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

January 22, 2012 10 comments

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

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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?

Book Review: Whitewash: The Disturbing Truth About Cow’s Milk and Your Health by Joseph Keon

March 31, 2011 4 comments

Cow relaxing on a glass of milk.Summary:
Joseph Keon seeks to combat the cultural myth of dairy being a necessary part of a healthy diet perpetuated by the milk moustache ads with his book citing multiple scientific studies that have been swept under the rug by those being paid by the dairy lobbyists.  Although Keon cares about animal welfare as well (and there is a chapter on the suffering of dairy cows), the book predominantly focuses on debunking multiple myths surrounding human consumption of dairy:  the overly-hyped “need” for calcium, that dairy is good for children, and the idea that dairy prevents disease.  Keon additionally alarmingly shows the various chemical, virus, and bacteria contaminants commonly found in dairy.  Citing multiple scientific studies, he unequivocally demonstrates that contrary to what the dairy industry and government want you to think, dairy is actually bad for your health.

Review:
I’ve been a vegetarian for five years as of January 2011 (working on my sixth year).  I’ve honestly stayed away from books on veganism, because I had a feeling vegans were right, and I could not see myself ever giving up cheese.  How odd that I could give up so many other things I was raised on like bacon, chicken nuggets, etc… but not cheese.  With my recent increased interest in my health, though, I had already decided to cut back on my cheese consumption, so I figured why not give a book on dairy a go.  The first few chapters were definitely pushing the buttons I already subconsciously knew–we don’t need dairy, it’s unnatural to consume the milk of another creature intended for their young, etc….  Where I suddenly found myself nodding along and saying yes, though, was when Keon got into the similarities between how adults and children act about cheese and addicts.  Keon starts the section by clearly defining addiction:

“Addictions are considered diseases because they are out of our control, often so much so that they lead us to behave in ways that are dangerous to our health.  In its most basic definition, an addiction occurs when we are physiologically or psychologically dependent upon a habit-forming substance or behavior, to the point where its elimination from our life may result in trauma or suffering.” Location 721

Keon then goes on to explain exactly what about cheese makes it so addicting when we know it’s bad for us.

“Research has shown detectable amounts of compounds identical to the narcotic opiate morphine in cow’s milk.  Study of the morphine found in milk has confirmed it has identical chemical and biological properties to the morphine used as an analgesic.  A plausible assumption is that all mammals produce this opiate compound to make sure their offspring return to the breast to acquire essential nutrients and to bond with the mother.”  Location 722

Whoa.  So cheese, basically, is morphine.  The chemical that is healthy for a calf to ingest as it causes her to return to the mother for food, comfort, and safety, when consumed by people causes us to return repeatedly in an addictive manner to a substance that is really, almost pure fat.  WOW.  You know those  life-changing moments?  I had one right there.

There are two other sections that are mind-blowing in Keon’s book.  The first deals with multiple first world “diseases” that are often actually allergic reactions caused by prolonged exposure to the allergen–cow’s milk.  When we take all races into consideration, most people are allergic to cow’s milk: 90% of Asian-Americans, 75% of African-Americans, 50% of Latino-Americans, and 25% of Caucasian-Americans (Location 900).  Yet despite these known statistics, the federal government continues to push dairy onto schools at the dairy lobbyists’ urgings.

“The policy of pushing milk upon children in inner-city schools is particularly problematic when we take race into account.  African-American children have a lactose intolerance rate of about 75 percent…..Worse, children who have made the healthful transition to beverages made from rice, soy, or almonds are out of luck when they get to school.  That’s because any public school in America that attempts to serve these beverages in place of cow’s milk will lose its federal support.” (Location 2163)

Being constantly exposed to an allergen in childhood can cause or exacerbate multiple issues such as colic, irritable bowel syndrome, eczema, acne, asthma, headaches, Crohn’s Disease, chronic nasal congestion, fatigue, depression, joint pain, and even autism.

Keon also addresses the issue of osteoporosis and breast cancer, two issues of utmost concern for women in particular.  Whereas women are told that drinking milk will help prevent the former and will not be a contributing factor in the latter, the science actually demonstrates both statements to be false.  If a woman follows a typical Western diet, the consumption of that much protein causes her body to become acidic and leech calcium.  Studies have shown that no amount of extra calcium consumed can keep up with the leeching.  This means that consuming three glasses of milk a day will do nothing for a woman following an omnivorous diet.  Add to this the fact that

“Milk has been associated with increased risk for breast cancer, and the combination of pesticides and radiation have been proposed as one possible explanation.” (Location 1816)

When the fact that dairy consumption does not prevent osteoporosis is combined with the association with breast cancer, one is left wondering why there aren’t government campaigns warning women to stay away from dairy to save their lives!  (Oh yeah.  The dairy lobbies.  Money.  It always comes down to money).  Further, studies have shown that

By age sixty-five, women who have followed a meat-centered diet have lost, on average, 35 percent of their bone mass, while women who have followed a plant-centered diet have lost only about half that amount: 18 percent.”  (Location 3195)

I’ve only touched on the surface of the shocking facts backed up by science contained in this book, focusing in on the ones that stuck out the most strongly to me.  If you have any interest at all in your health and/or the health of your children, I urge you to read this book.  Educate yourself on the facts instead of listening to government programs and advertising caused by dairy lobbyists who are only after your money.  Dig for the truth.  Read this book.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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