This is what I call the “second-hand school” effect 🙂 When I produce class work that I think could do double duty as a blog post! Or when I happen across really interesting topics in class that provide inspiration for a new blog topic, like my ‘Are only interesting things worth it?‘ post from awhile back. For my senior capstone class requirement I chose to take a grant writing and sustainability class (mostly because it was online) and one of the assignments was to do a book review on literature of our choosing that related to sustainability. Bingo! Of course I immediately thought of veganism and how it relates to the environment. I had been wanting to read Diet for a New America by John Robbins for awhile, so what better way to kill two birds with one…..hmmm, I should find a different analogy…
Diet for a New America is intended for the general adolescent or adult public. Whether the readers are omnivores, already vegan, or anywhere in between they will find it interesting and eye opening. If the readers are not already vegan or considering eschewing animal products from their diet, after reading this book they will either seriously consider changing their diet or will feel confident in their ability to defend their current dietary practice of veganism. Most of the public is unaware of the effects that occur as a byproduct of breeding and farming animals for food. The government purposefully conceals most of this information from the public in order to continue to profit from meat and dairy. Many states have enacted “ag-gag” laws that make it illegal to film or take pictures of even the outside of factory farms, even if the person does so from a public road. If you recall, in 1998 Oprah declared on her show that she would never eat another hamburger after learning details about her meat. She was then sued for slander by angry cattle ranchers who feared her statement would convince her viewers to do the same. The USDA has a conflict of interest, they are responsible for sustaining the agricultural industries of meat and dairy as well as dictating the nutritional recommendations for the public. But when it comes down to the health of individuals or making a profit, money wins at the expense of the environment, animals who suffer, and the health of individuals.
The main objective of this book is to reveal to readers the detrimental consequences of consumption of meat and dairy products. He details the different practices that are involved in farming all animals including fish, chicken, turkeys, pigs, and cows. Each process is cruel and inhumane, as well as unsustainable. In each section he details the emotional and mental intelligence of the animals who are slain. The practices of the fishing industry are particularly relevant to today. Americans are told to consume more fish for “healthy” Omega-3 fatty acids and because it is lower in fat and cholesterol than other animal products. However, our oceans are being depleted of fish faster than they can be replenished. It is estimated by organizations like the United Nations that by 2050 the oceans could become “fishless deserts” at our current rate of consumption. Robbins keeps the reader engaged with information that is emotionally stimulating as well as factual, “When infant dolphins are caught in tuna nets, their mothers will go to extraordinary lengths to join their doomed young. Once in the nets, they will huddle together with their offspring, singing to them. The tuna industry takes note of this only to acknowledge that the majority of dolphins killed in their nets are females and infants” (21). All of his facts, stories and studies are cited and listed for readers to continue their research and delve deeper into the truth.
Robbins attacks the issue of animal agriculture from all sides. He begins with the cruelty to animals and then moves on to the negative health consequences people suffer from consuming animal products. He appeals to the future of the children and their health. The current generation has been predicted to be the first who will not outlive their parents because of chronic lifestyle diseases. Robbins details how many, if not all, of these diseases can be attributed to consumption of animal products. A vegan diet has been shown by doctors such as Caldwell Esselsytn, Neal Barnard, and Dean Ornish (to name a few) to be able to stop and in some cases reverse serious chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Lastly, Robbins addresses the environmental impact of breeding, feeding and slaughtering billions of animals annually for human consumption. From the process, to the end, Robbins addresses the pesticide issues involved in growing food for animals and the pollution that results as well as the toxins that accumulate in the meat and then are ingested by people. He talks about the waste of water, grain, oil, and land that are used in the intensive practices of factory farming. He talks about the pollution that results to our rivers and oceans, the deforestation, and the greenhouse gases that account for climate change. Animals raised for food are the dominant producer of greenhouse gases (methane), even more than the transportation sector. Animal agriculture uses nearly half of all water consumed in the U.S. Viable farmland is planted to crops for animal feed and farmed so intensely that the soil loses its nutrients and then the capacity to grow anything at all. Then the industry looks to other countries, like Brazil where rainforest destruction results mostly from land needed to grow feed for animals. Growing grain to feed animals is an incredibly wasteful process and results in diminished returns in terms of calories and nutrients. Robbins states that the planet is fully capable of supporting the projected population estimate of 9 billion, but only if we are able to stop filtering our grains and water through animals first! For example, it takes 100x more water to produce a pound of meat than it does to produce a pound of wheat (341). Robbins writes on page 327:
Many of us believe that hunger exists because there’s not enough food to go around. But as Frances Moore Lappe and the antihunger organization Food First have shown, the real cause of hunger is a scarcity of justice, not a scarcity of food. Enough grain is squandered every day in raising American livestock for meat to provide every human being on earth with two loaves of bread.
Diet for a New America continues to be as reliable and relevant today as it was when it was published. Conditions, unfortunately are still deplorable. But he was optimistic in his opinion that people are waking up. They are realizing the burdens that come with eating animal products and are changing their ways for themselves, the planet, the animals and the future. Robbins’ work was recently sourced by the documentary Cowspiracy for information alongside other studies and reports from the UN, the WHO, and other reputable sources.
The dominant theme throughout Diet for a New America is compassion. Compassion for the planet and the animals, and compassion for ourselves. By inflicting torture and suffering on other animals, we are also torturing ourselves as we become sick from diseases like diabetes and cancer at an alarmingly increasing rate. Robbins calls for a healthy diet based in justice and compassion for all living things. Robbins hits readers on every level: intellectual and emotional. He presents readers with the knowledge for why they should change, and gives them the additional resources to do so. Once people have read this book, they can no longer claim ignorance. They must do something. Robbins’ call to action is clear: stop eating animals and their products.
Americans are growing increasingly aware that what we do to the earth, we do to ourselves; that how we treat animals says something important about who we are as people; and that confining animals in factory farms is wrong and produces food that is damaging the health of our bodies, our world, and our spirits (Prologue).
John Robbins is “an advocate for a compassionate and healthy way of life,” (419). He has written nine bestsellers and received many awards including the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Award, the Peace Abbey’s Courage of Conscience Award, and the Green America’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He is the founder of EarthSave International, whose mission is “to help people make food choices that promote health, reduce health care costs, and provide greater health independence”.