This month we feature a book that shows how food choices can impact personal health as well as the health of the entire planet.
Harvest of Hope:
A Guide to Mindful Eating
By Jane Goodall
with Gary McAvoy and Gail Hudson
Warner Books, 2005
Jane Goodall carries this same message a bit further by emphasizing that what's on the meal plate impacts not only a person's health but also the health of the entire planet.
Goodall who is considered the world's foremost authority on chimpanzees, having studied their behavior for almost 40 years, was convinced by co-author McAvoy to lend her energies to collaborate on a book that would emphasize mindful eating. Together the authors would take a stand to make people aware of what steps could be taken to help create a more sustainable world.
Anyone reading Harvest of Hope would not think of Goodall as just the chimpanzee expert but, instead, describe her as a vegetarian activist, an environmentalist, an opponent of multinational corporations, an advocate for organic foods, a promoter of sustainable agriculture, and a foe of genetic engineering.
Goodall is troubled by the many negative forces that that have created a polluted planet and have been harmful to both humans and animals. She details the efforts of giant multinational corporations like Monsanto, Dupont, and Dow to control our food supply. They have secured patents on seeds and prevented farmers from saving seeds from the previous years, They have pushed farmers to purchase their "terminator" seeds that yield crops with sterile seeds that will not reproduce new plants.
These same multinational corporations are leaders in the development of pesticides and genetically modified organisms (GMO) or genetically engineered (GE) crops. The two efforts are huge moneymakers. The infamous Roundup, a Monsanto pesticide, can be used as a weed killer on crops that are genetically engineered to resist that pesticide.
Quite amusing is the fact that animals appear to be more intelligent than humans when it comes to awareness of pesticides in farm crops. One farmer filled two feeding bins with corn. One bin contained genetically modified corn while the other had organic corn. The cows sniffed the genetically modified (GMO) corn but would not eat it. They moved on to the organic bin and ate heartily. Raccoons will attack organic cornfields but ignore other fields with GMO corn. One farmer noticed deer attacking his soybean crop and ignoring his neighbor's Roundup Ready soybean field.
Aside from polluting the soil and water with pesticides, farmers using Monsanto GMO seeds also risk contaminating neighboring farms growing organic crops. Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser found his canola crop was contaminated by Monsanto's Roundup Ready canola. Monsanto sued him for violating their seed patent by growing their patented canola on his land.
The evil factory farm is exposed and criticized for its squandering of resources and its pollutant effects. Chemicals in fertilizers and pesticides as well as animal waste foul nearby drinking water sources. Further pollution occurs with burning fossil fuel for machinery to raise the crops and transport them to their final destinations that could be thousands of miles away.
Even more egregious is the treatment of animals on the industrial farms. Factory-raised pigs are confined in narrow cages on cement floors. They are often crowded so close together they bite off each other's tails. Because of this behavior, the pigs' tails are cut off at birth. Hormones are used to increase their weight. Because of their lack of exercise, their legs are usually unable to support their bloated bodies. At slaughter time they are often dragged away, squealing in pain. Chickens and cows face similar conditions. They are pumped with hormones and antibiotics and, like pigs, become assembly-line commodities.
The irony is that relatively inexpensive, government-subsidized meat derived from these factory-farmed creatures is endangering the health of people consuming it. Health hazards to humans include the risk of bacterial infection from E. coli, salmonella, Campylobacter, and Mad Cow Disease. The routine use of antibiotics to ward off animal disease that increases with overcrowding has led to human antibiotic resistance. Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH) has resulted in a buildup of estrogen in humans. Some scientists believe BGH is responsible for earlier maturing of girls and lower sperm counts in men.
What can people do to change the system and encourage better treatment of farm animals? The first step is to become aware of what is occurring in the treatment of animals raised for food. U.S. Senator Robert Byrd tried to increase awareness in a speech delivered to the Senate on July 9, 2001 in which he described the barbaric treatment of livestock.
"So for this reason I have added language in the supplemental appropriations bill that directs the Secretary of Agriculture to report on cases of inhumane animal treatment in regard to livestock production, and to document the response of USDA regulatory agencies. The U.S Department of Agriculture agencies have the authority and the capability to take action to reduce the disgusting cruelty about which I have spoken," Byrd said. "Oh, these are animals, yes. But they, too, feel pain." The complete text of the speech appears in the book.
To bring about change, Goodall urges that people write, phone, or talk to managers of large marketers of animal products like Wal-Mart, KFC, and Wendy's to encourage their suppliers to raise animals humanely. She cites an example of how McDonald's was convinced to ask its suppliers not to use antibiotics in raising farm animals.
"Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet." This quotation from Albert Einstein opens one of the key chapters in the book, "Becoming a Vegetarian." In her youth Goodall was not a vegetarian. Her epiphany came in the 1970's after reading Animal Liberation by Peter Singer. "I knew I would not be able to keep from thinking about the images conjured up by the pages I had just read," she writes. "When I saw meat on my plate, from that moment on, I should think of pain-fear-death. How horrible."
She confesses that by spending 300 days on the road and visiting people around the world, she does find it a challenge to maintain a balanced diet without any animal products. She is not a vegan and eats eggs, milk, and cheese. Whenever possible, she finds free-range, organic animal products.
In a sidebar the reader finds a glimpse of Goodall's Spartan diet. She says her son would like someone to study her because "he couldn't imagine how someone who 'ate so little and all the wrong things' could have so much energy!"
Goodall describes a number of steps people can take to empower themselves and take control of their food.
Harvest for Hope is an important book because it not only details the destructive forces that are damaging our health and our planet, but it also shows how we can begin reclaiming our planet and our health by simply voting with our fork in making food choices.
The book, with its extensive research, excels by bringing much new information to topics that have been well covered in the past. Having Goodall's name on the cover and reading her personal experiences adds a dimension of warmth and interest.
And a final note. Aw, come on, Jane! It's not that hard to be vegan. Happy cows and chickens are not producing the milk, cheese and eggs you can't stop eating. Your vote is needed to send an important message to the dairy and egg industries whose practices you condemn.
Reviewed April 2006