Home > Book, Causes, Genre, nonfiction, Reading Project, Review, Vegetarianism > Book Review: Diet For a New America by John Robbins (Diet for a New America Reading Project, Book 1)

Book Review: Diet For a New America by John Robbins (Diet for a New America Reading Project, Book 1)

Red white and blue book coverSummary:
John Robbins was born into one of the most powerful corporations in America–Baskin-Robbins.  A company based entirely on selling animal products.  Yet he took it upon himself to investigate the reality of animals products and their impact on Americans, American land, and the world overall.  This book summarizes his extensive research, including personal visits to factory farms.

Review/Discussion:
This is the first book in the Diet for a New America Reading Project 2012 I am hosting.  The project is focused on educating ourselves on the facts behind health and preventative medicine for the well-being of all Americans, an issue that I am sure we can all agree is a serious one.  If you join the project late, please feel free to come back to this post or the GoodReads group after you’ve finished the book to join in on the discussion.  And now, on to the book!

There are books that you read that are so incredibly powerful you are left almost speechless.  Simply wanting to hand out copies to everyone you know, everyone you meet and say, “Please, read this.”  I highlighted so much in my copy that I couldn’t even do my usual of posting all highlighted quotes to my tumblr.  I discovered I was practically illegally reproducing the book, hah.  😉  I thus will do my best to highlight precisely why I find this book trustworthy, why I feel inspired by John Robbins, and the most stunning facts I learned while reading the book.

Why You Should Trust This Book
As a medical librarian, I was very careful to check out Robbins’ resources for his facts, particularly for the health section, which is what this project is focused upon.  Robbins drew his research from vetted, peer-reviewed, well-respected scientific journals, including ones I routinely use in my own work, such as Journal of the American Medical Association, the British Journal of Medicine, and The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  He also cites the studies of such organizations as the FDA, the EPA, and the National Cancer Institute.  Additionally, he conducted personal interviews with real factory farmers and scientists.  Additionally, all of his citations are in order.  You may not like the facts he reports, but they are still scientifically backed-up facts.

The fact that John Robbins researched the effects of animal derived foods on the environment and people and decided that it is bad for everyone involved is remarkable when you consider the fact that he comes from a family whose business is based entirely on selling dairy to Americans.  If the man had an innate bias, it would absolutely be on the side of carnists/omnivores, but he astoundingly conducted the research and came down on the side veg*ism.  (His family reunions must really be something…)  This not only makes me respect him, but trust him.  Somebody must be truly convinced to convert away from a business that has made his family, and presumably himself if he had agreed to take over the business, extremely wealthy.

But enough about why this book is trustworthy.  Let’s move on to discuss the astounding scientific facts revealed in the three different sections: animal rights and factory farming, health consequences of eating animal based products, and environmental consequences of meat-based diets.

Animal Rights and Factory Farming
I definitely believe this knowledge is more widely spread than when this book was first published.  I have a hard time imagining growing up in America and not coming to understand the horrors of factory farming, but you never know.  Robbins talks about the psychiatric fact that children who grow up abusing animals are more likely to become criminals in later life.  This, of course, is a basic reason to not base an entire sector of the American economy around factory farms that treat animals horribly like cogs in a machine.  Of course there are more reasons to treat animals well, such as the fact that dogs’ EEG scans are identical to human’s or that dolphins routinely save humans and other animals in the ocean or that many species of animals mate for life showing a dedication most humans can’t pull off.

The horrors of factory farming are so extensive that it’s difficult to even list them.  I feel as if I could go on and on.  Perhaps the best way is to tell you to imagine being in the most crowded elevator possible.  Now imagine that 20 of the 24 hours you’re in there it’s dark.  You’re standing on a slanted, slatted, metal floor.  The food for everyone is all on one side and is dumped in all at once and you must shove and race to get to it.  Of course it’s difficult to even call this food.  It’s a mix of shit, paper, sawdust, chemicals, and antibiotics all spiked with yet another chemical to make it smell better to you.  If you are female, then a hand periodically reaches in and artificially inseminates you, only to rip your baby away from you the instant it is born and hitch machines up to your mammary glands instead of allowing your milk to go to your baby.  If you are male, you are castrated by placing a band around your testicles until they fall off after weeks of the circulation being cut off.

That is the reality for factory farmed animals.  Even if you can manage to ignore the fact that these animals are being pumped full of chemicals and artificial growth hormones that you will then ingest yourself when you eat them or their products, that is still a horrifying way to get your food.  These animals live in terror and pain and die in terror and pain.  There is nothing natural about a factory farm.  Animals were meant to live outside and graze and nurse their babies and maybe live in a herd or a flock.  Not be caged up in situations so unnatural that they literally go crazy and cannibalize each other when they are naturally herbivores.  That is the reality of what you are supporting when you buy factory-farmed animal products.

Human Health
Ok, so maybe now you don’t believe in factory farming, but what about eating animals in general?  We were raised to believe that a healthy diet involves meat, dairy, and eggs, right?  Surely if an animal is raised organically and humanely all will be well?  Well, the meat and dairy lobbyists have done a LOT of work to hide from you the scientific studies that show their products are unhealthy for you.  If you read only a portion of this book, read the health section.  It is impossible for me in this discussion and review to make as eloquent a point as Robbins does.  I will instead sum it up for you.

In scientific studies published in reputable scientific journals such as JAMA, vegetarians have drastically less occurrence of: heart disease, all cancers, strokes, osteoporosis, diabetes, hypoglycemia, multiple sclerosis, ulcers, IBS, arthritis, kidney stones, gallstones, hypertension, anemia, and asthma.  Those who still have any of the chronic diseases are distinctly less symptomatic than the meat-eaters.  Vegans (people who consume no animal products whatsoever) have even LOWER occurrences than vegetarians.  This is vetted by multiple different studies run by different scientists in multiple nations.  Even simply comparing the data of these diseases between countries following the standard American diet and those following a primarily plant-based diet backs these statistics up.

I am sure that those of you who read the book as I did were stunned to hear that these studies have been in the reputable journals since as early as the late 1960s and 1970s and yet we have not heard about them.  Who is to blame?  The meat and dairy lobbyists of course.  What would happen to their businesses if the American people suddenly stopped following the standard American diet?  The Dairy Council provides the nutritional packets at your kids’ schools.  Think about that.

The Environment
The environmental impact of a meat-based diet has started to crop up more often recently with the increased interest in the green movement.  Essentially, Robbins primarily reiterates what I believe most of us already know.  The chemicals necessary to factory farm are bad for the whole planet.  It takes more fossil-fuel energy, more water, and more acreage to feed one person a meat-based diet than a plant-based diet.  These are things that are definitely relevant, particularly to people who don’t believe in human population control.  What I personally found most interesting in this section though was the discovery that American imports meat from Central and South American nations who have been destroying rainforest to do so, and their people are still overwhelmingly on a meat-based diet.  Thus these nations are destroying their own ecologies to support Americans’ wasteful meat-based diets.  That is just disgusting and selfish on our parts.

My Conclusion
I am honestly a bit shocked at the extent of the facts that I didn’t know when I became a vegetarian in January of 2006.  I admit I mostly became one out of an empathy for animals that I have always strongly felt, but additionally the less meat I ate, the better I felt.  Becoming a vegetarian mostly eliminated the symptoms of my IBS as the scientific studies Robbins cites showed.  But….I have a hard time imagining anyone reading the facts like this and not drastically changing their eating habits.  So many of the economic and personal problems in the US today have to do with health.  So maybe you’ve read this book and you still don’t care about animals and you still believe humans are better than them.  But don’t you want to be as healthy as you can be for your lifetime?  Wouldn’t you rather be a happy, healthy grandparent than a stooped-over one on multiple heart medications or going through chemotherapy?  Even if you don’t care about that, don’t you want to leave a healthier planet for your children and your children’s children?  The facts unequivocally show that the fewer animal products you consume, the better all of these outcomes will be.

Once we become aware of the impact of our food choices, we can never really forget. (page 379)

Source: Better World Books

Buy It

Discussion Questions:

  • Robbins believes that the scientific studies reported in the medical journals aren’t well-known because of the meat and dairy lobbies.  Do you think this is the case?  Why or why not?
  • If you do think the facts aren’t known because of the meat and dairy lobbies, how can we combat this?
  • If you don’t think the lobbyists have anything to do with the lack of public knowledge of these issues, what do you think the true cause is?
  • Do you believe the fight for organic animal farming is doing anything to help the environmental and health issues cited in the book?
  • What do you think can be done to get the meat and dairy lobbyists out of our schools?
  • Would you be willing to change your diet knowing the facts about the diseases it can cause or do you think it’s not worth the effort?
  • Do you believe money is better spent on treating the disease or preventing the disease?
  • Do you think world hunger can be successfully combated with a change in the diets of those in the first world countries?
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  1. January 22, 2012 at 7:20 pm

    This is a great book!

    • January 23, 2012 at 11:41 am

      Yes! It definitely has earned its reputation.

  2. January 22, 2012 at 9:46 pm

    I haven’t read your whole review yet, though I will and I’d like to read this book too, especially with your support of the citations! Just wanted to comment about how I had similar reasons for becoming vegetarian – general empathy and compassion – and only later learned of the horrible conditions animals face, the effect on the environment, and the health benefits of vegetarianism, all of which solidified my choice. It’s amazing how many compelling reasons there are to become vegetarian and though I wish more would do it, it’s encouraging that a descendant of a company that exploits animals would choose not to partake.

    • January 23, 2012 at 11:42 am

      Haha, I know my review is long-winded…..just so much to talk about in the book though!

      I find it fascinating the different ways people find their way to vegetarianism, but it never ceases to amaze me how many first do it out of compassion and empathy. It’s encouraging.

  3. January 23, 2012 at 5:21 am

    Again Amanda another great discussion!

    Ok I must be honest straight away I do eat meat, however as we have discussed before I have drastically cut down on the amount I eat. This mainly came about when I made the association between my sluggish digestive system and the amount of meat I had been eating. I come from a family and a society (probably like you) that really view meat as the centre of a meal so I am breaking a habit of a lifetime. If I do not know the origin of the meat I will not buy it, as like you I am sickened by factory farming. I will also not eat Halal meat due to the method it is slaughtered (bled to death), so actually this has led to me mainly only eating vegetarian meals when out at a restaurant.

    I can’t swear to it I will become a vegetarian, however every week I am aiming to cut out more meat and processed food, and to add more fruit and veg.

    • January 23, 2012 at 11:47 am

      Thanks, Jessica! I’m glad you’re participating even if you don’t have the time to read along. 🙂

      Everybody approaches changing a habit we were raised with differently. It’s something Robbins talks about in his book, actually. Some people can go cold turkey (like myself), others are more comfortable gradually cutting down their intake of animal products. I am not among the militant who say it’s either all or nothing. I think any time a person chooses plants over animals it’s a win, whether it’s at every meal or not. And yes even though I still believe slaughtering an animal at all is inhumane, I still would rather they spend their lives getting to LIVE rather than in a factory farm, even if they are killed for meat at the end of it.

      Kosher/Halal slaughtering methods are something Robbins talks about in the book. Apparently the original kosher idea was to slit the animal’s throat while it was still alive and moving, because that was at the time the most humane way. On modern factory farms, however, this means that cattle are hoisted by one leg on a conveyer belt, fully alert and in full pain and dangle for at least two minutes in that position trying to get free while waiting their turn to have their throats slit. It’s horrifying. This in spite of the fact that the farms could use a stun gun to knock the animals out and keep them out of pain. The lack of stun gun use isn’t just for following kosher/halal laws though. Apparently using the stun gun costs the farms one penny per animal, so they don’t use it. *shakes head*

      Anyway, know that you have my support and encouragement for any amount of decrease in animal products you can pull off. I know that the UK and the US are very similar in how meat-centric the culture is, so it’s not an easy thing!

  4. January 24, 2012 at 9:28 am

    I don’t know if I could ever become vegetarian- because my husband loves meat so much. I’ve tried at times to cook meals where the main dish was vegetables and he protested loudly, got quite upset. The best I’ve been able to do is just add more fresh produce to the meals, especially in the summer when my garden makes it all taste better. I wish I could steer him away from eating so much meat, but it’s really difficult.

    • January 24, 2012 at 10:20 am

      Yes, it’s sad how many people (but it does seem to be men especially) have such a knee-jerk reaction to skipping meat in *any* meal. I am reminded of a conversation I had with a man once who stated he would never “deprive” his children of having meat in a meal. There are many cultural reasons for this type of reaction–an association of masculinity with the consumption of meat and an association of wealth and high class status with the consumption of meat are two large ones.

      I’m glad that I changed my ways before getting serious with anyone, so I can seek out a partner who feels the same as me. You are definitely in a tough spot when it comes to moving toward a less meat-centric diet. I am reminded of one vegan presentation I saw, in which the doctor stated that his mother and father were so traditional that his father never went near the kitchen. His mother, thus, replaced meat hot dogs with vegetarian hot dogs, and the father never noticed the difference. I’m not one to advocate lying to your partner, but I was certainly amused that his dad didn’t notice! I am sure there are articles that address your problem, although since I’ve never had it myself, I haven’t sought them out.

  5. January 24, 2012 at 10:10 pm

    I am sure he would notice! He has a very discerning pallate. Ive tried things like bake brownies w/ black beans in them (for fun) and was met with disgust.

    • January 25, 2012 at 12:49 pm

      LOL! Oh man. I’ve seen that recipe. I have to say….I might meet black bean brownies with disgust too. 😉

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