A Thumbs Down Book Review
The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest
By Dan Buettner
National Geographic, 2009
Review by Tim Boyd
A very superficial first glance at this book might give one the impression that The Blue Zones recounts a recent tour of the globe reminiscent of Weston Price’s investigative travels in the 1930s, which resulted in Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. Dan Buettner, a writer for National Geographic, went poking around the areas of the world with the highest concentrations of people on the high side of 100 years old. He calls these areas the Blue Zones. The zones are Sardinia, Okinawa, Loma Linda (California), and Costa Rica.
In Sardinia, the author caught up with Tonino, a very active, robust seventy-five-year-old “giant” who was literally up to his elbows in a cow he was slaughtering at their first meeting. Mr. Buettner mentions Toku from Okinawa who was 105 years old and liked to fish every day. In Costa Rica he met Rafael Angel Leon Leon who was one hundred years old, harvested his own corn and beans and kept some livestock. These examples of hale and hearty meat-eating elders notwithstanding, The Blue Zones maintains a distinctly vegetarian bias to its interpretations of longevity strategies.
And then there is Loma Linda, haven of the Seventh Day Adventists. According to Adventist Health Study-1 (AHS-1) they live several years longer than the average Californian. AHS-1 is based on life table analyses. If I understand correctly, that means human ability to predict the future is now so reliable we can base studies on it. I hope everybody will forgive me if I’m just a little skeptical about that.
The author also gives a brief history of Ellen G. White, one of the founders of the Adventists who frequently railed against eating flesh meat, butter, cheese and eggs. He neglects to mention the fact that according to contemporary reports and her own memoirs, she was unable to follow her own precepts and routinely ate all these foods.
There is no mention of any scientific measures to screen out any other such cheaters in vegetarian studies, which leads me to the bottom line. The Blue Zones is mostly story-telling and speculation. It is hardly scientifically rigorous. There is not a single footnote. There is the usual self-serving comparison of health-conscious vegetarians to health-oblivious omnivores. This book is nothing to stick my thumb up about. While veganism isn’t explicitly promoted, the message is that the more rabbit food you eat, the longer you will live. If you are eating like that, you are not living longer. It just seems like it.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2009.