Independent Book Review of Healthy Eating — Healthy World
Unless you were lucky enough to be raised in a vegan household, your decision to stop eating animals probably came from many different influences. I know that I have a shelf full of books that I gathered along my road, and because of my career change to the field of nutrition several years ago, many of them focus on the health benefits of a plant-based diet. From Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s groundbreaking Eat to Live to Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s The China Study, there are nuggets of information in all of them that intrigue, inspire and challenge my thinking.
Sometimes, however, I wish that there were a book that compiled all of the “information nuggets” in one place. Good thing that J. Morris Hicks’ new book, Healthy Eating, Healthy World: Unleashing the Power of Plant-Based Nutrition (BenBella Books, 2011), came along. This book ably summarizes the information from the foremost experts in the field of plant-based living, and, in doing so, makes the case that what we eat is the most important choice we can make for the future of our health, for the animals, and for our planet.
The book is organized into three sections: health reasons for following a plant-based diet, how what we eat affects animals and the environment, and ideas for how to take action. The first is undoubtedly my favorite. Hicks starts out by listing some startling statistics, including that “there are more than 1.5 billion overweight adults in the world; at least 500 million of them are obese.” Considering that obesity is associated with so many other health conditions like heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes and even cancer, it’s about time we thought carefully about changing our eating habits.
After discussing how we got to be such a sick population, Hicks profiles some of the experts, including the aforementioned Drs. Campbell (who also wrote the book’s foreward) and Fuhrman, as well as Drs. Neal Barnard, Caldwell Esselstyn and Dean Ornish. He then weaves the incredible results from their research into an undeniable argument that a whole foods, plant-based diet is the ideal approach for human health. This summary is the highlight of this book for me and earns it a spot on my list of resources for people interested in taking charge of their health.
Following this important distillation of the research supporting a plant-based diet, Hicks goes on to explain the specific impact that our diet can have on our health, including preventing or reversing disease, and then concludes this section by answering the question “Why Not Plant-Based?” with information refuting the common arguments against veganism, including the myth that plant-based diets are deficient in protein or calcium. New vegans, as well as seasoned vegans looking for a few more sound bites, will surely appreciate Hicks’ clear and concise way of disseminating information and dissecting facts.
The second section,“What You Eat Affects Far More Than Just Your Health” is the most thorough comparison I have found of the impacts of the Standard American Diet (SAD) to that of a plant-based diet. Hicks uses vivid descriptions to make his point. For instance, after noting that farmed animals in the U.S. produce 130 times as much waste as humans, he calculates that it works out to 9,000 pounds — or the equivalent of nine pickup trucks overflowing with animal waste — per human per year. Gross!
In terms of water, I never knew that it takes twenty times more water per calorie to produce meat than to grow plant-based foods. And, if you love wildlife like I do, consider the United Nations’ statement that “The livestock sector may well be the leading player in the reduction of biodiversity, since it is a major driver of deforestation, land degradation, pollution, climate change, overfishing, sedimentation of coastal areas, and facilitation of invasions by alien species.”
The following chapters in this section address in similar fashion how the issues of worldwide hunger and animal suffering can be resolved by the elimination of animal foods. The chapter entitled “Hell on Earth” describes the fate of chickens, cows, pigs and fish in the modern day factory farm. Hicks presents the issue of animal suffering in the same evidence-based method that he uses throughout the book, with just enough detail to make his point. He ends this chapter with a frank discussion on the moral issues involved in eating animals, reminding us that we can end this type of animal suffering with our food choices, and quoting Leonardo da Vinci who said over 500 years ago that “The time will come when men such as I will look on the murder of animals as they now look on the murder of men.”
Whether you are just learning about the many reasons to consume a plant-based diet, or you are already well-versed (and well-fed) in that area, you probably know what it’s like to be overwhelmed with information, and wondering what to do next. The last section of Healthy Eating, Healthy World is devoted to offering some solutions. Hicks understands how difficult it can be to change our way of eating and reviews some of the common pitfalls. He presents a “4-Leaf Program” which is a loose way of measuring the switch to a plant-based diet. This section is the only part of the book that fell short for me because I felt it wasn’t specific enough. Some recipes or suggested eating plans would have rounded out the book, providing readers with even more specific tools for adopting a healthy vegan diet. Perhaps there is a market for a sequel. Healthy Eating, Healthy World Cookbook, maybe?
All in all, Healthy Eating, Healthy World does an outstanding job of addressing the question of why we should eat a plant-based diet. The tone is casual yet very informative. As a future health professional, I will recommend this book not only as a primer for those just beginning their journey to health, but also for people who need a reminder of the importance of our food choices. For those of us who have been been vegan for some time, it also might also act as the perfect stocking stuffer for the veg-curious in our lives. Its non-threatening tone is exactly what the doctor ordered.
Healthy Eating, Healthy World concludes with a great quote from Mahatma Gandhi that is truly one to live by: “You may never know what results come of your action, but if you do nothing, there will be no result.”
Carrie Forrest is a graduate student in public health nutrition, the author of the blog Carrie on Vegan, and an Our Hen House fan. Through her writings, step-by-step photo guides and recipes, Carrie inspires readers of her blog to prepare whole-food, simple recipes that are low in added fats, sugars and salt, yet are 100% delicious. You can contact Carrie at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can visit her website at carrieonvegan.com
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—J. Morris Hicks…blogging daily at HealthyEatingHealthyWorld.com