Eating for health or sustainability? Why not BOTH?


Most people don’t think about either one when making their food choices.

They simply eat what tastes good. With so much confusion around what we should be eating, they figure that they’ll just eat what they want—and enjoy it. I was pretty much that way until 2002. That’s when I got curious about the optimal diet for humans. I wanted to find out what nature had in mind for us to eat.

Diet New AmericaAfter reading 30 or 40 books about diet and health, I read two books over Memorial Day weekend in 2003 that focused primarily on the environmental impact of our food choices. That’s when I had my blinding flash of the obvious when I suddenly realized that we humans were eating the wrong food. Those two books were Diet for a New America by John Robbins and Mad Cowboy by Howard Lyman.

Later, in 2005, Dr. Campbell stated in The China Study, “It turns out that if we eat the way that promotes the best health for ourselves, we also promote the best health for the planet.” That sounded like a pretty cool win-win proposition to me and I’ve eaten a mostly whole foods, plant-based diet ever since.

But over the years, I have gradually evolved from eating primarily for my health—to eating primarily for the sustainability of our civilization and, ultimately, the human species.

Once a lush tropical island with a thriving population of 15,000, they consumed their finite resources and their civilization collapsed.

Once a lush tropical island with a thriving population of 15,000, they consumed their finite resources and their civilization collapsed. The same thing is happening today on planet Earth.

Why sustainability and “saving the planet?” During the past few years, I have concluded that it’s really not about “saving the planet” as we so often hear. It’s more about preserving her ability to sustain us. Mother Earth is going to be just fine.

She’s been supporting life for four billion years and has seen many species of creatures come and go—and she will survive indefinitely; regardless of how much damage we inflict. It’s the future of our species that’s in jeopardy.

I specifically remember an article, Endless Summer, by Mark Bittman in the New York Times in July of 2012 (See link below). This is the part that caught my attention:

Climate Central’s projections show that the biggest cities in Florida, and a great deal of the Northeast coastline (including New York City), will be underwater by 2100, when almost everyone now alive will have “managed” to leave the scene. Of course, the calamities won’t be limited to North America, nor is 2100 some magical expiration date; the end isn’t in sight.

It won't likely be this bad in the year 2100, but it will be headed in that direction.

It won’t likely be this bad in the year 2100, but it will be headed in that direction.

Seeing the year 2100 in print struck a chord. Realizing that I have six grandchildren who will be in their 80’s and 90’s in 2100. What kind of life are we leaving for them and their children when we talk about our major cities being underwater?

What other horrors will they also experience? So I posted a blog on 8-12-12 entitled Forget “saving the planet.” Think great grandchildren. (See link below).

Since then, I have been thinking more and more about the sustainability of our civilization and our species and less and less about my own health. Why? Because it’s much more important. After all, what could possibly be more important for humans than the longterm sustainability of our species? It’s also a more powerful argument for influencing people to shift to eating more plants.

The 4Leaf level is reached at over 80% of your calories from whole plants.

Eating at the 4Leaf level simply means deriving over 80% of your calories from whole plants. The average American gets far less than ten percent.

Most people feel like what they eat affects only themselves; therefore, what they choose to eat is no one else’s business. True, what you eat only affects “your” health, but it also affects our planet’s longterm ability to sustain us. And that is important to everyone.

Here’s my short list of just four “sustainability” reasons for eating mostly plants:

  1. Calories from meat, dairy and eggs require over ten times as much land, water and energy as do calories from plants. And we’re about to run out of enough land and water to feed us. (Eating fish is no bargain for the environment either.)
  2. If all seven billion people on our planet were to eat our typical western diet, we’d need two planet Earths to feed us all. And we only have one.
  3. Raising livestock for our dinner tables is the largest single driver of global warming and may even produce more greenhouse gases (GHG) than all other human sources combined.
  4. Things continue to get worse, not better. We add another 230,000 people for dinner every single day. We lose an area the size of South Carolina to erosion and we destroy another 30 million acres of rainforest each year—all so that we can meet the growing  global demand for meat, dairy, eggs and fish.

Given all of the above, my own conclusion is this. “Shifting to a whole food, plant-based diet will do more to ensure the long-term survival of our species than ALL other possible initiatives combined.”

Here is where I will be speaking in Tucson. The fabulous Fox Theater.

Check out the 5-minute video demo below of my 9-21-13 speech at the Fox Theater in Tucson, AZ.

The Bottom Line. If what you choose to eat affected ONLY your health, then it’s none of my business what you eat. But when it affects the future of my great grandchildren, then it is my business.

And I believe that as people become fully aware of what’s at stake, that more of them will choose to eat more plants in the future. Saving your great grandchildren may very well be the biggest motivator of all.

More Public Speaking. Now that I have re-packaged myself as more of a “sustainability” guy than a “healthy eating” guy, I have engaged an environmental speaking agency to help me find more audiences around the world that will benefit from my hopeful message of promoting health, hope and harmony. You can find me on their website at ExploreGreen.com

Violet at Trader Joe's

Violet (4), currently my youngest grandchild, will be 91 in the year 2100. Her baby sister Evelyn (still in utero) will turn 86 that same year.

For your convenience, I have included links to several of my earlier blogs on this topic. I have also provided a five minute video demo of my 75-minute presentation to an enthusiastic crowd of 500+ in Tucson on 9-21-13.

From the Fox Theater in Tucson, Arizona — September 21, 2013

Handy 5-piece take-charge-of-your-health kit—from Amazon.com

Why should we be eating mostly plants? The “big picture” in 4 minutes.

Want to find out how healthy your family is eating? Take our free 4Leaf Survey. It takes less than five minutes and you can score it yourself. After taking the survey, please give me your feedback as it will be helpful in the development of our future 4Leaf app for smartphones. Send feedback to jmorrishicks@me.com

International. We’re now reaching people in over 100 countries. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter or get daily blog notices by “following” us in the top of the right-hand column. For occasional updates, join our periodic mailing list.

J. Morris Hicks, working daily to promote health, hope and harmony on planet Earth.

To order more of my favorite books—visit our online BookStore now

For help in your own quest to take charge of your health, visit our 4Leaf page and also enjoy some great recipes from Lisa’s 4Leaf Kitchen.

Got a question? Let me hear from you at jmorrishicks@me.com. Or give me a call on my cell at 917-399-9700.

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—J. Morris Hicks, board member, T. Colin Campbell Foundation

About J. Morris Hicks

A former strategic management consultant and senior corporate executive with Ralph Lauren in New York, J. Morris Hicks has always focused on the "big picture" when analyzing any issue. In 2002, after becoming curious about our "optimal diet," he began a study of what we eat from a global perspective ---- discovering many startling issues and opportunities along the way. In addition to an MBA and a BS in Industrial Engineering, he holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, where he has also been a member of the board of directors since 2012. Having concluded that our food choices hold the key to the sustainability of our civilization, he has made this his #1 priority---exploring all avenues for influencing humans everywhere to move back to the natural plant-based diet for our species.
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