books and reviews

The Food Revolution by John Robbins

John Robbins was the guy who got me into veganism. His previous book, Diet for a New America, convinced me that I had to ditch the animal products, with his graphic and shocking depictions of factory farm life, not only for the animals some of us call meat, but also for the animals we use for milk and eggs. That book moved me to tears, to anger, to despair, and after reading it I was changed forever.

So when I accidentally found The Food Revolution hanging out in the grocery store, I knew I had to have it. I didn’t pick it up with the expectation of it changing my life in the same way Diet For a New America did, but I was certainly excited, and had some fairly high expectations.
To say the very least, I was not disappointed. John Robbins is an engaging writer and you can feel his compassion through the pages. He has the ability to discuss sensitive topics with eloquence, and he tells the truth like it is without coming across as judgemental. Perhaps this is because, as he says himself in the book, his problem isn’t with individual people – his problem is with the big institutions, corporations that just care about the bottom line and trample on our health and our planet in the process. He writes about these difficult topics in a language that anyone can understand, which is always a bonus – yet it isn’t a simple book, and I learned a whole bunch from it, despite how fairly well-versed I consider myself on the subjects of animal rights and environmentalism.
The Food Revolution is very well-rounded, discussing not only ethics, which is one of the main focuses of Diet for a New America, but also health and disease, and a bunch of fascinating stuff on the environment and genetic engineering, threading animal product consumption into these crucial topics.
Despite this book being happily free of jargon, it’s very well-researched, with 50 pages of references in the back. When you’re discussing topics that tend to be controversial, it’s important to back yourself up with as much good science and study as you can, lest people pass you off as just another crazy person. Plus, I’m a footnote nerd and I love checking out references more in-depth.
One of the coolest things about this book were the “what we know” interjections, where he’d pace the body of text with a box of quick facts. Another box he frequently inserts, titled “is that so?” contains a claim from the industry, such as from the CEO of Monsanto, and another (typically opposite) claim from an institution dedicated to public health and knowledge, such as the Nobel Laureate in Medicine. Here’s an exerpt as an example:
“Those of us in industry can take comfort…After all, we’re the technical experts. We know we’re right. The ‘antis’ obviously don’t understand the science, and are just as obviously pushing a hidden agenda – probably to destroy capitalism.”
-Bob Shapiro, Monsanto’s CEO
“(Genetic Engineering) faces our society with problems unprecedented, not only in the history of science, but of life on the Earth. It places in human hands the capacity to redesign living organisms, the products of some three billion years of evolution…Up to now, living organisms have evolved very slowly, and new forms have had plenty of time to settle in. Now whole proteins will be transposed overnight into wholly new associations, with consequences no one can fortell…Going ahead in this direction may not only be unwise, but dangerous. Potentially, it could breed new animal and plant diseases, new sources of cancer, and novel epidemics.”
-Geoge Wald, M.D., Nobel Laureate in Medicine, Professor of Biology, Harvard University
So the final verdict: I loved The Food Revolution. It moved me, it fired me up, and it gave me a push to do what I can to help. It took me out of my own day-to-day bubble into a much larger context, where action and activism is ever-important if we don’t want to leave our kids with a gigantic mess. And this book is a constant reminder that it’s not just about us, either – it’s also about the creatures we share this planet with, going extinct faster than you can say “hamburger”, and about the planet itself – you know, that beautiful sphere in space who gives us nourishment and a place to stay, while asking little in return.

It’s easy to forget how fragile the web of life is, and how much we depend on microorganisms, clean water, good soil, trees, bees, ants, and oxygen. It’s easy to forget, since they’ve always been there for us. It’s easy to forget, but we can’t afford to forget.
Above all, this book reminds me to be grateful for everything I have, and for all of the beauty, everywhere, for free.
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