October 9, 2019

Reversing “Nutritional Ignorance” Is Message of Campbell’s Talk

By Anne Levin

At a gathering in the Unitarian Universalist Congregation on Cherry Hill Road last Sunday, renowned biochemist and Cornell University professor emeritus T. Colin Campbell challenged a rapt audience to revisit the way they think about food, nutrition, and the health of the planet.

More than six decades of research have convinced Campbell that a plant-based diet can prevent, suspend, and cure a range of diseases, from cancer and heart ailments to lupus and type 2 diabetes. The co-author of The China Study and the inspiration for the documentary Forks Over Knives, Campbell’s appearance in Princeton was organized by his brother and sister-in-law, who are members of the Unitarian congregation, and his former student, Princeton resident Rachel Rivest.

“Almost everyone else in the field stands on his shoulders,” Rivest said the day after the event. “It was huge that he was here.”

The event was co-sponsored by several local organizations including Sustainable Princeton, Whole Earth, Labyrinth Books, and Suppers. A new group, Princeton Eats Plants (under the umbrella of PlantPure Communities), will hold its first meeting on November 6 at 7 p.m. at the Unitarian church.

A youthful 85, Campbell told the audience that he grew up on a dairy farm. “I started on a track that was the opposite of what I now say, promoting the consumption of animal-based products,” he said. It was while teaching at Virginia Tech that he began work on a project to aid malnourished children in the Philippines that he began to think differently.

“I got the inclination that the children aged 4 and under who were most likely to get liver cancer seemed to be coming from farms that had the most animal-based protein,” he said. A further study from India revealed similar results. Campbell concluded that while cancer starts with a genetic mutation, it grows as a function of nutrition.

“It starts with a gene. But that’s not why it grows to be what it becomes,” he said. “It’s a question of controlling that progression.”

Eating whole foods and getting protein and other nutrients from plants instead of animals is best done without supplements, Campbell said. A study of beta carotene derived from eating a plant-based diet  showed a decrease in lung cancer by 19 percent. “But taking a supplement actually increased it,” he said. “So when it’s in food, it’s different. Vitamin supplements don’t quite work the way you think they do.”

Campbell said cholesterol levels are best reduced through diet rather than statin drugs, which have side effects. “The statin industry has taken advantage,” he said. “The data on it is not very promising.”

He also contends that at least half of the problems in our environment are due to the consumption of livestock, resulting in topsoil loss, global warming, reforestation, ocean reef destruction, and more. “If we don’t solve this, the whole discussion is meaningless,” he said.

The high cost of developing new chemotherapy drugs, and the use of pesticides and herbicides are equally damaging, Campbell said. But much of the information related to these issues has been ignored.

“We do not need protein from animals,” he said. “Plants have all the protein we need. We have been captivated by the idea that we need a certain amount of protein from animals. Wholistic nutrition is not taught in a single medical school in the United States. Nutrition has been so exploited as a science.”

Campbell concluded his talk by quoting Hippocrates, who said, “We are what we eat,” 2,500 years ago. “He also said, ‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.’ We don’t have another 2,500 years to relearn this lesson. The No. 1 cause of death is nutritional ignorance.”