Healthy Eating, Healthy World, 2011, by J. Morris Hicks
reviewed by John Reid for Healthy You Network
In Healthy Eating, Healthy World, J. Morris Hicks provides a compelling synthesis of the most important information pertaining to whole food, plant-based nutrition. Amid the myriad books that have been published about different aspects and effects of plant-based eating, Healthy Eating, Healthy World serves as the best currently available primer on a complex subject.
Drawing primarily on the work of Neal Barnard, Colin Campbell, Caldwell Esselstyn, Joel Fuhrman, John McDougall, Dean Ornish, and John Robbins, Hicks writes forcefully about the effect of our food choices on our own health, the health of the planet, and the welfare of billions of other animals. In the Introduction, he says this:
In a nutshell, this book is about the single most powerful move that we humans can make to promote health, reduce obesity, lower the cost of health care, nurture our fragile environment, conserve our energy resources, feed the world’s steadily growing population, and greatly reduce the suffering of animals in factory farms all over the world. (xvii)
Throughout Healthy Eating, Healthy World, Hicks makes the reader’s task easier by providing thumbnail sketches of people — Barnard, Campbell, Esselstyn, Fuhrman, McDougall, Ornish ; not-so-healthy foods —milk, yogurt, granola, olive oil; and recommended books — Eat to Live, The McDougall Plan, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, The Spectrum, No More Bull!, The Engine 2 Diet, Disease-Proof Your Child. And he liberally sprinkles summary charts and statements that make important points stand out.
For example, about the medical system’s failure to successfully combat chronic disease, Hicks says this: “The reason our fights against major diseases are not succeeding is because the advances in modern medicine are attacking the symptoms of the problem, not the root causes.” (29)
And in tying diet and environmental constraints together, he says the following:
The world population continues to grow, mainly in the developing world. Millions more are adopting the inefficient Western diet each year. The arable land available for farming grows smaller every day. More demand for food on less land drives prices higher. Future water shortages will limit productivity for all. The next rise in energy prices will exacerbate all of the above. (104)
Credit must go to both Hicks and his editor at BenBella Books for producing a work that is both accessible and readable.
While there is much to admire about Healthy Eating, Healthy World, there are a couple of shortcomings. First, in relying almost exclusively on “classics” in the field, such as The China Study (2006), Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease (2007), Eat to Live (2003), The McDougall Plan (1983) and Diet for a New America, second edition (1998), Hicks often grounds arguments on relatively dated research.
For example, in discussing the problem of pesticides in both plant and animal food, Hicks quotes John Robbins in his 1998 Diet for a New America: “Recent studies indicate that of all the toxic chemical residues in the American diet, almost all, 95% to 99%, comes from meat, fish, dairy products, and eggs.” (156) This means that by the 2011 publication date of Healthy Eating, Healthy World, these “recent studies” likely were 15 years old. This illustrates the danger of relying on secondary sources, rather than primary sources, when writing about a rapidly evolving field, such as whole food, plant-based nutrition.
A second shortcoming is more subtle. In Part III, “Taking Action: What Can We Do?” Hicks presents plenty of solid advice about steps an individual can take to begin and be successful on his or her plant-based nutrition journey. Hicks’ own 4-Leaf Healthy Program will help a lot of people, as will his advice on meal planning and grocery shopping. In addition, he offers useful tips on what to do while traveling, participating in social or business occasions, and dealing with family members and roommates. However, there is little beyond changing one’s own diet to guide the person who wants to help bring about positive change to either the environment or the countless animals who suffer terribly so humans can eat the Standard American Diet (SAD).
Hicks points out that by 2007 the grand total for healthcare, food, pharmaceutical, and health insurance came to “almost $4 trillion in revenue and close to 35 million jobs. ... With these incredibly large numbers in mind, it is sobering to realize that not a single one of those 36 million employees has a financial incentive to promote health and reduce disease.”
In this regard, he quotes Colin Campbell: “So why doesn’t the medical system take nutrition seriously? Four words: money, power, ego and control.” (139-140) But the identification of the problem is not followed by either a clear call to action or the enumeration of concrete steps and individual can take.
Similarly, while he describes in graphic detail the “hell on earth” endured by billions of animals in service to humans’ appetites, Hicks again offers no call to action and no steps people might take in collective action to address the problem.
The lack of answers to the question “What Can We Do?” stands out because the very experts on whom he relies throughout the book, especially Campbell and McDougall, have for decades worked in the trenches trying to effect collective change through political and legislative processes. If the large-scale changes Hicks would like to see in terms of the environment and animal welfare are to occur, it will be necessary to develop a strategy that combines both individual and collective efforts.
Finally, the inclusion of an annotated bibliography would have been far preferable to the somewhat idiosyncratic list of seven recommended books.
Wishing Hicks had used more current research, had included some strategies for collective action to right the wrongs he identifies, and had included a bibliography does not detract seriously from a book that is a most welcome addition to the literature on whole food, plant-based nutrition. Anyone who reads Healthy Eating, Healthy World will come away a wiser and better informed person.