Just finished reading Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin's Skinny Bitch. As so often happens with me, when I was first reading it, I was a cheerleader: "Oh My God! They're right! They're right. I'm switching to veganism now." Though I didn't mention their book in my previous post on vegetarianism and the environment, it was foremost in my mind. It's one of the most readable books on the subject I've ever read.
Now, however, that I've had a few days to digest (pun intended) the material in the book, I'm less of a fan. That should not be interpreted as hatred or even disagreement. In fact, I really like much about the book: it is hilariously written, and contains a lot of good information, particularly about the abominable conditions of agricultural animals and the trickle-down health effects of steroids, antibiotics and contamination. The descriptions of animals' deaths is shocking, disgusting, and -- I must say -- enough to prompt just about anybody to eat less meat, if not skip right over to out-and-out vegetarianism.
Because our modern culture removes us from the milking and the slaughtering, it's easy to think that meat comes in neat packages, cheese in rectangles, and milk from cartons. It's easy not to question where our food comes from or whether it's healthy for us; it's easy to assume that something stamped "USDA" must be safe. But the authors show you'd be a fool to believe that.
The authors' descriptions of health woes due to meat and dairy consumption are impressive. So is their discussion of the USDA and other goverment agencies who supposedly "protect" our health. (Big hint: they protect the industry, not your health. As the authors repeatedly say, trust no one.) For these two discussions alone -- which I have not detailed here -- I recommend the book.
However, here's what I don't like about the book: it promotes veganism as the only acceptable way to be healthy and environmentally conscious. Really? The only way? If everyone went vegan, what exactly happens to the animal population? Would we have to mass slaughter them simply because they would breed out of control and there would be too many? Seriously, if none of the animals in agriculture were consumed, what would we do with them all? I really mean it -- the widespread cultural change they are calling for has some unintended consequences that they never address, not the least of which is: what do you do with all the animals? (For the record, I hate the idea of mass-slaughtering anything.)
People have been eating meat and dairy for -- what? -- millions of years. It seems logical to me that, while most of us in modern, industrialized societies with access year-round to fruit and vegetables do not need to eat them (and, indeed, most Americans eat far too much of them), it doesn't mean that forgoing them entirely is the only sensible option. Yet, the authors present their argument as just that, and go on to make quite wild claims about how you will drop a ga-zillion pounds and feel lighter, brighter, stronger, and more positive if you refrain from all meat and dairy (and coffee, cigarrettes, processed foods, and sugar). They fail to mention the studies which show that you can get the same health benefits as a vegan simply by dramatically increasing consumption of fruit and veggies and dramatically reducing consumption of meat and dairy, processed foods, sugar, caffeine, and cigs. Reduction, not elimination. But same net health benefit.
I'm not (0bviously) a nutritionist. And I am hardly perfectly logical. I make mistakes too. And God, I wish I'd made a mistake as lucrative as their book. Kudos to them. But let's call a spade a spade: the book is rhetorical, not perfectly researched. They do not even attempt to present both sides to the debate, because, to them, there is only one side and it's right and everyone else is plain wrong.
They present their material in such a way as to suggest that if you question it, you must be truly stupid, foolish, and backward. I resent being characterized that way, because you know what? I buy a lot of what they wrote, but certainly not all of it. They do end the book telling people to question everything, including them. But that caveat is hardly enough to placate me. I wanted a more carefully researched book regarding vegan, vegetarian, and meat/dairy-inclusive diets.
If they had presented scientific evidence on the other side of the fence (just as they attempted to do, somewhat awkwardly, for their side), it would have been a better book. Though, I must admit, probably less appealing to a wide audience.
Because, as it turns out, most people don't like to think. It's not just that people don't use their heads about diets or nutrition. It's a more fundamental problem: there is so much information out there, there is literally too much to know. You can't blame people, really, for wanting to be told what is right, and they want to trust that what they read is true. Too bad that it isn't easier to tell who is right and what is true. Bummer. Turns out that what my Dad always told me IS true: you can't believe everything you read.
There is another nagging issue with this book: the authors clearly know that buying organic, locally-grown, vegan stuff is expensive. They mention it several times and blow off the concern by pointing out that we only have one body and why not stop getting pedicures and buying makeup and other frivolous things. Well, yeah. But...
My husband and I pick and choose what to buy organic because, even at our (relatively high) income level, we don't want to spend crazily for food. I think the authors may be a little sheepish about saying this out loud, but I'm not: to live the way they recommend, you gotta have some dough. In fact, I'll go as far as saying some fairly serious dough. Somebody living on welfare or food stamps, or minimum wage, or even just an "average" wage -- that person CANNOT afford the diet these ladies promote.
So, ladies (I'm talking to the authors now, because it's *so* likely they'll read this) -- here's the truth about changing the world via veganism, saving homeless pets, and preserving the environment: this change honestly has to come from the top down. Not because those at the bottom just love their meat and dairy (though some surely do), but because the nation has made it too expensive for them to choose differently. When you're on a limited budget and can buy a burger for $1 at McDonalds, you're not going to spend 4-5 times that per person per meal to go buy gardenburgers, organic buns, Muir Glen organic ketchup, and organic tomatoes and lettuce.
So, on that note, let's watch the wealthy change the world. Hope it trickles down faster than the antibiotic-steroid-contamination cocktail we're currently getting from the meat industry!!
Happy eating (whatever you eat)!
- My interests include veganism and vegetarianism, health, ethics, politics and culture, media, and the environment. I have three kids; I teach college part-time, study piano and attempt to garden. I knit. I blog on just about anything, but many posts are related to my somewhat pathetic quest to eat better, be more mindful of the environment, and be a more responsible news consumer. Sometimes I write about parenting, but, like so many Mommy bloggers, my kids have recently told me not to. :) Thanks for reading.