Richard H. Schwartz
Vegan, climate change,and social justice activist

Book Review of ‘Food For Thought: Planetary Healing Begins on Our Plate’

At a time when animal-based diets are contributing very significantly to a potential climate catastrophe and other environmental threats, risks of future pandemics, the very wasteful use of increasingly scarce land, water, energy, and other resources, and the massive mistreatment of farmed animals, Dr. Camila Perussello’s wonderful book, Food for Thought: Planetary Healing Begins on Our Plate, is a very welcome addition to the literature on vegan diets. 

Dr. Perussello is extremely well qualified to write her book. She is an extensively published Food Engineer, with many years of experience in various areas of the world, gathering evidence about the impacts of animal-based agriculture. Because of her dedication, she recently quit her job at a renowned Irish university to focus on research, animal rights activism, and food-industry consulting.

Her passion, compassion, and concern for a decent world for future generations are evident throughout the book. She presents comprehensive and well-documented evidence of the negative impacts of animal exploitation on human health and the environment and skillfully links it to a wide variety of issues, including social justice, human rights, economics, politics, racism, and cultural identity.

Among the many factors that make the book unique is that the author presents a total of 60 pages of graphic photographs from undercover investigations, showing the unspeakable cruelty involved in raising animals for food, 11 after her chapter on dairy, 22 after her chapter on red meat, 19 after her chapter on poultry meat and eggs, and eight after her chapter on fish. They add immensely to her cogent written words, leaving no doubt about the barbarism involved in producing meat and other animal-based food.

In addition to presenting what is probably a record number of facts about animal suffering in animal agriculture and fisheries, Dr. Perussello articulates how animal use is animal abuse, regardless of the rearing system and farming practices followed. After writing, “We are paying for the infliction of pain and death on an industrial level while ravaging the planet and our own health,” she writes, “What does this say about us?” 

She mentions that she “sobbed the entire visit,” in describing her class visit to a slaughterhouse during her undergraduate years, wondering how what she considered “like visiting hell” was completely acceptable to her peers. “My colleagues and lecturer looked incredibly happy while tasting the factory’s meat products, in a ritual of complete disconnectedness from what they had just witnessed.”

I have been reading books and articles on plant-based diets for over 40 years, but still learned many new things from this excellent book. Among the examples that show the importance of shifts to plant-based diets are the following:

* While the average US American consumes nearly twice the protein needed, mostly in the form of animal protein, nearly three-quarters of them fail to meet the minimum daily intake of fruit and vegetables.

* 99% of the cows, pigs, and chickens in the US are raised on factory farms.

* 73% of all antimicrobials sold globally are used in animal feed, adding to risks of antibiotic resistance.

* Nearly 80% of deforestation worldwide and nearly 90% in the Amazon rainforests is due to animal agriculture.

Perhaps, the most important lesson in the book is related to the sub-title, “Planetary Healing Begins On Our Plate.” Climate experts are issuing increasingly dire warnings, claiming that we may have only until 2030 to make unprecedented changes in order to have a chance to avert a climate catastrophe. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has claimed that climate threats are a “Code Red for Humanity,” and that “delay is death.” 

Facts on the ground reinforce these warnings. Glaciers worldwide, Arctic ice, and permafrost are melting rapidly, and there has been an increase in the frequency and severity of heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, storms, and floods.

In view of the above, everything possible must be done in efforts to try to avert a climate catastrophe, including shifting to renewable forms of energy, designing more efficient vehicles and other consumer items, and producing more sustainable items. However, as the book points out, a society-wide shift toward vegan diets is essential to efforts to to prevent irreversible environmental damage, since this approach has three advantages that other methods lack:

1. While it would take many years to drastically reduce fossil fuel emissions, shifts toward veganism can begin right away.

2. Methane, emitted from cows and other ruminants, is over 80 times as potent as CO2 per unit weight in heating the atmosphere and, unlike CO2, which stays in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, is almost completely gone in less than 20 years.

3. Most importantly, if much of the vast areas of the world now used for grazing and raising feed crops for animals were reforested, that would result in the sequestering of much atmospheric CO2, reducing it from its current very dangerous level to a much safer one. 

Dr. Perussello also stresses that animal agriculture has many other negative effects including that “animal farming and capture fishing are the leading causes of biodiversity loss.”

The final section of the book has valuable material for new vegans and people moving toward a vegan lifestyle, with sections on “transitioning to a vegan diet,” “changing our outlook on life,” “other aspects of living vegan,” “common mistakes when going vegan,” and “useful tips.”

Food For Thought can be summarized in its following words:

“The flesh of dead, tortured creatures and their secretions can no longer be regarded as food given our current evolutionary stage. Raising animals as food is doing too much damage not only to animals, but also to our health, to the environment, to social equality, and to our humanity. We obviously cannot go on like this. Not if we care about the next generations, not if we wish to evolve morally, not if we want to live in a peaceful and humane world, as we say we want to do.”      

In view of all the major negatives of animal-based agriculture that the book spotlights, it is very discouraging to realize that, since 1961, “global meat consumption has increased fourfold,” and that it continues to increase.

By skillfully making people aware of such facts, Food For Thought has the potential to be transformative, helping to shift our imperiled planet onto a sustainable path and leaving a decent, habitable, healthy world for future generations. Hence, I very strongly recommend it.

It is very important to recognize that there is no Planet B, nor effective Plan B.

About the Author
Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D., is the author of Judaism and Vegetarianism, Judaism and Global Survival, Who Stole My Religion? Revitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal our Imperiled Planet, and Mathematics and Global Survival, and over 200 articles and 25 podcasts at He is President Emeritus of Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) and President of the Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians (SERV). He is associate producer of the 2007 documentary “A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal the World.” He is also a Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at the College of Staten Island, which is part of the City University of New York.
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