Food Confusion? Check Out My Top Food Books!
We are still in the window where a lot of people are trying to stick to their New Year's Resolutions, and we all know what the big ones usually are- exercising and eating healthy. But what does eating healthy actually mean? This could be debated from about 10,000 different angles. If you follow a lot of nutrition accounts on Facebook or Instagram, you will see that it is a hotly debated topic. From the carnivore/raw meat diet to the vegan/ raw food diet, there are extremes and everything in between.
I am a passionate, whole foods, plant based eating advocate. Does this mean that an animal product never passes my lips? No. Well, for me, meat and seafood are strict no's, but I fluctuate on dairy and eggs based on the situation. If I am eating out at a nice dinner, I will probably stray from being strictly plant based. Same if I am eating somewhere that responsibly sources their dairy or eggs. I prefer to know the origin of the animal products I consume so I can be sure not to support factory farming practices.
Never heard of factory farming? I highly recommend you research where over 90% of the animal products sold in grocery stores come from. Rolling Stone did an amazing interactive piece about factory farms in 2013. For current legislature happening around factory farming, Food and Water Watch did a review of 2019 laws in different states.
Why am I personally against factory farming?
- Animal cruelty: Animals are kept in horrific, crowded conditions usually standing in their own excrement and unable to move or have access to the outdoors. During slaughter, extremely inhumane practices are used because of the sheer amount of animals being pushed through the lines.
-Environmental Concerns: Factory farms produce massive amounts of literal waste from the thousands of animals they house. The waste often causes massive swamps of urine and feces and the hormone and anti-biotic laden soup pollutes our waterways. It also takes an exorbitant amount of land mass and water to feed, house, and produce the meat from factory farms.
-Safety for Workers/ People Living Near Factory Farms: People working in slaughterhouses affiliated with factory farms obviously have to work in very harsh conditions. Illegal workers are often exploited and underpaid, and many workers suffer emotionally and psychologically from what they have to do at their jobs every day. Residents who live near some of these large farming operations complain of the oppressive stench, sickness, and pollution in their communities. The Guardian did a very informative piece on what it is like to live near industrial hog farms in North Carolina.
I could go on about factory farms forever, but I really, really encourage you to know where your animal products are coming from. If you are interested in purchasing more humane, sustainably raised animal products, please check out Local Harvest, where you can search local farms near you to purchase these items.
On to my favorite books! I have read a lot about food and nutrition over the years, and many have radically shaped how I eat today. The first book I ever read that opened my eyes to how food is produced in our country is "Food Revolution" by John Robbins. I don't have the book on my bookshelf now, but it is the book that started me on my meatless journey. Here are 5 others that I would highly encourage you to read! Note: three out of the five advocate a plant based diet, the other two are not strictly plant based.
1.) How Not to Die by Dr. Michael Greger
This is for the research junkies out there. Based on reviews of hundreds of nutrition studies, Dr. Michael Greger put together what to eat to beat the diseases that are the top killers in our nation. He is also the author of the website NutritionFacts.org, a free website featuring studies, videos and resources on many nutritional topics. This book is so informative, and I highly recommend it especially if you have disease that runs in your family, are recovering from heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc., or just want amazing tips on how to prevent illness. From the inside jacket, "In addition to showing what to eat to help treat the top fifteen causes of death, How Not to Die includes Dr. Greger's Daily Dozen- a checklist of the foods and activities we should try to incorporate into our daily routines".
2.) Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
I love this book because it is the journey of an author and soon-to-be new dad who is interested in learning about what kind of diet he would ultimately choose for his children. He is not a nutritional scientist or particularly tied to one way of eating or the other. He is just genuinely interested in the implications of his eating habits. From the inside book jacket, "Brilliantly synthesizing philosophy, literature, science, memoir, and his own detective work, Eating Animals explores the many stories we use to justify our eating habits- folklore and pop culture, family traditions and national myth, apparent fact and inherent fictions- and how such tales can lull us into a brutal forgetting".
3.) Food: What the Heck Should I Eat? By Dr. Mark Hyman
This is not a plant based advocate book, but if I were to follow any other diet, I would go by Dr. Hyman's recommendations. He promotes a "Pegan" style diet, which pulls the high vegetable intake from the vegan diet and the whole foods aspect of the Paleo diet and blends them together. He also is an advocate for high quality and sustainably raised animal products and produce. I disagree with a few of his points, but in general, I think this book is a fantastic resource to move towards a healthy, reasonable, diet. From the book jacket, "He also explains food's role as a powerful medicine capable of reversing chronic disease, and he shows how our food system and policies impact the environment, the economy, social justice, and personal health, painting a holistic picture of growing, cooking, and eating food in ways that nourish our bodies and earth while creating a healthy society".
4.) Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition by T.Colin Campbell, PhD
We all get bombarded with nutritional information in the mainstream media. This book discusses the problematic habits of cherry picking scientific studies, as well as focusing too much on single nutrients instead of trying to understand food and lifestyle factors as a Whole. The human body and what it does with food is amazing, and the complexity to how we absorb food is constantly being studied. By honing in on particular nutrients and ranking these nutrients as being more important than others, Campbell encourages us to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. From the back of the book, "Now, in Whole, he explains the science behind that evidence, the ways our current scientific paradigm ignores the fascinating complexity of the human body, and why, if we have such overwhelming evidence that everything we think and know about nutrition is wrong, our eating habits haven't changed".
5.) Proteinaholic by Dr. Garth Davis
In case you haven't noticed, America is obsessed with protein. Don't get me wrong, protein is important, but our frenzy around this nutrient has also driven us to put an unhealthy emphasis on it, at the expense of other important nutrition components. Helloooo fiber, anyone? In this book, bariatric surgeon and former protein obsessed Dr. Garth Davis dives into the nutrition myths that have persisted in our culture. According to the back of the book, he "sets the record straight about contradictory studies and confusing headlines; and distills these findings into a straight forward, plant-based solution that will change your life forever".
Whew, that's a lot of reading material for you! In general, just like my views about sustainability, I think our views around what we eat need to be centered around consciousness. Where did the food come from? Why am I eating it? Do I really need to eat that way? What are the impacts of my eating habits? Can I purchase this item in a more sustainable way?
I think we all have room for improvement- the goal is to incorporate these small changes into your lifestyle so that it can become a permanent, healthy, change. I encourage you to explore your food choices, I think you will be surprised about what you find out! Information is power, and while I would love to convert people to a plant based diet, I think the most important thing is people becoming aware of our food system and what it really entails. While we all can't have thriving backyard gardens and farms that provide us with all that we need, we can make better choices in the way that food reaches our plates, both with produce and animal products.