The Food Revolution is not a vegan memoir, but it’s worth reading.

I’m still baffled as to how this was recommended to me when I put the callout for vegan memoirs, but I’m glad I read it. Becoming vegan wasn’t even on my radar when John Robbins‘ first book, Diet for a New America came out, but I’ve learned how much that book rustled some feathers in the animal agriculture industry.

I also didn’t know John Robbins is the son of Irv Robbins, co-founder of ice cream giant Baskin-Robbins, and walked away from being a part of the family business. He also covers that story in The Food Revolution, his fifth book published by [Red Wheel Weiser] Conari in 2001. It’s a whopping 386 pages of non-fiction, but like Dr. Greger’s How Not to Die, it’s easy to get through.

I’ll make the claim that this book was far ahead of its time, before eating plant-based was cool. The internet was still in its infancy and the reasons for eating plant-based or becoming vegan hadn’t yet hit the mainstream.

 

Is The Food Revolution a memoir?

The book isn’t a memoir, but like all good non-fiction books, it’s got memoir elements. In Chapter 1, Robbins talks about leaving the Baskin Robbins empire and in Chapter 3, he loses a friend to cancer. In Chapter 6, “Got BS?”, he recalls how he was anonymously sent the minutes of a dairy industry meeting in which members talked about how to deal with him. Chapter 9 is the most memoir-like and repeats the story from Diet for a New America of his visit with a pig farmer who knew Robbins was there to critically examine the treatment of pigs. Years later, the farmer ended up harvesting vegetables.

Chapter 12 tells the story of a lawyer who became estranged with his daughter because she was vegetarian. In Chapter 14, Robbins talks about his experience on the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous TV show even though he didn’t live in a multi-million dollar mansion.

Robbins talks in length about how the meat industry asserted its power and tried several times to silence him, notably after his appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1996 when Oprah said she’d never eat a burger again (spoiler alert: she won that lawsuit).

 

Is The Food Revolution a vegan memoir?

No. I don’t think Robbins attempted to convince readers to become vegan, although the book’s a great argument for it. At the time of writing, Robbins did not claim he was vegan but from what I see online he is now, so you could call this a non-fiction book by a vegan author.

Here are a few of the gems I noted throughout the book:

  • Chapter 4 covers the dangers of diets like Atkins and the one based on your blood type, which was never scientifically verified.
  • Chapter 7 covers how animal industries are largely responsible for food-borne illnesses. Irradiation was identified as a way to minimize these diseases, but you’d potentially be trading one disease for another. At the time of writing, 89% of beef in the US contained E.coli. The campylobacter in chicken contains more bacteria than a toilet rim.
  • Chapter 8 says 90% of cattle in the US contained hormone implants, which is linked to a rise in cancer.
  • Chapter 13 covers the loss of water and waste contamination caused by animal agriculture.
  • Chapter 14 links climate change and species extinction to the industry.
  • Chapter 15 covers the rise of the animal agriculture industry and how it could address the global hunger issue (but it hasn’t, and still doesn’t). Meat companies like Tyson Foods also own fishing companies.
  • Chapter 16 covers the dangers of herbicides like Monsanto’s Roundup which is not only linked to cancer, but also the killing of weeds which are essential to the nutrition in produce. There’s a scary story of a German biotech company that engineered a bacterium that produced ethanol and almost went to market, but killed mycorrhyzal (fungi) in the process, which would have been devastating to soil and land.
  • Chapter 17 covers the lack of regulations when it comes to labelling, and the fact that we no longer know what’s in products we consume, like vitamins and supplements. Milk sold in the US wasn’t labelled at the time, and I still don’t think it is.
  • Chapter 18 covers the genetic engineering of fish, Monsanto’s impact, and a natural pesticide called Bt that kills not only insects, but also crops.
  • Chapter 19 ends on a more positive note with the rise of the organic industry and certifications.

A 10th anniversary edition of The Food Revolution was published in 2010 and Robbins has since written four more books. The newest cover is at left.

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