A vegetarian diet is the best thing for the health of individuals and the planet, says this journalist in his Pulitzer-nominated title.
Diet for a New America 25th Anniversary Edition: How Your Food Choices Affect Your Health, Your Happiness, and the Future of Life on Earthby John Robbins
Originally published in 1987, Diet for a New America awakened the conscience of a nation with its startling examination of the food we buy and eat — and the moral, economic, and medical price we pay for it. Drawing a clear line connecting America’s factory farm system with disease, animal cruelty, and ecological crises, Robbins makes perhaps the most eloquent argument for vegetarianism ever published. Robbins walked away from his family’s business — the Baskin-Robbins ice cream empire — to pursue his dream of promoting a healthy society that practices “compassionate stewardship of a balanced ecosystem.” In Diet for a New America he presents both a disturbing portrait of our current system and a vision for the future that will educate and empower readers to change.
A vegetarian diet is the best thing for the health of individuals and the planet, says this journalist in his Pulitzer-nominated title.
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Diet for a New America
How Your Food Choices Affect Your Health, Your Happiness, and the Future of Life on Earth
By John Robbins
H J Kramer and New World LibraryCopyright © 1987 John Robbins
All rights reserved.
ALL GOD'S CRITTERS HAVE A PLACE IN THE CHOIR
I care not much for a man's religion whose dog or cat are not the better for it.
— Abraham Lincoln
You will not find very many monuments to dogs in this world. But in Edinburgh, Scotland, in a public area known as Greyfriar Square, there stands a statue, erected by the local citizens, in honor of a little terrier named Bobby.
Why did the townspeople erect this statue? Because this little dog taught them a lesson in the years he lived with them — a most important lesson. Bobby the Scottish terrier had no owner. And as often happens to small-town dogs with no master, he was kicked around by just about everybody and had to scrounge through garbage to get anything to eat. Not what you would call an ideal life, even for a dog.
But it happened that there was in the village a dying old man named Jock. In his last days, the old man noticed the plight of the sorry little dog. There wasn't much he could do, but he did buy the little fellow a meal one evening at the local restaurant. Nothing fancy, just some scraps. But it would be hard for anyone to overestimate the extent of little Bobby's gratitude.
Shortly thereafter, Jock died. When the mourners carried his body to the grave, the terrier followed them. The gravediggers ordered him away, and when he refused to leave they kicked him and threw rocks at him. But still the dog stood his ground and would not leave, no matter what they did. From then on, for no less than 14 years, little Bobby honored the memory of the man who had been kind to him. Day and night, through harsh winter storms and hot summer days, he stood by the grave. The only time he ever left the gravesite was for a brief trip each afternoon back to the restaurant in which he had met Jock, in hopes of scavenging something to eat. Whatever he got he would solemnly carry back to the grave and eat there. The first winter Bobby had almost no shelter, huddling underneath tombstones when the snow was deep. By the next winter, the townspeople were so touched by his brave and lonely vigil that they erected a small shelter for him. And 14 years later, when little Bobby died, they buried him where he lay — alongside the man whose last gesture of kindness he had honored with such devotion.
The Most Selfless Animal in the World
If the little Scottish terrier whose monument still stands in Edinburgh is not the most selfless animal who ever lived, a dolphin named Pelorus Jack might well be. For many years, this dolphin guided ships through French Pass, a channel through the D'Urville Islands off New Zealand. This dangerous channel is so full of rocks, and has such extremely strong currents, that it has been the site of literally hundreds of shipwrecks. But none occurred when Pelorus Jack was at work. There is no telling how many lives he saved.
He was first seen by human beings when he appeared in front of a schooner from Boston named Brindle, just as the ship was approaching French Pass. When the members of the crew saw the dolphin bobbing up and down in front of the ship, they wanted to kill him — but, fortunately, the captain's wife was able to talk them out of it. To their amazement, the dolphin then proceeded to guide the ship through the narrow channel. And for years thereafter, he safely guided almost every ship that came by. So regular and reliable was the dolphin that when ships reached the entrance to French Pass they would look for him, and if he was not visible, they would wait for him to appear to guide them safely through the treacherous rocks and currents.
On one sad occasion, a drunken passenger aboard a ship named the Penguin took out a gun and shot at Pelorus Jack. The crew was furious, and when they saw Jack swim away with blood pouring from his body they came very close to lynching the passenger. The Penguin had to negotiate the channel without Pelorus Jack's help, as did the other ships that came through in the next few weeks. But one day the dolphin reappeared, apparently recovered from his wound. He had evidently forgiven the human species, because he once again proceeded to guide ship after ship through the channel. When the Penguin showed up again, however, the dolphin immediately disappeared.
For a number of years thereafter, Pelorus Jack continued to escort ships through French Pass — but never the Penguin, and the crew of that ship never saw the dolphin again. Ironically, the Penguin was later wrecked, and a large number of passengers and crew were drowned, as it sailed — unguided — through French Pass.
Who Is the Animal?
A San Francisco science fair recently awarded a prize to a junior high school student whose science project consisted of cutting the head off a live frog with a pair of scissors, to find out whether frogs swim better with or without their brains.
Of course, this is not the only case of frogs being treated cruelly in our schools. They are often dissected by children ostensibly learning "how life works." But what did this youngster learn through his experiment? I think he learned that it is all right to treat other living things as if they have no feelings, as if they are nothing but machines. I think he learned disrespect for life. And I wouldn't call that a good thing.
The science fair judges, however, obviously disagree with me, for they commended the boy on his contributions to the forward march of science, predicted great things for his future, and rewarded him for scientifically proving that: "Frogs will not swim with brain missing unless harassed. A frog swims better with head on."
The attitude we develop toward animals when we are children tends to stay with us through the rest of our lives. And it continues to influence our experience not only of animals but of other people, ourselves, and life itself. There is a great deal of evidence from all over the world indicating that people who have learned as children to care for animals grow up more capable of caring for themselves and for other people. By the same token, people who later become criminals have very often abused animals as children. We find high statistical correlations in every country and culture where research has been done.
The way we treat animals is indicative of the way we treat our fellow humans. One Soviet study, published in Ogonyok, found that over 87 percent of a group of violent criminals had, as children, burned, hanged, or stabbed domestic animals. In our own country, a major study by Dr. Stephen Kellert of Yale University found that children who abuse animals have a much higher likelihood of becoming violent criminals.
Studies of inmates in a number of U.S. prisons reveal that almost none of the convicts had a pet as a child. None of them had this opportunity to learn to respect and care for another creature's life, and to feel valuable in so doing.
But these attitudes can be reversed, even in criminals. Heartwarming research has been done in which convicts nearing their release dates were allowed to have pet cats in their cells with them. The result? "Of the men who loved and cared for their cats, not a single one later failed as a free man to adjust to society." This in a penal system where over 70 percent of released convicts are expected to return to jail.
The attitudes toward animals shown by the youngster at the science fair, and by the Soviet criminals when they were youths, are not at all unusual. We've all grown up in a system that condones such cruelty. Our public stance is basically that animals are ours to treat any way we wish, and that kindness to animals and sensitivity to them as fellow beings is an option some may choose if they want to, but it is no more incumbent upon us than being nice to plastic dolls.
This attitude toward animals has been given voice even by modern religious leaders, one of whom said the following of animals being slaughtered:
Their cries should not arouse unreasonable compassion any more than to red-hot metals undergoing the blows of a hammer, seeds spoiling underground, branches crackling when they are pruned, grain that is surrendered to the harvester, wheat being ground by the milling machine.
For this religious leader, animals are not creatures who merit any sort of empathy. They are merely machines, bundles of reflexes and instincts, mechanical things with no feelings to speak of, objects that we can treat without qualm in any way whatever. This is a far cry from the attitude of Albert Schweitzer, who believed the following:
Any religion which is not based on a respect for life is not a true religion ... Until he extends his circle of compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.
Toward the end of his long life, Schweitzer was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for dedicating his whole life to teaching that:
We must never permit the voice of humanity within us to be silenced. It is man's sympathy with all creatures that first makes him truly a man.
Dolphins to the Rescue
The official position of the Catholic Church has long been that animals don't have souls. During a Church council in the Middle Ages a vote was taken on whether women and animals have souls. Women squeaked by. Animals lost.
One thing is sure. Yvonne Vladislavich would give you quite an argument if you tried to tell her animals don't have souls. In June 1971, Yvonne was aboard a yacht that exploded and sank in the Indian Ocean. Utterly terrified, she was thrown into shark-infested waters. Then she saw three dolphins approach her. One of them proceeded to buoy her up, while the other two swam in circles around her and guarded her from the sharks. The dolphins continued to take care of Yvonne and protect her, until she finally drifted to a marker in the sea and climbed up onto it. When she was rescued from this marker, it was determined that the dolphins had stayed with her, kept her afloat, and protected her across more than 200 miles of open sea.
And there's more. On May 28, 1978, four fishermen became lost in a fog off the coast of Dassen Island, South Africa. They knew there were dangerous rocks in the vicinity, and they feared running into them because the fog had become so thick they couldn't see where they were going. Then they became aware of a group of dolphins nudging and pushing the boat, forcing them to change course. Suddenly, through the fog, they saw sharp rocks protruding through the water. The rocks only became visible as they floated by them, and the fishermen realized at once that the dolphins had saved their lives. Meanwhile, the dolphins continued to push the boat along a course known only to them, until it reached calm waters. Then they swam away, evidently feeling their job was done. When the fog lifted, the men were flabbergasted to find themselves in the very bay from which they had originally set out early that morning.
Man's Best Friend at His Best
Human contact with dolphins is limited. In recent years, the animal with whom most of us have had the greatest contact is the dog. One doesn't have to be a dog lover to recognize that these beings have provided enormous amounts of companionship, devotion, and loyalty to people over the years.
Television shows like Lassie and The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin were not wholly contrived fantasies. They were dramatic representations of the loyalty, devotion, and intelligence of dogs. There are actually thousands of fully documented and independently verified incidents that make the adventures of Lassie and Rin Tin Tin pale by comparison.
One day in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, in 1955, a man named Ken Wilson was trying to teach a horse to accept a saddle in his corral. Ken wasn't at all concerned about his three-year-old son, Stevie, who he thought was playing at a neighbor's. But what he didn't know was that little Stevie had wandered off alone, fallen into a pond, and sunk to the bottom. The boy's dog, Taffy, however, saw the disaster and immediately raced to the corral, barking uproariously and demanding Mr. Wilson's attention. When the man ignored him, Taffy made a big show of charging into the pond, all the while continuing to bark at the top of his lungs. Then he raced back and nipped at the horse's legs. Finally Mr. Wilson realized the dog was trying to tell him something and dismounted. Immediately, Taffy bolted to the pond, barking for the bewildered man to follow him. When Wilson got to the pond, he saw his little son's red jacket floating on the surface of the water. Finally realizing what had happened, he dove headlong into the four-foot-deep water, found his unconscious son, and lifted him from the bottom. It was six hours before Stevie regained consciousness. But when he did, the first thing he saw was his little dog Taffy, sitting prayerfully beside his bed.
Stevie is not the only child whose life has been saved by a dog. There are thousands of such cases, fully documented and verified.
One such child was two-year-old Randy Saleh, of Euless, Texas. Little Randy wandered away from home one day. When his parents noticed his absence and couldn't find him anywhere, they called the police. But even a two-hour police search did not locate young Randy. The parents were becoming extremely alarmed, and when they noticed that the boy's dog, a St. Bernard named Ringo, was also missing, they found themselves praying that the big dog was with their little son and was somehow protecting him.
Meanwhile, a man named Harley Jones had to stop his car for a traffic jam on a highway about three-quarters of a mile from Randy's home. Getting out of his car, he asked other stopped motorists if they knew what the problem was. They told him the trouble was "caused by a mad dog in the road ahead." Curious, Jones walked toward the head of the line of stopped cars to see for himself what was going on. What he saw was a St. Bernard, stationed resolutely in the center of the highway, barking wildly and letting no car move by in either direction. Jones saw the dog was protecting a little boy who was merrily playing in the center of the heavily traveled thoroughfare. The dog would stop any car that dared attempt to drive through the area and then would immediately rush back to the little boy and nudge him toward the side of the road. But the little fellow, thinking the whole thing was just a game, would return to the center of the highway.
Jones spoke soothingly to the St. Bernard and managed to calm him down. But the dog would not let a single car move by until little Randy was safely off the road.
I think you'd have a hard time convincing little Randy's parents that animals are just mechanical contraptions.
Now, if you are like me, you may get a little choked up when you learn of these incidents. These are not just cases of dogs waking up their masters because they are panicking in the midst of a fire and then later getting credit. This is not the work of machines without feeling, driven only by instincts and reflexes. They are demonstrations of courage and devotion and selfless love. They are intelligent and brave responses to emergencies.
It is not only dogs and dolphins who have shown their reverence and devotion to human life by going to enormous lengths to save it. The animal kingdom, it turns out, is full of remarkable samaritans.
In 1975, a desperate shipwreck victim off the coast of Manila was stupefied to see a giant sea turtle swimming toward her, seemingly offering its aid. The floundering woman climbed aboard the turtle, which then did something turtles supposedly never do. Sea turtles spend most of their time underwater, but this one must have somehow known that the poor woman needed constant support to survive, and must also have wanted very much to take care of her. It proceeded to stay at the surface for two full days, going without food itself, so it could continue to carry her and keep her alive. When human rescuers finally appeared, "eyewitnesses thought the woman was floating on an oil drum until she was safely on board — whereupon the 'oil drum' circled the area twice and disappeared."
To be taken for an oil drum might not have surprised the turtle all that much. You see, for many years, turtles were not legally recognized as animals in the United States. One of the earliest crusaders for animal protection, Henry Bergh, found this out when he tried to stop the torments visited upon green turtles. These great animals, which have been known to live for hundreds of years and grow to 600 pounds or more, are sought after as a status source of soup and steak for the wealthy, with the young turtles being eaten when they weigh only about 50 pounds. Bergh found that the turtles were transported by ships from the tropics to the Fulton Fish Market in New York. En route, the turtles did not exactly travel first-class. For several weeks they lay on their backs out of the water, with nothing to eat or drink, like so much upside-down luggage. They were held in place by ropes strung through holes punched in their flippers.
Bergh did everything he could to halt this activity, but when he brought the perpetrators to court, the judge acquitted them on the grounds that a turtle was "not an animal within the meaning of the law." Accordingly, ruled the judge, even the barest minimum of protection against cruelty that was afforded animals by the law at that time could not be applied to turtles.
Excerpted from Diet for a New America by John Robbins. Copyright © 1987 John Robbins. Excerpted by permission of H J Kramer and New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
John Robbins is the author of the international bestseller Diet for a New America: How Your Food Choices Affect Your Health, Happiness, and the Future of Life on Earth and Reclaiming Our Health: Exploding the Medical Myth and Embracing the Source of True Healing. Widely considered to be one of the world's leading experts on the dietary link to the environment and health, he is the founder of EarthSave International, a nonprofit organization that supports healthy food choices, preservation of the environment, and a more compassionate world. John and his work have been the subject of cover stories and feature articles in the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Francisco Examiner, Chicago Life, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and many of the nation's other major newspapers and magazines.
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Despite having been written in 1987 this book is still relevant. I recommend reading "The Food Revolution" as well.