Book Review: Whole by Dr. T. Colin Campbell

You’d think after years of being a book worm I’d learn not to judge a book by it’s cover, or in this case, the title, but low and behold, I had some preconceived notions about this book and was treated with a wonderfully fascinating surprise. I follow a whole food, plant based diet and I thought this would simply be a book touting the positive effects of this lifestyle and knocking the processed foods that it excludes, but it’s so much more than that.

“It turns out that eating – how we literally absorb nature, or an artificial substitute, into our bodies – holds huge implications for how we treat the rest of nature and our fellow humans” – Dr. T. Colin Campbell

For 60 years Dr. Campbell has been studying biochemistry and it’s subsets such as veterinary medicine, aging and nutrition. Through years of learning and teaching he was led to his cancer research. Not searching for a pharmaceutical cure, but identifying causes. Campbell would go on to orchestrate the most comprehensive study of nutrition ever conducted, known as The China Study.

“Everyone in the field of nutrition science stands on the shoulders of Dr. Campbell, who is one of the giants in the field. This is one of the most important books about nutrition ever written—reading it may save your life.” Dr. Dean Ornish on “The China Study”

This massive study covered 65 counties in China, 6,500 people and accounted for 367 variables. The subjects lived in a wide array of areas, both rural and urban and the difference between the 2 was abundantly clear. Those of a lower class, with less access to the foods that denoted wealth such as meat, dairy and new processed foods, also had lower rates of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Through this study and extensive research in laboratories with rats, Campbell concluded that,

“Casein is the most relevant chemical carcinogen ever identified.”

With this, nutrition and how it relates to cancer became Campbell’s life’s work. In research using lab rats he found that he could literally turn cancer on and off by adjusting their level of protein intake.

The China Study, and the best selling book that followed it, focus primarily on whole food, plant based diets vs the standard Western diet and their effect on disease, “Whole” narrows in on the complexities of whole foods. The current trend in nutrition science takes on a reductionist perspective, narrowing in on single nutrients or elements of foods. These types of studies are a disservice to the mesmerizingly complicated connections between all the components of food. The wholistic approach is that a food is more than the sum of it’s parts. Meaning that a food isn’t just a list of nutrients. The way elements of the food synchronize together or harmonize with other foods account for so much of what happens in our body when we ingest them. This is why supplementation, a reductionists best friend, often times doesn’t work. Certainly not in the way eating a whole food would. Campbell is outspoken against the popularity supplementation, often viewed as a new advent in modern day health. If that were the case, with years of it’s practice on the books, disease rates wouldn’t be where they are today. Reductionism can be seen many aspects of life, from nutrition, environmental studies or marketing. This analogy is one of my favorite ways Campbell explains reductionist logic,

“That’s why tobacco companies were able to get scientists to say that smoking doesn’t cause lung cancer: not all smokers develop lung cancer and not all lung cancers are attributable to smoking. In a reductionist universe, the statement “Smoking doesn’t cause lung cancer” is perfectly accurate. But it’s woefully inadequate when it comes to the practical issue of understanding the profound effect of tobacco on lung cancer, thus convincing people to stop smoking.”

It’s easy to see how reductionism flourished, and continues to, in spite of the mounting evidence against it. When we think of an orange, vitamin C is the signature nutrient in there. What wholistic science reveals is that consuming the orange will do more good for the body than taking a supplement with the same levels of vitamin C and all the other nutrients in the fruit.

So with all the research Campbell has generated, all the reports published and thousands of books sold across many countries, why isn’t the message of whole food plant based diets more well known? If a pharmaceutical cure for cancer was found it would be the number one news story across the board. As Campbell began uncovering more evidence in favor of a whole food plant based diet, he began to be ostracized within the field and university he’d labored in for so many years.

When it comes down to it, a whole food plant based diet isn’t good business for companies causing or profiting off of the problems created by our current health landscape. For research to be conducted, first there needs to be funding, often times coming from grants. This can either be done with tax dollars or given directly from a corporation, business or interest group. With limited funding out there, researchers compete for the available funding, appealing to those who distribute it. So not only is the research concepts geared towards agendas of the donors, the parameters and outcome of the studies leans towards helping the goals of these groups with considerable bias. A sort of gerrymandering of the research available to us. It’s understandable that researchers don’t want to bite the hand that feeds, but at what cost?

This uphill battle is one of the primary focuses of “Whole”. Dr. Campbell, and many other doctors, continually reversed cancer, heart disease and diabetes with a whole food plant based diet, but their groundbreaking methods didn’t get the notoriety they deserved because the only business that stands to gain from it would be farmers instead of pharmaceutical, medical or insurance companies.

“If someone asked you to create a public health policy for which the goal was to mislead the maximum number of people in ways that would compromise their health while profiting the pharmaceutical, medical, and junk food industries, you couldn’t do much better than what’s currently in place.” – Dr. T. Colin Campbell

So how do we change this? What can be done when the opposing force is so monolithic? The main thing we can do is to shift our support. These industries have become so colossal because we’ve empowered them. As the tides begin to turn, we will weaken them. It won’t be a fast process and our singular efforts can feel like a drop in the ocean at times. That’s why spreading the message is just as important as practicing it ourselves. As more people understand whole food plant based lifestyles for what they are, preventive, restorative and enlightening medicine, we’ll begin to make major changes in the health and consciousness of our population. Much like the dynamic of interconnected nutrients with a whole food, this issue is connected to so many aspects of our lives and as we help it move forward we will feel an immense pressure dissolve globally. Our generation is the one that will make this paradigm shift happen. The framework has been laid by T. Colin Campbell and many others who share his passion, excellence and understanding, but it’s up to us to keep the momentum growing. The responsibility for this movement is on society, not industry, and I believe we’re up for the challenge.

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