I was thinking of posting on giving up my car, but someone commented that they would like to hear about nutrition books. So I'll start by talking about nutrition.
Specifically the comment asked about Dr. Campbell's book The China Study. I have read that book and would even recommend it. I even had the opportunity to attend a talk of his when he came to our campus. I think that I should start by saying that he's controversial. When he came here, the nutrition department was up in arms. They did not want him to speak here because his ideas are different and they flow against what the ADA says. I will agree that there are weaknesses to his arguments, but overall, I think that he has some good ideas.
In essence, he suggests eating a "plant based" diet. Eat more fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, and whole grains and less meat, and dairy. I think that most Americans would benefit greatly by taking that advice. While the book never really says it straight out, he's almost suggesting a vegan diet (no meat and no animal products). This is where I will part ways with Dr. Campbell. "Plant based" (which is what he calls his vegan diet throughout the book) is a great idea, but the only source of vitamin B12 is from animal sources (eggs, milk and meat all contain B12). Sure, Dr. Campbell suggests that if you don't wash your carrots, there may be enough life in the dirt left on the carrots to provide B12, but I'm thinking that eggs on occasion are a more sure bet.
Another diet book that I would recommend is Volumetrics by Dr. Roll. She suggests eating foods that are higher in fiber and water content and lower in fat. It turns out that meat and animal products are generally high in fat, while fruits, vegetables and whole grains are high in fiber and water content. While Dr. Roll doesn't seem to be against meat, both Dr. Campbell and Dr. Roll suggest pretty much the same thing when you get right down to it.
We follow certain diets in order to be healthy. Dr. Campbell suggests some health benefits from his diet that are quite profound (including decreased cancer and other highly scrutinized ideas), while Dr. Roll's are more typical. Interestingly, I took several classes from Dr. Cordain in my Master's program; he is the author of The Paleo Diet. He says that we should eat lean meat, preferably that comes from wild game and non-farmed sources. His diet also contains no grains, no dairy and lots of fruits and vegetables. It is EXTREMELY different than Dr. Campbell's suggestions, but both authors proclaim the same health benefits and even site similar metabolic pathways for reaching those health benefits. I would agree with Dr. Cordain that farm raised meat is not a part of a healthy diet, while wild game and lots of fruits and vegetables are a good idea.
What do I eat? I would consider myself a vegetarian. I say that, but if you were to invite me over for dinner and serve hamburgers from the local feed lot, I would eat it. I would likely complain to my wife on the way home, but I really have nothing moral or ethical against eating meat. If I had a good source of wild game, I might even prepare some meat in my home, but it would be monthly at most. The reason that I am a vegetarian is partially because I think it's healthier, but more because I think that its better for the environment. Consuming farmed meat takes a lot of resources and I don't think that is sustainable for our growing population. I eat eggs for vitamin B12. I wish I had a more regular source of backyard eggs, but now I don't so we buy the junk from the store.
How does my diet influence my family? This may be more than you want to know, but with the high fiber content that we eat, my family is quite regular and there is seldom a problem with constipation in the family. I also think that it's significant that we don't bring processed foods into our home (at least not often). If we are having squash, rice and black beans for dinner, that's what the kids eat. They don't ask for hot dogs or chicken nuggets because I don't know that they've ever had them. Maybe they have, but they surely aren't available in our home and they would never think of asking. Don't misunderstand, my kids certainly complain about the broccoli sometimes and they don't like everything that is prepared in our home, but we also don't do much to accommodate them.
When we go out for the day, like when we go up to the Children's Museum or to the park, we almost always bring food with us. We rarely eat out. I would estimate that we eat out fewer than a half dozen times a year. Maybe it's more than that because family will often take us out, but I would take my wife's home cooked meal over eating out any day (except that day she made cold cucumber soup, but she promised not to make that again).
While I do think a lot about simplicity when I think about the food that I eat, it is so embedded into my routine that I hardly notice it. Most of the people I work with notice the quantity of what I eat more than what it is or that it is different from what others are eating.