Part I – Janisse Ray, The Seed Underground
Writer, naturalist and activist Janisse Ray is author of five books of literary nonfiction and a collection of nature poetry. She holds an MFA from the University of Montana and in 2007 was awarded an honorary doctorate from Unity College in Maine. She is on the faculty of Chatham University’s low-residency MFA program and is a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow. She will be teaching Spring 2014 at the University of Montana as the William Kittredge Distinguished Visiting Writer.
Part II – Tom Campbell, MD, Nutrition Studies
In addition to being executive director of the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, Dr. Campbell is an instructor of Clinical Family Medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. A board certified family physician, he sees patients part time in an active primary care practice in Rochester, NY.
TRANSCRIPTION PART I:
Caryn Hartglass: Hello everybody! It’s Caryn Hartglass. You’re listening to It’s All About Food on December 24, 2013. That would make it Christmas Eve, wouldn’t it? Fa la la la la la la la la! We are going to talk a lot about peas on earth. I didn’t say peace on earth, although it is linked to peas on earth. I’m talking about peas. Peas and all kinds of other things that grow in to the food that we eat. Seeds–so important and as many people around this country today are running around for their last minute gifts, I think that we really need to be concentrating on very simple things that make life meaningful and possible. And that’s our food. We talk a lot about things on this show called It’s All About Food, but let’s just get down to the simplest form of food, which is seeds. I am going to bring on my first guest, Janisse Ray who wrote The Seed Underground. She is a writer, a naturalist, an activist, and author of 5 books of literary non-fiction and a collection on nature poetry. She holds an MFA from the University of Montana. On 2007, she was awarded an honorary doctorate from Unity College in Maine. She is on the faculty of Chapman University’s Low-Residency MFA program and is a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow. She will be teaching spring 2014 at the University of Montana as the William Kittredge Distinguished Visiting Writer. Welcome, Janisse!
Janisse – Hey there! Thank you for having me. Happy Holidays!
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you! Fa la la la la la la la la!
Janisse Ray: Bring on the eggnog.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right! But of course for me it’s going to be silk-nog because I’m a vegan, but anything with a little nutmeg and creamy fatty something sounds good, and splashed with a little . . . what’s the alcohol that goes with eggnog?
Janisse Ray: It doesn’t really matter but it could be brandy, whisky.
Caryn Hartglass: There you go! Yeah! I’m ready. I don’t get too much wrapped up into these holidays, but somehow with the energy that is going around all of a sudden my schedule became very hectic.
Janisse Ray: Oh, I bet!
Caryn Hartglass: But now we are going to sit back and relax and talk about this wonderful book that you wrote last year, and I finally caught up to reading it. It’s so important and very inspiring.
Janisse Ray: Thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: Very inspiring. Obviously you’re a poet, and the poetry goes throughout in the language of the book. I was talking to a farmer last week, I think. Although I don’t consider him a poet, his writing had a lot of poetry in it too. I think that when we’re connected to nature poetry is just naturally there.
Janisse Ray: Do you remember that farmer’s name, by chance?
Caryn Hartglass: Yes. It was Ben Falk.
Janisse Ray: Oh, okay.
Caryn Hartglass: Do you know him?
Janisse Ray: No, I don’t.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, so he’s up in Vermont, I think. I’m just going to check my website and remember the name of his book. What he’s done, and you’d be interested in this, I think everybody should be interested in this. He basically took some really crummy land and turned it around. Permaculture is what he’s doing, actually. Oh, it was 2 weeks ago. He wrote The Resilient Farm and Homestead.
Janisse Ray: I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve heard about it.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, it’s a very nice book. I enjoyed it. What I got in the beginning of your book and what I’m trying to do is really focus on people who are doing good things, positive things, things that absolutely need to happen and focus on the joyfulness of that because there’s so much crap going around.
Janisse Ray: Exactly why I wrote the book. I’ve been a nature writer for a lot of years now. That territory necessarily comes with a lot of grief. We’re losing a lot of things. I decided that I just couldn’t do it anymore. The subtitle is called A Growing Revolution to Save Food, and I just wanted to focus on the people who are in their little corners of the world doing these amazing things to preserve agrodiversity.
Caryn Hartglass: These stories are so lovely, so interesting. Why aren’t the major news media telling these stories? They’re so beautiful, so inspiring. I just sit and read them and I smile. People have to hear these things.
Janisse Ray: Yeah, that is a question I can’t answer. I remember once, there was a magazine called Hope, which was just focusing on positive news. There’s something about us that wants to see danger coming. I think a kind of appall has come over the country where we focus so much on the school shootings, and climate change, and there are a lot of impending disasters. The other day listening to the radio, I heard this phrase, this person said, “I believe our society is in free fall.” That’s a terrifying thought. If you focus on that, you can’t be smiling at your neighbors while you pick up your kids from school. You’ve got to be fortifying yourself.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes! So we’re going to go back and forth during this time period and talking about the good things, and talking about some of the not so good things because they’re just so out there. Just growing any seed, is an incredible experience.
Janisse Ray: Yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: Children in school have those little projects where they put their seeds in their milk cartons with dirt and they watch it grow. It’s just a delight because there’s something intuitively in us that knows that growing is good.
Janisse Ray: It’s just such a miracle.
Caryn Hartglass: It is a miracle.
Janisse Ray: To have this little package of genetic material, add warmth, and light and some water, and an entire tree will grow. Everything that this huge biomass needs for its entire future is sealed in this tiny little bulb of a thing. We had a winter solstice party the other night and a neighbor brought me a tiny little vial that was three quarters of an inch tall. He said, “I thought you would like these amaranth seeds.” And inside these seeds, they weren’t even as big as poppy seeds. He had grown this amaranth, the other name for it is red spinach, which I had never grown, and had painstakingly shoved out these little seeds. It was just a lovely thing. My neighbor, another neighbor, had been in my house the other day and he saw these Crenshaw that I grow, a gold-striped Crenshaw. My grandmother used to grow them. This man is in his 80’s and he says, “I’ve been looking for these seeds for years.” When they had their neighborhood get together, I took him a little vial of Crenshaw seeds. So there we go, spreading genetic material around. Reciprocity.
Caryn Hartglass: Haha, haha. Can you get arrested for that?
Janisse Ray: I think that if it was GMO, you could.
Caryn Hartglass: So can you give us a brief summary of your book The Seed Underground?
Janisse Ray: Yes. I started worrying about seeds, I have been a seed saver for a very long time, but my professional work has always been in saving wildness. I believe that we live on this continuum that has moved from a hunter and gatherer society through agrarianism into industrialism into now, whatever we are in.
Caryn Hartglass: What are we in?
Janisse Ray: Technologism or some postmodern something. Hunter-gatherer is represented by wilderness. Agrarians by a field. My work is centered on this wilderness. In truth, I’m most comfortable in a field. Or maybe on the edge of the field, between the woods and growing things. I’m 51, so I knew in my early 20’s the plight that seeds were in that we were losing old varieties. I have long been growing open pollinated seeds, those are the ones you can save the seeds from, saving them and growing them year after year. I finally decided to write a book about it. I wanted to enter this conversation about genetic modification, and hybridization, and sustainable agriculture. I could talk on and on, Caryn. So, I’ll stop there and you take off.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m just thinking, we live in this high-tech world. One of the things that I enjoy in technology is a lot of open source software that people can use freely. What’s amazing about it is all these different people from all over the place just keep improving on it and using it. Some of these corporations end up incorporating some of these programs into their programs. When you say open pollination, I think of open source. I just like the whole concept of things being open. Certainly our food should be free in this amazing society that we live in. Why should we concern ourselves with food? We should all have nutritious food to eat. Food should be easy.
Janisse Ray: I agree, but we should all be working towards that as well. I think that there are somethings that are even more obvious. Fire, water, how could we be buying springs for example. Water is all coming from these great reservoirs underground, it doesn’t make sense. The theoretical term here is the commons. I think genes are a part of the great commons, but seeds are as well.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m very involved in musical theatre and Broadway and you may be familiar with a show that came out a while ago. It’s called Urinetown. The concept of the show was that people had to pay to pee. It was a bit of a comedy but not such a far stretch because the society that we live in, there are a few that are looking to make as much money on all of us for everything. If they could charge for the air that we breathe they would. If they could charge, and they are, for the water that we drink they would. The focus of your book is the seeds that are so necessary to grow our foods and we are losing control of our seeds. Monsanto and DuPont and Syngenta, mostly Monsanto I think, have bought up all the seed companies. We’ve lost so much diversity in the food that is available. There is wonderful hope because there are people like you and other people who have saved certain seeds, sharing them; it is just such a delight to hear about.
Janisse Ray: The first group that I heard doing it was the Seed Savers Exchange. This was in the late 70’s, early 80’s. Kent and Diane Whealy started this group. They had gone to Iowa to take care of Diane’s grandfather who was ill. He had given them a couple of things that he had brought with him when he immigrated to the United States. One was that beautiful morning glory. Grandpa Ott’s Morning Glory. They realized that with that gift from Grandpa Ott those seeds would just die out with him if somebody didn’t do something. They began this movement. They created a cadre of plants’ people, and gardeners, and farmers who were stalking the countryside looking for all kinds of seeds. Some people were of the mindset that I was of which was alternative, marginal, always progressive, a world changer. I live in a very conservative area. So maybe some of my neighbors, they’re keeping an old cantaloupe alive that has been in their family for five generations. This movement crosses boundaries because we all have this thing in common. We love food, we love good food, the more nutritious the food the better. Our culture is basically centered in large part around food, the growing of it, the cooking of it, and so forth. It goes beyond this movement to save diversity because of the multinationals. It’s really this thing to save taste and to save memories.
Caryn Hartglass: I want to be clear about something because I don’t know that it’s clear to everyone. Most seeds, if just left alone, don’t last forever or they’re not vital forever. They don’t last for a long time so that you can plant them at any time. In some ways, it’s the beauty about them. We need to care for them. We need to plant them so that they can grow into their fruit so that new seeds are there. And as long as we keep planting those seeds, and growing the plant, and taking the fruit, and replanting the seeds, this cycle over and over, then we will always have this gift of seeds.
Janisse Ray: I know and they are a bit of a burden in that regards. It’s like a pet. You have to take care of the thing.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah! You take care of them and they take care of us.
Janisse Ray: That’s exactly right. Your comment brought up another point I want to make. Norway and other countries built Svalbard, which we call the doomsday vault, a place in the arctic in the boundary of Norway, where countries all over the world have been sending packets of seed. And this place where the vault is, is supposed to be out of the way and in the worst case scenario of climate change and seas rising it won’t be inundated. It’s fortified with rock walls and concrete on the inside of that. The best way to protect seeds is exactly what you are talking about; In living gene banks. That’s a term from Gary Nabhan, the great MacArthur genius who has written many books about seeds, and started native seeds/SEARCH. Living gene banks. That’s because, out in the world, responding to climatic data in the moment, plants will evolve and change to fit our really rapidly changing world. At least we hope they will.
Caryn Hartglass: There’s all this conversation, not enough in my mind, about genetically modified food and hybridization, industrial hybridization, and genetically modified organisms. These 3 things are not the same. People get confused by them.
Janisse Ray: You want to run through them, Caryn?
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, let’s run through them.
Janisse Ray: Okay, these will be little definitions. I think the first thing we should start with would be hybridization. Hybridization is not a bad thing. It has brought us this amazing cornucopia of foodstuffs that we have. So we have Swiss chard that has green stems, Swiss chard called rhubarb chard with red stems, on and on and on. Some of this lovely diversity is just the product of simple hybridization.
Caryn Hartglass: One plant having sex with another plant.
Janisse Ray: And they’re two different kinds of plants.
Caryn Hartglass: Integrative plant sex.
Janisse Ray: That’s right! So you might have a red cherry tomato and a yellow tomato, and cross them and get a yellow cherry tomato. I mean that’s just a very simplified version. Usually it’s nowhere near that simple. So that’s one thing. We’ll tip our hats to plain old hybridization. What happened is that we realized that in the 20’s and 30’s that we could breed plants, and then create something very new like watermelon that was shippable, or a squash, or let’s say a tomato that was resistant to fusarium wilt. Those seeds were mainly bred in laboratories and were owned by corporations. The first hybrid seeds were introduced in 1932. I think that I am remembering that correctly. So in this case, I think I’ll go one step further and say that I don’t have anything, really, against these hybrids except that I believe that seeds should be in the public commons. What was the third term? The third term was genetic modification, right?
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, yes.
Janisse Ray: And that simply is even sped up plant breeding in which corporate multinationals and few in general who own this technology are shooting genes from another entire kingdom of life into plant tissue in order to create, sometimes very crazy seed creations. Soybeans that are resistant to Roundup spray created by the company that sells the Roundup so that you can, well in the past you would have mechanically harrowed your field or if you were a chemical sprayer, you would have sprayed Roundup on your field. Then you would have planted the soybeans, and you wouldn’t have been able to spray anymore because had you sprayed an herbicide for weeds, you would have killed the soybeans that you just planted. But with Roundup Ready Soybeans, which is their name, they are basically wearing a rain coat that protects them from this herbicide and you can spray indefinitely.
Caryn Hartglass: And put all that poison into the earth and get it into the water system. Yeah. Let’s go back to hybridization for a minute. So they are speeding up the hybridization. They are just speeding up a process of putting the pollen from one plant onto another so it kind of fertilizes one seed. And if the plants are up for it, then they may join together and create a new plant, but if they are not up for it, then it won’t work.
Janisse Ray: Well, you’re going to get something back unless you get sterile seeds. In general you’ll get something back. The problem with hybridization, in our garden, let’s just say we let all of our squash run wild. We plant them all at the same time, they are all blooming together, and a pumpkin crosses with a zucchini. You are going to possibly get back any of the ancestral strains that were used in the breeding of either of those. So you might get back a zucchini that’s dotted with orange spots, but tastes like a gourd, and is inedible. It’s a little more of an intricate process then just letting things run wild and see what happens.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so what I was confused about is there are some hybrid seeds that companies sell to make a certain kind of plant. The seeds that the plant makes, you can’t use because they don’t want you to or it won’t give you the plant that you want. I was wondering how did they manufacture these hybrid seeds over and over to make the same plant.
Janisse Ray: Perfect question. They have basically a recipe in mind. Some scientist, a plant breeder, has already figured out that this cross and this cross make this. And so there are fields and fields around the world in which somebody or many many people are going out and cross pollinating these two things in order to make hybrid seeds. Most of this doesn’t take place in the United States. A lot of seeds are crossed in Israel and many other places. So let’s just say I’m going to grow a butternut squash that has been hybridized to do what spaghetti squash does which is string off. The butternut squash is orange, but it has strings. It’s a hybrid. So I cook the squash and save the seeds, dry them out, put them in the refrigerator for next year, and plant those seeds. I am not necessarily going to get back the same thing I planted. I could get back a spaghetti squash. I could get back a gourd. I could get back a plain old Waltham butternut squash. You understand what I’m saying?
Caryn Hartglass: Mmhmm, mmhmm.
Janisse Ray: However, if a plant breeder does his or her job and continues to grow out the plant, you can actually stabilize a line so that it does become an open source seed. Meaning, so I would plant all these seeds. I would save the seed that is most like the thing I planted, and then I would plant those seeds and save the thing most like the plant. You see?
Caryn Hartglass: Mmm, mmhmm.
Janisse Ray: So you’re working backwards really, to get what you wanted. By 7 to 10 generations, you can stabilize this line and then plant those seeds and always get back this orange colored spaghetti squash.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, so you’re ultimately reducing the genetic material in each generation so that it always has the same traits.
Janisse Ray: Yeah, it’s sort of a process in this case of selection pressure.
Caryn Hartglass: Ooh, selection pressure. Okay. There is all this stuff going on with different companies, buying up the seeds, getting control over our food, and it’s scary. What do people do that are living in cities? What should we be doing? Should we all be looking for little plots of land and growing food?
Janisse Ray: You’re asking a very wonderful question and I think it’s the one question that trips people up when they think about this idea because in some ways, the minute we hear about saving seeds we think, “Oh my God I can’t even grow anything, so it’s beyond my control.” In the back of The Seed Underground, I have a list of what you can do and the first thing on the list is eat real food. That is, if you are eating whole foods, you are electing for a farmer somewhere instead of agribusiness to feed you. Beyond that, learn to cook real food.
Caryn Hartglass: These are tall orders for a lot of people, eating real food and cooking their food.
Janisse Ray: Shop at a place where you know the person who grew that food. Talk to that person who’s growing the food. “Are these hybrid seeds?” “Are they open pollinated?” “Do you save seeds?” ”When I eat this pumpkin should I save the seeds for you?” Beyond that, there are plenty of things you can do as a seed activist. There are villages and towns in this country that are passing resolutions. There are entire states trying to pass resolutions to prohibit GMO seeds, and GMO foods, or to require labeling of GMO foods. It goes on and on and on.
Caryn Hartglass: I like how in the book you write that the logical next step for local food movement is to establish locally grown seeds, although I think you might have been quoting somebody when you wrote that. There are a lot of scientists who will say certain seeds can only be grown in a certain location. What I am understanding is that seeds are so smart that some of them learn to adapt to their environment. I’m thinking of all this technology that are going in to help other countries grow their food, make things drought tolerant, or whatever. We know that a lot of it is a lot of hype in order to get control of the food supply. Seeds, with a little help, can figure this out on their own.
Janisse Ray: Within reason.
Caryn Hartglass: Within reason, sure.
Janisse Ray: You know. Let’s just say where you are in New York, you’re never going to be able to grow papayas.
Caryn Hartglass: No! I almost did actually. I used to compost on my terrace in Queens. I put a lot of different seeds in there and a papaya plant grew out of my compost. I never got fruit from it but it did start growing.
Janisse Ray: I think the point that you’re making is that overtime, as we plant and save, and plant and save, yes, plants do adapt to microclimates and to entire climates. So yes, you have a great point.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes. I know that there are a lot of places that have a lot of difficulty and need a lot of help in lots of different things. Adaptable seeds are not the only thing that’s going to be necessary to help them. But seeds do adapt and in this time of crazy climate change, it’s going to be interesting to see how our seeds adapt to the change and the climates that the seeds are used to growing in.
Janisse Ray: It brings us back to this idea of resiliency that your guest earlier talked about. I think seeds are a huge part of that. Just making sure that we are protecting our seed supplies, keeping seeds in the commons. I think a great way to control the food supplies across the globe is to control seeds. Then, not just protecting the seed supply, but also planting them and letting our foodstuffs evolve. That’s probably too scientific a word for what I am saying. Letting them adapt.
Caryn Hartglass: There are so many things that I want to talk about. I just want to bring up one more thing because we are out of time. You mentioned Martin Diffley, a Minnesota organic farmer from Gardens of Eagan. I read his wife’s book Organic Farm Works, which was another lovely book about organic farming and all the trials and tribulations that people have to go through just to plant and grow real food. This was about someone, you said, Tracey, who is working with a field corn he is developing with Martin Diffley. Corn is a fascinating food, the fact that it doesn’t look anything like what its original ancestor looked like and how it has come to be the food that it is today. And then again how we have gone several levels beyond being corn and now we have genetically modified corn that’s like taking over the planet. I’d like to say that every food has its own story and corn certainly has its own fascinating story.
Janisse Ray: Yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: So what I want to say is, I said it at the beginning, this is a lovely book. For people who have not gotten their Christmas gifts yet this would be a great little stocking stuffer or under the tree because it is important and is also beautiful reading. You know this Janisse, but the book came out last year, 2012. I’m just kind of curious as to what happened since you wrote that book.
Janisse Ray: What’s happened with me personally?
Caryn Hartglass: You and seeds, and the reaction to it, and the information that people are getting.
Janisse Ray: Well, I think what is happening is what was already happening. Communities across the world are really rising up to understand seeds. It may be a new lending library in Valdosta, Georgia, or people getting together to do more and more seed swaps. It’s really an amazing movement. What I see in this year is definitely more interest in seeds and just more concern that we don’t lose the gift of food that civilization has been given.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. Amen to that. Thank you Janisse for joining me today on, It’s All About Food.
Janisse Ray: Thank you so much Caryn and have a wonderful, wonderful set of holidays.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you, you too! Be well.
Janisse Ray: Okay, bye.
Caryn Hartglass: All right, I am Caryn Hartglass and you are listening to It’s All About Food. Let’s take a very quick break and then we will be back with Dr. Tom Campbell who is the Executive Director of Nutrition Studies.
Transcribed by Jo Villanueva, 5/6/2014 and edited by Johanna Bronner, 6/17/2014
TRANSCRIPTION PART II:
Caryn Hartglass: Hello everybody, we’re back. It’s Christmas Eve, December 24, 2013, and I really enjoyed just listening to “White Christmas” just now. It took everything I had not to sing along. It was really lovely!
All right, let’s bring on my next guest, Dr. Tom Campbell. He is the executive director of the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, he’s also an instructor of Clinical Family Medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, a board certified family physician- he sees patients part-time in an active primary care practice in Rochester, New York. Welcome, Dr. Campbell, to It’s All About Food.
Tom Campbell: Well, thank you for having me, Caryn. I appreciate the opportunity.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, thank you! I’m very excited to talk to you, because I’ve known your father for a very long time and have read about you along the way, and it’s kind of exciting to see the path that you’ve chosen to take.
Tom Campbell: Yeah, I’m excited by it. I’ve sort of followed a path of opportunity that presents itself whenever it pops up, following whatever seems interesting at the time. And here I am now. I certainly wasn’t doing fifteen years ago, or didn’t even think about doing fifteen years ago, but indeed it’s very fascinating to me, very interesting.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, we’re glad to have you doing what you’re doing, and I’m really enjoying to see in this plant based world, this plant-based movement, a few of the dynasties or royal communities are kind of coming out so we have your father, Dr. T Collin Campbell, and yourself, we have Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn and his son Rip Esselstyn, we have John Robbins and Ocean Robbins, Frances Moore Lappé and her daughter Anna Lappé, and there’s a few more probably that I’m leaving out, but very exciting. And so necessary. Now, you were involved with your dad in the China study?
Tom Campbell: Yes, I started working on that in about 2001. He asked if I wanted to help him write the book, and initially I was going to just do some editing, help him sort of shape his voice and his writing, and as we got into it, I took on a much larger role. I did an awful lot of library research, and I did a lot of writing myself. Very intense learning experience for me, and three and a half, four years later we finished a manuscript of the China study, and that really sort of set me on this path that I’m on now, promoting optimal nutrition.
Caryn Hartglass: Now, when you were growing up and your dad was going through a lot of what we read about in the China study, did you know what was going on?
Tom Campbell: You know, I really was not terribly cognizant of his career, his successes, and exactly what he was doing. I remember sort of hearing, there were things that were exciting now and I remember some big magazine coming to take some photos, this was after he was on the National Academy of Science’s diet and cancer committee, and that’s, you know, “Oh, OK, someone taking photos,” and then that was about the amount of time that I spent on it. I think it was probably someone from People Magazine or something, and I just had no idea. And furthermore, as far as food choices went, I really just was eating what was fed to me, like most kids. I didn’t put too much thought into it.
Caryn Hartglass: And, in writing the book, did you change your diet? Or did that come later?
Tom Campbell: I did, I was mostly vegetarian. I was vegetarian from my adolescence, it was a slow transition, but from roughly fourteen, fifteen. Then, when I started writing the book, and by the time I finished the book, gosh, what was that now, ten, eleven years after becoming vegetarian, twelve years after becoming a vegetarian, I gave up dairy food through the process of working with my dad on the China studies. So, as we were writing that, and I became exposed to all that information, I made that decision to give up dairy food.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, you were on a very different path when you went to college, and then when you wrote this book, in fact I think you were studying to be an actor?
Tom Campbell: Yes, I did training in theater and acting at Cornell University, and then I pursued it professionally for a couple years. Had some jobs, none of them enough to make a living at it, but some money here and there, and I was a paralegal to pay the bills, and then that’s when I had this opportunity to work with my dad on the China study.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, and then you became- you went to medical school and became a doctor. Something every parent wants their child to do. (laughs) And we need more doctors like you. So when you were going through medical school, you already knew a great deal about nutrition. What was going on around you in terms of the knowledge of other people about nutrition and health?
Tom Campbell: Well, you know, it’s unfortunate. It’s been cited many times for many decades, but the amount of formal training in nutrition that gets included in medical school curriculum is very, very small. We had, at my school, which I consider to be a good school, a decent school; we had just a couple days on nutrition as part of the lectures. It was not taught by anyone with any particular great knowledge or interest in nutrition. It focused mostly on the biochemical reactions related to protein metabolism, fat metabolism, etc. There was almost nothing, for example, about how diet interacts with obesity, how diet interacts with diabetes. The sort of public health urgent issues that need to be discussed were simply not taught or discussed in my education. And, I can say that that’s the norm, and that’s been stated as the norm for many decades now. So, I went into this with open eyes. I knew what I was getting into, and I just did the best I could to learn the world of medicine. It takes basically a full-time life commitment for at least seven years to learn all the stuff that you need to know to practice medicine. And you just put your head down, and I did it.
Caryn Hartglass: Sometimes you have to play the game in order to change the game.
Tom Campbell: Right.
Caryn Hartglass: Did you ever stir up any trouble while going through school?
Tom Campbell: No, I didn’t. I think, as a medical student, those first four years in medical school, you’re just absolutely swimming to keep your head above water, and learn everything you need to learn, and to do good on the tests. And then in residency, I went to the University of Rochester Family Medicine Residency program, and they were very supportive in my interest in nutrition and my plant-based message, and the China study, so I actually had the opportunity to give grand rounds at my hospital on a couple of different occasions and gave lectures to my colleagues and that type of thing, so I didn’t cause too much trouble because I tried to do as good a job as I could with the things I was tasked with, and my personal opinion is you don’t cause, in that situation, I wasn’t going to gain much by going out there and ruffling feathers. I just had a lot of stuff to put my head down and do my work.
Caryn Hartglass: And you have a part-time private practice now?
Tom Campbell: Correct, yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: And these people, your patients, do they know what they’re getting when they get you as a doctor?
Tom Campbell: (Laughs)
Caryn Hartglass: I mean, do they seek you out, or do you have some sort of surprised patients like “What? Broccoli?”
Tom Campbell: A few do, yeah. I’m with a university primary care practice, and it’s a new practice that I joined, so we’ve only been open for…gosh, going on six months now, five months. And I’m not advertised as a special nutrition doctor, or lifestyle doctor or anything like that, I’m just a family doc that takes care of belly pain, and older adults, kids, whatever. So, most of the people who come through the door do not know too much about my background or interest in nutrition. You know, I talk to everybody about it. Some of them want to hear more, some don’t, just as you might expect. But it’s always an interesting conversation.
Caryn Hartglass: So you’re not at the point, I remember hearing there were some doctors out there who wouldn’t take patients who smoke that weren’t trying to quit.
Tom Campbell: No, I have no interest in doing something like that. I find that the most, you know, it keeps me from a personal point of view actually; I gain so much by working with “normal” people. (Laughs) It keeps me grounded. It keeps me in touch with how people are living. We take all kinds of insurance, Medicaid, Medicare, and everything in between. So, I see the whole slice of society and it keeps me very grounded with how people are living and how people interact with the environment to either promote health or sickness, and what they know about that. And that’s just incredibly valuable. It keeps that grounding in that real word. I don’t want to exclude people who don’t follow the rules before they walk in the door, so to speak.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s good. And being grounded is really important. I know that when we spend a lot of time in our own community, like when I’m hanging out with all the vegans, you can lose comprehension of what’s really going on outside, and how people struggle with food, with diets, with their lifestyle, children, it’s very complicated and hard.
Tom Campbell: Absolutely. It’s easy to forget that most people have not heard anything about plant-based diets and the health benefits
Caryn Hartglass: It’s so hard to believe!
Tom Campbell: It’s so hard to believe. It’s true. And they have lived their entire lives with this incredibly personal, powerful set of habits. You know, eating, choosing the food that you eat. Challenging someone to think of food differently is a humbling experience, and very valuable to me, and something I cherish.
Caryn Hartglass: Let’s talk about the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies. What’s going on there?
Tom Campbell: Well, we have had a very exciting year. Over the past six months, I just started there about six months ago, as the Executive Director, and we got a Director of Education, our Associate Director all sort of started about six months ago. We have had just a phenomenal year enrolling people. Everybody from health professionals to the lay public who is interested in plant based nutrition in our certificate program. And we offer that in partnership with E-Cornell. A lot of health professionals can now get professional credit for taking that certificate program from a variety of different disciplines. The content is unique, people are excited who have heard something about T. Colin Campbell, or they’ve heard the China study, or maybe they read something about plant-based nutrition, and we really have a very good certificate program, so we’re pushing that. It’s going very well. We also have some new courses in the pipeline that we’re designing and going into the studio to film and write this winter. We changed our name from T. Colin Campbell Foundation to T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies to be a little more descriptive. We also made a new website, we’re putting a lot of content out there on our website. It’s nutritionstudies.org. We’re just trying to get bigger, better, more audience, and cater to our audience better.
Caryn Hartglass: Do you think at some point there will be a bachelor’s degree in plant-based studies?
Tom Campbell: That would be great, but not any time in the near-term. I think that online education in general has a lot of structural issues to work out before something like that happens. Obviously there are degree programs out there, graduate degree programs and undergraduate degree programs, but I think for nutrition, that’s not something that we want to offer. There’s just a tremendous value to the years of work that go into a traditional college experience that we’re just not going to replace anytime soon. So, we’re really looking at supplementing a traditional education, and offering something that, quite frankly, you can’t find at a lot of places. A point of view looking at plant based nutrition, and not only plant based nutrition, but asking really important questions like “How do we generate information?” and “Once we get that information, how do we disseminate it to the public?” You know, fundamental system questions that we get a chance to address. So, we’re happy in our little niche, and I think we’ll stay here for a bit longer.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, and is plant-based certification, is this something people can do online?
Tom Campbell: Yes, it’s an online program. They can do it at their leisure. The details are all on our website, but it’s offered in two-week blocks so people have two weeks to complete the lessons and quizzes and so forth, and there’s three sets of two-week courses. It’s six weeks total, about eighteen hours of instruction along with discussions and quizzes. We have live instructors that answer questions that provoke discussion, provoke thought, that type of thing. It’s all online; it’s through the ECornell platform, which is a very nice system.
Caryn Hartglass: Very good! Well, more people need to be learning about plant-based nutrition. There’s no question about that. And I look forward to it being a requirement in most medical professions and dietitian professions. Now, what do you eat, Dr. Campbell?
Tom Campbell: (Laughs) No one is perfect. I adhere quite strictly to the plant based diet. I eat only plants. I’d say 99%. Occasionally, I slip up and I have a cookie or something, whether it’s a vegan cookie or something with actual butter in it. From a nutritional point of view, it’s probably junk either way. But most of what I eat, it’s fruits, vegetables, whole grains, oats for breakfast, lunch of leftovers which is usually some sort of vegetable casserole with a whole grain, and dinner with vegetables and whole grains and salads. Always trying to get some greens in as well. I try to eat more greens, always trying to eat more greens.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m a big believer in a green-based diet. And, do you have children?
Tom Campbell: No. We don’t. I’m married, but no kids yet.
Caryn Hartglass: So you haven’t dove into the challenge of feeding kids in this world. Which is a big can of worms.
Tom Campbell: It is. As a doctor, I counsel people, but I don’t do it myself quite yet.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s definitely challenging in this world with commercials and peer pressure. It’s really hard to feed kids well. But, more and more people are doing it, and that’s good.
Tom Campbell: I think it’s very important, the examples that you set, the consistency with which you offer any sort of guidance or “rule” or “habit” that you introduce. Consistency is very important. Allowing McDonalds for one week, and then going back and having a salad every night the next week, that’s never going to work. You’ve got to be really quite consistent in a dietary message, and firm, and kids will learn to respect that.
Caryn Hartglass: So, it’s December 24, Christmas Eve, but it’s also the deadline for people who have enrolled in the new Obamacare healthcare market to select their plans. Do you have any feelings about this new insurance program?
Tom Campbell: You know, it’s funny. I don’t know that there’s too many people that feel expert in the new program. And I certainly don’t count myself as feeling expert in the new program.
Caryn Hartglass: I don’t know how anyone could be one; it hasn’t really taken off yet.
Tom Campbell: Exactly. It’s pretty uncommon. My personal sense is that the goals are very good. Our health insurance system is deeply broken. I see people who are absolutely scrambling, bankrupt, have no money for healthcare have to make tough decisions for treatment and seeing doctors, etc. It’s just not working for too large a percentage of our population. The goals of it, to try to correct that, are very good. I do have concerns that the program is in some ways taking our current system and just trying to apply it bigger, more broadly to everyone, when what we really need is a healthcare system that pays and rewards and incentivizes personal preventive care. Personal responsibility for preventive care, and reimbursing preventive care. And lifestyle medicine. Really treating the cause. I don’t know the numbers off the top of my head, but some great majority of our healthcare expense is chronic disease, and largely that’s preventable. And treatable. Now, if you can just treat the cause with lifestyle. Yet, if I see a patient with heart disease, I cannot get paid adequately to sit down with them for an hour. I can’t get paid to take them to the grocery store, and show how to shop for food appropriately.
Caryn Hartglass: There’s something wrong with that picture
Tom Campbell: Someone else could get paid fifty thousand dollars for doing a stint or a bypass. We really need to turn the whole system upside down, and I don’t think the legislation can do that at this point.
Caryn Hartglass: No, but the best health insurance we all have is choosing the right foods to lower our risk of disease. That’s the number one thing we can all do. Well, Dr. Campbell, thank you so much for joining me on “It’s all about food,” and I really enjoyed hearing your story, and I’m glad you’re out there doing what you’re doing.
Tom Campbell: Well, thank you, I appreciate it.
Caryn Hartglass: A very Happy Holidays to you, and say hi to your dad. And your mom, Karen.
Tom Campbell: I will. And he said to say hello, actually.
Caryn Hartglass: Great, thank you. Alright we just a minute left, and I just wanted to say Happy Holidays everyone. Next week I’m going to be taking off, so I won’t be able to say Happy New Year, so I’ll say it now. Happy New Year! This is a time of giving, and I do have a nonprofit: Responsible Eating and Living, and appreciate your support. Go to Responsibleeatingandliving.com and go to our donate button, and help us do all the things that we’re doing at REAL. And that’s it! So, very happy holidays and have a delicious end of the year.
Transcribed by Amy Koenig, May 21,2014