Twenty-five years ago, Francis Moore Lappé's groundbreaking book, Diet for a Small Planet, made the connection between how we eat and critical environmental, social, and political issues around the world.
In her book, the amount of grain that an animal must eat to produce a pound of meat was juxtaposed with the food value of that grain if eaten directly by humans. Ms. Lappé introduced many of us to the idea of complementary proteins: how grains and beans eaten together provide complete protein which neither food has by itself. Using the recipes in the book, we learned how to make delicious foods influenced by cultures around the world. We also learned a lot about basic nutrition from Diet for a Small Planet which affects how we eat to this day.
Decades ago, Ms. Lappé made a very persuasive case for eating less meat and fewer animal products on many fronts. These included the social and environmental effects of large-scale animal agriculture here and in third-world countries, and the increased concentrations of pesticides in animal products.
Her case has been strengthened since then, as we've learned more about the negative effects of large-scale animal agriculture on the Earth and of excess animal fat on humans.
Animal agriculture has gotten larger and more concentrated. Just a handful of companies raise, slaughter and market much of the meat sold in this country. The problems with wastes from these large facilities, and with power and corruption in the meat industry just keep getting worse. A recent 60-Minutes report on North Carolina's hog industry only began to touch on the problems caused by the abuses of animal agribusiness.
Now, industrial "farmers" feed genetically-engineered grains to genetically-modified animals who are so stressed by their environment that they require regular medication just to stay alive.
And, in twenty-plus years, we've learned more about the role of animal fats in promoting heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes. Saturated fats are especially damaging when combined with sedentary lifestyles and the lack of whole, plant foods in our diets.
The way of eating Ms. Lappé proposed mirrors the way most of the world's people eat. It is even closer to what nutritionists and doctors now recommend. For good health, we should consume lots of whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits - all of which are full of vitamins, minerals and fiber. If much of this food is produced locally using organic methods, we come as close as we can get to an ecological, sustainable and nutritious food system.
A few years back, a new and eloquent voice, John Robbins, reinforced the argument for eating less meat. In his best-selling book, Diet for a New America, he compassionately renews and strengthens our knowledge of the effects of how we eat on ourselves and the rest of the world. Once again, eating less meat and fewer animal products is shown to be personally and globally beneficial.
Mr. Robbins' organization, EarthSave, is "dedicated to educating people about the powerful effects that our food choices have on our health, the environment, world hunger, and all life on Earth. [The organization and its members] encourage and support people in moving toward a plant-based diet."
EarthSave chapters on Long Island and in Connecticut hold monthly plant-based potluck dinners in Melville and North Branford, respectively. They also present speakers, visit vegetarian restaurants, and publish newsletters. The Long Island chapter has a Healthy School Lunch Program. Its January 25th dinner in Melville features the director of the Holistic Nursing Network speaking on "Creating Positive Changes." The Connecticut chapter's regular dinner is held on the second Wednesday of each month in North Branford. To contact EarthSave Long Island, call
There is little that is more useful to personal and planetary health than learning more about the effects of our individual food choices. Sharing a vegetarian meal, and information about food, with others is one of the best ways to create positive changes in the New Year.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
This page and its contents are copyright © 1997 by WSHU-FM, Fairfield, CT, and by Bill Duesing.