Perhaps one of the most memorable sentences in my reading of Whole comes in Chapter 14 toward the end of Dr. Campbell’s description of his wife’s experience with melanoma: “I feel that Karen’s diet not only helped her after her cancer diagnosis, but in the years preceding it.” What strikes me about this sentence is its non-linear truth about eating plant-based whole foods: that their effects are multi-directional, not simply linear. Unlike the unrealistic effects we are trained to expect from medication, they don’t start in isolation at one point in time, and only move forward in a one to one correspondence.
This turn of phrase reminds me how focused we all get on the illusion of one to one linear improvements, such as food takes away symptom, symptom gone, condition gone. We can slip into thinking of food as we have been taught to think of medication, when actually it’s much more complex than that. And so are we. (And so are the effects of medication, as Dr. Campbell so brilliantly reminds us.)
After drafting this opening, Romeo and I headed down to the Tuesday Grower’s Market held in the parking lot of our co-op. I knew when I got back I would want to practice some yoga, as is my habit, so I grabbed a large carrot to munch on as we set out. We were crossing the parking lot of the accounting firm behind my house, and one of the receptionists waved to me and smiled as she crossed the lot to her car. As she opened her car door she smiled again and said, “That looks like a delicious carrot!” I looked at the carrot in my hand and then at her and, agreed, “It is!” and took another crunchy bite.
I began to contemplate the root I was eating. It occurred to me that carrots don’t only grow down, they grow around themselves, in circles, like trees do. And of course up and out with their leaves. And today I had even found a small one in the garden left over from last year that was beginning to flower and go to seed. So many ways this carrot grows. Perhaps we need also to recognize the ways we “grow around” to better health—and not just straight up, or down. And how this non-linear process is actually a blessing.
I was not particularly shocked or surprised to read about the damaging and clustered effects of the medical and food industrial complexes working against our clear understanding of the truth about health and nutrition. Yet it’s misleading to conclude this book was written merely to expose those problems. (Although I did let out a low whistle at the astronomical amount of money drug companies pay to advertise in leading medical journals—billions per issue!) Most essentially, though, coursing through the words is the profound invitation to shift away from the thrall of those figures and out of the linear reductionist paradigm into one which is non-linear and complex, multidirectional, in the way the carrot grows and in the way WFPB eating protects against cancer and many other serious ailments. Or can substantially help us slow, stop or even reverse their effects. That’s quite a notion to ponder. That in changing our lives from the ground up by committing to eating whole plant foods, we also begin to live in a non-linear fashion. We literally become what we eat. And we now know that what we eat works within us in ways that are anything but linear.
The integral truth of such a process is hard to grasp since there’s no basic reductionsit schematic for it. It has to be experienced. Perhaps this quote near the end of the book in the Chapter “Making Ourselves Whole” is a good approximation:
“The way our bodies create and maintain health is the result of millions of years of evolution—not just of individual cells, not just of organs, not just of functional systems, or even of the entire body, but of the body as a part of the food web and all of nature.”
I’m very grateful to Dr. Campbell for writing this book, and in so doing corroborating the way I have decided to feel my way through and to recognize the unfolding of a process that will be active for the rest of my life. Early on, before I even knew of Dr. Campbell and his first book, The China Study, I had the inkling that simply eating this way was the best thing in the world I could do to slow or prevent or reverse the serious conditions I knew I had, and those that I might not know I have, but that are part of my family’s health history. It’s a history full of every serious kind of illness you can think of: cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, birth defects, emphysema, dementia. Not a pretty list. Screening for all these possible horrors feels less important to me than eating in a way that will serve to slow them to a crawl or a halt. Or perhaps even keep them from happening altogether. But that’s not something I usually say very loudly, in a world entranced by screening and early detection. So I admire Dr. Campbell immensely for meeting that mindset head on. I hope that in decades to come, he will be thought of as a pioneer in a new paradigm for human health.
I also hope I will have another opportunity to re-read Whole someday, and chew on it some more, like metaphorical “steak,” as my high school science teacher would have said about reading important books, which I mentioned in my first post about reading this book, A Slice From Whole. I’ll amend his saying to make it a metaphorical carrot, to be more appropriate to my purpose. For now, I am content that I must return it to the library, because someone else is waiting to read it. Since I requested the library to purchase it, and was the first to read it, I am very gratified to know that now others are literally waiting to benefit from the fact that it is on the library shelf. So I happily pass it back in order to help the message spread.
Not only that: I know it is a book that will live in me even when I am not actively reading it. It’s already refined how I read about studies presented in news about food and health. And that living in me, that space between now and whenever the next time comes, will continue to heal and enrich my understanding of the slow miracle I’ve been given.
If you’ve been thinking of reading Whole yourself, but find the prospect daunting, here is a link to a conversation between Howard Jacobson, the writer who co-wrote Whole, and Dr. Campbell about their writing of Whole. It’s about 40 minutes long, and goes over key concepts in the book. I was delighted to hear Dr. Campbell refer to the work of Thomas Kuhn, who coined the phrase “paradigm shift” to describe how what is considered “true” in science can change, and in turn profoundly shift the way scientists see the world. Because that’s what Whole offers us: a new way to see and experience what is true about how to be healthy. I hope in years to come other scientists will see Dr. Campbell as a key player responsible for a shift we will make in our understanding of how proper nutrition can heal, and that his visionary work will come to be accepted as generally understood truth. And if you’re not into the theory of science, never fear. The interview does a great job of fascinating us with how an apple an have 263 times the anti0xidant effect than it has actual antioxidants. So much for the parts adding up in a neat sequence to the whole. The “Whole” is, delightfully, artfully, truthfully, always more than the sum of its parts.