This month we review a book that shows you how to improve your health and change the world at the same time.
Lose Weight, Get Healthy, Change the World
By Kathy Freston
Weinstein Books, 2011
Kathy Freston is not a lexicographer, but she has managed to add a new word to the English language--"veganist." Veganist traces its roots back to "vegan" coined by Donald Watson, one of the founders of the Vegan Society in 1944.
With her best selling book Veganist: Lose Weight, Get Healthy, Change the World, Freston has added a suffix to Watson's "vegan" to create "veganist." She explains, "A veganist is one who looks closely at all the implications of his or her food choices--to his or her own body, to the animals and the land it takes to raise them and the drugs introduced to keep herds alive, and so on, and then decides to act."
She adds, "Veganists take action on what they learn--not necessarily in an 'activist' way but in whatever works to make their individual lives better while perhaps also helping to make the world a better place."
Freston has chosen to organize the book into ten sections or "promises" giving the reader the option of reading portions in any order. She encourages readers to "feel free to skip around, dipping in and out of the subjects that catch your attention."
To bring credibility to these promises, the author shares interviews with pioneering physicians who explain their research, and she presents case studies of individuals who reversed chronic diseases by changing their diets.
The book opens with Promise 1:Your Body Will Find and Maintain Its Ideal Weight--Effortlessly. In an interview with Dr. Dean Ornish and personal reminiscence of Ben Goldsmith she reveals how in a healthful vegan diet pounds are shed without counting calories.
Freston's second promise is You Will Lower Your Risks of Cancer, Heart Disease and Diabetes--and Even Reverse Diseases Already Diagnosed. She supports her case with an interview of nutrition researcher T. Colin Campbell on diet and cancer. Another interview with Meg Wolff concerns surviving cancer with a plant-based diet. Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn tells her how to stop the progression or reverse heart disease. Her interview with Dr Neal Barnard deals with reversal of diabetes, while Natala Constantine's story focuses on her personal diabetes cure.
You Will Live Longer--and Better is the third promise. Staving off dementia and impotence in addition to diseases mentioned in Promise 2 are factors in maintaining quality of life. Along with the plant-based regimen, she recommends regular physical activity, not smoking, avoiding or managing stress, and limiting alcohol consumption. The benefits of physical activity are demonstrated in the inspirational story of Ruth Heidrich, a woman in her seventies who has been running for more than 40 years.
In the fourth promise the author says, You Will Take Yourself Out of Harm's Way. A fascinating interview with Dr. Michael Greger spotlights super bugs that have arisen through factory farming. "Salmonella kills more Americans than any other food-borne illness," Dr. Greger tells the author.
Thrift conscious readers will relish Promise 5: You Will Save Money. She details a Vegetarian Times study in the mid-1990s where two women, one vegetarian and one not, went to the same store and made similar purchases. The vegetarian purchased soy sausages and black beans instead of chicken cutlets and ground turkey and spent 17% less for her groceries.
You Will Radically Reduce Your Carbon Footprint and Do the Best Single Thing You Can for the Environment is the message of Promise 6. Raising animals for food is responsible for 18% of global warming. Freston advocates a greener diet as a potent weapon against "the most serious environmental crisis ever to face humanity." Her solution: "We can fix so much of this mess with surprising ease, just by putting down our chicken wings and reaching for a veggie burger instead."
Social consciousness is achieved in Promise 7: You Will Be Helping Provide Food to the Global Poor. In a world where 1.2 billion people are starving, while 1.2 billion are overfed, animal agriculture is the culprit. Instead of growing crops to feed factory farm animals to provide meat for the overfed, those crops could be harvested to feed the hungry.
You Will Reduce Animal Suffering is the focus of Promise 8. Personal stories by Bruce Weiland, Gene Baur, Josh Balk, and Nathan Runkle tell of horrendous conditions endured by animals in bringing beef, pork, chicken, eggs, and dairy products to market.
Spiritualism and religious views are discussed in Promise 9: You Will Be Following the Wisdom of the Great Spiritual Traditions. In religions like Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism vegetarianism is a common practice. Both Jews and Muslims share the idea of humane slaughter with kosher and halal meat. Philip Schein, a PETA cruelty investigator, recounts his story of ten undercover investigations of kosher slaughter. "This firsthand experience on kill floors quickly shattered any naïve hopes I held out that kosher meant humane," he says.
Promise 10 says You Will Evolve--and Take the World With You. "A plant-based diet gives all of us an opportunity to be transformative agents in the task of creating a more perfect world," Freston writes. "Being a veganist is as much about caring for yourself as it is about caring for others, as much about concerns for humanity as it is about concerns for the earth and its creatures."
Realizing that changing diets can be overwhelming for many people, the author presents a chapter called Afterword: Making the Shift. She outlines four steps in setting the process in motion: 1. Listen and learn 2. Set an intention 3. Come up with a plan 4. Make the move
Her tips for making the switch emphasize a gradual approach by giving up one animal protein at a time, while making plant-based substitutions. She also offers advice in dealing with travel concerns, eating in restaurants, and accepting invitations to dinner parties.
Dr. Neal Barnard provides support for Freston with Frequently Asked Questions by the Doctor. Barnard discusses getting enough protein, iron, omega-3, and calcium as well as vitamins. He also alleviates concerns about the negative aspects of soy.
The book concludes with Three Weeks of Meals, a Shopping List, and recommended Cookbooks and Websites.
Veganist is the ideal blend of style and substance. Kathy Freston has made a thorough investigation of veganism and presents the information in an accessible conversational style. It is neither a scholarly work nor a harangue, but, instead, it is an outstanding introduction to the vegan lifestyle. Her advocacy of a moderate approach will likely appeal to many who will follow her down the road to becoming "veganists."