What Your Food Ate - book cover

What Your Food Ate

I read a lot…. ask anyone who knows me and they’ll agree.

I thought I might tell you about a new book I just finished reading. It has been doing the rounds through America and I was interested to take a look. It is a non-fiction book, written by a geologist, David Montgomery and his wife (and biologist), Anne Bikle’. For full disclosure, I have read a couple of books written by David and found them very readable and interesting. No pictures though! The book is called “What Your Food Ate“.

For those of you who want a short summary here it is… and for those who would like to know more, I have written a more expanded review further below.

In summary, the authors believe that, “…we can connect the way farmers treat their soil, grow crops, and feed their livestock to what fills our plates, glasses and bodies.” (pg xii)

The question is does soil health, either good or bad, affect plant nutrition and does this then have a flow on effect to everything that eats it. For example, if calcium levels in modern broccoli is 66% lower than 80yrs ago, does that mean that whoever eats the calcium-deficient broccoli is getting deprived of base nutrition?

Do foods grown with chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides have the same nutrient density as that of the foods grown organically with healthy soil practices?

Throughout the book they reference scientific experiments and studies to back up their premise.

Even though there is a lot of science in this book it is written so the layman can easily understand the point being made, and it flows well and is fairly straightforward to read.

For myself, they won me over! This is probably one of the few books that I have found that backs up the idea, ‘healthy soil = healthy humans’, with much evidence, as well as interesting stories and experiments.

Meat being cooked

Read on if you want more….

The story below was one I found very enlightening. Early in the 20th century, a scientist, Sir Robert McCarrison, was worried about how the diet in England was affecting its people, so he did some experiments on rats. “…he divided a group of juvenile rats into large cages where he kept everything the same except for their food. Rats in one group received a “good” diet consisting of whole grains, milk, fresh vegetables, and occasional fresh meat. Those in the other group ate the typical English diet of “white bread and margarine, tinned meat, vegetables boiled with soda, cheap tinned jam, tea, sugar and a little milk.”..…Rats raised on the “good diet” enjoyed physical and social health. Neither disease nor conflict plagued them. Those fed a typical English diet.…. became ill and began to fight. After two months they started to kill and eat one another.”(pg 32)

This story highlighted for me that the diet of animals can really affect their health and wellbeing. And it begs the question, can we extrapolate this to humans as well?

David and Anne continue with the narrative, turning the spotlight next on farming with chemicals and whether this also impacts the health of the soil and therefore the health of our food and ourselves.

They tell the story of farmer who saw his unwell mare recover her health when grazed on manured/compost-fertilized pasture. He then started making his own compost and stopped using chemical fertilizers. Within a few years he had brought his livestock back to robust health without vaccines or medicines. These stories are followed with evidence from scientific studies and experiments, showing that there is at the very least a need for further research, if not a complete change in agricultural practices away from chemical farming.


When delving into the question, “is organic produce better for you than conventional”, David and Anne focus on the micro minerals like calcium, copper and zinc, and also those compounds that are called phytochemicals which include things like antioxidants. Generally when the two types of farming are compared what is tested is only the macro minerals like protein and carbohydrates and many times there is little difference measured. But the phytochemicals are the ones that give us vibrant health and help protect from chronic disease. A deficiency of these compounds could be the smoking gun to explain the huge increase in chronic disease over the last century.

“What your Food Ate” touches on the possible impact pesticides have on our soil and therefore our health. How not only is it bad for the consumer but also makes farming a pretty hard way to make a living, one comment from a farmer stating, “Every year I borrow $800,000 to make $850,000.” This means the farmer is only making $50,000. Where does the other $800,000 go? Maybe to the chemical and fertilizer companies, the GMO seed companies? The question is who’s farming who?

I learnt a lot about the different health benefits between grass-fed dairy and grain-fed dairy, and it made me really appreciative of the fact that we have very few total confinement dairies here in Australia. Dairy products are meant to be highly nutrient-dense with easily assimilated vitamins and minerals to enhance health. It all comes back to the question of how healthy was the soil, how were the plants grown and did the cows see the sun.


There is a lot of information in the pages of this book, but I found it was written in an informative but non-confrontative manner. I didn’t get information overload, even though it was a little repetitive at times. In some publications, quoting scientific studies and numbers dim the desire to continue reading but with “What Your Food Ate” the information is communicated in a friendly and condensed style. For those who wish to follow up and read a study for themselves the authors have an online source website that lists every one of the references they use. They list over 1,000 sources, nearly 60 pages long! This is a well-researched book.

So… what did I take away after completing this book? Well, I really enjoyed it! I found a lot of encouragement to continue with our management style in our cattle business. Finding out about the concrete health benefits from farming animals the way we do, reinforced the desire to provide good quality, nutritious food to our customers.

It really reinforced the mantra – “know your farmer”.  Know where your food comes from, find a farmer who will answer questions about how his/her food is grown and support those who are growing nutrient-dense food.

If you’re a consumer, try to buy food that you can trust, better still buy food from someone you can look in the eye and ask questions to. If you are a gardener, grow food in healthy live soil, and if you’re a farmer, grow food for others that is nutrient dense and encourages good soil health.

For me, it was an encouragement and an exhortation to continue what we have started and to encourage others to start the journey. In a world stage that is overwhelmed with the negative conversations of climate change, health worries and poverty, here are some ideas with which we can start to change our world.

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