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This week on SOTT Talk Radio we interviewed author and activist Lierre Keith, whose book The Vegetarian Myth examines the tenets of vegetarian ideology from dietary, environmental and philosophical perspectives.

Lierre Keith believed in that plant-based diet and spent twenty years as a vegan. But she now argues that people have been led astray - not by our longings for a just and sustainable world, but by our ignorance.

The truth is that agriculture is a relentless assault against the planet, and more of the same won't save us. In service to annual grains, humans have devastated prairies and forests, driven countless species extinct, altered the climate, and destroyed the topsoil - the basis of life itself. Keith argues that if we are to save this planet, our food must be an act of profound and abiding repair: it must come from inside living communities, not be imposed across them.

Part memoir, part nutritional primer, and part political manifesto, The Vegetarian Myth will challenge everything you thought you knew about food politics.

Lierre Keith
Running Time: 02:03:00

Download: MP3

Here's the transcript:

Niall: Hello and welcome to SOTT Talk Radio. I'm your host Niall Bradley. With me tonight is Joe Quinn.

Joe: Hi there.

Niall: Juliana Barembuem.

Juliana: Hello.

Niall: And Pierre Lescaudron.

Pierre: Hello.

Niall: This week we're delighted to be talking with Lierre Keith. Lierre is an American author, an activist, she's the author of one book in particular that we just can't get enough of. We've been talking about her for a couple of years. I think it's been out three years. It's called The Vegetarian Myth: Food Justice and Sustainability. It's stimulated a lot of discussion online, even on our own forum. I think we have a thread on this book running to a hundred pages or more, for a good reason. There are a lot of great insights. A lot of good research has gone into it. And we're delighted to have Lierre here with us today. Lierre, can you hear us?

Lierre: Yeah, loud and clear. And thanks for having me on your show.

Niall: Welcome. It's great to have you here.

Pierre: So we're going to discuss the Vegetarian Myth. Maybe the first question that pops up in my mind is in the beginning of your book...

Joe: I have a...

Pierre: Go ahead.

Joe: ...a more primordial question than that. What is the vegetarian myth? That's the title of the book. It sounds like there's a myth around vegetarianism. Is it something that can be summed up in a few words or a couple of paragraphs maybe?

Lierre: Yeah. Yes, we can do this. So I would say there are three parts to the vegetarian myth. And I just want to start by saying I come to this as someone who was actually a vegan for almost 20 years. So I have been in that world as deeply as one can be. And there are three main reasons that people take up a vegetarian or a vegan diet. The first is that they think it's better for the planet. The second is that they think it's better for human justice, so more people will be fed if we only eat this way. The third reason is that they think it's better for their health. And so all together those, I think, make this thing called the vegetarian myth.

Now I want to be clear that I didn't call it the vegetarian lie. There are pieces of truth in all of this, but put together, none of this actually holds up. And it took me 20 years to figure that out. So I wanted to try to reach the people who care the most about those subjects, about the Earth, about justice and about their health and try to explain to them why they needed a bigger perspective. Or at least to try to engage more with the information because I think for a lot of us, we think we have the answers. And we hang onto these ideologies, sometimes too strongly. And it's really hard when we come up against counter information, to then look at that information.

So my goal was to try to reach the other people who were still in that world and explain to them what I had found out. Because it turned out that a lot of what I believed was simply not true. And it wasn't that the underlying values were wrong. It's that the information that I had wasn't complete. And with bigger information I ended up making very different choices.

Pierre: And apparently during this process of realisation, you had crucial experience when you decided "Yeah, I'm a vegan, so I'm going to grow my own food. And of course to grow my own food being vegan, I won't choose animal products." And then you started to realise that it was not this easy to eat without relying on animal products and without participating to the destruction of the planet. Is that the way this experience happened?

Lierre: Yes, and it happened over a few years of course. We don't have these realisations overnight. But I'd heard that one of the best things you can do is try to grow your own food and that was something that I was very passionate about. I wanted to be engaged in the whole cycle beginning to end. But the problem was that I didn't understand what soil actually is. And it's a living thing. In fact it's billions of living things. And many of those little things are animals. And it's those creatures that keep the world alive, quite literally. They are the ones that are doing the basic work of life. So they are making nutrients available for the rest of us who simply can't do that. We can't see most of them, right? They're smaller than our eyes can perceive, but with a microscope certainly, this whole world opened up to scientists and then just to regular people. We can all see now what they're doing. And without them there would be no life. So it's up to them to keep the world moving. We're just kind of like the icing on the cake on top here. Nothing we do is really that important.

So back to soil, this is the basis of terrestrial life, is this living thing called soil. And it's hungry and what it wants to eat is dead plants and dead animals. And I didn't understand that. I think a lot of us think of soil as just insensate dirt, just kind of matter. It just sits there. And it's not. It's teeming with life. So if you don't feed it, it dies. It's got to have what it needs. And that's what soil is. It's the dead bodies of animals and plants worked upon by even smaller creatures to recycle those nutrients and make them available again into that whole cycle of life.

So I came up against this when I tried to garden as a vegan. The ground really wanted bone meal and it wanted blood meal. It wanted dead animal parts. And it was really horrifying to me as I think it is to a lot of vegetarians that come up against this. And some of them refuse to do it and every year their garden gets more and more depleted. Their vegetables are tiny and they are more and more depleted every year trying to eat this food that has no minerals in it. They're literally mining the soil. They're pulling the minerals out and then not replacing them.
So that was a real problem for me and I tried to find various ways around it, sort of in my head, making little work-arounds. But in the end I just had to admit it. The soil wants manure. And it wants some dead animals in there. And that was really hard.

And then the other problem was that you have to kill things to garden. And I didn't want to kill things. I thought that I really wanted my life to be possible without death. And it wasn't. So I was telling myself a story. And it was a very lovely story, but it's a fairy tale. So in order for me to eat, it meant that all these other creatures couldn't eat that food. So we were engaged in a battle for this food. And this particularly came to a head around slugs because as anyone who gardens anywhere that there's water knows the slugs will eat your garden overnight. There's nothing left in the morning. So I kept replanting and then they kept re-eating. And when we went through that cycle five or six times and at the end of two weeks I was very tired of replanting the same heads of lettuce. And I had to kill them. It was me or the slugs. And it was really horrible because I couldn't make myself do it.

So the end of that little story was I ended up getting chickens and ducks because I figured "Well, they'll do it for me." Which they did and it was really great. Then I had manure. Now I closed the circle. I didn't have to buy fossil fuel fertilizer. I didn't have to buy stuff at the feed store. They had the manure right there, but it meant that my food was always dependent on those animals to kill other animals. There was no way out of this, right? I had to face that I needed the animals and some of them were going to have to die. And it was really just gruelling for me to have to go through that. But I didn't know better.

And this is the thing. This is not to blame me. It's not to blame any of us. We don't know. We don't live in a world where we're given the truth from a young age. This is the cost of being alive. Something else is going to die. And you need to respect all the lives that are going to go into yours and do this well. And participate and give thanksgiving and be humble about it because your turn's going to come too. And you'll be feeding the cycle at some point. And if we had a culture that recognised that, well we wouldn't be destroying the planet, which is what we're doing.

So this is what I'm trying to get across to people. You can only get so far ideologically out of this before reality's going to smack you in the face.

Joe: Well there's a lesson right there for vegetarians. When you say that you got chickens and ducks and you allowed them to eat the slugs and other insects in your garden, that's part of the cycle, right? So why are humans not part of that cycle where pretty much everything seems to be feeding on everything else to survive on other life forms?

Juliana: And you said something really important in your book about it when you say "Well people basically have choices, the deaths of destroying life" - which are what most people do - "or the death that is part of life". And yeah, its part of accepting that you are dependent on the whole system and you should respect it at each level, right?

Lierre: Yes. And for me, back when I was in that vegan mindset, I thought that that was domination. That was all I saw when I looked out. And I didn't want to be part of a dominating hierarchy. So my attempt was to remove myself from it and say "Well I'm not one of the dominators. I'm going to be somebody who respects life by not taking life". But it turned out that that was not possible. Every breath I took was dependent on the death of some creature somewhere. Every time you put your teeth together you're killing billions of bacteria.

Joe: Yeah.

Lierre: And those are bacteria that like you. Those are bacteria that are trying to help you. They live in your body. They help you digest your food. You can't help it. It's just part of what it is. We have to kill some things in order to live. But it was just a terrible realisation for me. It took me years to wrap my mind around it and to accept it emotionally. It's really hard. And I think that's one of the problems with the ideology that often comes with being vegetarian or vegan. You start to create your identity around it and then it becomes really hard to question it when it starts to fall apart.
So I think so many people go through this kind of collapse of their world view when, for whatever reason, the other information starts to invade. It starts to crack your system. And it's a terrible process for many of us. It's very painful.

Joe: I think it's actually one of the most remarkable things about your book and you, is that you came from that place where you had a resistance or an abhorrence of killing something else to come to the point not only of getting over that and accepting that you have to kill other things to live, as most other species on the planet do, but also then to write a book about it. For me that's pretty unique because I don't see many other people making that transition and not many people actually writing about it. So congratulations.

Lierre: Well I really want to reach the other people who feel the way that I feel. Because there's a lot of people who are incredibly impassioned about what's happening to our planet. They feel the emergency of it and they think they're doing the right thing by eating a vegetarian or vegan diet. And I really wanted to explain to them that the original wound to this planet, the most destructive activity that we've done, is agriculture. So suggesting those foods as a way to save the planet is completely in the wrong direction. But I didn't know that as a vegan. In fact I couldn't let myself know it. It really had to be someone who's been in that world to be able to address other people who are still there I think.

Joe: Was there something about your upbringing that instilled this idea within you? Because I wouldn't say it's common. It may be common enough, but I don't think the majority of people from a relatively early age actually think that way about eating meat for example.

Lierre: Well, I was born in 1964, so my whole childhood took place amongst that whole uprising and cultural change, the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement. And that was all going around me. It had a huge impression on me as a young kid. I was only four when Martin Luther King was shot, but I remember that day. And I remember Kent State when the protesters were shot. These were huge moments at a very impressionable age. And my parents were fairly engaged in all of that. I mean they're not super radical, but they cared a lot. And they taught me to care about the world. They taught me that I really had to be engaged. So I just took the ball and ran with it in different radical directions. But I got a really good foundation from my parents. And that's something that I'm forever grateful for. And they also turned the television off and read books to us, which I don't know if anybody does that anymore.

Joe: No.

Lierre: This was before computers obviously, but it was "No, it's way more important to play outside. It's way more important to talk to each other. And it's really important to read and to care about books" so all of that was part of my childhood. And that's a great foundation. You can take that anywhere.

Pierre: You were mentioning the agriculture and its destructive nature. And I think while deconstructing the vegetarian myth, you made an even more important discovery, i.e., the true nature of agriculture. Because vegetarian or not, most consumers are participating to a system that clearly destroys our planet. So can you explain more about how modern day agriculture destroys the planet?

Lierre: Yes. So you have to understand what agriculture is. In very brute terms, you take a piece of land and you clear every living thing off it. And I mean down to the bacteria. Everything has to go. And then on that cleared land you plant food for humans and humans only. So we've got a couple of problems here. The first is that it's biotic cleansing. We talk about ethnic cleansing where you kill people and take their land. Well this is biotic cleansing because you're killing entire biotic communities. You're just clearing them off. You're driving them away. And that's the long-winded way of saying mass extinction. We are now losing 200 species a day. Every day 200 species are gone forever. And those are our kin. Those are our brothers and sisters. We need them. And we need to mourn their loss so that we will do something to stop this bleed. But that's what agriculture is. So one problem is you're extirpating all those other creatures and they've got nowhere to go. If you take their homes away, where can they go? So that's it. It's over.

So that's problem number one. Problem number two is that it lets the human population grow to these really large numbers because in instead of sharing that land with millions of other creatures, you're only growing humans on that piece of land. So to put a number on this, for a hunter gatherer in the kind of climate that I live in, just your basic temperate forest, it takes about a square mile to provide for their basic needs. For an agriculturalist in this same climate, it only takes about an acre, right? That's because you're not sharing that land. It's because you're only growing a human. So you can grow a lot more humans. But nobody else can live there. That's the problem.

And where I live in Northern California, a hundred years ago you could sit by any stream or river in Northern California, every 15 minutes you would see a grizzly bear. Now grizzly bears are apex predators which means they're at the top of that trophic pyramid. It takes a lot of food and a lot of land to feed something as big as a grizzly bear. But every 15 minutes you would see a grizzly bear. That's how much abundance there was here. That's how much life. There are no longer any grizzly bears in California. They're all gone. And you could pick your species and tell the same incredibly sad story and that's what agriculture has done. They've got nowhere to go. They cannot co-exist with agriculture.

So there's that problem, the overpopulation problem. And so right now 80 percent of the food calories that support our current population, they come from agriculture. So what that means is the human race - if you set aside the last 46 remaining tribes of hunter/gatherers, they're still doing something sustainable - but the rest of us, we've made ourselves dependent on this activity that is literally killing the planet. That is a scary thought.

And the final problem is that in the process of doing all of this, this thing called agriculture, the main thing that you're also destroying is the soil itself because you have to expose it year after year in order to plant with seeds. And every time you expose the soil, you destroy it. You're killing it. It's alive like you and me and when it's exposed to air, to wind, to the sun, to the rain, all that stuff, it just dries up and blows away. So you have these massive dust storms now and that's why. When you clear away the cover, either the grasses or the trees and you expose it, it just turns to dust and sand. And that's why people around the globe, all the places where agriculture first started, they're just so degraded you can't even believe there was ever a forest there. Iraq, Iran, the whole Middle East, all around the Mediterranean.

Now if you picture say Italy or something, you have this sort of picture of sort of scrubby rock in the sun with goats browsing on it. That was a forest. In fact it was a forest so dense that sunlight never touched the ground. And it was all destroyed to build, pick your navy whether it was the Phoenicians, the Egyptians, the Greeks, finally the Romans, that entire area was just clear cut for one militaristic endeavour after another. But that is the inevitable end point of agriculture. These societies always end up militarised, they always end up based on slavery, and that's just a logical progression when your society is based on an extracting activity, which is what agriculture is.

So you're extirpating all these species. You've got this ballooning population of humans that are dependent on the continued destruction of the planet and you're destroying the topsoil which is the basis of life. So these are three really big problems with agriculture. And none of them can be fixed. This is not agriculture on a bad day. It's what the activity is. That is what it means.

So a lot of people will try to make a distinction between like industrial agriculture, but that's not the real problem. Agriculture on steroids, yes, they've added fossil fuel, they've made it worse, but the problem itself is agriculture. It's taking over whole living communities, destroying them and then just using it for humans until the whole thing gives out.

Joe: So that's largely from an ideological perspective, but is it not sustainable - just playing devil's advocate here for a moment - is it not sustainable, for example, with fossil fuels that produce the fertilizer even though it's false in a way, it's not real fertilizer, but let's just say we continue to have oil-based basically, fertilizer, is it not possible to continue and be sustainable in terms of continuing to grow crops that way?

Lierre: Okay, right. Well so two problems. One is that the fossil fuel will eventually run out. Now we can live in fairy land and say that somehow we will find more and yes, scientists are very good at continuing to find ways to get the stuff out of the ground. There are now wells in places like Pennsylvania that catch on fire because of the fracking. If you want to turn on your faucet and get something that catches on fire, we can keep trying to get the oil and the gas out of the ground. Oil spills, all the rest of it. It's an incredibly destructive activity.

But we can put that aside. Pretend that there will be an ever-flowing amount, and it will never end. We will always find more. Alright fine. Let's say that's true. It's insane, but we'll pretend that's true. There are real problems with using fossil fuel as a fertilizer. One is that it mostly just includes nitrogen. And the problem with soil and ultimately plant life is that it needs a lot more than just nitrogen. That's only one thing. There's only one nutrient that plants need. That's a big one clearly. But you also need potassium, you need calcium, there's just a whole range of different minerals that are all limiting factors. So when those minerals run out, plant growth simply stops. And so this is a real problem for not just gardeners, but the big farmers, because they always need to find more sources of these things. And they're running out around the globe. There's only so much you can mine to get these minerals back into the soil.

And so you need to understand the differences between annuals and perennials. So agriculture is based on annual grasses. And the thing about annuals is that they only grow - they're called annuals because they only live for a year. Well they don't even really live a year, it's really just two or three seasons. And in that time they have one goal. And that goal is to make a great big seed. That's the whole future of their species depends on that seed. So all of their resources, all of their biological resources go into making that seed as big and sturdy and tough and packed with whatever. Whatever it's going to need they try to give everything to that seed because it all depends on that seed getting a good start in life.

So annuals don't tend to be very tall and they do not tend to be deep-rooted. They don't have time. They're on the clock the moment that they're born. It's like "got to get that seed made" and then they die. So because they don't have a deep root system, they can't do what perennials do. So if you compare the roots of a perennial grass to an annual grass, the annuals only go down a few feet. The perennials go down and down and down, and whether its grasses or trees, they have roots that are so incredibly strong and deep, they actually grow into the rock that our planet is made of. And here's the point. They eat that rock. They break it down. They pull up the minerals from that rock and then they make it available to the rest of life on Earth. And that is why there are minerals in the soil. And that is why the rest of us are alive, is because those perennial plants, be it grasses or trees, can eat rocks, okay? And they can make those minerals biologically available. If all you're adding back to that soil is nitrogen, you're missing all the rest of them.

So eventually the soil's going to die. The plants aren't going to be able to survive. They're going to be stunted. The whole thing eventually ends in collapse if all you are applying is nitrogen because life needs a lot more than just nitrogen. If you limp it along for a few generations, and they have, but ultimately it's going to die.

And then you still have that basic problem of every time you expose the soil, which you have to do to plant annual crops, you're killing it. So it just powders. It just turns into dust. Right now the dust storms in China are so bad that these dust clouds reach all the way across the Pacific Ocean and then they hit the Rocky Mountains in the United States, so they come down. All that dust falls down in places like Denver, Colorado, which is up in the Rockies, literally creating asthma in children in Denver. And this is from dust storms in China. And that is the inevitable end point of agriculture. You can look at photographs from the first day of the dustbowl in South Dakota and it's just this massive cloud of dust. It's so dark people fell down outside. They couldn't see where they were going. And that's all of the topsoil that just blew right off. And that's what happens when you remove the grasses. There's literally nothing to hold the soil in place. And the moment that there's wind it's over.

So there were farms in South Dakota that lost all of their soil. Think of it, all of their soil in one day, the first day of the dustbowl. And the soil rolled in across the continent, all the way to Washington, D.C. and then all the way into the Atlantic Ocean. There were ships in the Atlantic that couldn't navigate because the dust storms were so bad. And that was all the soil from the prairie that just blew out to sea. And that is what agriculture does. You can apply as much fossil fuel as you want, it doesn't change the basic nature of this activity.

Niall: And in the end it comes back to bite us. I think it was in the book The Magnesium Miracle - I can't remember the author's name [Dr. Carolyn Dean, MD, ND] - she cites the study from 1913 that analysed the mineral content in soil in the U.S. And they found then that magnesium was way off, which as a result children in the U.S. were not getting sufficient magnesium in their diet through either meat or plants because the topsoil was so severely depleted at that point.

Joe: So mass agriculture basically is producing malnourished and weakened human beings that are feeding on it and it's getting worse and worse, it's cumulative in a sense that as the topsoil continues to degrade and degrade you get lower and lower quality of crops, let's say, if people are eating mainly cereals. And this is coming at a time now, I don't know if you've been noticing Lierre, but there's a lot of crazy stuff going on around the planet in terms of climate change or earth changes, you know, that isn't helping the situation at all.

Lierre: No, I totally agree.

Joe: With the droughts and...

Lierre: A lot of people talk about it is just due to this agriculture. Another thing about having those deep rooted plants is that that's what lets the water table recharge, because the roots are really deep. And every time it rains, that makes a little channel, every root in a little tiny channel that pulls water down. And so that's how the water literally gets down into the water table. And then it recharges that table and then during drier times, of course, again the deeply rooted perennials can pull that water up as needed and make it available, in whatever form, to the rest of the community. So without those perennial plants, the water's never stored. It just runs off the top of the soil. And then of course...

Joe: And then you get floods.

Lierre: ...yeah, you get floods, terrible floods and you get not just floods of water, but floods of all that dirt, all that silt, that just completely destroys rivers and the life of those rivers. And then it all piles up in mouth of rivers. And you can look at this through history, archeologically, there were ports in Rome along the coast of the Mediterranean that were, the big Roman ports, they had to be moved two and three times because so much soil had washed down off the mountains, the ports were just completely clogged and the boats couldn't get in anymore, the ships couldn't even dock. So they kept having to move the ports to match where the topsoil was building up.

So anyway, yes, all of that is to say I completely agree. And so they call it mining the soil because every time you plant any annuals of course they're sucking minerals out, but they've got no way to replace it because annual plants simply can't do that.

Pierre: And if I correctly understand, there is a paradox because somehow hunter/gatherers were eating mostly animals and were preserving or they were not destroying the biotope so wilderness could bloom around. At the same time, modern vegetarians that are heavily relying on farming and products coming from farming, intensive farming, contribute directly or indirectly, to the destructions of those wildlife biotopes and to the destruction of wildlife. So the hunter/gatherer who consumed meats doesn't threaten the continuation of wildlife, of animals' life, while the vegetarian who doesn't eat any meat contributes to the destruction of wildlife and animals. So everything is reversed.

Lierre: Yeah, that was really hard for me to come to terms with, as a vegetarian. But what you're saying is exactly true. So there's two ways to look at it like in ancient Greek there's two words for life and one of them means a specific life and the other one means the life of the whole, the life of the species. And this again is really the only choices we have. We can kill one individual but the species goes on, or we can kill the entire species and pretend we're not doing it, but that's what agriculture is. Because you're taking over their homes, right? You're making it impossible for them to live there.

Juliana: But Lierre, I wanted to add it seems that it's really hard to convey this to people. And we've had wild reactions from just sharing your book (Lierre laughing) and we published your book in French you know.

Lierre: Yeah.

Juliana: I think it had been online or available for four days and nobody had read it yet. And there was a massive campaign, just to say "Well this is stupid. This is whatever" you know. And I'm sure you have a club there of haters, or people who just don't even want to hear the evidence. And what I'm wondering is, because of all we said about the diet, the nutritional aspects as well and the effect that grains can have on the brain, how do we get out of this vicious circle? Because people are being malnourished and are having this sort of cognitive blockage there where they can't think, they can't question what they've been told for years and years and years. So they go on the attack or just plain denial. How do you go about trying to put the truth out there and at the same time understanding that maybe what's causing this blockage is an effect of what they're eating actually?

Lierre: It's a very hard thing to have to tell people because well, they don't want to hear it. But a lot of times their behaviour is the best evidence. I mean, they're proving my point better than I ever could.

Juliana: Yes.

Lierre: But I've been there. And I know how my brain felt when I did not have enough good quality animal fat. In fact I had no animal fat for almost 20 years. And it's just horrible. You cannot keep a stable mood. If I couldn't find my wallet or my keys or something, I would sit on the floor and cry. I just couldn't. There was no way, just the tiny little things in life that go wrong there was no resilience at all in my brain. And the moment I started eating eggs it got better. Like within two days I was a different person. And that wasn't even fabulous amounts of animal fat or bacon or anything really good. It was just eggs. But eating eggs for a few days in a row, I couldn't believe how much better I felt.

And this is true, just statistically speaking. People on low fat diets have a tremendously higher suicide rate. I think they're four times as likely to commit suicide. Also they're way more likely to die a violent death. So they have a higher murder rate. So they are murdered more than people who eat regular diets. And all of this I have seen. The suicide rate is horrible and I know why. You don't have enough tryptophan so you can make serotonin.

We all know serotonin is the happy thing you need when you have to take Prozac. But you could just eat food and in fact, a lot of depression goes away from simply eating an appropriate diet for a few days. I've seen this over and over. I've experienced it myself. It's kind of an amazing thing. And actually the best book on this is Julia Ross's book. It's called The Mood Cure. And this is her life's work, it's her field. She works with addiction and depression. And she treats it nutritionally and has just a stupendous success rate.

So if these are issues that any of your listeners are dealing with, depression or addiction or anxiety, that is a fabulous book called The Mood Cure and this is what she goes into, the biochemistry of the brain, and how if you don't have enough protein and good quality animal fat, you are so at risk for things like depression and addiction. Addiction in particular because your brain is trying to normalise, it's trying to stabilise. And if you're fighting your brain you're not going to win. Your brain is going to crave until it gets what it needs. This is not an emotional failing. It's not a political failing or an ethical failing, it's simply biologically true. You need certain things.

But it's really hard. A lot of the people who email me, it's I think one of the conditions that I hear over and over is the depression and anxiety. And they go ahead and they try it because they're so desperate. So they will eat a more appropriate human diet for a few days and then they write to me and they say "You saved my life. I was so depressed I couldn't get out of bed. I can't believe how much better I feel." And I've gotten those emails over and over. And it absolutely makes up for the hate mail because just to know that I've saved somebody. I lost 20 years of my life to depression. I know how bad it gets. I have nothing but compassion for these people, but they need to broaden out a tiny bit if they want relief, because eating what they're eating, they're never going to feel okay.

Joe: It occurs to me that, I know we're talking about vegetarians here and we're laying a lot of the blame on vegetarians, but it seems to me that there'd be an awful lot more people who are not vegetarians who would have a serious problem with the idea of getting rid of industrial agriculture, i.e., and the reduction in availability of cereals and grains that that would involve because a lot of people, I think most people, especially in the western world who eat meat, it's only a small part of their diet compared to cereals and grains. And they're kind of addicted to it because basically cereals and grains break down into sugars in your body and sugars are not only addictive but very harmful to human health. They're the source of a lot of modern illnesses that didn't exist a hundred years ago.

Juliana: Not to mention gluten and casein in dairy products and in some cereals that create an actual addiction, like you're saying Lierre.

Joe: So what do you think about that Lierre, in terms of the problem is also non-vegetarians, meat-eaters and their addiction to cereals? Most have been addicted to Cheerios and all sorts of cereal as in breakfast cereal, but also pastas and breads and everything. People will fight for that.

Lierre: They are incredibly addictive substances, at least for some of us. And I say this as someone who knows. Gluten, for instance, when it's being digested, goes through your digestive tract. For some of us anyway, it actually turns into glutiamorphine, which is exactly what it sounds like, it's a form of morphine made from gluten. And it's really addictive. I have been completely gluten free for a few years now. I actually had a diagnosis of an autoimmune disease and I was like "Well that's it. I cannot ever eat gluten again, even for a treat now and then", took it out of my diet completely. And I've got say, just an aside, it made a huge difference. So even the little bit of gluten that I was eating was still triggering the autoimmune response. But that's an aside.

It does, it turns into morphine for some of us. And okay, obviously that's addictive. And there are actually some people who have suggested that this is the reason we took up agriculture. None of the other explanations actually make sense. What I was taught in school when I was in elementary school was "Well the human population got too big and there wasn't enough food to go around so people had to intensify their use of their land base and that meant learning to do agriculture and that was a great thing because now look how many people there are". And that was pretty much the story we got told when I was ten.

Well the problem is the archaeological evidence doesn't match that story. You don't see signs of chronic hunger and deficiency diseases. So the human population did not push this activity to happen. We actually don't know why people started doing agriculture. It doesn't make any sense. It's back-breaking labour for pretty poor nutrition, so why would anybody do this? And the one explanation is "Well we did it because it was addictive because people liked how they felt when they ate those annual seeds". And here we are. And that to me is the only explanation that makes any sense, mostly because I've experienced it myself. I know the call of wheat. It calls to me from across town. "Come! Eat a muffin! Eat a piece of bread!" And everybody in my family is the same way. We all feel that pull. And I actually feel really lucky that I was diagnosed finally with an autoimmune disease because that was the thing that broke it for me. Like, well you can die from this or you can just stop eating it. So I stopped eating it and now it's not food anymore. Like, forget it. I don't need to go there. And it's really great because I would have one bite and it would be over for the day. All I could think about was getting more. So I know that addictive feeling.

So I think you're right, it's everybody. I don't want to single out the vegetarians or anybody. The entire society around the globe, everybody now at this point, is pretty well addicted to this stuff. And it's what keeps the food system going, is growing these grains. At this point, like I said, 80 percent of the food calories that support our current population couldn't be gotten any other way. So we've kind of backed ourselves up against a wall here. And there are ways out, which we can talk about, but people get scared when you start looking at the numbers because it looks like there's no way to feed us all without continuing to do this. And since it's destroying the planet, you're sort of left falling off the cliff. Well what can we do, just stand here and wait for the collapse? And I don't actually think so. I think there are a lot of very practical things we can do that can turn this around. But it is a very scary moment for people both emotionally and intellectually because a) we're addicted and we want these substances but also b) on a larger scale, what's the future going to hold. It looks really scary.

Pierre: This last part of the discussion reminded me of a chapter in your book where you quote an author, I think, who hypothesised that actually we did not domesticate animals and grains, that actually grains domesticated us. And through addiction, they managed to transform us into slaves. We take care of them. We plant their seeds everywhere around the world. We water them. We feed them and we help their fundamental goal, i.e., survival and spreading of the species.

Lierre: Yeah, that's an idea that I got from Michael Pollan's book. It was a different way to look at it for me. And I think that it's actually true in that regard. You can look at it like "Well we did this incredible thing to plants and animals" but if you look across nature, everything is a symbiotic relationship. Every species changes other species and ultimately they work together, they're interdependent.

And I think of some species like the acacia ant and the acacia ant tree and without their ants the trees die because the ants perform all these incredible functions for them. And likewise the trees give the ants food and shelter. So one without the other they both are dead. But with each other they change their genomes more and more so that they're completely dependent on each other. And I think that's basically what we've done with this very, very small cohort of plants and animals. And it is very small.

The vast majority of plants want nothing to do with this and most animals in the world are perfectly content without signing up to this project of humans. But the few that have done it have been wildly successful. And the example of course is wolves versus domestic dogs where in the United States where there are fewer than 4,000 wolves, but there are 50 million dogs in this country. So the dogs that went ahead and said "Sure, let's hitch our fortunes together", yeah, it worked. Half of them get Christmas presents. They live better lives than plenty of people in third world countries. I speak here of my dog who is completely spoiled and sleeps on my bed and has a couch to herself and god knows what-all. But it worked.

And you can look at it the same way from the perspective of wheat or corn. What did they do? Well they offered us this little happy hit in our brains and in exchange we ripped up the prairies, we pulled down most of the forests, and we turned it over to wheat and corn. So from a species perspective, they got what they wanted. They've conquered the world.

Joe: Yeah, I wanted to talk a little bit about the ideology behind vegetarianism and see if we can't deconstruct some of the most common arguments that are used. You mentioned earlier on that you noticed that everything eats everything else in this life, right from the bacteria up to lions and tigers and bears and then humans are just an extension of that. So vegetarians have to admit that, as you saw, your chickens and ducks ate the slugs and the other insects. And then in the wild something would be eating those chickens and ducks and then on up. So are there vegetarians who accept that as a natural cycle and that humans are involved in that? And is there a problem really only the way animals are treated by humans? If we could get rid of factory farming and the abuses and cruelty that are involved there, would all vegetarians turn around and say "Okay, as long as we can do it naturally then we're cool with that?"

Lierre: I think there's a wide range of viewpoints on this. So I don't know that I can speak for everyone who is in that world. Though what I would say is there's definitely people who the real issue is that animals are tortured in factory farms. And I think that's something we can all agree to. It's just horrendous on every level. And it needs to stop.

Joe: Yeah.

Lierre: And that should be something that we can all work together on, right? I don't know anybody who would defend these practices. I've just never met a single soul who thought it was okay once they understood what was going on. These are sentient beings and they're just subjected to horrible things and this doesn't need to happen. So on that level, one would hope we could all get together and work.

But if you go to the different websites and read the journals and everything, especially more the vegans I think than the vegetarians, and they really hate the idea of "happy meat". For them - and this would have been me at the time - any human use of animals was wrong, that was always going to be domination. So I used to have a button 'animals are not ours to use, wear or experiment on'. And I'm still against animal experimentation. I do have a leather jacket (laughing) so I changed my mind on that. It was actually kind of a funny moment because I'd been eating meat for a few years and it suddenly occurred to me "Oh my god, if I'm eating them, I might as well wear them!" So I let myself lust after a leather jacket finally and I got one. So alright, that's my big admission. I have a leather coat. I love my leather coat.

Anyway, evil me, I know it's terrible. But it was like, really, what's going to happen to the skin? We should be using every part of the animal!

Joe: Yeah, absolutely.

Lierre: We should. We should be making soap out of some of it. We should be using the hide. We should be using the feathers, should be pillows. There's a use to be put. We could make musical instruments out of the sinews, all the things people had done with every part of the animal. And I don't know, whatever, that's an aside.

So I think that there's this range. There are definitely people who would say "If we can get rid of factory farming I don't have a problem with the rest of it". And I think those are people who are a little more realistic about the nature of life. They personally don't want to participate and they feel like "Well if I eat these foods instead of those, there's no death". And that's the point where I think they're fooling themselves. But if it makes them happy, I don't really care. You just do what you're going to do. There are only so many times you can have this discussion with people as individuals.

And then you've got the more militant people. And again, this would have been me, who just say any way that humans ever use animals is wrong. We don't have a right. It's seen as a question of rights. And to me, it's not a question of rights, it's a question of reality, that there's no way out of it. There's nothing you can eat that does not ultimately depend on dead plants and animals. And you might as well accept that so you can do it well. And that was the realisation that I had come to.

Joe: I suppose those kinds of people would ascribe a value to different types of life on the planet. Plants, micro-organisms, even small insects and stuff, aren't so...

Niall: Aren't sentient.

Joe: ...aren't as sentient or aren't as important or don't have as much value as a cow or a pig. I'm pretty sure that's the way they see things. Because what other way is it for them to rationalise it in their mind that they're eating vegetables and it involves killing animals, then they must ascribe a value judgment to bigger animals.

Juliana: And the broccoli doesn't cry or shout to her, all that kind of stuff.

Lierre: Well that was certainly what I believed. And it's kind of an argument that you'll see over and over, is that there are some animals that have nerves that are like human nerves, therefore we know that they experience pain. And because they can suffer, that's the dividing line. The problem with this argument is that, as far as I can tell from the research that I've done and just from experiencing the world, every single living thing loves its life. And I used to draw that line too but I don't anymore because you're making a hierarchy. You're saying "the creatures that are like me in this very specific way, they're the ones that count". And to me now, I think why do they have to be like me for them to count? Every living creature loves its life and deserves respect. I don't want to live in that hierarchy anymore.

And I thought that by doing that I was the person who was overthrowing those hierarchies. But I just made a new one. And it was still based around human beings and what we think is important. And as it turns out of course, bacteria communicate all the time. They send each other incredible amounts of information. That's why we have a problem with these "superbugs" is because every antibiotic we make, they outwit us. And they're able to communicate. Every single bacterium can communicate with every other bacterium. They're really just one species, bacteria. They're fascinating creatures. But they can talk to each other. And almost overnight they can spread around the globe. "Okay, this is the new antibiotic that the humans have come up with and this is how you fight it". And so you have resistance almost right away. And that's why now, it's only been what, two generations of antibiotics, and we're running out because they're smarter than we are. They're outwitting us and they're communicating about it.

So that's bacteria. And then you get to plants and plants do incredible things. The more you find out about plants, they communicate, they help each other. If one plant in the community is being attacked by insects the other plants will send insecticides through their roots and try to help that other plant fend off whatever the attacker is. They'll tell each other, like if there's a deer or a bear in the woods and they brush up against some plant, that plant will tell all the others in the neighbourhood "Hey, there's a big creature walking by. Stiffen up a little bit. You're going to need some help." And so then all the other plants will do whatever it is they do to get a little stiffer in case they get bumped up against by a great big bear.

Where I live in the redwood forest, there are actually albino redwoods. And they can't make chlorophyll. So they're not green, they're actually kind of a pale white colour. The only reason they're alive, I mean they can't photosynthesise right, the only reason they're alive is because the other redwoods feed them. So they never will reach the huge height of the real redwoods. They're stunted. But they're alive and they can live a good long time, but it's because the other plants in their community send them nutrients. That's the only way they're alive. And plants do these kinds of things all the time with each other.

Niall: That's amazing.

Lierre: They fight each other for space. Yeah, they help each other when they want to. They create incredibly diverse communities as well. They call plants that are needed to come. And nobody knows how they do it, but they do it. So there are seeds that arrive and it's not random. But how do the seeds know to land there? They don't have propellers. They don't have arms and legs. How do they fall exactly where they're needed? The best book on this is called The Lost Language of Plants and it's by Stephen Buhner. And, oh this book, it will blow your mind the things that plants do. But by the time you're done, you can't say "Oh plants aren't really alive. They're not really sentient. They don't really feel things." They are as alive as me or you. The only thing they can't do is get up and run. But on every other level, oh yeah.

And again, they are the people who are helping keep this planet alive. Without them - they're the ones that can turn sunlight into matter. That's an incredible miracle. Without them it's over. We wouldn't be here. So plants are fabulous. And this is why so many indigenous cultures have this concept of trees or other kinds of plants as our elders. They'll call them "our grandparents, our grandmothers, our grandfathers". And if you need help, you can go talk to them. And people around the world believe this. And they believe it because they experience it. You can talk to the trees and ask them for help. And if you are humble and you really are in need, the idea is they will speak to you. And I think for most of human history we had that ability. That's an amazing thing. It sounds kind of out there I guess, for some people, but it's just story after story about how the plants have helped us.

And when you talk to the curanderos and whoever the traditional healers are around the world, "so how do you know this is the plant for this disease or this condition?" and over and over they say the same thing. "Well the plants tell us. The plants say this is what they're for when you ask them, this is what they say." That is the universal answer around the globe. That's amazing to me.

Juliana: Lierre, now that you're talking about plants also, could you describe a little bit how they defend themselves? You had a great explanation about lectins and there's something that people don't often know about. Plants can't run away from you, but they do have a defence mechanism and they don't want to be or we're not meant to eat them and digest them. Can you explain how the process goes?

Lierre: Sure. Most seeds are not really edible. So this includes nuts, this includes grain, those are all seeds. So to make them edible, we have to do all kinds of things to them, like cook them. You can't eat raw wheat. I mean, you can try if you want. You're going to get really sick. So if you need to experiment go ahead. But it's kind of pointless. We already know what will happen. So cooking is the first thing we do to make plants edible. And the reason that we have to do that is because they defend their babies. When they create a seed, it comes coated with all kinds of protective things that make them inedible, that will make us sick if we eat them. The point is that just like a mother bear protects her children, the mother plant, the father plant, they're protecting their babies too. And they do it by coating the plants, the seeds, with all kinds of substances that will either irritate or out-and-out kill you.

And so one of these substances is lectins, you've got all kinds of anti-nutrients and anti-nutrients is a word that means when you try to eat it, as it moves through your digestive tract, those anti-nutrients will bind to minerals. So it's worse than eating nothing. It sucks nutrition out of your body on the way out. And this is the plant's way of saying "Well you can eat my babies, but you're going to suffer for it. In fact you may not be able to reproduce yourself if you keep eating these plant babies. You better leave us alone."

And soy of course is a great example. Soy comes with all kinds of anti-nutrients but the big problem with soy is the phytoestrogens. So these are substances that mimic human estrogens. So it looks a lot like the estrogens that we have in our bodies, but they're a little bit different. And so they're similar enough that your body thinks its estrogen and the phytoestrogens will actually fill up the estrogen receptors on your cells. So you think you've got enough estrogen. You don't, because it doesn't actually behave like human estrogen does. But it's close enough. So by mimicking human estrogen, the plant is able to plug your estrogen receptors. Now you don't actually have enough estrogen which means you're not going to be able to reproduce. And this is why soy is linked to all of these terrible reproductive conditions like breast cancer and other kinds of cancer in the reproductive organs.

My sister was also a vegan for a long time and she ended up with terrible endometriosis from eating soy and ended up having to have a hysterectomy. That is soy's way of fighting back. Yeah you can eat me, but that's the end of it. Your line ends here. You eat too much soy, it's over. So soy, I really, really caution people against soy very strongly.

Niall: And soy has been the staple of a vegetarian/vegan diet for all this time. It's really tragic when you think about it.

Lierre: It's ghastly stuff. It's not edible. And some of the researchers will say point blank "These are not foods. These are drugs".

Niall: Well this is the paradox isn't it? The amount of work that goes into back-breaking labour, as you said earlier, to grow say grains, you've got to clear the land, you've got grow it, it needs a lot of attention, then it's not even edible yet. You need to harvest it, process it, and cook it. Now you're ready. On the one hand, it's a drug.

Joe: And even then you've still got lectins in a lot of it.

Niall: Exactly. On the one hand, it's a drug and you're willing to go through all of this to get it. And on the other hand, it's killing you. It's like an anti-cycle of life.

Joe: I wonder if vegetarians and vegans would actually, if they were given the choice, if they would prefer if the human race was made extinct and leave the planet to animals and plants.

Lierre: Well...

Niall: What do you think Lierre?

Joe: If it came down to it, you know?

Lierre: I'm sort of sympathetic to that. I see the terrible damage that we're doing and if we disappeared tomorrow I think the planet would still be okay. We're going to reach a tipping point past which it wouldn't. I would prefer other things. I think that this is our home too and if we would just stop destroying it, I think it would be okay. And I don't think this is our nature to do this. I think we've traded a terrible combination of social and political forces that are leading to this. And there are people in charge. There is a power structure. There are some people in charge and a lot of people who are dispossessed. So it's not human nature.

And I really don't believe that this is our genes making us do this, or our evolutionary history because for two-and-a-half million years we lived on this planet just fine. We were participants. You can look at the first art we ever made and you can see that, that we had awe and thanksgiving for the creatures that gave us life. In fact we were so compelled by that awe and thanksgiving that we figured out how to do art, which is pretty amazing. That we were so compelled to say thank you that we learned how to draw. We had to express it somehow. So that's where I come from. I think that that is more in our body than in our brains is that awe and that drive to participate that's been so hard to get to now because we're so alienated.

But I'm sympathetic to the urge, at least emotionally, to say god if we could just get rid of humans it would all be okay. Because I think pretty much every other species on the planet would probably heave a sigh of relief. They're under assault. They're fighting a war and they're losing. Life is losing.

Niall: Yeah, apart from the dogs. Well people do behave like a virus.

Lierre: Right now, yes, we are behaving that way.

Niall: The thing that, and you've mentioned it runs through your book, you have this overview of history, let's say the last 10,000 years since the dawn of agriculture, and people can look at that and go "Well, that's a long time. Your insights are great but wow, we're locked in this. This is all we know, agricultural civilisation." But there is hope surely in the fact that the way we are, our very genetic blueprint, is actually far older as you say, it's developed over 2 million years of a completely different way of living.

Lierre: Well yeah. Loren Cordain who's an expert in paleolithic nutrition, he uses this image of a football field, so that's an American football field. I don't know how big a European soccer field is, but anyway, great big field, right? And so he uses that for the entire history of humans on Earth. So 2½ million years. That's represented by that field. And it's the last half a yard that that's where agriculture begins. So we were on this planet all that time, and it's only that very last half a yard where the destruction begins. And then the very last 1/5th of an inch, that's the industrial age. So it's a really short period of time in terms of who we are biologically speaking, agriculture. It's a really new activity.

Pierre: And in your book you explain it so that we should be cautious with the illusion of going back to hunter/gatherer diet by solely eating modern meat, modern breeds, and modern breeds of vegetables and fruits like hunter/gatherers did or might have done because you emphasise that between the current modern breeds high in sugar, very lean for the meat, and historically with all the breeds there is almost nothing in common.

Lierre: Yeah, a lot of people who take up sort of fruitarian diets, they think they can live on raw fruit, they can't. They're going to get really sick. It's pretty sad to watch. But they don't understand that it doesn't exist in nature. These are highly, highly hybridised forms of food. And what we did by domesticating things like even apples or berries, we took out a whole bunch of the anti-nutrients which were very bitter. Wild apples are basically inedible. They're so bitter that you just kind of gag when you bite one. So we took out all the anti-nutrients and made them sweeter and sweeter and sweeter.

And so you're eating way more sugar than somebody would have had access to, even 10,000 years ago. And I don't think they realise that. They make all kinds of claims about "well this is the natural human diet", but that didn't exist. That's only been around for a few thousand years. And a huge amount of human effort went into making that edible for you. So that kind of fairy tale just really falls apart. Did I answer your question?

Joe: Yeah.

Pierre: I have another question trying to understand better the vegetarian myth. I have to confess for 11 years I was a vegetarian. Nobody's perfect. And during this period of my life one of my main arguments, and I believed in it, was that okay to produce one kilogram of veggies you need say one acre and to produce one kilogram of meat you need 10 times the surface. So with all those people starving to death, vegetarianism is the way to go. It's a better use of the available soil. So is there any flaw in this reasoning?

Lierre: Yeah, so this is why I called it the vegetarian myth and not the vegetarian lie, okay? There is a grain of truth in this. And the truth is that yes, if you have factory farming, you need a tremendous amount of corn to feed those cows. And so the argument is "Well that corn should go to humans instead" which on the surface makes sense. It's a simple argument and I believed it myself for many years. This was the beginning of the whole sort of vegetarian ethic as it developed across popular culture and it really came from Frances Moore Lappé's book Diet for a Small Planet. She was the one who really put forward that argument. And it's really gotten taken out. And I understand why people believe it. It sort of makes sense on the surface. But you need to go down a couple more layers and the whole thing basically falls apart.

So the first problem is why are we feeding corn to cows? It doesn't actually make any sense. It's not their native diet. It makes them really sick, in fact. They can only live on those feedlots for maybe two months. After that point, they literally 100 percent of them get sick, because it's not the food they were meant to eat. One problem is its way too acid. They're supposed to eat grass, right? But when you feed them grains, they have four stomachs, the rumen becomes way too acid and literally it eats holes in their stomachs. So then they get all this blood poisoning because of all this half-digested whatever with all the bacteria, is getting into their blood stream which of course creates liver disease because the poor liver is trying to clean the blood, so all of these animals go to slaughter very sick. So it's not what they were meant to eat. And the only reason that we're doing this - and this is where it gets more complicated - so 1950 is really the beginning of factory farming. World War II, they had already figured out the Haber Bosch Process in World War I. By World War II, they're cranking out all this nitrogen to make...

Pierre: Haber Bosch Process is the way to produce nitrogen industrially from oil products, right?

Lierre: Exactly, yes. And in World War I the Germans were using bat guano or seagull dropping or something that were in, I think Argentina, there were huge caves of this, and that's what they were using to make munitions. And the route for the Germans got cut off I think by the English and the United States or whatever. They couldn't get to it anymore. So the chemists were working double time to try to figure out how we can make nitrogen ourselves so that we can keep fighting this war. And they did figure it out. Fritz Haber was the guy who did it.

And it's actually interesting to read about Fritz Haber, what happened to him because he was a Jew. Ultimately he was killed by the Nazis even though he created this thing that they really needed, ended very, very badly for him, being involved in the scientific world. And his wife actually committed suicide because of what he had done. He created mustard gas, some of the really toxic gases that were used to kill people on the front and she couldn't stand it. She was also a scientist and she killed herself. It was unbearable to her what this man was doing. Having done all these wonderful war services, he was then put to death by his own country for being Jewish. So this story just has no good ending anywhere that you look at it. His son also committed suicide which is just completely heart-breaking. The next generation, still, was a mess in all of this death and destruction, just the saddest, saddest story.

Anyway, this was who invented the Haber Bosch process. So yes, by World War II they've got it really down to a science. They're cranking out all this nitrogen. The world war ends, so what do you do with all these munitions factories? Well in the United States they turned them into fertiliser factories. And by 1950 the green revolution really kicks off. So now they've got all this nitrogen fertilisers just pouring out of these factories. And it all of course ends up in Iowa and Nebraska, the Midwest, what used to be a prairie and it's dumped all over the place and this mountain of corn is created with this fertiliser.

There is so much corn it's got nowhere to go. And at that point corn becomes so cheap on the market that it makes economic sense to take cows off of their native habitat, off of their free diet of grass, grass just grows, right? And put them basically in cities. They're living on concrete floors in horrible buildings, totally crowded conditions. You're packing them into a city essentially and feed them this bizarre stuff that they're not meant to eat, and that's corn. And it's only because corn got so cheap.

Up to that point factory farming had never existed. It couldn't exist until corn was that cheap. So the only reason we have factory farming is because of the green revolution, because of the Haber Bosch process.

Now what happens in the Midwest every year, here in the United States we have this thing called the Farm Bill. And the government gives out these subsidies to farmers. There are six corporations that essentially control the world food supply and because they have a monopoly, they're able to drive the cost of grain below the cost of production. So no matter how hard these poor farmers work, they cannot keep their heads above water. They cannot turn a profit because it's a monopoly system, right? So the grain is super, super cheap on the market. It costs them more than that to actually produce it so then next year they have to produce even more to try to make a couple of pennies more by producing more. But that just drives the price down even further. So every year the farmers are in a worse situation.

Now instead of breaking up these monopolies, what the U.S. government does, handmaiden to the corporations, they do this thing called the Farm Bill and they hand out subsidies. So they'll give the farmers just enough money to stay in business and they do nothing about the fact that this is a monopoly system around the globe.

In other countries, and in fact in the past in this country, we had a totally different system. This was not how food was produced and we didn't let this happen. But of course all of that got de-regulated under Ronald Reagan in the 1980s and now farmers are just in this horrible position. The number one cause of death for farmers in this country, and in India, is suicide which is very grim, right? It doesn't matter whether you're in a really rich country or a really poor country or somewhere in between. The farmers are in the same condition. They are serfs and there's no way out and so they end up killing themselves. It's just horrible.

Anyway, that's why we have factory farming, okay? It's because the corn is so cheap. And the reason it's so cheap is because of the monopoly and because of the fossil fuel. And that's the only reason that factory farming exists. So an answer certainly is to stop factory farming, I think we can all agree. But the answer is not to stop consuming that beef for that reason. There are plenty of good reasons not to eat that factory farmed beef, but you're not going to feed hungry people by doing that. The corn is not being produced so that cows can eat it. It's being overproduced because of the monopoly because the farmers have to produce more every year to try to make a little bit more money so they can pay their mortgages. That's the only reason all that corn is flooding out of the Midwest every year.

It ends up feeding cows, but cows are not demanding it. The people who are demanding it is this terrible market system where they can't even make a profit on what they're producing. That's why there's a surplus of corn. So whether or not you and I eat that beef is completely irrelevant. Those farmers are going to have to keep overproducing as long as this political and economic system has them in that kind of a headlock.

Joe: Which is based on greed ultimately.

Lierre: Absolutely. Yeah, and we're going to have to stand down those powerful systems in order to change this. You and I withdrawing from that supermarket beef is not going to make a single jot of difference. Now the other half of that equation is "Oh we should give the corn to the people who can't afford to buy food". Okay, so this is a whole other problem. Why should people in Cambodia or India be dependent on a rich country like the United States for food? It's kind of insane. They should be able to support themselves and in fact they know how to support themselves.
And if you talk to food activists around the world, they'll say the same thing over and over. We know how to feed our people. We need to be left alone to do that. Get your corporations out of our country. Because what happens is, those corporations, having bought this incredibly cheap grain that is subsidised by the U.S. government, they do what's called agricultural dumping. So they'll go to a poor country like the Philippines, like Mexico, like wherever, and they flood the market with this cheap grain and they drive the local farmers out of business, destroy the local economy and then what happens is these people who were self-sufficient and had land and had a culture and a community, are forced off their land. They lose everything and then there's this flood of refugees, economic refugees, into the cities. And that's why you have the swollen misery of places like Mexico City. It's because all of those farmers were pushed off their land by exactly this process.

And then you've got people who think they care about the world saying that this is somehow a good thing. Every time you do agricultural dumping, you are creating just more human misery by driving those farmers out of business. They don't need our cheap grain. That's the last thing you want to do is dump cheap grain around chronically hungry people. They should be able to support themselves. The only reason they can't is precisely because of cheap American grain. So they've got this completely backwards, the vegetarians, when they say "Oh that should go to feed hungry people". No it shouldn't, actually. We should leave them alone because they know how to feed themselves.

Joe: Is it possible if all of the land that has been given over to growing grains across the U.S., for example, if all that was given back to cattle to eat grass, would it produce enough meat to feed the population in the absence of most cereals?

Lierre: I can't actually find a reliable statistic on that. I do know that we are on fast over-shoot. And there's no way around that. We're going to have to face the fact that there are way too many people on the planet. But that doesn't have to be grim. There are actually ways to fix that, in fact the only way to fix it I think, is actually to support human rights. But we can talk about that in a minute.

This point that you're making is a really good one. In many, many places, given enough rainfall, you could take the same acre of land and you could produce one cow's worth of beef, except you could do it in two really different ways. So the first way is what's been happening and it's kind of insane. You take this land that's a nice, lush grassland that includes all sorts of plants and animals on it. So you've got ground-dwelling birds, you've got small mammals, you've got reptiles, you've got amphibians. Nearby is a stream that's really healthy that has fish. You've got a water table that recharges every year. Its life and it could go on forever until the sun burns out. It's all good.

Okay, then you come in with a tractor, you rip it all up, you kill all the animals, you push everybody off it, you bare the soil which means you're destroying it and then you put corn on it. So you grow an acre of corn on that land. You're destroying the water table, you destroy the stream, everybody's dead. Okay, you got this acre of corn. You can take that acre of corn and feed it to one cow and at the end of the year you'll have a really sick cow who had a miserable life but she's fat and she's ready for market and then she can be fed to humans and make the people sick as well. But that was the amount of beef that was produced, was one cow on that one acre with corn.

Okay, another scenario, same acre of land. You leave it in grass. All those other creatures live there. You've got a healthy water table. The nearby streams are looking food. There's no fossil fuel. You've got a ruminant on it like a cow. This could go on forever. That is a closed loop. Everybody plays a role. At the end of that year, you've got the same amount of beef from that cow, but it's really good beef. She had a good life and the life of that place, that biotic community is completely intact. And you can feed the same number of humans off it.

This is true across many, many, many miles of land, square miles of land where there's enough rainfall. You have this scenario where you can do one or the other. And we've been doing this totally insane thing called agriculture and factory farming. And at the end of the day, scenario two is the one that just makes sense on every level, but that's not the one we're doing. But it's the same amount of food. And I think that's really what you're asking. In many places, yes, you will have the same amount of food but its healthy food, its humane food and its food that is participating in a very resilient cycle of continuing life. So I don't know why we're doing the other one. On the surface, it makes no sense. I get that there are political and economic reasons, but it's psychopathic underneath it all.

Joe: Exactly.

Lierre: But even just on the surface level, what are these people doing? This is crazy. So in many places yes, that is the only way forward, is to return the grasslands. To let the prairies return.

Niall: Earlier you suggested that this is a matter of policy that this is a choice that is made and it's controlled by a monopoly. Do they have even half of the sort of insight or oversight that you're sharing with us today? Is it willingly being done? I cannot imagine the board of directors of Monsanto sitting down to eat anything that they sell...

Joe: No, they don't.

Niall: ... to people.

Lierre: Yeah.

Joe: It was revealed that in Monsanto's cafeteria they sell organic food.

Lierre: (laughing)

Joe: They only sell organic food.

Lierre: Oh, that just figures.

Joe: And apparently in government as well, the restaurant in Congress or where they all go to eat, it's all organic food. Yet they're all signing bills and passing bills into law that gives the crap to people, you know?

Lierre: Congress also they have a single payer health care plan, all the members of Congress. The irony in that they're shutting down the government now because they hate Obamacare so much, but they get a single payer health care system their whole lives.
Yeah. Anyway, I don't know the whole thing is just so completely psychopathic, isn't it? I have no explanation on an emotional level as to what these people's motivation is. They have it highly rationalised, clearly. And they're certainly being rewarded. They're making so much money doing this, but there's got to be something they love.

Joe: You just said it again. You said it in two points there: psychopathy and money. That's their god. That's the bottom line for them and nothing else matters. And like I said, they look after themselves and screw the people.

Juliana: And it's really sad because you mentioned earlier how basically the majority of human beings are not in that mindset. They don't want to destroy. They don't want war. They don't want the system.

Niall: They don't naturally dominate.

Juliana: Yeah, exactly. They don't want to destroy. They would probably follow some kind of healthy, harmonious lifestyle, if they were left to...

Joe: Their own devices.

Juliana: choose. But the problem is here you have, and correct me if I'm wrong Lierre, but here you have people who would be well-intentioned to begin with. Some psychologists say it's one percent of the population are genetically psychopaths. Imagine that a majority of those are in power and are making these decisions. And you have these people who are willing, actually paying for their poison because they go to the supermarket and pay for it. And then they have to depend on the pharmaceuticals. And I don't want to get all conspiratorial and stuff...

Niall: Oh do.

Juliana: ...but it really looks like that, doesn't it? It's just a tiny little group of people who are making these laws, making poorer countries buy their own seeds and if you don't buy the patented seeds, you're screwed forever. And it's just a cycle. And if only people could actually choose for once and decide and realise that it's really a handful of these leaders that are, or whatever, the ones behind this monopoly.

Lierre: Yeah, I couldn't agree more. It's bad out there.

Niall: Well that little piece of history you gave about the explosion in the use of fertilisers after the Second World War is fascinating. So WWII ends and they have all these munitions left over. So what do they do with them? I can imagine at the time it's a convenient solution to a temporary problem. But look what it's led to, one thing after the next. And we've got this situation today where the topsoil is so shot that the grains, which were already bad enough, which they now tell us can't grow, so here's our genetically enhanced version, take this and this will solve the hunger crises that were caused by the actions of their predecessors. So it's like we've gone further and further into this cul-de-sac.

So in terms of the big picture, what can people do? We don't know, but maybe there are some solutions for those of us who do care and who do want to improve our own lives and the lives of flora and fauna around us. So maybe we can get into some solutions. I think you've described yourself as a farmer Lierre, do you farm at home?

Lierre: Yeah. I have five acres and I have goats and I'm going to be getting chickens and ducks very soon. And I have a great big dog and a garden. I haven't lived here very long, this place I just moved to, but I'm going to be putting in some fruit trees as well. Yeah, and before that I also lived on other small farms where we did chickens and eggs and other stuff too. I've certainly raised my own food. I get the idea, the costs of all of this, both emotionally and economically. It's a lot. People don't realize what goes into it.

Anyway, solutions, yes, I do think that there are some both on the big picture and on the smaller picture. So on the very biggest picture global warming is coming down. And my some estimates 400,000 people have already died due to planetary climate chaos. And this is only going to get worse, right? So the best thing that we can do for our planet is to take the trashed-out grasslands that have been destroyed by agriculture and let the prairies come home. We just let that grass come back. If we were to do that on only 75 percent of the world's destroyed prairies, within 15 years we could sequester all of the carbon, all of it, that's been released since the beginning of the industrial age. That's an incredible statistic.

But you have to remember what prairies do. Those grasses are really good at building soil. That's their main job. And the building block of course is carbon. So they suck the carbon out of the air and they build soil. And now it's sequestered. In fact just this morning I was reading a fabulous article about all the abandoned farmland in Russia. The farmers have left for the cities and the farms just lie there. And of course what happens is they turn back into either prairie or forest pretty quickly. And somebody did the calculations on the amount of carbon that has been sucked back into the soil simply because people stopped farming in Russia. And it's just an astronomical amount. It's something like 10 percent of all of their industrial carbon has now been re-sequestered, just by leaving it alone. It was something huge. Don't quote me on that exact number, but it was really stunning. And so right there they didn't even do it on purpose and it's started to happen.

So that's our best hope. The United States, we could do this even just east of the Mississippi River. In the first year, the United States could become a carbon sequestering nation. That's a really extraordinary statistic, but it's all true. And just remember what prairies do. They build soil. That's their main job. So that's one spot of hope.

Joe: You mentioned that we're going to have to face the fact that there are too many people on the planet. Is that hard and fast, in terms of a problem?

Lierre: Yes. Well, for me I don't see this as, some people are very terrified to take this on as a concept to the point where they're just in denial about it, but I think we should face it squarely because the solutions that help the planet are also really crucial for human rights. So it's not humans against the planet, it's humans with the planet. That's the only thing that gets us to the world that we need. The number one thing you can do to drop the birth rate around the globe, the number one thing, is teach a girl to read. It is that simple. When women and girls have that much more power over their lives, they choose to have fewer children. The number one thing is educating girls, just giving them a basic education. When girls are educated, the entire community does better. They call it the multiplier effect. Because when girls are better, young women do better. And when young women do better, their children do better. And then the whole community does better.

And so it just goes round in a circle that is lifting everybody out of poverty. But women around the globe have very little control over the uses to which dominating men put our bodies. So as it stands now, somewhere around half of all pregnancies are either unwanted or unplanned. All we have to do is give women control over their bodies, and the birth rate will be cut in half. That to me is extraordinary. And we should care about that anyway because women are human and we deserve human rights. And that starts with "No, I don't want to have sex. No, I don't want to have a baby. No I want to get an education right now." That's so basic to anybody's life.

And in countries where they've done this, it's worked. The really incredible example is Iran because this is the country that's controlled by essentially a religious theocracy, very conservative. But they crunched the numbers and they saw they had a birth rate that was pretty much the biological limit, upper limit. And they realized that within a generation there wasn't going to be anywhere to sit or stand let alone water to drink or food. And they had a problem. "So what are we going to do?" So they had a huge meeting with everybody who cared about the issue and they developed a multi-prong approach but at the very center of it was this idea that you had to educate girls and you had to give women some control over their lives.

So first they offered birth control to everybody. If you were going to get a marriage licence, you had to go to a birth control class. And it was free. It was freely available. In the cities they set up little what they called health houses, pretty much on every street corner, you could go and get free birth control. But it had to be culturally appropriate because if it was just for birth control, nobody was going to go. So they had to pretend that you could go there and also get your blood pressure checked or whatever, get a blood draw for cholesterol. It wasn't true. Everybody kind of knew what it was for, but it worked. So people actually used it.

And then in rural areas, they had mobile units that went from village to village and just talked to everybody. And then in every neighbourhood they had women who signed up to do this who were elders in the community, who were trained in different methods of birth control and what-not. And they just went house-to-house and talked to everybody. "Do you want birth control? Do you understand birth control? What are your questions? What can we get for you?" So that was really huge, just to give everybody access.

A real turning point was when they got the religious community onboard and they got the big religious leaders to put out a statement saying that there was nothing in the Koran against having a vasectomy or having a tubal ligation. So it was fine. If you have enough children and you can't provide for more, that's really important to god and you're allowed to say you're done so literally overnight men were lining up around the block to get vasectomies because they didn't want to have 12 children either. It was their lives as well that were being impacted by this.

So that made a huge difference. And then they had a whole conversation going across the country where they got some of the soap opera writers and the TV drama writers of these shows to include talks about birth control and family size in the stories. So you would have a younger woman talking to her mom or something. "Oh, I don't know. We're going to get married. What do I do about birth control?" And they would have a whole talk about it, just very openly. So they made the conversation possible for everyone. And they had billboards about it.

So it was a huge public education thing. They made dramatic efforts to increase female literacy so the girls in school. It went from 25 percent to 75 percent within five years, which is incredible. And so keeping girls in school everybody understood this was important.

If you had one or two children as a couple you got all kinds of really good benefits from the state. You could get a food stamp thing for food and various other daycare stuff. If you got three children, then all the benefits went away. They didn't penalise you, but you didn't get any good stuff. So there definitely was a little bit of a stick involved with the carrot. But it wasn't like China where they had these god-awful human rights horrors, it was just "Oh well, no more goodies." And all of that together, within five years their birth rate dropped to replacement levels.

These are things, again, that we should care about anyway. People deserve to control their reproductive lives. Girls deserve to be in school. Nobody should be getting married at age 12. And that's all they did. They changed all of that, very quickly, which also shows that people's desire for children is really plastic. It was actually very malleable. And when presented with facts and other alternatives, they stopped having 12 children. Nobody actually wanted to do that with themselves. So it worked. And it worked in a really beautiful way that gave everybody more power and control and more human rights.

So this is why I say it's not humans against the planet. It's humans with the planet, is the only way we're going to go forward.

Pierre: Lierre, allow me to move one step backward about over-population. In your book you explain that since the 19th century basically, we've been running on phantom carrying capacity. We manage to have such a huge human population, 7 billion maybe, because indirectly we're eating oil. So even if we move back now, transform all the mono-crop annual farming land into grazing prairies, we won't be able to feed those 7 billion people because they come out from a phantom carrying capacity.

Joe: Well she just offered an explanation - a solution to that which is essentially women stop having so many babies so that people who die off are greater than children who are born, so over a certain period of time, you'll have a population decline. That's a long-term goal.

Lierre: Yeah, it would take two or three generations, but it could absolutely be done. We don't have to have mass starvation and these terrible dystopian movies, Mad Max or whatever. We all have these terrible ideas about the collapse. It doesn't have to be that way. We could take control of the situation, as a society, as a species, and decide that for all these really good reasons. Nobody needs to have this many children. And we'll just have one or two each and that's it. And very naturally the population would simply decline and we could once again live in a really sustainable way. So as the human population shrank, the prairies and the forests could return and we could go back to simply getting our food from inside those living communities, rather than imposing ourselves across them.

And I think this is a very doable project. You can see how it would work. There are countries that have already tried some of these things and seen how successful they are. We just need the political understanding and then the political will to set them in motion. And that's the problem.

Joe: Yeah. Preceding all of those plans then we need a revolution.

Lierre: Yeah we do.

Niall: Then we can do all these things. We just need this. Oh, okay. But yeah, I get your point. Humans, we're creative creatures. We come up with solutions. We tried and tested a number of things that have worked. It's just that we have this thing stalking us, you know, where for every step forward, it just wants to drag you back two.

Joe: Yeah.

Niall: For every country that's moving towards progressive, relatively secular, understands the value of education, trying to really inform it's people, you've got two countries that have been bombed back to the stone age, a Taliban-type clique take over, and this continues. This is almost like for every let's say good missionary that comes out of the west, there are two players out there bombing and taking people and countries back into a medieval existence. I don't know. I have a lot of faith in people and what they can do, but yeah, short of a revolution against this thing, the beast, all the solutions that for something like this to really work, it would need to come from the top, right?

Lierre: We're going to need all the institutions that now control society around the globe to get onboard.

Niall: Yeah.

Lierre: And they're not. You've got for instance, the Catholic Church, which can't even wrap its mind around condoms. It's ridiculous. You've got men in dresses telling women what to do with their bodies. It's just completely absurd, right?

Joe: Pass a few condoms around.

Lierre: Yeah (laughing).

Joe: Twist that around. Be a solution to the catholic problem. Carry on. Sorry.

Lierre: The worst of them at least are not reproducing at the top level, but they seem to have everybody else in their thrall. The thing is that's so funny about the Catholics is that these really heavily catholic nations have a negative birth rate. Clearly people are using birth control. I mean they're obviously using birth control. Nobody's listening to the pope. He should just shut up for a while. He should listen to them.

But I hear your point. There are all these fundamentalists of whatever stripe around the globe and they control the resources, and they let men control women, and they control the money, and they control the power structure and a lot of them are just plain psychopaths. And we've let them. We've rewarded their behaviour rather than disallowing it, we reward it. And that's the problem with systems like capitalism and like civilisation and patriarchy, the scum rises and they get rewarded. They should have been thrown off the ice flow when they were four and it was clear they weren't going to play well with others, no matter what, or at the very least, not given any power to do anything. We could throw them some food scraps from the distance, but we don't. Instead they rule the world.

So this is why it's so important that you're doing the work you're doing. Your publishing house, you put out your books about psychopaths and that's why I write books. I want people to understand the scale of the problem, the organisation of the problem so that we can talk about real solutions.

Pierre: And while thinking about it, I'm not sure the solution can come from the top because as you said, psychopaths are in power. When you read about psychopathy, one of two main features of these strange psychological profiles is a) their power, the quest for more power and more money and b) enjoying the suffering of others. And through farming, finally I realised that they reached those two goals. They've managed to transform the whole population into drug addicts, literally walking dead who are willing to pay for the drug that destroys them. So they get the money and they get the suffering of others. So from a psychopathic point of view farming is a great thing.

Lierre: Yeah, it's a pretty perfect system. But the only good thing is that there are always people who do not want to be slaves. If you pick the period in history, there's always a resistance.

Pierre: Yes.

Lierre: And I have to believe with all of life at stake, that the resistance will build.

Pierre: Yeah, it's a double challenge here, I agree with you. I think if a change comes, it will come from the bottom, from the mass movement of people who have enough of suffering, basically. And there's a double challenge because a) you need this growing awareness of this system you're living in, this psychopathic dimension, the real nature of your elites, and b) you have to be willing to go beyond your addiction that is blinding your thinking, that is making you subjective and not seeing things as they are. So there's a double challenge to overcome.

Joe: I just wanted to investigate a little theory that I have and see what you think Lierre, about vegetarians and vegans. In terms of as we kind of mentioned earlier on, the way that they seem to have almost a greater affinity for animals than they do for humans, such is the strength of their disgust and their abhorrence at the idea of killing animals and eating them. I'm just wondering if a) you think there might be a kind of an insoluble problem there in terms of a certain number of people on the planet who actually, when it comes down to it, would say animals are more important than humans and let the humans die and let the animals stay no matter what happens, no matter what solution was presented to them, they would never, ever come around to the idea of killing another animal as being okay. Maybe that's the first one.

Lierre: Well, on one level, it doesn't actually matter whether people hold an ideology like that so strongly, because they don't really have any power. There's nothing they can do with an ideology like that. And honestly, I think the solutions' pretty simple. They just need to grow their own food and they'll see. And that's how I learned. I just tried it myself and I could see that no matter which way I turned it dead-ended with a dead animal. And at one point in the slug battle, I just gave up. I couldn't kill them. I didn't know what to do. So I went to the store and I bought some lettuce and some broccoli instead of growing it and for one second it felt like it was a relief, like "Oh, thank god. I'll just buy it instead". And I stood there literally holding that head of lettuce and it was this moment of "Just grow up. Just grow up! It's ridiculous. Do you think the people who made this lettuce didn't kill slugs? Of course they killed insects to get you this lettuce. They probably killed way more. They probably used really horrible chemicals and killed birds and reptiles and mammals as well as just a few slugs. You are so fooling yourself if you think there was not death in every stage of the growing of this lettuce." And it was a really hard moment, but it was reality. And it was so much better to just face it finally and stop running from it. It's like my life depends on death. You just have to stand and face it.

So I think that if there are people who are in that same mindset that I was in, I think that it's just a really simple solution. Grow your own food and you'll see. There's no way out of this.

Joe: The reason I thought of that was because the idea that some people, some human beings are slightly different than others, let's say, in some kind of fairly fundamental way that not everybody's created equal, or not everybody's created the same in some way, because I've also noticed that, maybe I'm wrong in this, but I get the impression that some people on vegetarian diets do a lot better than others.

Lierre: I think if you're a vegetarian, it's easier than being a vegan because at least you're getting some animal fats and some of the fat soluble vitamins. So you can limp along a lot longer on that diet. The vegan is just you just fall apart. There's no way around it. But the vegetarians can last longer.

Joe: Aren't there examples of healthy vegans?

Lierre: No. I'm sorry, but there just aren't. You can go for a while. When you're in you're in your 20s you can get away with pretty much anything. But by the time you're 30, the rubber's going to hit the road. And I will say for these people, even in their 20s, their bodies were built on animal products. They were not vegan pregnancies. Their moms ate animal products. And throughout their childhoods of course they ate milk and they had eggs and they had hamburgers. And then for a few years they decide they're going to try this. Well go ahead. But eventually you're on draw-down the whole time. You're just sucking nutrients out of your body and eventually you run out.

Joe: Yeah, there was a case in France actually a few years ago where a mother who was a vegan all throughout her pregnancy and beforehand and when she was breastfeeding the baby, the baby eventually died and they blamed it on her diet.

Lierre: Yeah.

Joe: And the breast milk and her diet before the baby was born, the kind of nutrients that the mother was getting were not sufficient to feed the baby and then afterwards when she was breastfeeding it was not sufficient either and the baby died. That was a pretty damning indictment of a vegan diet, you know?

Lierre: Yeah, these stories pop up in the news occasionally, but it's good to remember that your breast milk is only as good as your nutrition. So if you're not eating a nutrient-dense diet, there's no way to produce that milk. So yes, I want to say mother's milk is always best, but in the case of somebody who's a vegan, no, mother's milk is not best. Mother's milk is starvation for that child.

Pierre: I just wanted to comment on what you said previously. I think there's indeed a lot of hypocrisy in that vegetarians build up their good conscience on this hypocrisy as long as they don't see what is beyond the vegetarian products they consume, for cheap finally, they easily access good conscience. And if they knew what was beyond the poor broccoli, all the suffering, they destroy wildlife, fauna and flora of the nitrogen fertilisers and all the death that is involved in this broccoli, they would realise that it's not as rosy as they think. And that reminds me when I was a vegetarian the only meat I was consuming actually was when I was going spear fishing, so spending hours in the sea, trying to get a fish. And it's cold. It's tiring. You get the fish. You kill it, which is not very appealing and you carry it. You have to eviscerate it, etc. etc. It's a lot of work. And you feel really bad killing it. And it's such an inversion of values. When you eat the broccoli you feel good. "Okay, I didn't kill any animal. It's all clean. It's all nice", although you induce a lot of destruction. And on the other side, when you kill a fish by yourself, like a hunter or fisherman, you feel really bad because you face death right in front of your eyes, although in this case that might be the less harmful way of feeding yourself. Because it makes it clear, the last question to my question is, okay it's either him or me because if I don't eat I die. If I eat him, he dies. So death cannot be brought out of the equation.

Lierre: Yes, I think you're exactly right. And it's a hard moment.

Joe: I think vegans and vegetarians really need to realise that by supporting modern agriculture, they are supporting a system that is killing a lot of animals. It's also damaging and ultimately killing a lot of human beings because by supporting modern agriculture, they're supporting everybody around the world eating grains, which is causing all sorts of modern illnesses and disease and it's killing a lot of people. And they're also supporting a system, a hierarchy at the top of the pyramid that controls that modern agriculture, that is closely tied to corporations and government and military that is also killing a lot of people around the world in a very direct way. So all the way around, they're supporting a very destructive system that kills everybody, ultimately, all forms of life on this planet, from the bottom all the way to the top, if humans are at the top.

Niall: It's not hard to see how, as an ideology, it's attractive for people who care, who are upset with what they see happening, and who want to do something.

Joe: But who don't think.

Niall: This is it.

Joe: And maybe can't think.

Niall: Yeah, it comes back to how much of the reality are you seeing. What you said Pierre reminds me of that saying "Out of sight, out of mind". And I think it applies across the board to everyone. People don't realise where their food comes from so they don't think about it. And it's not just vegans/vegetarians. Lierre you said yourself a few minutes ago and I think it sums up your book, for me anyway, the lasting impression is that it's about growing up. And it's not something that will leave you in despair and despondent. Its life affirming because you learn some important facts of life that do give you hope and give you ideas. We have you here today and it's great to hear you speaking because clearly you're passionate about it.

Joe: She's gone through that process.

Niall: You've gone through it and you understand. You see more reality and you see more potential in people. You see more solutions.

Joe: But we're facing an unpleasant reality, the facts of the reality in which we live and the life that we live. And getting out of your airy-fairy love and light kind of idealistic way of viewing the world that blocks out a lot of the reality behind the scenes and that's what growing up's about.

Juliana: I just wanted to thank you actually because you might not know it because not everybody will have written to you, but we have thousands of people in our forum and actually probably a few hundred have tried to switch/change their diet. And the amazing thing is that everybody has autoimmune issues, all kinds of problems, psychological or physical, and the effects have been amazing, including us. It's just amazing. And I don't think maybe you know about everybody you're helping with your work. So maybe people, if you're listening and you haven't read this book, it's called The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith and you really, really should read it. And it's in French too.

Pierre: Yeah, it's in French. We translated it and we're very proud of it. We started that about two years ago because we are so excited by the book. It's very eye-opening. And I can share a testimony. I was vegetarian for 11 years, as I said. And after those 11 years I got really sick, and I got two brain cancers that are considered the most incurable, grade 3 cancers. And it was at the time when I changed diet. And I stopped being vegetarian and this problem occurred about four years ago. And I'm still alive today and the mortality rate is something like 80 percent. Well you cannot take statistics or rules from one isolated case, but I can testify that I think this diet change contributed significantly to my survival and to my good health. So, thank you for spreading this very important message.

Lierre: Well thanks for sharing your story. That's pretty profound. The thing about cancer in particular is, one thing we know for cancer absolutely true, is that it eats sugar. So if you take all the sugar, and that includes grains, because it's really all it is, all the sugar out of your diet, you will simply starve those cancer cells. And this is why cancer is called one of the diseases of civilisation. Hunter/gatherers don't get cancer. It's only the agriculturalists that do. And we consider it a part of life because everybody gets it. But it's not true. Even in the 1950s, in the Canadian Medical Journal there was an article and it started, the first sentence was something like "Well we all know that the Eskimos don't get cancer." And no, look what they eat. It's sea mammals and fish and there's no sugar in that diet. And they don't get cancer. Of course everything's changed now. Their traditional life ways have been pretty well destroyed. But you could watch cancer spread as Weston Price called displacing foods of modern commerce spread around the globe. But this is not normal. It's not natural. We're not all supposed to get cancer. And even just that one fact that sugar is what cancer eats, that can save so many lives just knowing that. Take the grain out. Take the sugar out and see what happens.

Pierre: And we have to emphasise for some listeners who might not know that grains, starch, and all that is carbohydrates that will eventually be transformed into sugar. So sugar is not only the sweet stuff that we put in tea or coffee.

Lierre: Yeah, ever last molecule of it is broken down into a simple sugar. So you can call it a complex carbohydrate, but by the time it's done with your body, it's been turned into a simple sugar. And every last molecule has to be dealt with by your pancreas and by your insulin receptors. So it's the same thing. The amount of complex carbohydrates that we are being told to eat in the United States - we've got this food pyramid, where at the bottom the base of your diet is supposed to be carbohydrates - it adds up to two cups of sugar a day. That's how much sugar they're telling us to eat. It's insane! The human body was never meant to process that much sugar. It's no wonder everybody's so sick. I don't know how it is where you are, but everybody here just looks terrible. Everybody's sick. Everybody gets diabetes, heart disease, cancer, it's terrible.

Niall: It's global.

Juliana: And Lierre, I really feel bad for those people who, they have good intentions, but they claim that you can live without eating and just breathe or whatever. And I'd like to know what you tell them, because for me it was like, well, if I'm going to do that, yes, I won't be killing anything, but I won't be thinking. I won't be doing anything with my life. What's the purpose of having that kind of life when you can't do anything to make a little difference in the world? What do you tell these people who say "No, I do believe that you can just do sun gazing and live from thin air"?

Lierre: These people have an eating disorder (laughter). They're anorexic. Seriously! They need help. They have found an ideology that supports their eating disorder and there's actually a word for that, they call it orthorexia nervosa, like orthodoxy so orthorexia nervosa. And it's the same thing. And it's the same biochemistry going on where people get addicted to their own starvation. And there is help, but they need help. And there's only so much you can say to people who are that sick, because it's just a mental illness at that point. Everybody in their lives that cares about them, their family, their friends, those are the people who need to intervene. And they need an intervention. And they need to go to a hospital because it's just insanity. You cannot live without calories. You need energy. You are not a plant. You can't photosynthesise. So there's not much I can say.

Juliana: We've seen a couple that give lectures and stuff because they can survive for like three months. And they think they feel great and then three months down the road, you hear that they ended up at the hospital.

Lierre: Of course.

Juliana: And people still believe them.

Joe: Yeah, or you hear that they've been sneaking Mars bars and Snickers bars when no one was looking.

Pierre: What is misleading as well, that's not always a direct immediate correlation between the food you eat and your state of health. That's what we call 'silent disease', metabolic processes that develop over years and years and you look healthy for decades, maybe and one day you fall down and drop dead from an aneurism, a stroke, whatever kind of disease. So it's not because a vegetarian looks healthy or whatever, vegetarian or not vegetarian. It's not because someone looks healthy now that he's on the right path nutritionally speaking.

Lierre: Well the thing to remember is that you're on draw-down. When you're eating a diet that doesn't contain all the nutrients you need, the minerals, the fat soluble vitamins, the fat itself, it's all being taken out of some organ or tissue in your body. And there's only so long that that can go on.

Joe: It seems to me that ultimately the overview is that the powers that be have instituted a system here on the planet earth where the food, the basic nutrients that keep people alive, are designed to kill them.

Niall: Or keep them so strung up.

Joe: Or to keep them so sick and mentally fogged that they can't do anything about it. That's a conspiracy theory but, you know, it fits. But it also doesn't necessarily have to be a conspiracy in the sense that it could just be a natural evolution of the kind of psychopathic mindset where it's kind of monkey see, monkey do. It's like "we want this, we're going to go and get it and to hell with the results". And if you let that perpetuate, you're going to have terrible end results. You're going to have destruction and entropy and a collapse of the system ultimately.

Lierre: I know for the ancient Aztec society, which is a corn-based civilisation...

Niall: It's not much beyond, but aside from an actual eventual class of falling off a cliff or whatever, something that strikes me is that even now, you'll talk to a lot of people who see a lot of stuff that goes on the planet, but they still fall back on "belief is belief", i.e., it's not true, that things are still good, that they're as good as they ever have been. There are 8 billion of us; more and more people have access to basic resources, food and so on. But what quality of life do people have? It's kind of like...

Joe: Slave nation.

Niall: It's slave nation, but at the same time in order for it to remain so, they need a kind of rose-tinted glasses ideology to paper over the reality.

Joe: I think as Lierre mentioned earlier on when you say the morphine from gluten and the morphine that you get in casein, casomorphin I think it is, people are eating wheat and dairy every day of their lives, most people in the western world. So they're drugged up and they love it. To some extent obviously people are having hardship as well, but it takes the edge off it for a lot of people. I don't think you can discount the effect that food has on people in terms of keeping them content and quiet. And that's why we always say that you really only get a revolution, a real revolution that has any effect, when people go hungry, when you take away their drug essentially. And we're talking about drugs here, morphine, or a morphine version of one.

Pierre: Opioids keep you alive enough to be a slave but not alive enough to free yourself.

Joe: Are we being too pessimistic here?

Niall: I'm curious to know what her diet is like now. She's talking about animal fats and meats so she's presumably eating a lot of meat. I wonder if she's heard of the ketogenic diet, which we discussed on the show because it's not just that we need a natural diet all this time. There is a natural diet, one that does fit. It's been given this name 'ketogenic diet'. That sounds like what is that but it's basically the natural diet, or would have been for hundreds of thousands, if not millions of years for developing humans. And so much as we've been eating incorrectly, so to speak, thanks to agriculture over the last 10,000 years, the science today has taken us full circle, to showing what real nutrition can be and should be.

Joe: Thanks for being on the show. It was great and maybe we'll have you back on again at another time and we can discuss these issues further.

Lierre: Sounds like a plan.

Juliana: Thank you, thank you for all your work.

Joe: From all of us. Yes.

Pierre: Thank you Lierre.

Lierre: Thank you all and thanks to all the listeners.

Niall: Thanks Lierre for coming on. Thank you for writing your book. Thank you for standing up and thank you for caring. We need more people like you.

Pierre: And thank you for the hope.

Joe: Alright folks. Thanks for our chatters and our listeners and the callers that we didn't get to talk to. We're going to leave it there for this week. Until next week, have a good one.