Book explores food-mood link

Rob Craw and Felice Jacka have teamed up to produce 'There's a Zoo in My Poo'. (supplied)

By Justin Flynn

Did you know that there is a zoo in your poo?

Ocean Grove couple Felice Jacka and Rob Craw already knew, but wanted to write and illustrate a book that told children and teens about the relationship between diet and the role it plays in mental and brain health.

Felice is a professor and leads an international program of research in a field called ‘Nutritional Psychiatry’ and heads up the Food and Mood Centre at Deakin University.

Together, Felice and Rob have published ‘There’s a Zoo in my Poo’. The hard copy sold out on Amazon within 24 hours and was in the top 10 bestsellers on Booktopia.

“What we now know is that a healthy diet is important for both preventing common mental health problems, such as depression, as well as treating them,” Felice says.

“What we’re increasingly understanding is that gut and its resident bugs plays a key role in the relationship – what we eat has a very important impact on the gut microbiota which, in turn, play a very important role in our health.

“Last year I published a book for adults (Brain Changer) about nutritional psychiatry, however, I recognised that there was a great need for this information to get out there in a less ‘sciencey’ form.

“I wanted to write a book that allowed the key messages to reach people in a simple, accessible and fun way.”

Felice wrote the words and Rob, a teacher and musician, did the illustrations for the book. They completed it during the summer holidays.

They met in the mid-1980s and have been together for nearly 35 years.

“Rob has always done these wonderful caricatures and illustrations for me, our girls, and our wider family,” Felice says.

“He is quite bonkers in his creative expression in a way that I knew would be appreciated by others.”

Felice says the book aims at supporting and encouraging children to make good food choices for themselves.

“We also wanted to give parents and teachers useful and concrete information on the gut and its importance to health – including brain health – so that they can also support kids to make good dietary choices,” she says.

“We know that unhealthy diet is now the leading cause of illness and early death across the globe, largely as a result of the industrialisation of the food industry.

“Diet is a very important driver of the health of our gut, and our gut, in turn, profoundly influences our immune system, our metabolism, the way our genes work, our stress systems, and the health of our brain.

“We hope that people will understand that making good food choices for our gut doesn’t need to be complicated.”

Deb Hallmark, a colleague of Felice’s also from Ocean Grove, came up with the idea.

“Deb has a background in advertising and a really creative mind,” Felice says.

“She and I were coming back from a work meeting in Sydney and had a Champagne in the lounge – we brainstormed on the flight home and she came up with this. I laughed so hard, I knew it was a winner.”

Felice is now working on the concept for a book on diet and the gut in cancer.

“Very important new evidence tells us that the health of the gut is very important in cancer outcomes and I want to create a book that educates and supports people going through cancer treatment,” she says.

“Rob and I would also like to do another book for children focused on food and mental and brain health.

“It will be hard to come up with an idea that is as appealing as zoos in poos though.”


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