Part I – Rip Esselstyn
Rip Esselstyn was born in upstate New York, raised in Cleveland, Ohio, and educated at the University of Texas at Austin, where he was a three-time All-American swimmer. After graduation Rip spent a decade as one of the premier triathletes in the world. He then joined the Austin Fire Department, where he introduced his passion for a whole-food, plant-based diet to Austin’s Engine 2 Firehouse in order to rescue a firefighting brother’s health. To document his success he wrote the national best-selling book The Engine 2 Diet, which shows the irrefutable connection between a plant-based diet and good health.
Recently Rip left his job as a firefighter to team up with Whole Foods Market as one of their Healthy Eating Partners to raise awareness for Whole Foods employees, customers, and communities about the benefits of eating a plant-strong diet. He has appeared on hundreds of radio shows as well as national television shows including the Today show, the CBS Sunday Morning show, Good Morning America and The Dr. Oz Show.
Rip lives in Austin, Texas with his wife, Jill Kolasinski, and their two beautiful children, Kole and Sophie.
Hello, hello Everybody. I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. Today is the May 14th, 2013 episode of It’s All About Food. You know, when I hear that opening to It’s All About Food, it just makes me happy and I hope it makes you happy too. I get to talk about all these things that I love to talk about in a short amount of time. There are a few things that I really want to talk about before we get started with my first guest today. I’ve been talking about The Swingin’ Gourmets. You’ve heard about The Swingin’ Gourmets, my partner Gary De Mattei and I are making musical theatre look really fun and healthy, singing about plant-powerful foods and why they’re so great to eat and how much fun you can have getting healthy and doing the right thing for the environment and certainly being gentle on the animals. Well, we just got a pay-it-forward loan from The Pollination Project. Check out thepollinationproject.org. They are seeding projects that change the world. It’s springtime and what a better time than to seed projects that change the world. If you have a concept or idea and you need a little financial help, The Pollination Project may be something for you because they’re really helping a lot of people with small loans but things with grants actually. Most of their assistance is with grants that they’re giving away to people with really great ideas. I’ve been a recipient two times so I’m really grateful to The Pollination Project. Another thing I wanted to mention, here in the greatest city in the world, New York City, in one of the boroughs, Queens, the borough that I live in, the very first public school, Public School 244 is offering vegetarian meals—only vegetarian meals—for breakfast and lunch. It’s in conjunction with the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food. This is a really, really exciting project and it’s happening in my hometown. Things to be excited about, definitely. Now we’re going to continue with my first guest today, Rip Esselstyn. He’s a native of Cleveland, Ohio. He attended the University of Texas where he was an All-American swimmer. After spending ten years as one of the world’s top professional tri-athletes, Rip became a firefighter at Station 2 in Austin, Texas. In 2009 he joined Whole Foods Market as a healthy eating partner. Today he travels year round telling the world about the benefits of eating plant strong with the Engine 2 Diet. He lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and two children and he has a new book, My Beef with Meat.
Caryn Hartglass: Welcome to It’s All About Food, Rip.
Rip Esselstyn: Thanks very much for having me. It’s an absolute pleasure.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes. How are you today?
Rip Esselstyn: I’m doing great. I’m in New York City right now getting ready to launch the book, which actually officially comes out tomorrow.
Caryn Hartglass: Which is actually today because this show is airing tomorrow.
Rip Esselstyn: There you go.
Caryn Hartglass: But in the world of cyberspace, time has no meaning. And you have a book signing at Whole Foods down in Tribeca.
Rip Esselstyn: I do. I have a book signing at Tribeca tomorrow night…
Caryn Hartglass: …May 14th, Tuesday…
Rip Esselstyn: Yes. And then I’ve got another book signing at another Whole Foods in New Jersey on Wednesday. I just got done doing the Don Imus Show this morning, which was quite an experience.
Caryn Hartglass: I remember listening to Don when I was a tiny tot. He’s still kicking and so am I.
Rip Esselstyn: Did you know that Don Imus is all plant-based?
Caryn Hartglass: You know, I heard that. Has it affected his style at all?
Rip Esselstyn: No. Not one iota.
Caryn Hartglass: Broadcasting style. I remember “Imus in the Morning.” I would wake up and go up to junior high school with “Imus in the Morning.” That was a long time ago. Anyway, let’s talk about you. We don’t want to talk about Imus anymore. You’re changing the world, Rip, and I thank you for that.
Rip Esselstyn: Well, we’re all helping to change the world.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, I’ve been doing this almost about as long…maybe longer, maybe shorter, I don’t know. I started on this path around 1973 when I didn’t want to eat meat and then in ’84 I went complete vegetarian, eliminating fish. Of course I didn’t realize that scaly vegetable wasn’t a vegetable until around 1984. Then in 1988 I went completely vegan. So it’s been a quarter century for me. Seeing a lot of great changes, some frustrating things happening, but something I keep repeating to myself and reminding myself: the questions have not changed and you just have to keep answering them with a fresh, happy spirit no matter how frustrating it can seem from time to time.
Rip Esselstyn: That’s exactly why I wrote this book because my first book, The Engine 2 Diet book came out about four years ago and since then I’ve been touring around the country talking and giving presentations and talking to people about eating a whole food, plant-strong diet. It’s amazing how the same questions just kept popping up. So I wrote this book to be really, in some ways, the definitive guide that busts all the myths and answers all the questions in a very kind of friendly way that will basically give people courage to not only own their health but also to stand up for this lifestyle.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s important. And it’s important for this information to come out in lots of different forms. Yours is coming out in a bright, fire engine red form and it probably appeals to a certain demographic. But to change the world we need this message told over and over and over and over and over and over in many different sizes, shapes, and colors and a lot of people need to hear it over and over again. One time unfortunately isn’t it. I have some friends of my parents. They’ve been coming to lectures that I’ve been organizing for decades and finally the husband of the couple just fell upon The China Study even though he had heard Dr. Campbell speak, he had heard your dad, Dr. Esselstyn speak, and it took a long time but then all of a sudden: click. And he is eating great, never looked better. He’s approaching 80 and looks fabulous. So it’s great that you’re out there talking all over the place. The question is: How do you do that? How do you travel and talk?
Rip Esselstyn: Well I’m really fortunate in that one of the things that happened after my book came out in 2007 I got approached by the CEO of Whole Foods Market, John Mackey, to partner with Whole Foods Market as part of their Healthy Eating initiative that they launched in 2010 to educate not only their 70,000 team member base but also their millions of customers about what they could do for optimal health. I actually retired from firefighting a little over three and a half years ago to partner with Whole Foods Market and now I go around to Whole Foods Market stores all over the United States, Canada, and the UK talking to team members and customers about eating a whole foods, plant-strong diet.
Caryn Hartglass: What do you eat on the road?
Rip Esselstyn: Fortunately wherever I go there’s a Whole Foods Market so it’s pretty easy. But whenever I pack my bags I’m prepared. So I always have cereal, I always have fruit, I always have a sandwich or two. I find that one of the things that travels really well are tacos or wraps or burritos. Just put them in some foil but I can make it work anywhere. I honestly can. You just have to ask for what you want and you have to look at the menu and figure out what you can make work. Then be nice and say, “Listen, is there any way you can do this pizza on a whole grain crust without cheese and just throw on extra veggies and extra marinara sauce?” Typically they are happy to do it. I find that’s the least of my worries, how to do it on the road. But for a lot of people it can be a stumbling block but they just have to learn a couple little tricks of the trade and they’re good to go.
Caryn Hartglass: I could call it an excuse. People look for excuses. But I like your answer and I think it’s something that applies to most things in life. Be nice and polite and you can get very far.
Rip Esselstyn: Like this morning. I’m in this hotel in New York and I went down and I got the oatmeal. I made sure it was made with water and not milk and on the side I got one and a half bananas and strawberries and blueberries and that was it and it was great.
Caryn Hartglass: You have to know what questions to ask, though, because some people wouldn’t even realize that some oatmeal is prepared with milk. Although I think in most hotels in the United States, oatmeal is prepared with water unless it’s from one of those mixes. But I remember…I’ve traveled all over the world and you cannot be shy but you have to be polite. I was in Seoul, Korea and they had this beautiful spread at a Ritz-Carlton of foods and they had oatmeal made with milk and I had to explain to them it’s better to make it with water.
Rip Esselstyn: It is amazing. Another thing I tell people is don’t be shy. So many people are like, “I’m afraid. I don’t want to make a stir. I don’t want to make waves. I don’t want to be a nuisance.” It’s like, listen, we’re talking about your health now. It’s your number one asset is your health and you need to protect it with every fiber in your being. So be polite and ask for what you want but don’t feel like you’re putting anybody out one iota because we all know that moderation doesn’t work. I mean…
Caryn Hartglass: I love that. You wrote that in your book. I had exclamation points all over the place. I can’t stand moderation.
Rip Esselstyn: Right. So I’ve got a whole chapter on moderation and how we have to lose the moderation mentality. You know, we have somewhere between ten trillion to a hundred cells in our body and when you have a little bit of chicken or a little bit of fish or a little bit of low-fat dairy, before you know it…I mean your cells don’t know moderation. Heart disease doesn’t know moderation. Cancer doesn’t know moderation. Let’s go full kale into being healthy and jump in and do it with a lot of gusto and then we’re going to see amazing results. Your body is going to respond. You’re going to have increased energy. You sleep better. You’re going to lose weight. All your numbers are going to come down. As opposed to taking the baby steps approach. And I think that, for example, what Mark Bittman is doing with vegan before six is, you know, it’s good to get more people on board but I think, unfortunately, a lot of people still aren’t going to see the transformative results that they could see if they were to throw themselves whole kale into it.
Caryn Hartglass: I really agree and I believe in the all-or-nothing approach with so many things. I think it’s easier when you say “no” to something rather than “oh, sometimes” to something. It’s just that much harder to not do it at all.
Rip Esselstyn: Yeah. And you’re also…things are very black and white. There’s no gray area. You’re not continually feeding your palette with these foods that you’re going to continue to crave. So it’s just much easier when you just decide, “OK, this is the way it’s going to be.” Right? I mean I’m not going to smoke cigarettes and you just stop, right? You just say, “Alright, I’m not going to do dairy. I’m not going to do animal products. I’m just going to stop.”
Caryn Hartglass: You’re seeing this all over the place. But in the United States where the biggest killer is heart disease and we know that in like 99.9—I don’t know how many nines—cases these heart disease cases are preventable and a lot of them are reversible. You’re dad wrote Preventing and Reversing Heart Disease. Is that the title of the book?
Rip Esselstyn: Yes, Preventing Heart Disease.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes. And you’ve probably heard a lot of stories where people have totally turned around. There was an article in The New York Times yesterday. I don’t know if you saw it but it’s the story of some guy who believes that heart disease is in his DNA. At the end of the story they talk about…OK, so he’s given up red meat but his wife is making him some sort of Tandori chicken dish—the feathered vegetable…
Rip Esselstyn: I know. I saw that. I just read it this morning and that is exactly why I’ve written the book because people just don’t know. They don’t know, for example, that chicken has just as much cholesterol as red meat and that most types of fish have more cholesterol than red meat or chicken. People don’t know that one glass of whole milk has the same amount of saturated fat as four slices of bacon. They don’t know that olive oil is the most concentrated source of calories on the planet and that it is contributing to heart disease because it’s 15% saturated fat. So people, they just unfortunately they don’t know. As a country we are nutritionally illiterate. This is what My Beef with Meat is all about. It’s about getting people, you know, up to snuff.
Caryn Hartglass: I think we’ve been nutritionally illiterate for most of our existence. It’s just recently that we’re really starting to understand what’s going on at a micro level. People have had a few buzzwords for the last 100 years but they don’t know what they’re talking about. No one knew. We’re just starting to figure it out.
Rip Esselstyn: But you know what…on the other hand, you know, all we’ve got to do…it’s a simple answer. It’s just: eat whole, plant-based foods. I mean, it doesn’t have to be more complicated than that. I think the issue is there’s so much incredible amounts of confusion and distraction right now that people don’t know what to believe.
Caryn Hartglass: Yep. They’re confused. They’re confused. And Rip is here to say to them that you just don’t save lives in the firehouse but now you’re saving lives with food.
Rip Esselstyn: Yeah, I know. Speaking of which…the second half of the book has another 140 Engine 2 plant-strong recipes.
Caryn Hartglass: Part of that confusion, the little bits that people hear are so frustrating and damaging. People will hear about soy. They’ll hear about oil. They’ll hear about nuts and they hear all different kinds of things. And you give some clarification on all of those.
Rip Esselstyn: Yes, yes. For example, with the soy, a lot of people are scared that soy is the devil incarnate. I try to let people know that, listen, if you really want to protect yourself from estrogen and what can go on with hormones then if you’re a female, the #1 thing we can do is drop dairy. A lactating cow has 30 times the estrogen levels than a cow that’s not lactating. And then, you know, a lot of women in America unfortunately are overweight and we know that when you’re overweight that increases estrogen levels. Exercise helps. Natural soy, for example, like tofu, tempeh, edamame, these are healthful. They can actually inhibit the amount of estrogen that’s absorbed. There’s just a lot of, again, confusion. I agree that the processed soy products out there are just basically a bunch of junk with fillers. They bring out what’s called the isolated soy proteins which have the potential to be harmful. So we need to be careful with the processed soy. No doubt.
Caryn Hartglass: And getting soy organic and not genetically modified. What a nightmare that is. And a lot of people don’t realize when we talk about genetically modified and when we talk about soy, most of the soy grown in this country is grown to feed animals. It’s not even grown to feed people and when people those eat animals, they’re getting those genetically modified organisms through soy and other things.
Rip Esselstyn: Right. Good point.
Caryn Hartglass: I mentioned at the beginning of this program and perhaps you’ve heard that here in Queens, NY, the first public school is going vegetarian. They’re serving breakfast and lunch vegetarian meals. If the parents want their children to have animal foods they can bring them in their lunch boxes and I think this is great. But when you mention dairy, this plan is including dairy products. And I would always say to get rid of dairy first.
Rip Esselstyn: When we hang up I’m going to go visit that school.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, wonderful.
Rip Esselstyn: I’ll have to give them a little talk on the dairy.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. Lighten up on the cheese.
Rip Esselstyn: Yeah. Let them know that cheese is the number one source of saturated fat in the American diet and how we get so addicted to it. Yeah, for sure.
Caryn Hartglass: This is a great part of the world. People don’t think about Queens as much. When they think about New York City they think about Manhattan. Manhattan, of course, is an amazing place but Queens is part of what makes Manhattan tick. There is so much diversity right here. You can visit the whole world by visiting Queens, NY.
Rip Esselstyn: I look forward to it. I don’t think I’ve ever been there.
Caryn Hartglass: I could tell you where to eat. Are they going to feed you or are you going to Whole Foods?
Rip Esselstyn: I think I’m going to have lunch there.
Caryn Hartglass: Well my very favorite place is in Flushing and it’s on Main Street. It’s called the New Bodai. It’s vegan Chinese. When I’m out for a treat that’s what I like to get.
Rip Esselstyn: I’ll remember that one.
Caryn Hartglass: Now, people go a little nutty…oh, I didn’t even mean to make that pun…but when we talk about fats and they start hearing that they shouldn’t be consuming oil and they should lighten up on the nuts, what kind of reaction do you get and what do you tell them?
Rip Esselstyn: Well I tell people that the best way to get your fats are from healthy, plant-based sources. America is so overweight right now. They don’t need to be pounding the olive oil or even doing a ton of nuts. I think we talked a little bit about olive oil. With the nuts, I tell people if you’re going to have one handful that’s fine but just know that one small handful is about 200 calories and it’s about 80% fat. So if you go to Costco and you get a big drum of nuts and you have it lying around your house and you have four or five handfuls a day, all of a sudden that’s 1000 calories that you’ve just dropped down your mouth and close to 800 of those calories are coming straight from fat. Even with nuts, nuts have anywhere between 10 and 20% of their calories coming from saturated fat. That’s one of the reasons why my father with his program asks his patients not to do nuts because he doesn’t want them to put one iota of gasoline to the fire that might ignite their heart disease. But most people don’t know that kale is 10% fat, that oats are 16% fat, that soybeans are 40% fat, that strawberries are right around 6% fat and that we can get all the fat we need from whole, plant-based sources and we’re staying away from trans fats and for the most part saturated fats and we’re really concentrating on the poly-unsaturated fats. Good stuff.
Caryn Hartglass: People talk about food combing sometimes. You don’t talk about it in your book or at least I didn’t catch it. What people get confused about is all plant foods combine a protein, carbohydrate, and fat for the most part. The body knows what to do with all of them. We don’t have to eat them separately. We eat a bean, it digests the protein and it digests the carbohydrate. You eat greens, it digests the fat the protein. Our bodies are smart.
Rip Esselstyn: They’re brilliant. I have a whole chapter, I think it’s chapter 3, on how plant proteins are completely complete. For a number of reasons people think that plant proteins aren’t complete and that you have to do the combining as Frances Moore Lappe…
Caryn Hartglass: …another myth that has really stuck in our minds.
Rip Esselstyn: Plant proteins contain all of the essential amino acids and they’re at a proportion and composition that actually is very friendly on the body unlike animal proteins that leach calcium from your bones and promote systemic inflammation and are harsh on the kidneys and the liver and are tumor and cancer promoters. The protein you’re getting in plants is like a perfectly aged red wine and animal protein is like Everclear.
Caryn Hartglass: You also talk about the Mediterranean and Paleo diets, the two big diets that are getting probably more press than the one diet that should be getting press although the plant diet is definitely getting its due in the media but thank you for talking about those two diets.
Rip Esselstyn: The Mediterranean myth is just that, it’s a myth. For some reason now, Americans are under the impression that if they drink a little bit of red wine and they’re doing olive oil and Greek yogurt that they’re doing the Mediterranean diet when the reality is that the Mediterranean diet was based off of the island of Crete post-war in the 1950s and it was primarily fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans. And if you look at the Mediterranean Sea there are 20 different countries that border the Mediterranean and each one has a different diet. You could go there today and what you’ll find is that in Spain, Italy, and Portugal, 50% of the people are overweight or obese. And then you go to Greece, which people epitomize as the Mediterranean and they are now the 16th fattest country on the planet and ¾ of their people are overweight or obese. So the Mediterranean diet, the original one, was back in the ‘50s and was based on what we’re doing here today.
Caryn Hartglass: And then we’re all romancing about the Paleolithic diet and we don’t even know what was going on back then. We have clues but it’s just ridiculous.
Rip Esselstyn: The thing about the Paleo is if you talk to any kind of archeological scientist today and they’ll tell you that close to 80% of Paleo people their diets were whole, plant-based foods. I think it’s time that we evolve away from meat for a number of reasons. It destroys the earth, it exploits the water. The carbon footprint that we’re laying down by eating a meat-centric diet is 4 times bigger than if we’re eating a plant-based one. If we can evolve past meat we’ll be a much kinder people to the animals that we share the planet with. Lastly, I think it’s time that we evolve past meat so that we can as a country have the health that we all deserve. It could raise this country’s standard of living to a whole other level. As you know if we keep this up we’re going to bury ourselves because of this healthcare crisis.
Caryn Hartglass: Why don’t more people care about this? I don’t know. It is definitely changing. I wanted to note that you have a website: engine2diet.com. Lots of recipes and you’ve got a blog and your events are listed there.
Rip Esselstyn: Yes. Thank you. We’ve been throwing these weekend-long Farms-to-Forks retreats. We have three more left this year. We bring in the best and the brightest in the business and we teach people. We educate people and then we teach people how to actually incorporate it into their lives.
Caryn Hartglass: And it’s fun and delicious everybody.
Rip Esselstyn: Yes it is.
Caryn Hartglass: I wanted to give a mention to my friend and yours, Gene Stone, who helped you put together My Beef with Meat. The last time I saw him, I have to say was at the Veggie Pride parade in Manhattan and he came up to my partner, Gary, and I and said we are the best vegan chefs he knew. Now I don’t know if he says that to all the vegans he knows but we appreciated that. We love making food.
Rip Esselstyn: Everything…I tell people…I don’t know if we’re done yet or not…
Caryn Hartglass: We can keep going another minute or so.
Rip Esselstyn: I have ripples of hope, though. I have so many ripples of hope for this country because I feel like we can’t get too much worse at this point. We’ve got the former fast food president, Bill Clinton, that’s eating plant-based. We have Forks Over Knives, which has now become the #1 selling and viewed documentary in this country for over two years. So that to me is very telling that these conversations are happening at dinner tables across the country. We’ve got pro athletes from the NFL, the NBA to ultra-distance runners that are learning about the benefits of a plant-based diet. We’ve got this school in Queens. We have tobacco crops that are being converted to chickpea crops because the demand for hummus is so large now.
Caryn Hartglass: I love chickpeas. Let’s give a shout out to chickpeas and garbanzo flour is particularly awesome.
Rip Esselstyn: Good ‘ol chickpeas.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, there’s a lot of hope. Thank you for being part of it. I mean, everyone, just take a look at this man, Rip Esselstyn, and you’ll see how good this diet is. You are a stunning example.
Rip Esselstyn: I appreciate it. Thank you very much.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you. I hope to meet you sometime. All the best with your book. Be well.
Rip Esselstyn: Thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you for joining me on It’s All About Food. OK, folks. We’re going to take a quick break and when we’re back we’re going to talk with Kathy Stevens. It will be her third time back on the show. We’ll be talking about Catskill Animal Sanctuary and some lovely stories with animals so stay with me. We’ll be right back.
Transcribed by Jennie Steinhagen, 6/3/2013