Science, Stories, and the Poetry of Life


“Though often funny and occasionally eccentric, Waltner-Toews is no armchair homilist. Sifting through dog poop in Kathmandu to discover the source of canine tapeworm has a way of humbling a person and opening one’s mind to the basic questions that fuel good science and help avoid bad public policy.”
– Quill and Quire

HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN, a speech given at his daughter’s graduation from high school, and first published in the Post Normal Times, summarizes his grounded, visionary approach to life, writing, science and, as Douglas Adams would say, everything else.

The photograph below, of David with his hands in Thai elephant dung as part of a paper-making process, is courtesy of Jennifer Firestone.

David Waltner-Toews making paper out of elephant dung in Thailand

David, a veterinarian, epidemiologist, scientist, and popular author, specializes in diseases other animals share with people, international development, and ecosystem approaches to health. He is the author or coauthor of seventeen books of poetry, fiction, nonfiction and recipes, including The Chickens Fight Back: Pandemic Panics and Deadly Diseases That Jump from Animals to People (Greystone Books, 2007), Food, Sex and Salmonella: Why Our Food Is Making Us Sick (Greystone Books, 2008) and The Origin of Feces: What Excrement Tells Us About Evolution, Ecology, and a Sustainable Society (ECW Press, May 2013). As “Tante Tina”, he has also been known to don a dress and kerchief and to pontificate on the trials of being a Mennonite farm woman in a men’s world gone mad.

A University Professor Emeritus at University of Guelph, he was founding president of Veterinarians without Borders/ Vétérinaires sans Frontières – Canada and of the Network for Ecosystem Sustainability and Health, and a founding member of Communities of Practice for Ecosystem Approaches to Health in Canada. He is the recipient of the inaugural award for contributions to ecosystem approaches to health from The International Association for Ecology and Health.

“David Waltner-Toews is a genuine polymath. He’s a published poet, author of books on subjects as diverse as Mennonite history and exotic animal-to-human diseases. …Lots of specialists of one sort or another attempt crime novels, and usually they’re pretty awful. But Waltner-Toews does exactly the right thing. He sticks to what he knows, puts together a credible and intriguing plot, chooses an exotic setting and tells his story. The opening line – ‘There is something warm and comforting about doing an autopsy on a cow’ – is guaranteed to set the reader up for something just a little different. And that’s exactly what follows.” — Margaret Cannon, Globe and Mail