Healthy Eating, Healthy World, a book review
A Healthy Read: A Review of Healthy Eating, Healthy World
by J. Morris Hicks and J. Stanfield Hicks
For those in search of a clear, concise introductory overview of the many arguments in support of a plant-based diet, including both human and environmental health, Healthy Eating, Healthy World is a great place to start. Drawing upon a host of major authors in the canon of books and research papers on plant-based nutrition (including T. Colin Cambell, Caldwell Esselstyn, John McDougall, Dean Ornish, Joel Fuhrman, and Neal Barnard), Hicks and Hicks make a strong case for the myriad benefits of this kind of diet. While much of the text is drawn from other sources (including a number of extended passages quoted from the authors listed above), Healthy Eating, Healthy Worldmakes a superb sourcebook of the most pertinent research findings and key lines of reasoning in favor of shifting from the standard American diet to one rooted in whole plant foods.
The first section of Healthy Eating, Healthy Worldbegins by painting a portrait of the current global health crisis, including the epidemic of obesity and the increasing incidence of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and related diseases of affluence. Hicks and Hicks introduce the major figures involved in recent research on the relationship between human diet and health. The authors point out how the results of all these researchers’ efforts all indicate the pitfalls of the standard diet (replete with sugars, fats, animal products, and highly processed foods) and the benefits of changing to a whole-food, plant-rich diet instead. “The same simple diet,” the authors observe, “is good for preventing all diseases and also for promoting vibrant health.” Rather than focusing on what not to eat, Hicks and Hicks emphasize what we should eat, based upon “the cold hard scientific facts.” Their overview includes an examination of popular misconceptions about this kind of diet, such as concerns over getting adequate protein (there is plenty in the plants we eat), having access to vitamin B-12 (a supplement may be wise), getting omega-3 fatty acids (try flax seeds, not fish oil), calcium (plants have lots), and vitamin D (get outdoors at least a few minutes a week).
The second section of the book shifts from the scale of the individual to the current global situation, explaining in detail how “what you eat affects far more than just your health.” Hicks and Hicks reveal the environmental destruction wrought by factory farming, including soil erosion and degradation, water scarcity and pollution, greenhouse gas contributions to global warming, and habitat and biodiversity loss from conversion of wild land to farmland. Animal-based agriculture also carries a huge energy demand. “On average, about twenty times more energy is required to produce meat calories than to produce whole-plant calories.” A plant-based diet also solves the problem of world hunger, by meeting the caloric and nutritional needs of every human being while requiring under half the area of arable land currently available. Furthermore, conventional factory farming is highly barbaric toward animals by keeping them under miserable conditions for their short and brutally-terminated lives. “The prospect of ending the worldwide suffering of animals raised for our dinner tables,” the authors note, “is an excellent reason to begin an aggressive shift to a plant-based diet.”
The third and final section of Healthy Eating, Healthy World, entitled “Taking Action: What Can We Do?”, provides readers with a basic blueprint for making the lifestyle change to whole plant foods. Along the way, Hicks and Hicks point out how our current economic and health-care systems work together to prevent the promulgation of the findings presented in this book. Switching to a plant-based diet improves human health, meaning fewer illnesses, less need for physicians, less need for drugs, and less money for the medical establishment. It also means less money for the meat and dairy industries. Interestingly enough, three quarters of the government funding for agriculture (subsidies) go to meat and dairy corporations, and less than half of one percent to fruit and vegetable growers. Hicks and Hicks then provide readers with tips for making a dietary transition, including recommendations for meal planning and additional resources with recipes and menu suggestions. In this last part of the book, the authors also share their original concept of the “4-Leaf Health Promotion Program”, a five-step (zero to four leaves) rating scale for evaluating one’s diet. The scale is based upon two easily calculated parameters: percentage of calories from whole plants, and percentage of calories from fat. The ideal (4-Leaf) diet, according to this rating system, provides 80% or more of its carliers from whole foods, and 20% or fewer of its calories from fats.
Toward the end of their book, Hicks and Hicks offer this inspiring quote from The Food Revolution by John Robbins: “To me it is deeply moving that the same food choices that give us the best chance to eliminate world hunger are also those that take the least toll on the environment, contribute most to our long-term health, are the safest, and are also far and away the most compassionate toward our fellow creatures.” This passage effectively captures the central accomplishment of Healthy Eating, Healthy World: to bring all of these arguments for a plant-based diet together in one volume, in flowing, well-expressed prose. I hope that this book makes it into the hands of many people open to exploring the relationships between diet, human health, and our environment, because it offers an excellent starting place for those ready to embark on a journey toward healthier eating and a healthier world.