FOREWORD by Joanna Macy to the book:
Diet For A New America, by John Robbins

AFTER READING THIS book for the second time, I took a walk on the beach below the oil refineries on the San Francisco Bay. Seagulls careened in the afternoon sun. A tanker hooked up a half-mile out on the jetty. As I watched idly, my thoughts still occupied with the book, a strange fantasy arose in my mind.

It was a scenario of what would happen if Americans no longer found animal products attractive. Say they simply woke up one day and found meat and poultry and dairy products unappealing. Given U.S. eating habits, that speculation borders on the absurd, I know. But suppose some magical transformation took place that would diminish our attraction to animal-based foods, and at the same time increase our appetite for other foods which really nourish, and are far better for us.

What would happen? What would it mean for our lives and our world? Would that tanker, for example, still be making its deliveries of imported oil? Would those refineries stretch back for as many miles as they do now? Would there be as much DDT in the gulls overhead or in my own body? Would they and I be likely to live longer and healthier?

The research that John Robbins has done for us in this book, gathering and distilling an extraordinary amount of little known but vital information, allows us to deduce what would happen in such a scenario. From the evidence accrued in hundreds of recent medical, agricultural, economic and environmental studies, which he presents in terms easy for the lay person to grasp, we can indeed estimate the results if Americans were to change their eating habits and kick the habit of over-consuming animal proteins and fats.

I imagine then the scenario, as I walk along the water's edge.

The effects on our physical health are immediate. The incidence of cancer and heart attack, the nation's biggest killers, drops precipitously. So do many other diseases now demonstrably and causally linked to consumption of animal proteins and fats, such as osteoporosis, a major affliction among older women; my mother suffers from it; I fear it. The hormonal imbalances causing miscarriages and increasing aberrations of sexual development similarly drop away, as we cease ingesting with our meat, poultry and milk the drugs pumped into our livestock. So do the neurological disorders and birth defects due to pesticides and other chemicals, as we begin to eat lower on the food chain where these poisons are far less concentrated. Mother's milk, where they concentrate in greatest intensity, becomes safe again; we can nurse our babies without fear. Since these toxins attack the gene pool itself, causing irreversible damage, the change in diet improves the health of my children's children's children and generations to come.

The social, ecological and economic consequences, as we Americans turn away from animal food products, are equally remarkable. We find that the grain we previously fed to fatten livestock can now feed five times the U.S. population; so we have become able to alleviate malnutrition and hunger on a worldwide scale. We discover what it is like for us to sit down without feeling guilt. Once relieved of it, we realize great was that burden, that unspoken sense of being watched and judged by thode who were hungry. We find ourselves also relieved of fear. For on a semiconscious level we knew all along that the old disparities in consumption were turning our planet into a tinder box, breeding resentments and desperations that could only eventuate in war. We breathe easier, letting ourselves be emotionally in touch again with all our brothers and sisters.

The great forests of the world, that we had been decimating for grazing purposes (that was, we discover, the major cause of deforestation), begin to grow again. Oxygen-producing trees are no longer sacrificed for cholesterol-producing steaks.

The water crises eases. As we stop raising and grinding up cattle for hamburgers, we discover that ranching and farm factories had been the major drain on our water resources. The amount now available for irrigation and hydroelectric power doubles. Meanwhile, the change in diet frees over 90% of the fossil fuel previously used to produce food. With this liberation of water energy and fossil fuel energy, our reliance on oil imports declines, as does the rationale for building nuclear power plants.

As expenditures for food and medical care drop, personal savings rise and with them the supply of lendable funds. This lowers the interest rates, as does also the drop in oil imports which eases the pressure on the national debt.

A less obvious effect of our meat-free diet, but perhaps more telling on the deep psychological level, is the release that it brings from the burden and guilt of cruelty inflicted on other species. Only a few of us had been able to face directly the obscene conditions we inflicted on animals in our farm factories and modern slaughterhouses; but most of us knew on some level that they entailed a suffering that was too much to "stomach."

We can appreciate now what it did to us to eat animals kept long in pain and terror. Because the mass methods employed to raise and kill animals for our tables were relatively new, we did not fully realize the deprivation and torture they entailed. Only a few of us guessed that the glandular responses of the cattle and pigs and chickens pumped adrenaline into their bodies and that we ate with their flesh the rage of the chickens, the terror of the pigs and cattle. It is good for our bodies, our relationships and our politics to have stopped ingesting fear and anger. Acting now with more respect for other beings, we find we have more respect for ourselves.

As I picked my way over the shale and driftwood, I thought to myself, "This scenario is wildly, absurdly utopian. It is also clearly the way we are meant to live, built to live." And I wondered what the means could be that could alter our taste for animal food products and increase our appetite for the foods that really are good for us. Then I stopped short, realizing with a laugh that the means is here at hand. I just had to read it. It is this very book!

One might argue that information alone is insufficient to alter patterns of behavior. But information of this kind weds itself with both compassion and self- interest. Fifteen years ago such considerations were enough to prompt our whole family to stop eating red meat. Our concerns then were world hunger concerns: a pound of beef costs ten pounds of grain. That change did not strike us as any kind of sacrifice; as a matter of fact, we felt better physically and found our food costs dropping substantially. Now I see how reading john Robbins book has changed our eating habits again for the better. Like many of our friends who had once relished barbecues and roast beef, bacon and eggs, and a chicken-every-Sunday lifestyle, we are changing our eating habits without any trauma or fanfare.

Still, I did not know how much was at stake until I read Diet For A New America. For this book reveals the casual links between our animal food habits and the current epidemics of cancer, heart diseases and many other modern health disorders. It reveals as well the role these habits play in the present ecological crisis--in the depletion of our water, topsoil and forests. It shows how the production of animal foods puts toxins into our environment and how our consumption of these foods increases in turn our susceptibility to these toxins. Eating high on the food chain can be seen now as a kind of vicious circle, in which the chemicals we inflict on the environment and other life forms mount exponentially, and in which we ourselves as consumers become progressively more vulnerable to them.

It was clearly not an easy book to write, as John Robbins acknowledges. For he uncovers not only a massive horror in what we as a society are doing to other beings and to ourselves; he uncovers massive deception as well. The information he gives us about what he calls the Great American Food Machine amounts to a powerful indictment of the meat and dairy industries, both in regard to their cruel and dangerous methods of food production and in regard to the falsehoods they purvey. Through their advertising and especially through the "educational" materials they distribute and get taught through our public schools, these industries persuade us of dietary requirements that are inaccurate and promote dietary habits that shorten our lives. In his expose' of their corrupt and corrupting practices, John Robbins stands in the fine American tradition of courageous whistle-blowers, like Ralph Nader and Rachel Carson. In this case, it is both ironic and strangely fitting that the message comes from--or through--the scion of America's largest ice cream company.

A major contribution of Diet For A New America is the welcome news it brings that we need far less protein than we thought we did. Many of us who turned from meat protein in an effort to live more lightly upon the earth, believed we should compensate by eating an equal amount of dairy and vegetable protein and by combining grains and other legumes to produce it. Francis Moore Lappe, in the first edition of her milestone book Diet For a Small Planet, showed us how to do that, Robbins' book is an equally significant milestone, for it shows convincingly that our actual protein requirements are far lower than previously assumed. Using a plethora of recent medical studies, including research and revisions by Lappe herself, Diet For A New America debunks what it calls the protein myth, shows we can not only survive on less protein, but live healthier lives. The incidence of osteoporosis, to take an example, declines with lower protein consumption.

I am grateful that this book is not a sermon. It is too important for that--too important for our health as individuals, as families, as a society and as a planet. John Robbins does not scold or moralize; he takes us on a journey with him, sharing his love for life and his reverence for all life forms, ours included. While he shares as well his surprise and pain at what he discovers in the Great American Food Machine, he wisely lets us draw our own conclusion about how we want to live.

The title is appropriate. There is a new America taking birth in our time. I encounter it everywhere I go in this land, in cities and small towns, in churches and schools, where folks are fed up with violence and disease and alienation, where they are creating new forms, new lifestyles, determined to live in ways that lend meaning and sanity to their lives. This new America takes seriously the values of individual dignity, freedom and justice, that were heralded at the birth of our nation. It wants to share those values with all beings--knows it must share them in order to survive. It is fed up with consuming over half of the world's resources; it is sick of being sick. That is why, I suspect, the fantasy that occurred to me on the beach may not be so unrealistic.

JOANNA MACY

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