Staff Review by Chris Saliba
In this accessible book on nutritional science, T. Colin Campbell, a former animal farming scientist, extolls the benefits of a plant based diet.
Even though this is primarily a book of nutritional science, its conclusions are pretty easy to summarise. If you want to dramatically improve your chances of avoiding cancer and heart disease (plus a host of other possible illnesses), change your diet to a whole food, plant based one. For both vegetarians and carnivores, this means virtually eliminating all meat and dairy.
The primary author of The China Study, T. Colin Campbell, has an interesting history. He grew up on a dairy farm, studied veterinary science and then worked as an industrial scientist. His area of expertise involved investigating ways of growing animals faster for food production. As he writes in The China Study, he was all set for a career advocating the eating of more meat. He even used to mock vegetarians and thought them misguided. Then his research brought up some interesting results. Even though it was heresy to suggest meat and dairy might be responsible for the majority of public health problems, Campbell continued on with his investigations. Ultimately, after many years of laboratory research and reading the scientific literature, he became convinced that animal foods were very bad for human health.
The science is perhaps too much to go into for this short review, but to summarise, Campbell suggests we need to look at the positive effects of plant foods in total, rather than spending millions of dollars on research into single nutrients looking for a magical cure. Plants are full of hundreds of chemicals and nutrients, and the way they all interact with the human body are very complex. He says we need to accept that, in general, the consumption of a plant based, whole food diet (not processed carbohydrates, like white flour and sugar) has overwhelmingly positive effects. He says this can be proved in study after study.
If this is the case, why aren’t we all eating a plant based diet and enjoying better health if the science is so unequivocal? The book offers several fascinating chapters on this issue. Basically, consuming milk and meat is deeply culturally ingrained. Meat eating is traditionally associated with health, vigour and manliness. As industries, they are also extraordinarily powerful, extending their influence into science, politics and even education. (Recall that only recently Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews lampooned health experts who want to keep McDonald’s out of children’s hospitals.) It’s simply unthinkable that cow’s milk could be a killer.
You wouldn’t think that extolling the virtues of a plant based diet would cause so much controversy and angst. How can you get angry over someone deciding to eat Brussels sprouts rather than sausages? But people do. A lot’s at stake. The food industry, which owns its own slab of government, is worth billions of dollars. An industry of health care workers could lose their highly paid jobs. Campbell interviews a former heart surgeon. He says surgeons have huge egos and do extraordinarily complex work. To tell them that their patients could be treated better with Brussels sprouts and lettuce is unthinkable.
For those interested in science, health and nutrition, The China Study is well worth a look into. Campbell and his co-author, Thomas M. Campbell, present the science in a way that is easy to grasp. It is written very much for the lay reader, without dumbing anything down. Highly recommended!
The China Study, by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell. Published by BenBella Books. ISBN: 9781932100662 RRP: $21.99
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