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  • Writer's pictureWatlington Climate Action Group

The Proof is in the Plants, by Simon Hill

Book Review: Tom Robinson

This 2021 book by nutritionist and physiotherapist Simon Hill summarises the most contemporary scientific research about the food we eat into easily digestible chapters, each laying out the evidence to support a shift in dietary practices to a more plant-based standard. While the bulk of the book focuses on individual and societal health and nutrition, Simon convincingly demonstrates that the optimal diet for human health is also the optimal diet for planetary health.

Although highly data-driven with well over 1000 references to medical and environmental research papers, the narrative is both unpretentious and sympathetic enough for even the most diehard meat-eater to swallow. His style is both entertaining and educational, breaking down the raw science of nutrition and the complex relationships between us, the food we eat and the planet we inhabit.

Although, at least for me, the science on the nutrition side of things is conclusive enough (and has been for many years), the chapter on planetary health should help make anyone think hard about their food choices. One of the many sources cited in the book, a colossal study conducted by Oxford University involving 40,000 farms, highlights the disproportionally negative impact the raising and consumption of meat and dairy has on our environment. As you can see, some of rural England’s favourites are literally off the chart in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and all other indicators:

Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers:

This chapter in particular provides such a good summary of the most contemporary research into the relationship between food and the environment that I believe the book is worth reading for it alone. As one particularly concise section highlights; “the FAO states the animal agriculture industry takes up over 75% of all land dedicated to food production across the world, yet only provides 18% of the world’s calories and 37% of the world’s total protein. If that’s not staggering enough, every year approximately 72 billion farmed land animals are sent to slaughter – about 200 million per day – in order to provide milk, eggs and meat for human consumption. To make room for these animals, 83% of wild animals have been killed off, to the point where today just 4% of all land mammals on Earth are wild, with 36% being human and the remaining 60% being livestock that we exploit.” If this isn’t convincing enough I am not sure what else is…

The book does a great job of shining a light on the negative consequences of our food choices, from chronic disease and overwhelmed healthcare to environmental degradation and animal welfare. However, it does an even better job of providing step by step guidance on the simple things that each of us can do to not only improve our personal health but to limit our negative impact on the world around us as a result of deliberate or uninformed food choices. The overall message is constructive and empowering, providing scientific knowledge and a possible way forward for everyone.

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