Eunice Wong is a multiple-award-winning actor, writer, editor, and teacher. Her most recent book is “What The Health,” the official companion book to the documentary of the same name. She also wrote “The Sustainability Secret,” the official companion book to the documentary, “Cowspiracy.” She was a speaker in 2017’s Asheville Vegan Fest in North Carolina.
Eunice is Chief Editor of the Countering Violence Against Women series on Truthdig.com, as well as the editor of the Truthdig Book Review, which under her direction has won two National Entertainment Journalism Awards (Los Angeles Press Club) for Online Critic, and a Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column. She has written for Truthdig’s Arts and Culture section, the Truthdig Book Review, and the Philadelphia Inquirer Book Review.
As an actor, Eunice trained at the Juilliard School and has appeared nation-wide and internationally in professional theaters, including New York’s Atlantic Theater, Classic Stage Company, Target Margin, Pearl Theatre, NAATCO, La MaMa, Working Theater, Boston’s Huntington Theatre, the Guthrie in Minneapolis, Yale Rep in New Haven, Cincinnati Playhouse, Studio Theater in Washington D.C., Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia, Virginia Stage Company, Berkshires Theatre Group, Merrimack Rep, among others. TV and film appearances include “Law and Order” (NBC), “Sex and the City” (HBO), “Strangers with Candy” (Comedy Central), “The Job” (ABC), “Deadline” (NBC), and “My Sassy Girl” (Gold Circle Films). Her most recent role was Lavinia Mannon in New York’s critically acclaimed revival of Eugene O’Neill’s “Mourning Becomes Electra” this spring.
Eunice is the recipient of a Helen Hayes Award (Lead Actress), a My Theater Boston Award (Best Actress), a Barrymore nomination (Lead Actress), and an IRNE nomination (Best Ensemble), as well as being a member of Actors’ Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA.
As a teacher she has taught English and poetry at New Jersey State Prison, a men’s super-max facility in Trenton, New Jersey, as well as yoga at Princeton’s YogaStream studio, where she first learned about the primary precept of yoga, ahimsa: do no harm — to the planet, to the beings around us, and to ourselves..
Since 2009, It’s All About Food, has been bringing you the best in up-to-date news regarding food and our food system. Hosted by Caryn Hartglass, a vegan since 1988, the program includes in-depth interviews with medical doctors; nutritionists; dietitians; cook book authors; athletes; environmental, animals and health activists; farmers; food manufacturers; lawyers; food scientists and more. Learn about how we can solve many of the world’s problems today and do it deliciously, here on It’s All About Food.
Caryn: Hello everybody, I’m Caryn Hartglass and we’re back with the second part of the show. Thanks for joining me today. It’s time to take a really good breath. What’s fantastic about breathing right now- breathing in the month of June here in New York, my favorite tree, the Linden tree is starting to bloom. It is the most amazing fragrance anywhere. We have a Linden tree growing quite tall in front of our terrace and it hasn’t bloomed yet and it better bloom soon. It’s just wonderful to smell that air and it’s summer! Happy summer to everyone. OK, let’s move on. I would like to introduce my next guest. Eunice Wong is a multi-award winning actor, writer, editor and teacher. Her most recent book that we’re going to be talking about today, What the Health is the official companion book to the documentary of the same name. She also wrote The Sustainability Secret the official companion book to the documentary Cowspiracy. She was a recent speaker at the 2017 Asheville VeganFest in North Carolina. There’s a lot more to learn about Eunice Wong. You can go to her website eunicewong.com. Right now we’re going to be talking about What the Health. Hi Eunice! How are you today?
Eunice: Hi Caryn, I’m well how are you?
Caryn: Good. I am well, thank you. It’s nice to be well. We just spent the last half hour talking about being prepared about death and dying.
Eunice: I know. I heard the interview. It was fascinating and so needed. Such a necessary addition to the sort of vegan literature that’s out there.
Caryn: I know! No one gets out of this world alive!
Eunice: No, that’s true.
Caryn: But! Why shouldn’t we feel as good as we can for as long as we can?
Eunice: Yes, that’s true. There’s a quote, there’s an interview with Dr. Neal Barnard in What the Health and he says, “While we’re alive, let’s be alive.”
Caryn: So many people believe as we age, that pain is normal, that high blood pressure is normal.
Eunice: Yeah, absolutely.
Caryn: It’s not.
Eunice: Yeah, it’s not. You guys talked about Dr. Gregers’ book, How Not to Die. He actually talks in that book about how people don’t die of old age, they die of disease. So old age itself is not the thing that gives us our aches and pains and inflammation and the arthritis. It’s something going awry in the body.
Caryn: You cover everything in this book that’s related to food and health and even more than that. We talk a lot on this show. I’ve been doing this show; I’m in the 9th year now. So we’ve talked about food and the horrors of dairy and meat and chicken and fish and GMO’s and organic food vs. conventional. It’s all in this book. What I want to talk about are the things that I find the scariest to me because even though I take the time, the care to buy the best food I possibly can. Organic whenever possible and I’m major vegan. I choose the foods that I believe are the healthiest for me and I make them fabulously delicious. There are a number of things that are out of my control that are especially scary. You talk about them in this book. So lets start with one scary topic, which is antibiotic resistance.
Eunice: Oh yeah. Antibiotic resistance. Dr. Margaret Chen who was the Director General of the World Health Organization. I’m not sure if she was the first one to bring it up but she brought it up in a WHO meeting in 2011 on World Health Day. She said that this era of post antibiotic resistance coming upon us and it is a global health crisis. One of the major drivers of post antibiotic era is the enormous inconceivable amount of antibiotics that are poured into the feed of animals that we raise for food and for their secretion because they’re kept in such appalling conditions. It gives them a remote chance of surviving basically, to have this antibiotic into their system constantly, even if they’re not sick. So these animals develop antibiotic resistance which means that they develop diseases and infections that are literally resistant to the antibiotics and then become un-treatable. Then the human workers in the factory farm also contract that antibiotic resistance and bring it out into the human community. The problem with this, of course, is that our antibiotics are now failing. The danger of a post antibiotic era is that you could die, potentially from an infection contracted from scraping your knee on the sidewalk or if you get strep throat. The most basic medical procedures, what we consider basic today would be extremely dangerous because we would no longer have the antibiotics to render those operations safe.
Caryn: It’s extremely frightening and it’s not fair.
Eunice: It’s absolutely not fair.
Caryn: It’s not fair to me. I’m being selfish right now.
Eunice: I know, I know.
Caryn: I’ve spent decades doing the best that I can…
Eunice: One of the titles that Kip and Keegan were considering for their film originally was “Second Hand Eating”. That’s exactly what it is.
Caryn: That’s genius.
Eunice: You always hear about second hand smoking right? That’s why people give smokers the dirty looks when they’re in crowded places because you’re like, “OK I’m inhaling your carcinogens? That should not be happening.” But it’s second hand eating because the eating habits of our country, of our culture are in some many ways beyond antibiotic resistance, are effecting the lives of those of us who are attempting to eat as healthfully as we can and not to support these systems of factory farming. It’s absolutely unfair, yeah.
Caryn: I think. I don’t want to believe in the doomsday theory but sometimes I call myself, I don’t know what it is an optimistic pessimist. Pessimistic optimistic. I like to stay happy and optimistic but I really think we’re doomed. The plague could be one of them, this antibiotic resistance. It’s either we’re going to melt, or the plague or maybe a combination.
Eunice: Yeah, I know we’re not here to talk about climate change, but I am so terrified about global warming and of course the animal agriculture industry blends into that. I think it is a combination of stuff. It’s the climate. The climate will affect our food supply and everything is interconnected. I love Carol Adams work because she connects the dots between feminism and veganism and it’s the same here. The connection between the environmental movement, the animal rights movement, the health movement. They’re inter-related and you really can’t pull them apart without tugging on another thread that belongs to another movement. That’s what I think people need to realize. Great, if you want to become vegan because you want to loose 20 pounds, that’s one thing. But we really need to start looking at everything holistically. Nothing’s going to change until we do that.
Caryn: Lets connect these dots a little bit. I want to mention, I didn’t mention this before, but you also wrote with Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn The Sustainability Secret, which was the companion book to their movie Cowspiracy. I spoke with them, that was about three years ago or so on this program. But, you talked about the United States Government in your book and the policies or the lack of policies or the policies that aren’t followed. Here is one where we can talk about the connection between the environment and health where scientists were preparing guidelines for the USDA and they actually came out and said that the environment effects our health and should be part of the nutrition guidelines. Then all the lobbyists came along and said, “No, that’s out.”
Eunice: Yeah. The lobbyists and the government are an enormous part of the problem. The meat, dairy and egg industry spend at least 138 million dollars, I believe lobbying Congress alone, a year. That’s just Congress. The government wants that money to keep coming in and so they return the favor. Each one-dollar industry contribution, each of those 1 dollars of that 138 million dollars results, usually in a $2,000 return as Federal Tax subsidies. So it’s like this you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours and the one who’s left out of the equation is the American public whose illnesses are being turned into a money-making commodity. I mean, we really are. Our heart disease, our cancers, our diabetes are a money making engine just as much as the pigs in their gestation crates or the dairy cows.
Caryn: There are many people who feel that it’s their right to be able to consume whatever they want and they get very aggravated when they hear people like us. Maybe we’re not in their face, but talking about these issues related to food and what’s healthy and what isn’t. They have no idea how manipulated they have been. They talk about this right, this free choice. They’re decisions aren’t made from free choice. They’re decisions have been made from marketing brainwashing.
Eunice: I know. Well one of the most creepy things in the research for this film and the book are the government check off programs. Like check it off, not as in Anton Chekhov unfortunately.
Caryn: We love Anton Chekhov.
Eunice: When I first heard it, I heard it rather than read it and I’m like, “Check off programs? That sounds amazing.” But no it has nothing to do with the Russian playwright.
Caryn: But Chekhov, I’m digressing here but he was an environmentalist.
Eunice: Yeah, he was an amazing man in so many ways. He was aware of so many of these problems.
Caryn: OK back to the government check off programs.
Eunice: A little theater geek moment there. So these check off programs. They are incredible and most people don’t know about them even though they’ve seen the fruits of them. Everyone’s seen these advertising campaigns. Like, “Milk, it does the body good.” And “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner.” “Pork, the other white meat.” But people don’t realize that these are government run, federal government run advertising schemes for specific food industries like milk, like beef, like pork. And how it works is that each producer of these foods are taxed a certain amount. I don’t know the amount but say for instance the dairy industry; everyone is taxed $1 a gallon, whatever. That dollar, the hypothetical dollar gets put into this enormous fund, which is then run by the USDA. So they have this huge amount of money and the government will run these advertising programs to promote these foods to the public so that the public will keep buying them and keep supporting the animal agriculture industry which then send their millions of dollars to the government in lobbying money. The check off programs also run advertising for something they called “Industry Trendsetters” so something like McDonald’s, or Dominoes Pizza, or Wendy’s, they’re industry trendsetters because they can sell a certain amount of dairy and cheese or beef or pork or bacon. So an advertising campaign like Wendy’s Bacon Double Cheeseburger is a government program. In fact, the Supreme Court ruled that these check off programs are government speech because they are administered by the USDA and created by Congress. So we have government speech, very big brother, very 1984. Telling us that we should eat these foods that mountains of scientific literature have revealed are literally killing us. Placing us in chronic health conditions, chronic diseases, and/or killing us.
Caryn: I have to take a deep breath every time I hear this stuff. I mean, I know it and then I hear it and it just gets me in the gut.
Eunice: I know. And I feel like information knowledge, getting this knowledge out and we do know it and every time I hear it I feel something in my gut too. But so many people don’t know it. That’s a big obstacle to change. If people knew this, and changed their buying habits. I mean, I always say that being vegan is the most direct action that you can make. What can you do about the fossil fuel industry? What can you do about building wind turbines on shore and off shore? Not a whole lot unless you have like billions of dollars. But as a vegan you can direct action every single day, three times a day. I don’t know if you saw in the New York Times recently. There was a feature of this non-profit called Project Drawdown.
Caryn: Oh yeah I’m going to be speaking to Paul Hawken in a few months, yes.
Eunice: Yeah, it’s an International coalition of climate scientists who have sort of ranked the method of most effectively halting, or slowing down at least global warming. The first one was like manage refrigerant like the disposal of refrigerators and air conditioners. Second one was wind turbines on shore. Third one was food waste. And the fourth one was a plant-based diet. They said in their website that eating a plant based diet is probably the most effective thing an individual can do to effect climate change.
Caryn: To effect everything.
Eunice: Can you tell I’m obsessed?
Caryn: Everything! It affects everything!
Eunice: Yes it does
Caryn: Everything! Climate change, health care cost down, everything!
Caryn: Anyway, I’ve been talking about this for years. But it’s great to see it come together, not only in a book but in a film. I’m not sure which I prefer because they both have a value so what I like in the book is you can really sit and savor every horrible piece of information that’s in there as you learn it and see the references. Let’s take an example. The film opens with the Doctor who’s a Chief Scientist at the American Diabetes Association? And if you don’t believe in the book that this man actually says what he says, you can see it.
Eunice: You can see it, yes.
Caryn: There’s no amount of editing, you know? Like reality show editing to make him appear any different. You see it all in the film.
Eunice: Yeah, absolutely.
Caryn: Where he denies evidence.
Eunice: Well, yeah he just shut Kip down. Kip asked a very simple question about a study and he’s not, you know getting in his face or being argumentative. He’s literally just asking a question and this guy just shuts him off and he says, “I’m not going to go there. The interview is over. Goodbye.” And it’s like wow what just happened? That was very, very strange.
Caryn: Now this guy, does he know that he’s in this film?
Eunice: I’m sure he does and I don’t know if he had any reaction to it. But I’m sure he knows he’s in the film. I love the film. I’ve seen it so many times. I’ve seen it in tons of rough cuts and what I love about the film is that you can sit down and in 90 minutes, get the gist of this argument. What I love about the book is that because I had so much more space in the book and I had unlimited access to the hundreds, literally hundreds of hours of interviews that Kip and Keegan did with these amazing people who appear in the film. I could go through the entire transcript and where as they were limited to a few minutes of showing the interview, I could put in enormous chunks of the interview that never appeared in the film and sort of follow different paths. There’s a whole section on George McGovern in the book that doesn’t appear in the film that I love because 40 years ago, 40 years ago this man tried to tell the American public that eating animal products was a public health concern. He was shut down by the animal agriculture industries. It’s this, you know, on the one hand very disheartening and on the other hand extremely inspiring because he was trying to tell the truth. I feel like now the truth is starting to come out and we just have to just keep on doing that. We can’t be discouraged by the billions of dollars that these industries have or the sort of negative press that the dairy industry is throwing onto the soymilk industry because now the soymilk industry is taking a bite out of the dairy industry. We just have to keep on telling people and spreading the word.
Caryn: You know some people would maybe criticize and say, “You’re trying to create conspiracy theories.” And I just know first hand, for example my grandfather who I never met because he died when my dad was 6. He was a milkman in the 30’s and this was during a time of something called the “Milk Wars.” He was a union activist trying to get a better deal for the milk deliverers because they just kept cutting the price and the people that were struggling were the farmers that were making the milk and the deliverers, every body except I guess some powerful people who were in control of the whole business. They murdered him.
Eunice: Oh my god.
Caryn: Murdered him. Murder incorporated. And there’s no telling what can happen when people are in a position of power and making a lot of money and what they will do to keep it.
Eunice: Yeah and I often hear questions about bias. Like “Oh you’re just biased. You want everyone to be vegan because of the environment or because of the animals.” And I just say look at the facts. Like for instance, Kaiser Permanente which is one of the country’s largest non-profit health plans began advocating in 2013 for something like 17,000 doctors to actively and firmly encourage their patients to avoid eating animal products. Because for them in their best interest. They’re an insurance company. Of course they want people to be healthy and so they’re looking at the science saying, “Wait a minute. If people are eating the standard American diet, we’re going to have to pay out all of this money so that they can have their heart bypasses and their stents and their chemotherapy and whatever else.” But they’re doing it for the money, of course. But they’re asking their doctors to tell, to educate their patients to be plant-based. That’s not biased. That’s just the facts. Scientific evidence.
Caryn: Yes and then you have to educate the doctors and as you talked in your book about a recent law that Dr. John McDougall tried to put forward in California. Yeah, it didn’t go very well.
Eunice: No, and that’s the amazing thing because it was the Medical Association who are fighting back against having nutrition education for doctors. They said that it was too much time. I think Dr. McDougall initially asked for 12 hours every 4 years of nutrition education. Then they cut it down to 12, then down to 7 and then it got cut down to 0 and that’s when the bill passed.
Caryn: It has a lot of meat in it that bill. OK Eunice, we have two minutes left. I just want to know how did you come to where you are with your philosophy about veganism?
Eunice: I watched Cowspiracy, honestly. I was shocked because I always considered myself an environmentalist. I didn’t know anything that was in that film. I was absolutely shocked. I just felt like I couldn’t live with the hypocrisy of now knowing what I know and continue to eat animal products and say that I want this Earth to thrive and to be sustainable. The more I learned, I veered off from environmentalism. I learned about the horrific conditions of factory farms, of course I spent a lot of time researching this book on health and the more I learned the more as I said, everything is connected. There’s just no way that I would ever live any other way. Now that I know what I know, I have to live by my own beliefs, which are about the environment, which are about compassion and non-violence and you know being healthy so we can continue to fight for change.
Caryn: Yes. Well Eunice, thank you very much for joining me today on It’s All About Food. I believe we should all be living what we believe in. What the Health can help you! So read the book, see the documentary! Thank you for joining me again on It’s All About Food. We have just a minute left and I wanted to remind you that we have a non-profit it’s called Responsible Eating and Living. You can find us at responsibleeatingandliving.com. It’s a mouthful, I know. But you know we do have mobile apps which you can get once you arrive at the website to make it easier to get there all the time. I use that app all the time to get my own recipes when I want to make breakfast, for example. We have a daily blog called What Vegans Eat. So if you learned from the book or the documentary What the Health that you want to go vegan but you don’t know how, here’s one tool that can help you. This daily blog, What Vegans Eat, it’s linked to recipes. I hope you’ll join me there. And if you have any comments or questions you can find me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ve come to the end of another program. Thank you so much for joining me and have a delicious week!
Transcribed by Adella Finnan 6/30/2017