Monday, September 04, 2006

What I'm Reading: The Food Revolution

Cover ImageBack in college, a friend once sited The Food Revolution as the book that made her decide to become a vegetarian. She said it changed her life. I like books that change your life. And I like food. So, I filed this one in the back of my head to read one of these days. I finally borrowed from a friend and am currently about two-thirds of the way through. The author, John Robbins, would be the heir to the Baskin-Robbins throne, but instead decided to devote his life to exposing the benefits to our health and our planet of a plant-based diet. The book has had some interesting effects.

The author stands staunchly behind his stance, but he knows he's got some serious convincing to do. The first of the book's 3 sections is about the health benefits of a vegetarian diet, the easiest sell. The numbers are staggering. For all of the major diseases we struggle with (heart disease, cancer, high cholesterol, diabetes, and more), Robbins has collected a battery of statistics that demonstrate undeniably the health advantages of going without meat.

He goes on to talk about the conditions in factory farms, offering some positively abhorrent accounts. Institutionalized torture of animals will definitely make you squeamish, but it's the talk of what they feed the animals, how unsanitarily they are raised and butchered, and how much antibiotics they they pump into them to protect agains those unsanitary conditions, that really make you consider a food revolution of your own. I had no idea the regulations our government lays down are so much more lax than those of European nations -- an unfortunate by-product of capitalism. For all the food labeling we do see, it's amazing how much we don't know about what we're eating and feeding our families.

It should be noted that this book does not read like Fast Food Nation. This is not compelling, edgy writing; there are few clever turns of phrase. However, Food Revolution is extremely well-researched, and its straightforward style makes Robbins' point clear. There are a couple moments where it does become more than a simple textbook: the description of how baby turkeys are made (it's not what you'd expect) is downright witty, and when Robbins tells the story of his encounter with a pig farmer, his voice reflects how emotional, and personal, the experience was.

It's this very pig farmer that started a change in my world. I recounted the moving story to a coworker at lunch one day last week, and since then he's completely eschewed pork and beef. I'm the one reading the book, and he's going veggie! There is something wrong with this picture. I had been reading the book more to be informed, not expecting to make any changes in my own diet. I was convinced meatless is the way to be, but was too set in my ways to do anything about it. But now there was a challenge! I'm up for it. But, recall that I'm a 'warm turkey' kind of gal -- I just don't do well with extremes. So, here are my terms:

  • Lowering meat consumption in general.
  • Increasing consumption of fish, seafood, tofu, and vegetable options.
  • Eliminating ground beef completely, unless I know where it came from.
  • Exception #1: tasting new things. If, say I'm going to the place known throughout Los Angeles to have the best carne asada in the history of mankind, I have to try it. No doubt. Although maybe I'll try a bite of someone else's, rather than 2 whole tacos. Same rules apply when traveling.
  • Exception #2: I will eat whatever my mother puts in front of me. Fortunately she doesn't cook with beef, so this is not a problem. In general though, being a guest in someone's home becomes a little tricky.
This should be interesting. I always appreciate a wake-up call about what I'm putting into my body, and this book is a stark one. Making some dietary changes will be a good challenge, and I like the idea of voting with my wallet. I haven't even gotten to the third section of the book, on the environmental impact of the American meat-based diet, but I'm glad I'm leaving a smaller footprint in that regard too. There's a lot of good info in the book -- I do recommend you check it out.


  1. I'm all about this! Don't get me started on factory farming... that's why we joined a CSA. Ask Eric about Peter Singer's "The Way We Eat". I personally think "Fast Food Nation" changed my life (the only exception being In-N-Out) but then again I'm waiting to read "The Omnivore's Dilemma". Have you looked up Bill Buford's article on Tuscan butchering and Mario Batali's dad yet...?

  2. wow, annie you are demanding! i have not read 'the way we eat', although i saw it in the bookstore last night and was intrigued. i totally agree about 'fast food nation' -- that book is so fascinating, so well-written, and so motivating. this schlosser character knows his stuff.

    haven't read 'omnivore's delimma', but i can't wait to read it. 'botany of desire' was great and made me love michael pollan, and i'm feeling the omnivore strain bad -- can you believe i feel a little jealous of my friends who have food allergies? i could use some reining in! also pollan said in an article recently, 'eat less, pay more', which i think is an important idea -- be willing to pay the premium for quality foods that follow your morals, and just eat less of it -- it's more satisfying anyway, and we eat like cows as is, so we could use cutting back.

    i'm also a little jealous of your csa membership -- i love the idea of a variety of seasonal produce in my house at all times. it's just not practical when i'm cooking for one -- most of it would rot!

    and finally, i skimmed through the salumi article. i should go back to it for more deeper reading, but i must admit, all the pig butchering kind of grosses me out -- i do come from a legacy of kosher, recall. in fact, i'd love to know more about the process that leads to kosher meat -- some inquisitive jew should really write that book.

    i recommend you click the 'pig farmer' link in this post right now -- it's really a great excerpt from the book.

  3. which co-worker was it? was it morley? that guy eats like a bird anyway. and i'm dying to know the story of the pig farmer.

  4. oh and how does this new development in your life bode for our taco pilgrimage??

  5. I think you're on to something, although any future Big Ass BBQs will have to be modified somewhat. I love that my kids hate hamburgers and hot dogs, though we still have a long way to go as far as sugar and other kid crap they eat. Just pray that when your time comes, your pregnancy cravings don't resemble mine in any way. Otherwise, you're sunk. Also, feel free to move next door to me and we can join a CSA together. I love the idea but current chaotic conditions totally prohibit it. Like working out, it's always easier when you have a buddy.

  6. erin - it was morley. he totally peer-pressured me! the taco pilgrimage falls under both exception #1 and exception #2. However, I'm up for the challenge to find other yummy taco fillings -- fish tacos are my favorite, and apparently there's a place near work with good shrimp tacos. So, the tacos will not suffer.

    tsp - don't worry, there will still be plenty to bbq. remember that time we stuffed a whole fish with fresh herbs and threw it on the grill? i want to do that again. and as far as the csa, it does sound appealing, but not appealing enough to move me to the boonies. although, joining a csa might actually be a convenience for you -- some of them deliver.

  7. Curious to know how are you doing with your new eating plan? For the past 9 years I have eaten fish and chicken, no other animals. I did however eat beef occasionally if my mother happened to make it. I am however getting very bored with the fish and chicken thing, and there is just so much pasta I can stand.
    Soy products and beans just don't work for me either....
    Guess I'll have to live on fruit tarts and labneh.
    : )