The holidays are here, people are looking for gift ideas, and I am strong believer in books. Especially some of the books that unlock and demystify the whole foods, plant based lifestyle. My favorites are listed below. They range from a professional athlete’s quest for the most efficient fuel to a frightening examination of the economics and social costs behind the meat and dairy industries. But let’s kick things off with a definitive classic . . .
The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, and Long-term Health (by T. Colin Campbell, Thomas M. Campbell II, John Robbins, and Howard Lyman)
The China Study explores the connection between diet and the risk of developing the major killers of the modern era – heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. The conclusion – don’t worry, it’s not a mystery novel – is that eating a vegan diet and reducing consumption of processed foods dramatically lowers the risk of these diseases. The analysis along the way is delicious. For those who love lab trials and statistics, you are totally covered. And for those who prefer a message boiled down to plain English, you are good to go.
People feel strongly about The China Study. Supporters believe it is groundbreaking work on showing the benefits of the vegan diet, while critics believe that the empirical evidence does not support the dramatic conclusions. This year, Dr. Campbell published a second book Whole (also an interesting read!), which responds to these critiques. I imagine the debate will go on.
Bottom line, The China Study will come up in many spirited debates on veganism. With over 1 million copies sold since its publication in 2005, it is one of the most popular books on nutrition in the United States.
In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto (by Michael Pollan)
Many have heard of Pollan’s earlier book, the Omnivore’s Dilemma, but I greatly prefer In Defense of Food. In it, Pollan argues that within the last 50 years, real food has been replaced by processed “food like substances” injected with so-called nutrients. The thesis is simple and rings true: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”
Although Pollan is not vegan (he believes small amounts of meat and dairy are not detrimental), his focus on eating whole foods drives home a greater point applicable to eaters of all persuasion – eat real food. Or, put another way, “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” This book manages to educate and entertain, all the while moving swiftly and with clear purpose. I continue to “re-read” it on my I-pod during my runs. Maybe it’s weird? But I love it.
Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness (by Scott Jurek)
Here is another frequent flyer on my I-pod. In Eat and Run, Scott Jurek recounts how he began running ultramarathons (any race that is longer than the 26.2 mile marathon) and transitioned to a vegan diet. Jurek is an ultramarathon icon – some of his notable victories include winning the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run seven years in a row, the 135 mile Badwater Ultramarathon twice, and the 153 mile Sparthathlon three times. (No, I did not mistype those distances.)
As a professional endurance athlete, Jurek is acutely aware of how food affects his performance. In the book, Jurek chronicles how he became a vegan after growing up on meat and potatoes in Minnesota. He further explains how his plant based diet unraveled common myths about nutrition and led to the best results of his professional career. In addition, at the end of each chapter, Jurek shares a favorite recipe. The recipes range from smoothies to chili, and from granola to pizza. Whether you are looking for an inspirational story or new vegan recipes, this book is definitely worth checking out!
Just to be fair, I will share one of my favorite recipes from the book with you now!
- 2 bananas
- 1 cup frozen/fresh mango or pineapple chunks
- 4 cups water (I use less, but you can play around!)
- 2 teaspoons spirulina powder
- 1 teaspoon miso
- Place all ingredients in blender and mix until smooth!
- Drink 15-45 minutes before a workout
Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us (by Michael Moss)
Michael Moss is an investigative reporter with the New York Times who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2010 for his reporting on pink slime in meat. In Salt, Sugar, Fat, he explores the ways in which food companies engineer artificial foods to manipulate our biological desires for salt, sugar, and fat. Moss reveals the tactics these companies use to snare consumers. The parallels to the tobacco industry are compelling, and sad. Further, Moss’ investigative talents are on display when we read the blow-by-blow details of a confidential meeting of the heads of all the major food companies – in one room – as they decided the fate of junk food in America. Chilling.
Meatonomics: How the Rigged Economics of Meat and Dairy Make You Consume Too Much and How to Eat Better, Live Longer, and Spend Smarter (by David Simon)
In Meatonomics, David Simon calculates that the animal food system costs $414 billion each year in external health, environmental, and animal welfare costs. And if these costs were incorporated into meat prices, the cost of meat would triple. In other words, the real cost of a $4 Big Mac – to society – is $11. So why is this industry getting away with dumping all of its external costs? Lobbying. This carefully researched book reveals the impact of powerful lobbying by shining the light on subsidies and regulations that expose our legislators as beholden to special interests. The sad part, of course, is that the goals of these special interests are not aligned with a healthy budget or a healthy population.
My Beef with Meat: The Healthiest Argument for Eating a Plant-Strong Diet – Plus 140 Engine 2 Recipes (by Rip Esselstyn)
Rip Esselstyn is a former firefighter and triathlete, and son of the renowned cardiologist, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn (one of the forefathers of the plant based diet in America). My Beef with Meat makes excellent use of short, punchy chapters. Each chapter addresses a question posed by critics of veganism, including the ubiquitous “How do you get enough protein?” The answers are plain spoken and persuasive. (For those who want the supporting science, trials, and scholarship, Rip provides references to source material and articles.) This book is about confronting myths and breaking down complex truths into understandable pieces. If you want the ammunition for your next cocktail party full of non-believers, this is your book.