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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Julia Child, a Veal Farm and The Food Revolution

Why do I think you should read this book?

First of all the book isn't about judging meat eaters. It isn't a "Don't ever eat meat" diatribe. I found it compassionate to those who eat meat while exploring the benefits of vegetarian and vegan diets. At the same time author John Robbins simply points out the benefits of eating less meat and asks readers to consider where their meat is coming from (aka ethical eating). How were the animals raised and slaughtered? There is a right and wrong way. Robbins all but exonerates meat eaters of any blame for not understanding the damage to ourselves and the environment a meat based diet causes and instead holds accountable the advertising and media campaigns and lax government oversight that allows meat, national and foreign grain producers and pesticide companies to wreck havoc on our collective health (whether we eat meat or not) and the health of our planet.

What really surprised me most though was, having given up all meat in June 2010, I finished the book and said to myself "That's it. No more GMO  (aka Biotech) produce when I can avoid it."  Some might consider it a curse of knowledge but I'd rather know exactly how the food I'm eating is produced so I can understand its nutritional benefits, health benefits and risks, financial cost, the cost to our environment and at times, even our humanity.

While many people know John Robbins as author of the critically acclaimed book "Diet for a New America" I have to admit before the night I recently met him at a lecture and moderated discussion, I'd never read any of his books and was barely familiar with his name.

At the end of the evening I purchased a copy of The Food Revolution and as I began reading it the following day I felt inspiration, hope and despair. At times the despair was strong enough to make me want to stop reading :( But I continued on because I believe knowledge is power. Robbins' logic, concern, researched facts and passion for all of us (humans, animals, all life forms and the planet) to enjoy both better health and a better future has further transformed my thought process about what I eat. I think The Food Revolution is the perfect complement to "Eating Animals" the book I read by author Jonathan Safran Foer in 2010.

I felt honored to be able to speak with the author himself at the book signing following the presentation.

I think The Food Revolution will resonate on some level with anyone who reads it. On an emotional (and expected) level the book explores the often inhumane conditions in which livestock animals are legally raised and both legally and illegally slaughtered. On a logical, more scientific (and to me more surprising) level there are plenty of numbers and studies by a wide swath of organizations that were particularly worrisome regarding GMO (aka Bio-engineered or Biotech) foods and the damage factory farms and grain production are causing our environment. As he said that evening:

"We are reaching nature's limits and the result will be that we leave the next generation a life barely livable."

I don't have kids but I know this is true and it worries me sometimes when I have time to reflect on the idea of what will happen to the planet if we don't change our ways.

After reading The Food Revolution some simple truths emerged...

Eating meat brings pleasure.

Not eating meat can also bring pleasure and in addition brings less damage to both our land and oceans, less antibiotic usage/resistant forms of bacteria, fewer pesticides used to grow cheap grain for livestock, fewer green house gases, better health for all of us (those who eat meat and those who don't) and less cruelty/inhumane treatment to the animals we consider "livestock" rather than "pets." The most profound realization I made was that a plant based diet will create a better quality of life for future generations on much more than just a dietary level.

Even as a young man Robbins saw his own life as being about more than just himself. I didn't know his story about how at twenty years old he made a conscious decision to walk away from a life of wealth and privilege when he chose not to follow in his father's footsteps as heir to the Baskin Robbins ice cream empire.

I particularly agreed when he said:

"Equating a successful life with wealth or fame impoverishes us."

I couldn't agree more. People often mistake wealth for success. While money absolutely offers the holder of it financial security it often does nothing to create or sustain contentment and can even compromise emotional security.

A question I've often asked myself is: "What good is financial wealth if the possession of it bankrupts your soul?"

Though he never said those words I suspect that is, at least in part, what led Robbins to walk away from a life of privilege and follow his passion to help others to live healthier lives.

But the story that resonated with me most that evening was when he spoke of the time he convinced none other than legendary Chef Julia Child to accompany him to a veal farm to see how veal is raised. Apparently, it was well known that she was unsympathetic to how livestock was kept and slaughtered but he thought she would care if she truly understood the process.

He described that she stepped into the veal barn and saw the narrow chutes, each probably 22" wide, barely wider than the calves themselves, and row upon row of calves chained by the neck in these tiny stalls where they couldn't take a single step forward or backward, turn or lie down in a natural position, being force fed an unnatural diet to keep their flesh pale and anemic so it would be worth more when sold. "Are they all like this?" she asked, while probably calculating in her head that the calves were kept immobilized this way 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for anywhere from 4-5 months on average and kept in almost total darkness. "Yes. For the most part" he replied. She said she'd seen enough and they left. They walked back to his car in silence and after some time the culinary icon who had cooked, eaten, served and encouraged thousands, perhaps even millions, of home chefs to partake in veal for decades calmly said:

If we were all to examine similar aspects of how the meat we eat is produced and brought to our tables, the cost to our environment, our personal health and the health of those we love I suspect many, maybe someday even most, of us would say:

 "That's it. No more meat."

At the very least I think we would almost all agree that the meat we eat has to be produced more humanely and in a more healthful manner for the sake of the animals and ourselves.

To purchase "The Food Revolution" please CLICK HERE to visit the JohnRobbins.info website

In closing I wanted to acknowledge the Commonwealth Club who presented his lecture and moderated discussion with host Alison van Diggelen, Silicon Valley Journalist and Commentator from Fresh Dialogues.

If you enjoyed this post you'll probably enjoy these too:
• Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
• Super Simple DIY Vegetarian Tacos
Creating the Perfect Vegetarian Baked Puttanesca

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