I struggled for 15 years to become a vegetarian. Then I read this book.
I’ve considered myself willing to be a vegetarian—or even a vegan—for 15 years, but then there was my love for cheese, my love for free-range eggs, my love for gourmet burgers and Jordanian koftas and Nando’s chicken . . . oh, and my sister-in-law’s delicious beef rissoles, the flavoursome shared meals with my husband and the sizzling barbecues prepared by the men in our family. I felt I could, but then I just couldn’t.
Well, all of that changed after reading The Healthiest People on Earth by California journalist John Howard Weeks. Right up to now, as I’m writing this review some weeks later, I’ve had no more cravings for cheese, I’ve peacefully overcome all sorts of daily food temptations and unhelpful habits, and I’ve officially told my family—both here in Australia and in my home country of Brazil—that I am now a vegan. You read that right. I’ve been enjoying a fully plant-based diet—yes, enjoying!
If you’re not sure about going down the same path, don’t worry: this is not a book that will preach to you. It will not disturb you or embarrass you. It has no harrowing descriptions of animal cruelty to sicken you; no ethical and moral dilemmas to pressure you; no disgusting details that will make you wish you didn’t have to look at what you eat ever again. But it will cause you to look at food in a different way. The Healthiest People on Earth is not overbearing, but insightful. The reading flows easily, zested with humour, yet it makes you think.
Apart from some unnecessary jokes that sounded silly and some bits that I would have preferred to pass over (like a strange transcendent bedroom vision involving zebras that I’m still trying to work out), I enjoyed John’s sense of humour. He describes his journey through different diets in a disarmingly honest and hilarious way and his conversational tone makes reading a breeze—you feel like you’re just having a chat in a cafe or in his kitchen, listening to personal anecdotes and special family memories.
In addition, I love how John’s literary style and poetry enriches the imagination and lends a sense of immediacy. To give you a taste: “Now, go to the produce department. It smells good! Look at all the colours! Ravishing red radishes and apples and beets. Sunshiny yellow lemons and bananas and squashes. Opulent orange tangerines and pumpkins and carrots. Gorgeous green limes and artichokes and honeydews. Royal purple eggplants and grapes. Beautiful blue potatoes and blueberries. So many choices! Luscious fruits and berries, crunchy vegetables, chewy nuts and legumes, fragrant greens. It’s like a banquet for the senses!”
Although scientific research is not at the forefront, The Healthiest People on Earth is empirically based—this factor definitely helped me accomplish my long-held ambition to become a vegetarian. It also gave me the resolution and the tactics to take it one step further and embrace a vegan diet. As John says, “Plant-based nutrition is abundant and full of blessings, my friends. It is much more than a diet. It’s a whole new way of living better, living stronger, living longer.”
Filled with practical tips, each chapter of the book closes with a “happy home remedy”. For instance, the “vegan penicillin”, which was very handy as I was fighting a cold while reading the book. My husband cooked this recipe (which actually is better than chicken soup) and indeed I was feeling better the next day. Plus, as a treat, the book includes a special section on home remedies and a collection of inviting family recipes.
The healing power of plant ingredients was promoted by John’s great-great-grandmother, Ellen G White in the late 1800s. She was the notable Christian revivalist who kicked off a health reform movement within the Seventh-day Adventist Church that is largely responsible for Loma Linda, California (an Adventist population centre and John’s home town), being one of the few longevity “blue zones” on Earth.
Many of the health principles Ellen shared as instructions from God preceded medical research by more than a hundred years. “These old-fashioned, simple herbs, used intelligently, would have recovered many sick who have died under drug medication,” she wrote in 1897.
Now, should I spoil the part of John’s book that had the biggest impact on me? Why not! “Once you stop putting the flesh and blood and secretions of dead or captive animals into your system, you are no longer weighed down, slowed down by that stolen plunder. You are free to live a new life fuelled by fresh nutrients, not the second-hand stuff, and you will find yourself invigorated in the most natural and healthiest possible way,” writes John.
Sure enough, since I’ve experimented with switching out animal products for whole-food, plant-based alternatives, the surprising benefit has been the amount of energy I’ve gained. I’ve struggled with constant fatigue for decades and I thought it was due to my hypothyroidism. Well, it turns out that just a couple of weeks of being vegan has already changed a lifetime symptom. My mind is also getting clearer and sharper—there is no way I would turn back now.
“Eating is not the purpose of life. It’s quite the other way around. Life is the purpose of eating,” John reminds us. With lots of right-on-the-money advice (and some unexpected new things for me, like cherries as a source of melatonin), from beauty tips with tomatoes to White’s divinely inspired gardening techniques in Australia, The Healthiest People on Earth is pleasant reading—and, for me, life-changing! As the author says, “We can live better, live stronger, live longer. Ready to try it yourself?”
The Healthiest People on Earth (2018) is published by BenBella Books. This article first appeared in Signs of the Times magazine.