The China Study Cookbook, 2013, by LeAnne Campbell
reviewed by John Reid for Healthy You Network
The cover of The China Study Cookbook proclaims it to be the “official companion to The China Study.” This designation implicitly promises that a person following the cookbook’s recipes will be following the nutritional principles found in T. Colin Campbell’s and Thomas M. Campbell’s seminal 2006 work, The China Study, which remains one of the most important books ever written on nutritional science. And, in fact, the cookbook does follow the nutrition path suggested in the earlier work.
What LeAnne Campbell, Colin Campbell’s daughter, has written is a cookbook that one can use knowing that the recipes are consistent with the science found in The China Study. However, this is not a dull, science-based cookbook. Indeed, it is grounded in the idea that healthy food can be wonderfully varied and can be a source of individual and family joy.
“Don’t forget to have fun,” Campbell reminds the reader in her introduction. “… as you begin this journey, invite your family to join you: your children, your parents, or both” (p. 33).
Campbell’s own journey toward a plant-based diet, which was initiated by her father’s research and two distinct experiences during her time as a Peace Corps volunteer following graduation from college, is outlined in the Introduction. There one also finds some very useful tips on “Raising Children to Consume a Plant-Based Diet.” In addition, there is a detailed explanation of what Campbell calls “The Garden Approach: Choosing a Wide Variety of Plant Foods.”
The key to a whole food, plant-based diet, according to Campbell, is “the consumption of a variety of different parts of whole plants [because this] promotes optimal health” (p.18). In discussing eight categories of plant-based food — fruits, grains, leaves, roots, legumes, flowers, nuts, and mushrooms — she touches on the general nutritional value of each and provides examples of each. There is also an interesting description of how different nutrients behave in plants, as well as an explanation of “the interdependence of humans/animals, plants, and microorganisms [which] sustains life for all groups” (p.22).
Before getting to the recipes, Campbell outlines an efficient process for menu planning and talks about minimizing added fat, sugar, and salt. For those new to whole food, plant-based cooking, there also is a very helpful discussion of substitutions that can turn “a favorite animal-food-based recipe to a plant-based one ( as well as extra-sugary recipes to less refined ones” (p. 29).
However, the ultimate worth of any cookbook depends on the quality of the recipes, and this is an area where The China Study Cookbook excels. Whether it’s “Nature’s Granola” (p.71) or “Beets with Greens” (p.216), the dishes are tasty, and most don’t take a lot of time to prepare. In fact, 10-20 minutes would be an average preparation time, and if that’s simply too long, a delicious “Mint Chocolate Pudding” takes a mere 6-7 minutes.
The organization of the recipes, many of which include useful tips in a shaded box following the recipe, is straightforward: Breads & Muffins, Breakfast Dishes, Appetizers & Salads, Soups, Sandwiches, Entrées, Side Dishes, and Desserts.
While many cookbooks include an analysis of the nutrient content of each recipe, The China Study Cookbook does not, and Campbell provides a convincing rationale for this decision: “Nutrient contents in different samples of the same food often are highly variable, leading consumers to be concerned with trivial and meaningless differences instead of the far more important health characteristics of food variety and wholesomeness” (p.19).
This is one cookbook where you can’t go wrong by dipping in anywhere, depending on your mood. For a wonderful dinner main course, try “Fettuccine with Broccoli and Cashew Sauce” (p. 181), which takes just 15 minutes to prepare and 20 minutes to cook. For a cheesier flavor, Campbell suggests adding 2-4 tablespoons of nutritional yeast to the cashew sauce, or for extra flavor using tomato basil fettuccine or a wheatless fettuccine, such as artichoke or corn.
If you’ve had a stressful day and simply feel like rewarding yourself, take 15 minutes and whip up a batch of “No-Bake Peanut Butter Bars” (p.256). Campbell is absolutely correct in saying they are “rich, creamy, sweet, and satisfying.” However, given their high fat content, one also is advised to follow her advice that they “should be used sparingly.”
While there are many new books that focus on variations of whole food, plant-based cooking, few can touch The China Study Cookbook in terms of adherence to the principles of optimal nutrition and the twin demands of easy preparation and delicious taste. This is a book that should be on the shelf of people who want to prepare food that is innovative and delicious. It is a book, quite simply, for those who want to improve the quality of their lives.