I think we know enough now to speak with clarity and conviction about the health benefits of a whole foods, plant-based diet. I believe the current evidence is more than adequate to warrant public policies and personal choices that shift us in this direction.
“Epidemiologists consistently find an inverse correlation
between the percentage of animal foods in the diet
and better health.” -- Andrew Weil, M.D., Eating Well for Optimum Health
2/3 of U.S. Deaths Diet Related
The U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Nutrition and Health says that two-thirds of U.S. mortality is diet-related. Heart disease kills more than 100 people every hour in the United States. At a certain point, one decides that the evidence is sufficiently complete and convincing to warrant action. To my eyes, when it comes to the health advantages of a whole foods, plant-based diet, we have passed that point.
T. Colin Campbell, the Senior Science Advisor to the American Institute for Cancer Research, agrees. Dr. Campbell is also the director of the most comprehensive health survey in world medical history—the China-Cornell-Oxford Project. The New York Times called his study “The ‘Grand Prix’ . . . the most comprehensive large study ever undertaken of the relationship between diet and the risk of developing disease.”
At the study’s conclusion, Campbell wrote, “We found a highly significant association between the consumption of even small amounts of animal based foods and the increasing prevalence of heart disease, cancer, and similar diseases.”
Time to Take a Stand Against S.A.D. (Standard American Diet)
I believe the time has come to take a stand. There will always be more to learn, and there will always be studies that seem to conflict with each other. We can wait for 100 percent certainty, but people will continue to suffer and die by the millions while we split hairs. We can wait for every detail to be corroborated and every controversy to be resolved, but to do so is to abdicate our power to respond to one of the great ethical and social issues of our times.
I know many scientists who prefer to keep a certain distance. They call it remaining objective. The problem is that, meanwhile, the public remains beclouded in confusion — confusion often generated by the very industries who want to keep selling products that are causing harm. (The advertising these industries spend hundreds of millions of dollars on is not, by the way, notably meticulous when it comes to telling the whole truth.)
WHAT WE KNOW: INFORMATION ABOUT OUR DIET CHOICES
Where most Americans get their information about foods: Advertising
Amount spent annually by Kellogg’s to promote Frosted Flakes: $40 million
Amount spent annually by the dairy industry on the “milk mustache” ads: $190 million
Amount spent annually by McDonald’s advertising its products: $800 million
Amount spent annually by the National Cancer Institute promoting fruits and vegetables: $1 million
Shifting to a Plant-Based Diet
It’s been said that for every Ph.D. there is an equal and opposite Ph.D. But the data are clear enough. A cultural shift toward a plant-based, whole foods diet would have enormous benefits. For the vast majority of people, it would mean far healthier lives.
It would not only mean less heart disease, fewer cancers, and far less obesity; it would also mean far more vibrant, thriving, energetic, creative people. It would mean there would be less fear of growing old and fewer families broken apart by the premature deaths of loved ones. For immense numbers of people, it would mean less suffering and more joy.
Today, it’s shameful and tragic that the United States, alone among the world’s fully industrialized nations, does not provide basic health care to all its citizens. The reality, however, is that a widespread cultural shift in a vegetarian direction would save enormous amounts of money in medical costs — enough eventually to cover basic health care for all Americans.
WHAT WE KNOW: MEDICAL & HEALTH CARE COSTS
Annual medical costs in the United States directly attributable to smoking: $65 billion
Annual medical costs in the United States directly attributable to meat consumption: $60–$120 billion
To many of us, it’s good news indeed that there is so much to be gained by a cultural shift toward a plant-based, whole foods diet. There are other individuals and groups, however, who don’t like it one bit, specifically the industries who profit when you purchase and consume harmful foods.
You will keep hearing their messages, for they have enormous advertising budgets and massive control over our nation’s food and agriculture policies. They will keep telling you that there is controversy over this or that detail, that health experts keep changing their minds, and that the bad reputation meat has gotten is undeserved. There will be those who will make great sums writing books telling the public that they can eat all the pork rinds and sausage they want and lose weight in the bargain. They will say there is no need, no need at all, to reduce your consumption of animal products.
Healthy Diet Lowers Disease & Increases Health
Fortunately, even as they speak, there are quiet, clear, and informed voices among us, voices that point in a decidedly different direction, a direction leading to far lower rates of disease and far more vibrant, healthy, and joy-filled lives.
“The China Health Project, a joint Sino-American undertaking, examined the health effects of changes in the Chinese diet since the economic reform of 1978 and concluded that the recent increases in breast cancer, colorectal cancer, cardiovascular disease and obesity are closely linked to increased meat consumption. Moreover, these disease changes occurred at a level of meat consumption that is only a fraction of the typical American or European intake. . . . Dr. Colin Campbell of Cornell University, who headed the China Health Project, conservatively estimates that excessive meat consumption is responsible for between $60 and $120 billion of health care costs each year in the United States alone. Domestic cash receipts for the meat industry totaled roughly $100 billion in 1997. If Campbell’s estimates are correct, it’s possible that this industry is a net drain on the American economy.” (Brian Halweil, Worldwatch Institute)
This article was excerpted with permission from the book:
The Food Revolution: How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and the World
by John Robbins. (10th anniversary edition)
Reprinted with permission of Conari Press, and imprint of Red Wheel/Weiser LLC. ©2001,2011. The Food Revolution is available wherever books are sold or directly from the publisher at 1-800-423-7087 or http://redwheelweiser.com.
About the Author
John Robbins is the author of Diet for a New America, The Food Revolution, and the widely acclaimed Reclaiming Our Health. His life and work have been featured on the PBS special, Diet for a New America. Groomed to follow in the footsteps of his father, founder of the Baskin-Robbins empire, he chose a different, more authentic path for himself. John is considered to be one of the most eloquent and powerful spokespersons in the world for a sane, ethical and sustainable future. Visit his website http://www.foodrevolution.org/