Part I: Adam Gollner
Adam Leith Gollner is the author of The Fruit Hunters: A Story of Nature, Obsession, Commerce and Adventure. His writing appears in The New York Times, Gourmet, Bon Appetit, Orion, the Globe and Mail, Maclean’s, and Good Magazine, among others. He used to be editor of Vice Magazine and associate editor of Maisonneuve Magazine. He recently made a short film about goblins. He has also played in a number of bands and still makes music now and then. He lives in Montreal, mostly, and Los Angeles sometimes, but always has this as his desktop image. The Fruit Hunters is published by Scribner in the United States, Doubleday in Canada, Larousse in Brazil, Souvenir Press in the UK, Sallim Publishing in Korea, and Hakusui Sha in Japan. Springs Eternal: The Neverending Quest for Neverending Life will be published in 2011. Until then: Ishq.
Part II: Jill Eckart
Jill Eckart, C.H.H.C., is nutrition program manager at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting preventive medicine, especially better nutrition, and higher standards in research. As part of the nutrition team, Ms. Eckart manages a variety of programs, including the launch of PCRM’s online 21-Day Vegan Kickstart program that more than 200,000 people have participated in since 2009. Ms. Eckart received her Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology and service leadership from Loyola University in Maryland. She received her certification in holistic health counseling from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City.
TRANSCRIPTION PART I:
Caryn Hartglass: Hello everybody, I’m Caryn Hartglass, and it’s time for another episode of It’s All About Food. And we are live here, on January 29th, 2013, I’m in the studio here in Manhattan. And it was fun walking out to the studio today. When you are dressed for twenty or thirty degree weather, forty-five degrees feels really, really comfortable and nice. It’s a nice, nice day today, and it’s great to get out in it. All right, food is so important, and I want to know how did we get so detached, so separated from where our food comes from. How is it that most of us don’t have a clue what’s in the food we eat and don’t even care? How did it come to this? And how did we get so far away from what is fresh and natural and delicious? I don’t have the answers to those questions, but we are going to talk about something really, really basic today. Fruit. And yet fruit has so many different, delicious, scandalous, romantic, criminal aspects to it, and we are going to get right to it.
I am going to bring on my first guest, Adam Gollner. He is the author of The Fruit Hunters: A Story of Nature, Obsession, Commerce, and Adventure. His writing appears in the New York Times, Gourmet, Bon Apetit, Orion, The Globe and Mail, Maclean’s, and Good Magazine among others. Welcome to It’s All About Food, Adam.
Okay. We are going to wait for Adam for a moment, and while we do, I am going to talk about some of my memories with fruit. Because a lot of things that happen in this wonderful, wonderful book, The Fruit Hunters, that Adam wrote, I really related to. For example, I think there is something really primal about eating food that is really fresh. What I mean by freshly harvested, freshly picked, and maybe some of us have lost it, but I know that when I have an opportunity to pick fresh food, there is something really deep inside me that gets really excited.
Adam you’re with us?
Adam Gollner: Yeah, I’m right here.
Caryn Hartglass: Hi, thanks for joining me on It’s All About Food.
Adam Gollner: Thank you for having me.
Caryn Hartglass: I loved reading your book (really underlined), I loved reading your book, The Fruit Hunters.
Adam Gollner: Thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: I don’t think I’m a fruit hunter, but I do have some passion about fruit. One of the things that excited me was how you described certain experiences that I’ve had with fruit so perfectly. You want to think that you are unique, and I realized that I’m not, but some of them are really interesting, and I’ll bring them up sometime along this program. What I was just talking about was when I was young, maybe about eleven years old, we moved into a new house and the backyard and beyond hadn’t been developed. And there were woods and blackberry bushes everywhere. I think they were blackberries and not black raspberries, but I don’t know anymore.
Adam Gollner: Where did you live? Where was it?
Caryn Hartglass: Long Island, New York. They were everywhere. To start with it was amazing that I was allowed to roam the woods and nobody knew where I was or where I was going. I don’t think that parents would do that very often anymore. But, I would just pick tons of them, and it just felt so magical to have such free fruit just growing for me to pick until I had enough. What a concept.
Adam Gollner: Yeah, that is beyond a concept. It’s just the most incredible thing. That is a universal childhood experience, I think. Even though yours is particular to you, many kids have these moments in nature with fruit. And, I think that those moments are amazing and they mark us, and most of us have some story like that. It may not be with blackberries, it may be with some totally different, exotic fruit depending on what part of the world people are in, but that feeling that you are describing is magical. That feeling is really what inspired me to write this book.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, I had a couple more, and I’m just going to get them all out and then I’m going to get more out of you. I went to Costa Rica in 2004 and really fell in love with the undeveloped areas. Not the touristy Americanized areas but the undeveloped areas where the trees are just pregnant and bloating with ripe, luscious fruit. It depends on the season of course, and what would be dropping all over the place. I thought to myself this, and I ultimately ended up buying property there because I just was overwhelmed with these juicy, sweet things, some I knew, some I had never seen before. It was just a paradise, Eden.
Adam Gollner: For sure, for sure. That’s another lovely story. I feel like that’s a lucky story. A lucky story for a traveler to end up in another part of the planet surrounded by fruits you had never imagined could possibly exist. Wow, that’s a great part of being an adult.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, it brought out the child in me in some ways.
Adam Gollner: For sure, It’s like a direct connection.
Caryn Hartglass: Now you’ve just brought up altered state, and you’ve brought that up a number of times in your book when you talked about Fruitarians and Breatharians and different people that followed a path that had to do with fruit. Some of the fruit was hallucinogenic, but fruit, some kinds, can lead you to a different state of mind.
Adam Gollner: Yeah, I think that they can. There are a lot of possible ways, in which it can do that. There’s neurochemical ways, like you said, there’s hallucinogenic fruits, there’s toxic fruits, there are fruits that can kill you, there are fruits that are lethal out there, and there are fruits that can sort of unlock certain molecular pathways within your brain that are maybe exciting and maybe terrifying. Yeah, there is a whole weird thing there. What I was excited about most of all wasn’t something quite as psychoactive, but more the sort of things that you described in those two stories. That sense of discovery and the face that this stuff just comes out of the planet is so unexpected and mind-blowing and it tastes sweet.
Can I tell you a little story that your blackberry story reminds me of?
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah.
Adam Gollner: I remember when I was a kid, and when you were saying it, I just had a flashback to my own childhood. We had a kind of woods next to my home, as well, and we also had a vacant lot on the other side. I remember roaming around the woods all the time. I also remember once just hanging out on the vacant lot. There was a trampoline there, I think, we played on this trampoline. But what I remember is one August, the whole vacant lot became covered in wild strawberries. We had been playing on that grass all summer, and then all of a sudden, the grass was filled with wild strawberries. What a crazy thing. Even as an adult, to see that is a marvel and wonder and astonishment. As a kid you just can’t believe that the world could be anything better.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s like natural candy. You had a great line in the book (you had a lot of great lines in the book): “Willy Wonka has nothing on mother nature.” All those crazy candies Willy Wonka created in his candy shop, and yet all the fruits that you described in the book don’t hold a candle to those little concoctions he made up. (Note – Caryn meant to say the reverse, that the candies don’t hold a candle to nature’s fruits.)
Adam Gollner: Yeah, his are pretty marvelous. I guess it depends. Some people might find man made creations more interesting than what nature came up with. But I think most people don’t realize what nature came up with. Most of that stuff is not available for sale and is not available in our supermarkets, and people have never come across it and they just don’t know about it. They just don’t know it exists. So that’s another thing that I think this book does. You realize that there is so much stuff out there that we have never heard of because I didn’t realize that when I started the book. I had no idea. And then I learned about them, and, to me, they are so much more fascinating than anything we could put together with our minds and our machines and our technology. How could we ever come up with something like a durian?
Caryn Hartglass: You mention durian, and I have to admit I was on an all raw food diet for about two years. First, I was a vegan and I’m still a vegan and I will be, I am committed to that. But I tried all raw food for about two years, and I felt like I was going to be ostracized from the community because I did not like durian.
Adam Gollner: Well, where did you eat it?
Caryn Hartglass: I think I might have had some in Costa Rica, but I’ve had the frozen variety here in the United States because we can’t get fresh, and I would have the result of a frosted, frozen durian.
Adam Gollner: Yeah, that’s gross. But I think that if you go to Singapore or Malaysia, Borneo, Thailand and you have durian there, it’s not gross. It’s amazing. It’s a good thing. [Alfred Russell Wallace], the guy who discovered the Theory of Evolution at the same time as Darwin, he said, way back then, that durian is something that is worth a trip to the Far East to experience. It’s worth going just to try durian. I think that the same is true today. It’s a fruit that isn’t made for transporting around the world, and most fruits aren’t. Most fruits are made to be appreciated at a certain moment, at a certain height of ripeness, at a certain place, at a certain time. That’s part of the reason the book is about fruit hunters, it’s about people that are trying to have that experience. And we can have that experience in our backyard, as well. But it’s pretty rare that we have that experience in a grocery store.
Caryn Hartglass: The other story that really blew my mind was when you were talking about the Mara des Bois Strawberry in France. I was in France a few years ago, in the Bordeaux region visiting a friend, and we went to the local market in the morning and I bought a strawberry and it was exactly as how you had someone describe it in your book. It was the most fragrant, incredible, delicious experience, and it must have been one of those.
Adam Gollner: Yeah, very possible. You do see the Mara des Bois in France a lot, and man, when you have a good one. That’s kind of the beauty about them. They’re not all the same. Sometimes in a box you’ll get a couple that are just perfect. For some reason they make me think about Dimetap, that cough medicine. There is some weird grape thing in it. There’s no point trying to compare it to things because it one of those things that you can only fully understand by eating yourself. That’s part of the fun of the book: trying to come up with ways of making people feel like they are in some way aware of what you’re speaking about when they can’t really be. There’s no way to tell somebody what a pineapple is like if they’ve never had a pineapple. You can say what it’s similar to, but you’ll never really know unless they taste it themselves. That’s something that I saw first hand with the miracle fruit. Trying to explain it to people, they never get it.
Caryn Hartglass: Now this is the fruit that you eat and it doesn’t taste like much when you eat it, but then afterwards it makes really sour food taste sweet?
Adam Gollner: That is that one. I remember the best example of this. It’s like this always, you kind of talk about it and say, “It’s a little red berry. It looks like the size of a small olive, but it’s red. It has a pit, you bite into it, you swish it around, you spit out the seed, and then you eat sour things and they become transformed into sweetness. They taste very, very sweet.” And you tell that to people and they’re like, “I kind of understand what you are saying.” But they don’t really have any idea what you are talking about. Then they try it and their mind is blown. It’s always the same thing.
I remember doing this one interview, I think it was the first interview for the book. It was for a show called Democracy Now with Amy Goodman. I think it’s on youtube if you want to go see what I’m talking about it’s amazing. Because she was kind of like, “Alright, what are you talking about?” No idea what you’re talking about, and then she tried it and she was like, “Why didn’t you say that? Why didn’t you tell me what you were talking about?” People just cannot get it unless they try it, and that was just part of the fun of writing that book.
Caryn Hartglass: I can talk about food all day and I do and I love food and I love good food and I love whole, plant foods when they are really fresh and you can experience what nature intended, but there is a lot more to this book. There’s trade barriers and smugglers and seed registries. There’s so many little things that I wanted to touch on. Guano wars. And if you want to know what that’s about I think you are going to have to read the book because I don’t think that’s appropriate. No, it’s about the 1800s or something where people were shipping bird poop in order to fertilize their fields.
Adam Gollner: Yeah, fertilizer, that’s it. My favorite fertilizer is the remains of mummified cats in Egypt. They brought boatloads of cats to Britain from Egypt when they excavated the pyramids. They would ground up the mummies and spread them on the fields.
Caryn Hartglass: There’s probably some value to that. There’s probably nutrients in them that are good for the soil.
Adam Gollner: Yeah. Can I tell you another story about mummies that is going to be in the next book that I’m working on? I have another book coming out in August. It’s my new book, it’s called The Book of Immortality. It’s about the idea of immortality. That’s an idea that The Fruit Hunters explores: fruits being symbols of eternal life in religion. And I remember, as I was finishing the book, I was like, “What is eternal life? What is that? Where did we get that idea? Is it an idea? Is it a thing?” And so that became the start of a new book, which is sort of a continuation, in some ways, of The Fruit Hunters. I’m just in the final moments of copy editing it now, and I was looking over this one passage that connects to the mummies. In addition to people spreading the mummified remains as a sort of fertilizer, people also took that as a sort of anti-aging pill over a hundred years ago in Britain. People would actually eat the leftovers of mummies, the ground up remains. The things that we have done trying to live forever, trying to make our fields grow better. It’s fascinating.
Caryn Hartglass: It is. You talk a lot about that in the first book too. One of the reasons why I read your book was because I was talking about bananas a while ago on my show and talked about how the banana, as we know it, is probably going to disappear because of a virus that’s going on. You talked about it in your book, and one of my listeners said, “You have to read The Fruit Hunters.” So I want to thank my listeners for that and please keep telling me who I should be following and reading. But every food has its story. The bananas have a story, and there are so many other foods in your book that have their own crazy, interesting stories. But, I just wanted to get a little bit about the difficult things that go on in the world when it has to do with fruit. You talk about how a lot of drugs get into the western world through fruit.
Adam Gollner: Yeah, what an interesting thing. That drugs are often sent from Central American countries by companies that also ship other substances in the fruit crate boxes. That’s a perfect example of something that, as a reporter, you don’t expect to come across. You just say, “Oh, fruits are interesting. There are different fruits that come from different parts of the world.” Like when you went to Costa Rica you discovered these new fruits. When people go to different countries, they see these things. That’s what started The Fruit Hunters for me. But then as I deepened my research I kept learning things that were so weird and troubling. I guess that brings us to what my editor and I called “the dark side of fruits.” And there is a dark side. Whether it’s the use of fruit shipments to smuggle drugs or whether it’s the use of toxic chemicals in the growing process. There’s all sorts of things that I didn’t expect that I would learn about and some of them are pretty…
Caryn Hartglass: …not very nice. There are so many fruits and foods out there. Many of them are already gone and won’t ever come back. Some of them we’re destroying, and I imagine there are new ones that are happening all the time. You talk about hybrid fruits that are made. The whole concept of hybridization, it’s from dusting pollen from the stamen of one flower onto the pistil of another and growing out a resultant seed. This is natural, in a way. I imagine nature does this slowly and we speed up the process. There’s a lot of different new foods that have come out as a result. I’m comfortable with that. I’m not as comfortable with going into a chromosome and planting a gene to make new foods.
Adam Gollner: It’s interesting. There’s a chapter. I think it takes place at the Zaiger family farms], Zaiger Genetics in Modesto, California. It’s a family run operation, and they just take male and female flower and push them together and create little fruit babies and see what happens. That is what we can call natural selection. Even though it’s artificial selection, it’s humans that are doing it, it’s kind of what birds and bees do. They brush up against flower parts and knock them into each other so that the flower becomes pollinated and gives birth to a fruit baby. So, I think that’s natural. I think it’s useful and it’s fascinating. It’s a great, strange phenomenon. But then there are the laboratories that are splicing. That’s a little freakier, for sure. You don’t really know. I spoke to people on both sides of that debate, and it really rapidly becomes clear that we cannot resolve that. Our food system is so complicated. We have this sense that if we just put our minds to it we can find solutions and we’ll figure it out and we can have a way that it will be all good. And then you start speaking to people and you realize just how complicated and interlocked everything is and you run away from it screaming.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, we all feel very frustrated because corporations pretty much have control and make all of the decisions and sway our representatives and it can by really, really frustrating. One of the things is that there are foods that I remember when I was young like watermelons with seeds in them, and they’re really hard to find. But I was comforted to read that there are people with all kinds of seeds from foods from long ago, that maybe they’re not all lost.
Adam Gollner: Yes, the preservationists are there. They are the unsung heroes of the fruit world. They are the real fruit hunters. These passionate amateurs who have collections in their backyards or even those who work for the United States Department of Agriculture and maintain germ clouds and repositories. There’s a great character, Richard Campbell, whose partner is Noris in Florida, who have this collection of mangoes, the American government’s mango collection. And they are just these two wonderful, intrepid adventurers going around the world in search of germplasm. These people are so amazing. With them you feel that they are telling us something, and what they are telling us is that we are in it together and that we are part of nature and that we have a role and that there are things that we can do. It is a very good story. Their story is a good story.
Caryn Hartglass: I like good stories. You mention mangoes. It reminded me of how in the book you are discussing nuclear agreements between India and Canada and India and the United States had a lot to do with how many mangoes we saw in our countries.
Adam Gollner: That’s a strange story. I have been told that that story may be, in reality, a little more nuanced than it’s portrayed in the book. I had gone off of a few news reports that were maybe a little sensationalist. But the sensationalist version of that story is probably, generally valid. It kind of gets into the intricacies of global trade and how India bought nuclear reactors from Canada for a while. Throughout that time the U.S. said, “Okay, we’re not taking your mangoes. We won’t buy any of your produce.” Maybe there were some things that were coming in, but I don’t think so. . It’s interesting how few countries get to export their food into America. At least their fresh food. So India wasn’t allowed to export its mangoes, but then they signed in a business deal with George Bush to buy some nuclear reactors or some form of nuclear technology from America. This was about seven years ago now. Part of the deal was that America would allow the mangoes back in. I think the mangoes needed to be irradiated.
Caryn Hartglass: Another horrible subject.
Adam Gollner: Which means they get, essentially, nuked by some nuclear technology that is killing little insects maybe living in the skin and who know what else. Yeah, that’s just a weird story.
Caryn Hartglass: There’s a lot of problems with imported food and one of them is they have to be irradiated to kill those little bugs
Adam Gollner: A lot of Central American mangoes coming to America are boiled or given what is called “hot water vapor treatment.” They are blasted with hot steam. They are kind of cooked a little bit.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I was surprised to hear that, but not surprised because the mangoes I get here in the U.S. don’t taste anything like the ones I get in Costa Rica that have just fallen from the tree. One more little question: There’s a film coming out called The Fruit Hunters, or it came out in Canada, and we should be able to see it sometime, here, in the United States?
Adam Gollner: Yeah. It is currently at film festivals. It just played at the Palm Springs Film Festival and its playing at the Berlin Film Festival very soon. It’s going to be coming out probably in a couple of months. It’s a film that has many of the stories that are in the book. It’s based on the book, but it’s also its own story. It has some characters who are not in the book, and I think it’s wonderful. You’ll see it soon.
Caryn Hartglass: Adam, thanks for joining me on It’s All About Food. I love this book. Did I say that? I really did, and hope that everybody reads it. It’s a great one. Okay, I’m Caryn Hartglass, you’re listening to It’s All About Food, of course, and we will be right back with Jill Eckhart from PCRM., Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine. Stay Tuned.
Transcribed by Steven Lee-Kramer, 2/11/2013
TRANSCRIPTION PART II:
Hello there, I’m back. I’m Caryn Hartglass. You’re listening to It’s All About Food. Here we are, it’s January 29th, 2013. When I was walking up to the studio today, this one young man came up to me and he started talking and saying, “Do you like children?” He was obviously trying to fundraise for some children’s organization and my first question back to him was, “Are you a vegan?” I usually do this to people who are trying to solicit for different organizations. Most of them are really doing great work but my point asking back, “Are you a vegan?” is I personally think that when we’re eating a plant-based diet, we’re doing probably the best thing that we can do for health, environment, and treating all living things on earth with kindness and compassion. I think it’s like a giant step to improving so many different things whereas all these other causes out there, they’re really important but when they make a difference they’re taking little steps. Going vegan, eating vegan, living a vegan lifestyle is a giant step towards making this world a better place. Right? Right. And you know what? It’s fun and it’s delicious. And that’s what we’re going to be talking about right now with Jill Eckart from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. She’s the nutrition program manager there. If you don’t know about the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, you should. They are a Washington, DC-based nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting preventative medicine, especially better nutrition and higher standards in research. Welcome to It’s All About Food, Jill!
Jill Eckart: Thank you. Glad to be here.
Caryn Hartglass: Hi. OK, let’s see. What are we going to get started talking about today? Do you want to tell us about the next 21-Day Kickstart that’s happening?
Jill Eckart: Sure, I would love to. Our 21-Day Kickstart, for those of you who are just hearing about this program for the first time, is a three-week test drive of a vegan diet. We have everything you’d ever need: all the support you’d ever need, all the videos, recipes. You name it, we have it in this free, three-week program. The next one launches on February 1st. What’s new and different is that we’re running these programs monthly. So on the first of every month you can now find a Kickstart. So if you talk to people who want to try out a vegan diet or who just want to dabble a little bit until they’re ready to take it on 100%, this is the place to go. It’s 21daykickstart.org.
Caryn Hartglass: The numbers “21” daykickstart.org.
Jill Eckart: That’s right.
Caryn Hartglass: And you just register and you’re in?
Jill Eckart: Yeah, you register. We’re accepting registrations now for February 1st. You register, you get a confirmation, and then we get you started before February 1st. So we give you a shopping list, some ideas for how to clear out your pantry and get yourself ready for three weeks of eating vegan and getting healthy. So you’ll have everything you need to really give it 100% starting on February 1.
Caryn Hartglass: That sounds pretty good.
Jill Eckart: Yeah. And you get an e-mail each day and then you can play around on the site. I mentioned that we have a three-week menu; we have video recipes; we have nutrition videos; we have a community forum where people can come on and kind of talk to one another and find out where people are coming from, put their questions out there, put their challenges out there. It’s a really dynamic site and a lot of fun.
Caryn Hartglass: What have been some of the challenges that people talk about during this time?
Jill Eckart: Some people who are doing this maybe on their own maybe don’t have the family support at the moment. Some people want to learn how to manage that. Do they cook for themselves only and cook meat and dairy products for the rest of the family during this process? Just trying to navigate that. That seems to be a big one. Some other people just have trouble with certain types of foods that they’re so used to that many of us, myself included, grew up eating: lots of meat and dairy. When you’re just starting out, you may miss some of the tastes and textures, so some people try to navigate that. So, “What should I use instead of cheese?” or “How to build flavor.” Things like that.
Caryn Hartglass: The nice thing is that a lot of us have been doing this for a really, really, really long time―longer than probably some of us want to mention, but decades. Fortunately, the commercial world has responded and has made it a lot easier. So for people that are really getting into this now, the recipes are out there: they’re delicious, they’re easy, they can be sophisticated if you want them to be, or not. There are lots of transition foods and things to get you to where you want to be. There’s really no reason not to do it.
Jill Eckart: Yeah. It really can be fun. When I made this transition almost eight years ago now I just had so much fun trying new things. I hadn’t even had half the vegetables that I eat now. I had never been exposed to them before. So this is really an eye-opening experience for me. That can be overwhelming to some people but it was a really exciting challenge to me that, like you said, is so much easier now―easier than it’s ever been.
Caryn Hartglass: You know, we say variety is the spice of life and I really believe that. It’s really nice to have a variety with our food and yet most people are eating the same things all the time. Some of that is somewhat forced upon us because the industries that provide our food have really limited the choices because they want to mono-crop, they want to make things easier for themselves so they make a lot of the same things. We’ve lost a lot of the diversity in our fruits and vegetables. But most people are eating a very simple “just meat and potatoes” kind of diet. Even though there’s less diversity when you go to eating plant foods, there is so much more variety than if you’re focusing on animal foods.
Jill Eckart: Absolutely.
Caryn Hartglass: It really is incredible. I was just talking to someone in the first segment about fruits and if you go all around the world, there are just hundreds of thousands of fruits that you’ve never experienced. But even just in the supermarket today, I like to tell people just every week or so pick up something you’ve never bought before and find out about it and try it.
Jill Eckart: Yeah. And tucked in the produce section―the fruit and produce section―of every grocery store is a hidden little book. It’s usually on a stand and you flip through it and you can look at the dozens and dozens of varieties of apples and the dozens of varieties of all the fruits and vegetables. And if you have a recipe that is new to you and you don’t know what ginger looks like for instance or if you don’t know what jicama looks like, you can look through this book and get familiar with it. It really is hidden in every produce section but it is fun to experiment and try new things.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. I’m always buying greens in the produce section. I’m big with kale and chard and collards. I’ll be happily putting my greens in the bag and somebody will come up and say, “What do you do with that?” I love that.
Jill Eckart: Yeah. There are always teaching moments in the grocery store for sure.
Caryn Hartglass: Now what was it for you? You said you became vegan eight years ago. Why did you do that?
Jill Eckart: Well, I met a vegan and I did not know what that meant.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, an alien from the Planet Vegan. “I am vegan.”
Jill Eckart: I knew it meant that this person only ate x, y, and z but I didn’t really know more than that. And I read Diet for a New America. I was in the profession of helping people. I was in the profession of helping people get their life back together―from being on the street, things like that, people who were homeless. So I had a heart for helping people going into this and then learning about a vegan diet and what it can do for your health and by reading Diet for a New America you learn about what it can do for everything: the environment, animals, what the meat and dairy industry is up to. So for all of those things that I read in the book I just was totally sold. I had the support at home and I just did it. I haven’t looked back; it’s been an exciting journey.
Caryn Hartglass: What’s amazing is that book, Diet for a New America, is 25 years old. It was written in 1987.
Jill Eckart: It’s fascinating.
Caryn Hartglass: And a lot of it is still true, if not more so.
Jill Eckart: Absolutely.
Caryn Hartglass: So we have the Superbowl coming up in a few days. I have to confess that I’m not a sports fan but I am a food fan. Any kind of food, any kind of holiday or opportunity to celebrate food, sounds good to me.
Jill Eckart: Absolutely. This is a great opportunity to introduce people who aren’t eating a plant-based diet or a vegan diet to some healthy, delicious foods.
Caryn Hartglass: You sent me a bunch of recipes and I thought we might talk about some of them because they look pretty good and fun. OK, so when people are sitting around watching sports, they’re typically consuming what, a lot of chips and dips and beer and ribs on the couch?
Jill Eckart: Finger foods. Some people are really into the games and they’re stressed out and they’re really attached to who’s going to win. So you want things people can nibble on quickly―nothing that’s going to take them away from the TV too long to assemble―so really easy things. We have a wonderful recipe for guacamole. We call it Mockamole because it’s a low-fat guacamole. It’s really delicious. We’re pulling out some of the avocado, which makes guacamole traditionally quite high in fat, and we’re subbing in some peas, green peas. So we’re bringing down the fat, bringing up the fiber, and it’s a really, really delicious dish.
Caryn Hartglass: So you can eat a lot more of it.
Jill Eckart: Indeed.
Caryn Hartglass: But then the fiber will fill you up so you don’t want to eat anymore.
Jill Eckart: That’s the best thing about eating a plant-based diet is you get full faster because you’re eating lots and lots of fiber, which is so crucial for your health.
Caryn Hartglass: Now another recipe I notice, and I was amused because we just posted the same recipe on our website yesterday―responsibleeatingandliving.com, that’s my nonprofit website―and we do this all the time and that is make our own corn chips. Did you know that today is National Corn Chip Day?
Jill Eckart: I had no idea.
Caryn Hartglass: So yesterday we posted this corn chip recipe and it’s the exact same recipe that you have where you take corn tortillas and you cut them up and you basically toast them in the oven. This is a genius recipe. I’m so glad that you have it too. What’s great about it is number 1, your tortilla chips taste fresh and warm and they’re not full of oil. The kind of tortillas I get are salt-free. They are the best kind that you can get.
Jill Eckart: These are really good. I love to throw a little bit of chili powder on there just to do something a little bit different. One thing that I love about this recipe is that it’s much cheaper than buying a bag of corn chips. So I like that too, that this is a very economical choice.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. I didn’t think about that. But you have to be careful because you have to read the ingredients on the tortillas that you’re buying. Not all tortillas are the same. Some are better than others. In some corn tortillas they use all kinds of crazy ingredients like cellulose from wood pulp, and although that’s nice fiber, I really prefer my tortillas just to have corn in them and not much else.
Jill Eckart: I think that’s a really good point you’re making. Actually one time I was taking a group of people on a grocery store tour and we were going through the tortillas. They aren’t all created equal. In fact, we found a bag of tortillas that had fish oil added in them.
Caryn Hartglass: Woah!
Jill Eckart: And while it’s very easy to find some that don’t, someone in the group had an allergy to fish and she wouldn’t even have thought to try to be aware of that. It’s really important to get used to reading labels.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, I was surprised once―and I haven’t bought a bag of chips in a very, very, very, very, underlined very long time―I did buy some blue corn chips that were out there that actually had I think whey protein or some kind of dairy product in them, which was very disturbing because when you’re a vegan and you don’t want to eat dairy or some people have issues with dairy, to have that secretly buried in a harmless-looking corn chip was very disturbing. So you have to really read the ingredients.
Jill Eckart: Yeah, definitely. And this low-fat guacamole and the oven-baked tortilla chips we’ve served this time and time again to so many different groups here at PCRM when we’re doing cooking demonstrations and going downtown to employers and doing lunch-and-learns, people just love this recipe. They love the low-fat guacamole. So it’s a good one.
Caryn Hartglass: And Black Bean dip, your recipe, how much easier can that get?
Jill Eckart: This is really Cooking for Dummies 101.
Caryn Hartglass: Or, you know what? It’s Cooking for Smarties.
Jill Eckart: Exactly.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s easy but you have to be smart to figure out that this is good for you and delicious.
Jill Eckart: Yes. Indeed. It’s literally a can of black beans. I like to get the best black beans I can, so it depends what store you’re shopping at. If you can get a low-sodium version, give it a good rinse, and add that to a cup of salsa and a half teaspoon of cumin and blend it up either in your food processor or your blender and that’s it. It’s so good.
Caryn Hartglass: And very inexpensive.
Jill Eckart: Definitely. You’re talking about less than $2 to serve five or seven people finger foods.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. Let’s see. Anything else good in that list of recipes you sent me?
Jill Eckart: Well, one other finger food―fun thing―is air-popped popcorn. So easy to make and people think it’s kind of plain but there are some ways you can really spice it up. Some of my favorites are smoked paprika which is really delicious, curry powder, or nutritional yeast which tastes a little cheesy and adds a nice flavor to it. I love having air-popped popcorn.
Caryn Hartglass: You know, people are really into convenience. I have a different view on convenience and what’s easy and what isn’t. But I really don’t understand buying popcorn in a big plastic bag. There’s nothing fun about that. I could understand going to the movies and buying a bag of popcorn because at least at the movie theaters they pop it fresh. The thing about popcorn is you want it popped―fresh. An air-popper is just a great thing to have. It’s inexpensive, it’s easy, it’s fun. And your popcorn is fresh and lovely and warm, and a great mouth feel, and you just mix it up with different flavorings. It’s fabulous.
Jill Eckart: Yeah, definitely. And something fun if you’re anticipating a big group of people is you can bag it up in advance and have different flavors and just let people pick. It’s a great thing for people, like a party favor too. So there are a lot of fun things you can do with popcorn. It’s so cheap to make.
Caryn Hartglass: I was at an event recently with a lot of presentations by the staff of PCRM. It was such an impressive event. There are really so many wonderful things going on at PCRM. One of the things I was really impressed with was the 21-Day Kickstart now is in several different languages.
Jill Eckart: Yeah, it’s really exciting. We’ve expanded now to have a totally Mandarin program and we take it even a step further so it’s not just in Mandarin but it’s in Traditional and Simplified characters. That’s been really exciting. We’ve garnered about almost 10,000 people participating in the few of the launches we’ve done. We also have a program in Spanish, which launches again February 1st, so if anyone knows anyone who would like to participate in a totally Spanish-language program with culturally specific menus, that runs on February 1st.
Caryn Hartglass: Now is that also a 21-Day Kickstart? The same website you can choose the language that you want?
Jill Eckart: That’s right.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, that’s really spectacular because I’ve been preaching the plant-based food thing for a very long time and the Spanish-language support for plant-based foods is really pretty limited. It’s great that you have that.
Jill Eckart: Yeah, it’s a really exciting program to offer. We’ve gotten a lot of people very interested in it.
Caryn Hartglass: Can you talk about…I don’t know if you’re very familiar with it…but you have this Food for Life program and I was just curious if you could talk a little bit about that?
Jill Eckart: Sure. The Food for Life program is set up in a way that we have people who are interested in teaching about a plant-based diet come and train with us and they learn our curriculum. They learn how to market themselves and how to teach people to follow a vegan diet. So people come and train with us and then they go back and train in their community. We have trainings at least twice a year. We have one coming up in June. I’m glad you asked because we are actually accepting applications right now for people who are interested in becoming instructors. We have five different curriculum so you can teach cancer prevention and survival, you can teach a curriculum on diabetes, a curriculum for kids, a general weight-loss curriculum. So we have a lot of options for people. We also have an Employee Wellness Program that launched with the Food for Life program as well. It’s a really fun way to make a little bit of money and really have your passion line up with what you’re doing every day.
Caryn Hartglass: That sounds good. We’re going to talk about that program in February when we have another PCRM person, Joseph Gonzales, is going to give us more information on that whole Food for Life thing so I just wanted to give a little preview to that. So we just have four or five minutes left. I wanted to get maybe a little bit more into detail on the 21-Day Kickstart. So people can go to the website you have. What are some of the specific things in the videos that people might learn? I’m always saying, “Get back into your kitchens; find your kitchen.” Because people are afraid to prepare their own food.
Jill Eckart: Yeah. So some of the videos…we try to take people from really the very beginning: how do you substitute in for eggs, what are we going to use instead of dairy, so very basic things like that. Then we build upon that. We help people learn…maybe they’ve noticed after a few days that “Geez, why isn’t there any olive oil in any of these recipes?” or “Why is this such a low-fat program? I didn’t know that, that this program was going to be low-fat.” So we tell them about the benefits of eating a low-fat diet and what that can do to prevent cancer risk, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. Then we take them to complete nutrition. How are you going to be getting your calcium? What about B12? Things like that. What about iron? We had a video on that. We talk a little bit about the glycemic index, which might be new to a lot of people, especially people who aren’t concerned about blood sugar or maybe don’t have diabetes. Then we have some cooking demonstrations that I do and some of our other Food for Life instructors are doing to help people get a little bit more familiar with putting together some of these recipes. I always find that if I see someone doing it, it makes it so much easier for me to do it in my own kitchen.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, the thing is that most media―mainstream media―today is very confusing and little soundbites come out on the news and people get all excited about it. That’s how we can get “educated” about nutrition. Then there are these buzzwords: protein, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids. People have no idea what they are. I don’t think people do need to know what they are if they’re eating whole plant foods and they’re buying and using most of the food from the produce sections―a vast array of colors―they’re probably going to be doing pretty well. But in this world of lots of information, I think people will feel more comfortable if they have basic information to support moving and changing the diet to let them know that they’re doing the right thing.
Jill Eckart: Absolutely. I think that’s perfectly stated. We recommend our Power Plate but really it’s just eating from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans and legumes. We do tell people, “Don’t worry about the specifics of how much protein you’re getting or how much this and that. Just eat as much as you want of these groups. Get plenty of color and get plenty of variety. And if you’re eating enough calories, you’ll be getting what you need.” So I think that’s perfectly said. I think people do over think it. But it is helpful to have the supporting information so we have all that they want and more. So if people really want to get into it and learn the nitty gritty, they can do that too.
Caryn Hartglass: I just wanted to repeat one thing you said: “Eat as much as you want from certain food groups.” I mean how liberating is that to eat as much as you want? But you can with plant foods. Jill, thank you so much for joining me on It’s All About Food and I look forward to having you back in March when we’re going to talk about some processed meats and how wonderful―or not―they are. I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. Join me at responsibleeatingandliving.com. That’s my website. And have a delicious week.
Transcribed by Jennie Steinhagen, 02/10/13