Thursday, September 25, 2008

Diet for a New America

Diet for a New America was a book that I read straight through, animatedly discussing various points of the book with my husband. In 1987 John Robbins published a landmark book that was a harsh look at the realities of agra-business and how it dramatically affects our health, our nation and our well being. I held my husband hostage on a road trip as I flung facts from the books and subjected him to some horrible pictures of tortured animals we call lunch.

The full title is Diet for a New America: How Your Food Choices Affect Your Health, Happiness and the Future of Life on Earth. Robbins, and yes the name rings a bell as he is the son of THE Robbins from Baskin and Robbins. He split from his family to live a simplistic lifestyle both in the acquisition of material goods and food selection. Much of his work is now considered a foundation for eco-conscious food decisions.

It is also interesting to note that this book predates much of our debate about climate change and the role of meat production and the implications of such on our global welfare. Robbins speaks of the environmental impact in that:

-Excessive amount of water is used in the production of meat
-The methane and by products of animal farming are of great detriment to our earth
-The sheer amount of food used to “raise” food is an incredible waste

Many of his conclusions laid a foundation for ideas that are firmly in the green conscious dialogue, but yet one of the first scathing looks at the business of food. The food impact, the health impact, and the environmental impact are realms that I feel Robbins really broke new ground and gave us a book that we can all read and digest.

I found Robbins’ discussion of food combinations and nutrition requirements extremely interesting. I didn’t agree with everything that he said, but he made a valid case for a dramatically different look at our nutritional requirements. He feels that we’re created this great big protein myth, when much of our nutrition requirements are easily obtained through food combinations, beans, leafy greens and more. I know, it seems pretty logical to most of us.

Robbins makes a gut wrenching case against our modern concept of animal farming. He exposes the inhumanity of standard practices such as chicken caging, animal prods and pig farms to name a few. The pictures are not for the faint of heart, but really and truly……I think it is something that we all need to look at. He discusses our meat packing practices, and the cruelty involved in getting the animals there. He takes us back into the thought that we aren’t just eating something nice and neatly wrapped in a styro dish, but we should realize exactly what it is and where it came from.

I first read Diet for a New America years ago when I was a veggie for six years, and then went vegan for two years. Years later I was off the wagon and eating meat far too regularly in my opinion, as part of the general suburban diet that I just became rather desensitized to. I wasn’t really considering the environmental impact, nor the impact to my health. When I started implementing a greener lifestyle I re-read Diet, and was rejuvenated in efforts to consider my impact in day-to-day choices. We’ve upped the veggies, given up beef and pork (except when my husband does the shopping), buy cage free organic eggs and have implemented a healthier diet for this American. I’m still not back to veggie, but I’d say we try to think much more wisely about our food and where it comes from.

Robbins reworked some of his figures concerning food production in later work. Even conservative figures still put one pound of beef as needing 450 gallons of water to produce, a figure that those concerned about water shortages should certainly take a valuable look at. While he might not win everybody over on his emotional appeal, he does make many serious points on the environmental impact.

It isn’t a nicely packaged “green read” book of modern day, (laugh that we think 1987 is old) but it lays a good foundation for understanding how “green” and “food” and “business” all intersect in our modern day. I’d recommend it with 4 out of 5 for light green readers. It’s a good start into better eating , and different choices.


Anonymous said...

Knowing that this book transformed you into a vegan definitely piques my interest. I'm curious how you'd compare this one to newer books such as Omnivore's Dilemma.

Going Crunchy said...

Well, I read it while I was already currently veggie going vegan. I somehow (well, I know how) fell off the wagon and began eating meat again, and then progressed into too much.

As part of reducing our carbon emissions we went lower impact meats and eliminated some.

I picked Diet up again when we started "going crunchy" about a year and a half ago. It was good to revisit.

I haven't read Omnivoire's Dilemma yet, but have it on my list of books I seriously want to get to!

Going Crunchy said...

I also just read an interesting post that relates to food farming at Kale for Sale. Check out her article and Fish Pledge for more info on Salmon farming.

Kale for Sale said...

Great review Crunchy. I haven't read this but have certainly heard of it over the years. Now I'll have to pick it up and give it a look. It's a shame the book is still relevant over twenty years later and didn't change the way we think about food then. But then maybe he was just ahead of his time and what he has to say will have a resurgence of appeal.

LOL about holding your husband hostage. My guy says he didn't have to read Omnivore's Dilemma because he simply lived with me while I did. OD was such an eye opener though that I couldn't help but exclaim over it.

And thanks for the comment about the No Farmed Salmon Pledge.