I should also probably preface this blog with the acknowledgement I’m not sure I want to be reviewing a book I consider to be a little misinformed. However, I am trying to assess it objectively and fairly on its merits.
But first, some background.
For five years I’ve been turning up to doctors at various intervals reporting vague, flu-like symptoms that develop shortly after eating. For five years, no doctor has been able to entirely get to the bottom of it.
More recently, one or two have conceded it sounds like an allergic reaction of sorts, but to what no one is sure—I can’t isolate it to one food or one instant.
As a healthy-eating, active-living vegan, my diet’s pretty decent. And with negative results to the likes of coeliac disease and gluten intolerance and more, there’s little for me to pinpoint much less remove from my diet.
But the symptoms get so bad they affect my ability to work, concentrate, and sleep. Suffice to say, I’ve been casting around the interwebs for solutions, as you do.
Enter a recent suggestion I could be allergic to fructose, a form of naturally and unnaturally occurring sugar less friendly to our bodies than glucose, and one with which modern diets are positively packed.
My symptoms don’t match the most common fructose intolerance symptoms, namely those of gut-related, irritable bowel ilk. But, without continuing to bore you with medical details, let’s just say I’m desperate to fix this. So I bought a book about quitting sugar written by a TV personality turned self-proclaimed health and lifestyle guru.
Sarah Wilson now has two sugar-quitting books out, and I skipped straight to I Quit Sugar For Life, the sequel to I Quit Sugar.
Forget the semantics that if you’ve quit something, you’ve presumably quit it permanently and therefore shouldn’t require a follow-up book with the addendum ‘for life’. I figured anything I could glean might be handy.
And, to be fair, there are some handy bits to glean: I Quit Sugar For Life is prettily laid out. The designer charged with its layout and the editor who oversaw it clearly understand communication design.
Call-out text meets infographics meets tables and visually arresting images, texture, and colour make this book one you happily want to pick up and flick through. It’s kind of magazine meets coffee table book in its approach—something you can flick through and pore over in equal measure.
Wilson is also skilled at delivering information in accessible, memorable terms. For instance, she cites a friend who likens fat to being a long-burning log thrown on a fire, and sugar being a fast-burning paper or kerosene. Use the former, the axiom implies, and you will happily chug away for a while. Use the latter and you’ll constantly be looking for things to throw on that fire.
Wilson breaks down how to read labels too—something that’s trickier than it seems and that we all could and should be doing more of. There are also some recipes that look tasty. Case in point, the Carrot Cake Porridge Whip. The green smoothie and grated salad options look good too.
The underlying premise and overall takeaway from Wilson’s book is that it’s undeniable we’re eating too much sugar and it’s not affecting us well. Researchers have drawn links to heart disease, obesity, and cancer to name just a few ills.
So far so good.
But where Wilson’s book confused and troubled me? The following, which was put under the heading ‘Veganism’:
Can I be frank here? My research has led me to conclude that a meat-inclusive diet is more ethical, more environmentally sustainable and more nutritious per calorie intake than a grain- and legume-based one. In Australia, 22 times more animals are killed to produce the latter, through destruction of habitat to make room for agriculture.
I realise she’s talking about her personal choice, but such vague statements as ‘my research’ don’t show what she researched and how. It’s also so vague it could easily be viewed as: ‘It doesn’t suit me, so I’ve decided that…’.
Without sounding rude, I beg to differ. And so do such international, authoritative sources such as the United Nations (UN), which produced a seminal report back in 2006 outlining the devastating climate change-related effects cast by ‘livestock’s long shadow’.
Essentially, livestock production and other forms of meat slash factory farming are an inefficient, resource-gobbling production model. A number of reports have suggested people starving and malnourished in developing nations could actually be properly fed if the world stopped growing grain for meat and instead distributed that grain more efficiently and equitably straight up.
There are related issues with monoculture and pesticides used in said farming practices that are vastly affecting bee populations, AKA the lynchpins of food production. There are issues with land degradation, deforestation, and biodiversity decline.
There are issues with the amount of water it takes to produce meat. There are issues with the use of antibiotics to help fatten up animals that are now leading scientists and doctors to prepare themselves for the very real and fast-approaching reality of a post-antibiotic world (that’s aside from the fact that the fattening elements that affect livestock are now being linked with the fattening of the people who consume said livestock).
There are issues with pollution, with livestock slash factory farming considered one of the largest contributors to climate change through methane and more emissions (one estimate is 18%, but some reports put it higher).
There are issues with the reliance these industries have on fossil fuels, trucking food and animals about. And that’s before you starting talking issues of inhumane farming practices that see animals confined in horrifically cramped cages and small spaces without any quality of life…
But I’m ranting, so I’ll instead direct you to this more articulate Slate article, which asks the question: What would happen if everyone in the world stopped eating meat? It links through to a bunch of research and reports that show a meat-based diet to be the antithesis sustainable, for starters.
I’m not sure where Wilson got: ‘In Australia, 22 times more animals are killed to produce the latter, through destruction of habitat to make room for agriculture’. My guess is that making room for agriculture is related to making room for agriculture to grow crops to be fed to animals planned for dinner plates.
Regardless of where Wilson’s pulling figures from, to be blunt, I Quit Sugar For Life is a first-world book. And we’re living in an increasingly climate change-affected world where it’s no longer (if it ever was) ok to think only of developed nations.
It’s why the UN and various other health organisations that look at world-wide issues rather than first-world ones have been flagging the notions of ‘peak meat’ and encouraging people to rethink their meat consumption and choose meat alternatives.
It’s why environmental advocates such as Al Gore, who’ve dedicated their lives to looking into this stuff, have quietly gone about reducing—and sometimes eliminating—meat from their diets.
I realise this is a little ranty, and I understand Wilson’s well-meaning—I really, truly do. But I worry what kind of message Wilson’s book is sending.
There are elements of her book that will help people (maybe me included). But I find the above stance concerning and the vague ‘research’ she uses to endorse it one I can’t stomach.
I’m not yet sure if I’m allergic to fructose, but sadly Wilson’s book has made me determined find ways to determine that and reduce my sugar consumption on my own.