The Vegetarian Myth: A Stylistic Analysis
The Vegetarian Myth, written by author Lierre Keith, tackles the ever-heated question: To eat animal products or not to eat animal products? The book would be more properly called the vegan myth, because Lierre speaks to people abstaining from all animal products for moral, political, and/or nutritional reasons. As a former vegan of over twenty years Keith comes from a place of experience, or as she might have it, a bitter experience. Feeling betrayed, in denial, and physically ill from her vegan years, she has made it her goal to reveal the truth and put to rest the Vegetarian notion that abstaining from animal products is the righteous path that is morally correct, will feed the hungry, and lead to greater nutrition. Chapter one, titled “Why This Book” will be the focus of this analysis because it gives an appropriate introduction to Keith’s unique style and the omnipresent use of sarcasm. She captures an audience ranging from the devote vegan, to the exclusive carnivore, and to just about anyone else who is concerned with “food, justice, and sustainability”. Keith’s passion is evident, and her bitterness resonates when she tells of her past vegan experiences. This powerful introduction to her book uses anaphora and tri-colons to emphasize her passion, and a footing that goes back and forth between dominant and empathetic friend. She demands the reader attention in a persuasive and engaging style.
From the beginning, Keith gives us a good sense of her footing as well as her bitter tone. In the first paragraph she writes in large, bold font, “This was not an easy book to write.” Putting this as the first statement already creates a footing with the readers. She is talking directly to the reader in the first person, which puts her and the reader on the same level. The fact that the book was “not easy” to write, presents a struggle in the author and tells the reader that are worthy of hearing this struggle. Over the next three sentences she say’s “I know,” “I was a vegan for almost twenty years,” and “I know the reasons . . . [I] embraced [the] diet”. This is anaphora, and creates a footing with the reader that she is just as experienced as anyone reading this book. Immediately following this she uses the tri-colon “justice, compassion, . . . [and] a desperate and all encompassing longing to set the world right. This tri-colon really adds a punch to her point and lays the foundation for why she took on a vegetarian lifestyle. It also helps the reader to grasp the exigence, or her reason for writing this piece.
Continuing through the chapter Keith gives insight into her blunt voice, clever prose, and use of sarcasm. Starting the second paragraph with words like “hunger” and “spiritual” are used to describe the passionate force behind the political views of so many die-hard vegans. Later she say’s “I want eating—the first nurturance—to be an act that sustains instead of kills.” This allows Keith to connect to the needs of her vegan readers; thus giving her a chance to be heard, instead of judged. Keith is not here to beat around the bush, and waste time with wordiness. She is here to tell us what she has to say in a straight-up, concise way. The sixth paragraph is representative of her ability to move an audience by describing the “ignorance,” as the “breadth of the vegetarian myth,” and then climaxing by connecting the whole idea to the “nature of life”. Keith further demonstrates her passionate voice when she demands to a broader audience, “an accounting that goes way beyond what’s dead on your plate.” This is the first time that the footing shifts slightly. She is not calling out the reader specifically, but she is holding everyone accountable, including the reader. It becomes apparent, that the change in tone is not intentional toward the reader, but rather her rage, which is at times is uncontrollable.
After a long list of the devastation of improper agricultural practices, Keith gives the reader a brief comical relief through her sly use of sarcasm. She accomplishes this by saying “eating soybeans isn’t going to [fix] [it].” This referrs to the fact that abstaining from animal products, and eating a “politically correct” diet—as she calls it—is not going to solve any agricultural problems. In fact, she infers that this will worsen the problem. Keith uses sarcasm once again in the third paragraph on page five. She compares the claims made by vegetarian activists with little to know farming experience, to one of the “high priests” of sustainable farming and rightfully poses the question, “[w]hom do you believe?” The constant use of sarcasm toward the opposition with the support of her research engages the reader by forcing them to ask themselves; why in their logical minds would they be a vegan? She describes the destructiveness of factory farming by saying “its [a] tortuous treatment of animals, [and] its [an] environmental toll.”
In the final pages Keith tells us that a “”[v]egetarian” isn’t just what you eat or even what you believe. It’s who you are, and it’s a totalizing identity.” This further allows her to gain the trust of a skeptical vegan audience by empathizing with them. This is strengthened by the fact that she used to be a vegan. Because she knows the vegetarian/vegan crowd so well, this may also be a subtle cultural norm within that group, which would further deepen it’s meaning. Keith leaves us by clarifying the loose ends of the footing. She writes, “I have done my best to avoid a tone of moral superiority and aim for engagement. I hope I have succeeded. Ultimately I would rather be helpful than right.” This is a major final breakthrough between her and the audience. Throughout the chapter, her rage and sarcasm can be mistakenly directed at the audience; or rather the audience does not feel excluded from it. These words in the last paragraph reduce most, if any, residual footing that put Keith in a more dominant position than the and puts them on friendly terms: a very important factor when persuading an audience.
Keith shows us that Vegetarianism is not the answer to our health problems. To her, and many others in the nutritional field, feel that the overconsumption of post-agricultural foods in the absence of animal foods is a recipe for disease. Many vegetarians identify strongly with what they eat and are subject to scrutiny in this book. Thus, one must not be overly harsh when unfolding information that goes contrary to that idealism. Keith does this extraordinarily and is aided by the fact that she is a recovering vegan. She conveyed her message concisely through her blunt voice, engaged the readers emotions through her grand style and footing, and use of sarcasm to diminish the idea of vegetarianism.
Holcomb, Chris, and M. Jimmie Killingsworth. Performing Prose: The Study and
Practice of Style in Composition. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2010.
Keith, Lierre. The Vegetarian Myth. Cresent City: FP press, 2009. 1-12.