I don't put much hope for future utopianisms. Old methods of agriculture can only supply food for about two billion people, not seven, and it takes millions of years for aquifers to fill with water and caves to fill with shit to be used to grow food for five billion real people who will die if they don't eat anything.
There was a great discovery in 1802 of something called guano. Guano is bird shit, and it is perfect for fertiliser (and for making explosives and gunpowder). The great powers of Europe waged wars and colonised the entire planet in search of guano. For thousandsof years seabirds had crapped on tiny rocks and islands, creating piles of guano hundreds of feet thick, and it only took about a century for all the guano to be mined. How long will it take for all the groundwater, phosphate, and oil to be mined? 50 years? 100? Some places like Saudi Arabia, which had tremendous aquifers, have already depleated their groundwater in a single lifetime. They engaged in massive agriculture, growing cash crops like alfalfa and soy that use a tremendous amount of water, and now that they've run out they are buying up water in the United States to grow soy on US soil, depleating our own water reserves.
Some people, most people I would assume, place hope in "future science". "Future science will solve all of our problems!" Has it? Most animals were not designed to eat corn (a human invention of the Andes peoples). But the government subsidises corn, and petrochemical fertilisers can grow a ton of it cheap, so tons of corn are grown and fed to animals to fatten them up quickly. Those animals, because they are eating junk and living in their own shit in cages too small to move, need to be pumped with antibiotics to keep from dropping dead. Massive reliance on antibiotics in factory farms have produced superbugs that are now resistant to all of our drugs of last resort. Just this year colistin, a drug so potent and toxic that it was used only to combat bacteria that would respond to no other treatment, has just met its match in drug resistant superbugs. How could this happen? Because although colostin was only very rarely used in humans, China pumped tons of the stuff into pigs and chickens to keep them from dropping dead in hideously polluted factory farms. Just this May the first colostin-resistant bacteria was discovered. We have no idea if that bacteria has escaped into the wild. Even if it has not we're not too far away from a time when all antibiotics are rendered useless (unless we develop new ones, and there haven't been any new antibiotics in decades). In a single lifetime we have seen the rise and fall of drugs to combat disease.
It's not just superbugs, it's our own bodies too. We're not designed to ingest massive quantities of grown hormone, antibiotics, estrogen from birth control that ends up in the water supply, and all the other toxic crap we're putting into food to grow lots of it really quick and make it last forever.
What if "future science" doesn't solve all of our problems? What is "future science" anyway? It's that stuff no one wants to invest in because it's not two hundred year old science. I love oil. I'm sitting on oil, typing on oil, looking at pictures projected on oil, in a house lit by oil, and I eat food that exists only because of oil, but maybe we should be investing in things beside oil because it's stupid to rely on only one kind of power source, just in case something bad happens to it?
Getting beyond that, the human body isn't designed to eat a plant diet. Most plants are toxic and need to be cooked to destroy those toxins before it is safe to eat them. Even then, most plants aren't too good for your body anyway, and cellulose is impossible to digest, so most of what you're eating just ends up filling the toilet. Some animals can digest plants, animals with very long, complicated guts. Pack hunters like humans, have shorter guts designed to digest meat from animals with longer guts. Herbivores do all the work, we get all the benefit. It's win-win really. Cows, sheep, and pigs are tremendously successful species, because they taste good. Domesticated animals have a very good chance of reproducing. That's why there are billions of them. These animals have thrived, while their wild counterparts have gone extinct, because they have adapted to life under human control. Eating meat keeps many species from going extinct, keeps wilderness land from being destroyed and turned into farms, and provides the human body what it needs to survive.
That said, there's a right and a wrong way to raise animals. The factory farms that pump animals full of antibiotics is the wrong way. What's the right way? Read the book.