Community

I have a confession to make. I actually read Eat to Live by Dr. Joel Fuhrman over ten years ago. And I actually tried to follow it for a couple of hours. But I quickly determined that it was impossible to follow. For the couple of hours that I tried it, I didn't feel satisfied, and I questioned whether or not I was really getting all the nutrition that I needed.

It wasn't until I moved to where I live now and discovered the Eat Smart Live Longer Club that I began to take eating whole plant-based foods seriously. I was writing for SunSations, a local community magazine, at the time and I learned about the club from a fellow writer on the magazine, Ellie Dixon who had begun following the whole food, plant-based way of eating.

I attended my first meeting of the club and there were several hundred people at the meeting. It seemed like even more than that because that meeting was held in a smaller space than where the meetings are currently held. I had to search to find a seat in the room. But it seemed like I was on to something. Or I should say, the club was on to something.

I was reminded of that this afternoon while listening to Freakanomics on NPR. They talked about an experiment that was done in one town trying to figure out what message would get people to reduce their energy consumption the most. The scientists conducting the experiment had the local utility put out four different notices to homes in the area. One notice appealed to people's altruistic nature and just asked them to "please" reduce their energy consumption in order to save the environment. The second notice asked people to reduce their energy consumption in order to reduce their monthly billing. The third noticed asked people to reduce their energy consumption in order to conserve energy so that it would be available in the future for their children and grandchildren. And the fourth notice announced that their neighbors were all trying to conserve energy by reducing their energy consumption.

Then they watched what happened with energy consumption from each household. What happened was that only one of those four groupings actually reduced energy consumption after receiving the notice. And the group that did that was the fourth group that was told their neighbors were all reducing their energy consumption.

In other words, as much as we like to believe we are independent and act on our own logic, the fact is, we tend to follow the herd. We do what those around us do. And that has major implications for both whether or not we will follow a whole food, plant-based way of eating and also whether or not we can convince others to follow this way of eating. For example, what if instead of focusing energy on "converting" a friend or family member, we focused on a group of people such as a church congregation or a softball team?

Think Rip Esselstyn and what he did with the Engine 2 firehouse for example. One firefighter might not have done it on her own. But a whole firehouse of firefighters might once the idea has been presented to them. And in fact, a whole firehouse did.

When I think about it, I realize that I needed the Eat Smart Live Longer Club in order to do this. I would not have done it on my own. I'm thankful every day for the fact that we made the decision to move here back in 2011. Had we not moved here, then I would not have found this club (or they would not have found me), and I would still be overweight with lots of problems (assuming I'd still be alive).

Now, I'm sure there are some who will read this and declare, "I'm doing it by myself." But are you really? Would you or could you do it without Facebook and the communities that it builds for example? Could you or would you do it without blogs like this and webinars and conferences and so on?

We are both social animals and animals who follow the herd. It's in our biological nature. And that's why eating whole plant-based foods can become a movement. As more and more people do it, more and more people will join in. For those who do not live in a community where there are others eating this way, it can be of value to search out those who are and to form a club or a group to do this. It will be rewarding not just to you but to those who join and those who are exposed to those who join.

J Lanning Smith
August 25, 2018

Government and the Promotion of Industry Over Health

Scott Gottlieb, who chairs the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced the intent of the agency to allow only the use of the word "milk" for those products meeting its definition. And what is the FDA's definition of the term milk? According to Title 21 Part 131 of the Code of Federal Regulations, milk is defined as "the lacteal secretion from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows."

So, out with nursing mothers. You'll have to find another name for your breast milk. Out with milk of magnesia. Out with goat's milk. Out with soy milk and out with oat milk and out with rice milk. And of course, out with nut-based milks. No matter that we can trace the making of almond milk back to 1597 when the Herball or Generale Historie of Plantes referenced almond milk as being the liquid pressed from almonds. That precedes the dairy industry as we know it today.

I suppose the one species among us that will be happy is the cat. As cat lovers know, cats love milk from cows, but not so much nut-based milks. They'll tolerate nut-based milks, but as a species, they seem to really go for the lactating secretions of the bovine. LOL!

At any rate, this is exactly why I recently opposed a bill in Congress that would have required food stamps, or should I say SNAP benefits, to be used for only healthy foods. Because as soon as you require that, then you have to define what is and what isn't a healthy food. And who would do that? The answer is, it would be defined by government bureaucrats working for political appointees who bend to the wishes of politicians who do what lobbyists with the biggest checkbooks want done.

And the biggest checkbooks when it comes to food are held by the dairy industry, the meat industry and the processed food industry. These groups hold sway over the government when it comes to defining what is healthy. And, like the tobacco industry, they can create enough confusion through their funded scientific projects, to make the average government employee not really know for sure what is healthy and what is not healthy.

That's how we ended up with a food pyramid for so many years that had people eating 11 servings of white bread, white pasta and rolls and croissants and other so-called grains. And because of the government's war on fat, we all thought as long as we bought fat-free doughnuts and sweets, we were eating healthily. And Americans continued to get fatter and fatter. And sicker and sicker.

So, no I don't want the government telling us how to eat. And that's why I will fight against attempts by the government to do so. Telling SNAP recipients that they can only buy certain foods with their food stamps is a move in the wrong direction by allowing government more say over what we eat. You know that if this FDA regulation goes through, that cow's milk would be on the healthy okay to buy side and nut milks would be off the list. The government would give in to the dairy industry and SNAP recipients would not be allowed to buy nut milks with their benefits.

The fight needs to be through informing people at a more individual level. Change needs to happen person by person. It needs to happen because the person wants to change, not because government is forcing change. If the dairy industry becomes successful in forcing through this change, then the meat industry will be next in demanding that only animal muscle be identified meat. Which I would be less adverse to because I don't believe there is anything particularly healthy about the fake meats that are out there. And I think true vegans should not be trying to imitate the taste of animals in their food choices.

But regardless of what I think on that, I don't think government should be dictating our food choices. We need to leave it up to each individual to learn to eat right. It's easy to pass laws and to sign executive orders. The hard work comes at the grassroots level of getting in there and teaching people why they should eat whole food, plant-based, helping them to learn how to do it and working to eliminate the food deserts that so many of them live in. That's the work that counts. That's what will bring meaningful change.

Whole Food, Plant-Based Social Connections

One of the things I hear from many people trying to follow a whole food, plant-based way of eating is they find their social calendar begins to have less and less in it due to their friends, and in some cases family, not wanting to invite them to functions involving food. And what function doesn't involve food? This is a problem for many reasons. For one, we are social beings. It's not healthy for us to live without social contacts or with a limited number of social contacts. Having a friend you can confide in is considered important for longevity and good health.  But secondly, many people end up falling back to their old ways rather than give up on their social life. And that's sad because they know eating WFPB is healthier for them. But it's also sad because giving up on healthy eating and healthy lifestyles is not an answer to the social problem.

There are a couple of answers to the social problem. Some, most of us know about. For example, always offering to bring a dish that will not only allow you something to eat but will also feed others at the social event. And when doing so, it pays to really show off your best dish so that people will want you to bring food to their events. Sometimes, if there are multiple courses, you might even have to bring a couple dishes. For example, you might bring a main dish for yourself, which doubles as a side dish for others, along with a dessert that you can share with others. If you find out a chocolate cake is in the plans for dessert, then you could bring a nice cream that would pair with the cake for others at the event. And then you just eat the nice cream.

Those are little tricks that we know about. But I want to talk about another idea that comes out of the Blue Zones, and in particular out of Okinawa. In Okinawa, where the longest-living women are, they form moais for life. What is a moai you might ask? It is a small group of friends that begin getting together in childhood and those groups, with the same friends, continue to get together for life on a regular basis. So, when you see a moai of one hundred year old women, you can know that that moai has been in existence for almost one hundred years.

Dan Beuttner has brought the concept back and has incorporated it in many Blue Zones project communities. In this case, people form in to their own small groups and usually with a purpose. The purpose might be to form a walking moai or to form a pot luck moai. But I'd like to suggest something even broader than that. And I say broader than that because it's too easy to go into a pot luck group or into a walking group and get together once a week or once a month but not really get to know each other all that well. You end up going to fulfill the purpose of the group as opposed to establishing lasting and important friendships.

I think the Okinawan moais had a much broader purpose. I think the women who formed them and stayed within them for ninety to a hundred or more years did more than just walk together once a week or do a pot luck together on some designated schedule. And that's what I suggest we do as well. Find a group of like minded people, maybe around ten people total, and commit to work toward establishing true friendships. Invite each other into your homes. Go out together to restaurants and to shows and to baseball games and to wherever you might want to go out. Walk together too. Help each other out when help is needed. Build lasting relationships. And with these new lasting relationships, just as we crowd out animal-based and processed foods by focusing on whole plant-based foods, these new relationships will eventually crowd out the older relationships that are no longer working.

The benefit of course is you can build solid personal relationships and social interactions with people who are like minded about what they eat and how they take care of themselves. And that gives us a very supportive environment, which is important to our success.

And this should be done even if you are in a large community of whole food, plant-based eaters. Of course, the nice thing about being in a large community such as my own Eat Smart Live Longer Club is that it makes it easier to find like minded people to form a moai with. And even if someone else in the moai from such a community isn't totally whole food, plant-based, you at least know they are sympathetic to your needs and they won't be trying to sabotage you or shunning you.

While club and organization leaders can promote this kind of activity by holding social events that allow members to meet each other and to form their own individual moais, people don't have to wait for leadership or depend on leadership to do this. Members can seek out other members to do this on their own.

For those who don't belong to clubs or organizations focused on whole plant-based foods, the task may be a little more difficult but not impossible. Today, with social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, it becomes possible to more easily seek out people with similar interests in your area.

The advantage is, your social life will continue and build on itself. Eating whole food, plant-based won't be a negative for your social life. It will be a positive. And you may develop some serious friendships as a result. That is the goal.

Getting to the Root Causes of Poor Nutrition Among the Poorest in Western Civilzation

I think most of us can agree that when we look at the nutritional health of poor people, it's not what it could be. All we have to do is look at the SNAP (food stamps) program and the data showing how that money is being spent by those on the program. As this report from the USDA shows, 20% of SNAP funds are used to purchase sweetened soft drinks, desserts, salty snacks, candy and sugar. Meat, poultry and seafood are another 20% of each dollar spent. And we can see the results of poor nutrition in the poor through the levels of obesity and diabetes and other health-related issues.

The easy answer is to blame the poor of course and to suggest taking away SNAP expenditures for unhealthy foods. And in fact, there are currently over 150 Congressional Representatives, mostly Republicans, who want to do just that. They are introducing into the 2019 budget resolution a proposal requiring States to restrict SNAP purchases to "healthy foods." But as I said, that's the easy answer, and it is in fact no answer at all. It will make life harder for the poor, but it does little to improve their nutrition.

The poor have a number of problems that need to be addressed first, including eliminating food deserts, education to help with understanding of proper nutrition and how to prepare foods, establishing a healthy living environment through schools, workplaces, churches and civic facilities, a supportive community and reducing stresses that lead to overeating of the wrong foods. Those are the kinds of things that will address the root cause of poor nutrition in poor environments.

There are organizations, both local and national, that are working to overcome these kind of issues. One that is 100% whole food, plant-based was recently started by Dr. T. Colin Campbell and his son, Nelson Campbell is the PlantPure Communities Oasis Program. This program seeks to offer healthy meals and nutritional education in low income neighborhoods. The name of the program says it all. It is seeking to bring good plant-based nutrition into food deserts. Here are some of the things that it offers to do:

  • Training in urban farming/gardening
  • Providing access to farmers markets
  • Instruction in mindfulness-based stress reduction
  • Access to whole food, plant-based (WFPB) school meals
  • Whole food, plant-based (WFPB) nutrition classes, cooking demos, and grocery shopping tours
  • WFPB lifestyle support groups
  • Workshops on goal-setting and financial literacy
  • Effective Communications and Human Relations Workshop
  • Physical fitness/movement
Another national program is the Blue Zones Project. While it is not specifically oriented toward poor communities and it is not 100% whole food, plant-based, it is a "plant-slant" program based on diets of the healthiest and longest-lived people in the world. And that is primarily whole food, plant-based.  And communities who establish Blue Zones Projects within them end up helping the poorer areas of their communities as well.

These are initiatives that are well worth supporting and becoming active in. They get to what the real issues are. They recognize that people who live in food deserts, who are uneducated when it comes to nutrition and who are surrounded by fast food restaurants and advertisements for junk food directed at their children cannot be held at fault for the poor choices that they make. It takes community effort to really resolve these kind of issues.

Just stopping SNAP money from being spent on unhealthy foods will not be very helpful to people who live in food deserts. It would be like me offering my readers a free dinner at Candle 79, one of New York City's finest plant-based restaurants. Readers who live in and around New York City would benefit. And those who plan to visit New York City in the near future would benefit. But nobody else would. And that's what would happen with SNAP money. Those who live in areas where healthy foods are available would benefit. Those who don't, who live in food deserts, won't. And what that will do then is it will create a black market for their SNAP dollars. And people who would normally eat healthy anyway will end up getting those SNAP dollars. Just as if you lived in California, you might go on the internet and offer to sell my coupon for Candle 79 to someone in New York City.

But beyond not helping the poor, I wonder if we really want government dictating how we eat. I know I don't. Government is beholden to the dollars that come from industries like the meat, dairy, sugar and pharmaceutical industries. Those dollars are going to dictate how politicians and government employees think. So, how do you think SNAP is going to define healthy foods? You can bet on it that the definition of healthy foods will include meat, dairy, eggs and sugar (but in moderation of course).

And when we give government the power to dictate how other people (the poor) eat, how long do you think it will take before government seizes the power to dictate how we eat. I know I don't want government deciding for me, for example, that a low carb diet is what's healthy and so that's what is going to be pushed on me. Government has done enough of a hack job on nutrition with its pyramids, MyPlates and Dietary Guidelines supported by the meat and dairy industries.

In my opinion, government is too much in our food system. Major subsidies to the meat and dairy industry continue to hurt people's health on an ongoing basis by making meat and dairy products cheaper than they should be.

It's time to stop the madness and get behind efforts that address real causes and not symptoms of our problems as a nation with food. We can start by looking at those two programs I mention in this blog post. We can start in our churches. We can start by going into poor churches and schools where poor children are taught. Perhaps it's as simple as teaching them to garden. Teaching them to cook. We can start by petitioning stores and markets selling healthy foods to go into food deserts and set up shop.

And we can stop government from subsidizing industries and supporting industries that provide too much unhealthy foods at cheap prices.

J Lanning Smith
May 3, 2018


Why Don't More Healthcare Professionals Recommend a Whole Food, Plant-Based Diet to their Patients?

Perhaps one of the most frustrating questions to many of us is that in the face of truly overwhelming evidence that a whole food, plant-based way of eating should be the gold standard for how people can prevent and in some cases reverse chronic illnesses, why don't more health professionals recognize that and recommend it to their patients? It could be argued, and is often argued that the meat and dairy industry are working diligently to create confusion in the minds of the public. And that's certainly plausible given the fact that the tobacco industry had such stated intentions when it came to research studies evaluating the health effects of tobacco. Big food companies today seem to be employing many of the same practices that the tobacco industry did back in the fifties and sixties. And why not? Those tactics worked well back then. So why wouldn't they work now?

Of course, we know that they do work well now. For every study that says A, there will be another study that says B. And the public, not knowing how to really evaluate scientific studies, or even having the desire to study scientific reports, will either go along with what is reported by this study or that study or they will resign themselves to the idea that nutritional science is confusing and they'll give up trying to figure it out at all. Or they'll become convinced by whichever side makes the most favorable argument. Think about it. If you eat bacon and eggs every morning for breakfast, a hamburger at lunch and a meat-centric dinner, wouldn't you imagine that it will be easier for you to buy into a study that says low carb diets are the healthiest as opposed to a study that says whole plant-based foods are the healthiest? We hear what we want to hear.

And I think in the world of nutritional science that holds true too. Just as Lucky Strike once was able to advertise that "More doctors smoke Luckies" because back then almost all doctors smoked, today's dietitian or nutritional scientist is most likely to be a consumer of meat, dairy and oils themselves. I took a course in nutrition from Vanderbilt University several years ago, and the professor teaching the course said that she believed a whole food, plant-based diet was the healthiest diet to follow, but she herself did not want to do it. And perhaps that's the rub. Just as many doctors at one time, in the face of mounting evidence against smoking, still clung to their cigarettes. Until society itself changed, they did not want to change themselves.

So, if your dietitian doesn't want to change how she eats, what do you think the chances are that she will tell you to do that? Pretty much nil to nonexistent I would suggest. After all, who would I be to tell you that you should quit smoking while I continued to light up every day myself? That would be hypocritical of me (by the way, that was a hypothetical question; I'm not a smoker). And perhaps, your dietitian is confused as well about whether a Paleo diet, the Mediterranean diet or the whole food, plant-based way of eating is the best approach. Many will tell you that each of those diets will work, so take your pick. Or another popular answer is that the best diet is the one you will stick to.

And there's truth in both those statements. Whether you follow a Paleo diet, the Mediterranean diet or the whole food, plant-based way of eating, you will be eating healthier than the average person in the population. So, if you're eating like the average person in a western country today, then making a conscious decision to go one of those three routes will give you significant health benefits. But I truly believe, based on all the research that is out there, and based on the amazing health changes that I have seen in so many people including myself, that eating as close to a whole food, plant-based diet as a person can is the healthiest of all routes. So, why isn't WFPB more popular than the Mediterranean diet or the Paleo diet?

And the answer to that, I believe is in the second answer that you will get from a dietitian. That is, the best diet is the one you can stick to. Many dietitians and doctors don't believe their patients can stick to a whole food, plant-based regimen. And perhaps they believe that because they themselves don't do it. But that's the hurdle that we have to get over.

Of course, having done this for five years now myself, and knowing other people who have been doing it even longer than I have been, it's pretty obvious to me that it's not a diet that's impossible to stick to. It just sounds hard at first, mainly because it's different than what we're used to doing. I came to this way of eating from the low carb world where I ate bacon and eggs every morning for breakfast, cheeseburgers without buns for lunch and my dinners were always something like steak, chicken, pork, etc. Nobody would ever have thought that I could eat whole food, plant-based, least of all me. In fact, when the doctor put me on a statin drug some nine or ten years ago, he said there were two ways to solve my cholesterol issue, but he said he knew I wouldn't do the preferred way, so he was prescribing a statin drug for me. Little did he realize that I could do the preferred way. I just had to have the knowledge first. In a way, I can look back now and say that that doctor sold me short. He made an assumption that was obviously not true. How many times a day, do dietitians and doctors make that same assumption with their patients?

It's important to begin to make inroads with the medical and nutritional industries because with their degrees and licenses and certifications, that's who people listen to. While I don't believe in forcing or browbeating anyone into eating as I do, I do believe that how we all eat has a huge effect on everybody else. How we eat really is about more than our individual health. It also affects our environment. It affects climate change. It affects how much our health insurance premiums cost (just imagine if the insurance industry didn't have to shell out money for so many heart attacks and chemotherapy treatments as they do now). It affects how much we pay in taxes (Medicare and Medicaid are significant drains on the national budget). It affects our productivity as a nation. There's even some evidence that it can affect the amount of violent crime we have in our society.

So, while I don't advocate forcing anyone to eat a particular way, I do advocate getting the word out there. Education and communication is essential. Community involvement is essential. And finding ways to convince our doctors and dietitians is essential. They see the results every day. Recently a friend of mine went to his doctor of 13 years. His doctor told him that both he and his wife were the healthiest and had the best numbers he had seen in either one of them in the past 13 years. Imagine that! They're 13 years older now than they were when they first started going to him, but even being that much older, they're healthier now than they were then.

The doctor acknowledged their WFPB way of eating, but he said he couldn't do it himself. And that is part of why the whole food, plant-based way of eating still needs more fire lit under it. If we could convince more doctors and dietitians to not sell themselves and their patients short, and instead to start to talk more about eating whole food, plant-based, the amazing effect it could have on our nation and the world around us would be more astounding, perhaps, than we can even imagine right now. That's a big dream, but it starts with small steps and discussions. It's time to take those steps.