Part I: Joshua Katcher, The Discerning Brute
Joshua Katcher is an adjunct professor at Parsons The New School for Design and has taught Sustainable Fashion at the Laboratory Institute of Merchandising. He is currently writing his first book, Fashion & Animals, and has lectured on that topic at Princeton, The American University of Paris, Parsons, Brown, UPenn, and FIT among others. Katcher started the men’s ethical lifestyle website, The Discerning Brute in 2008 and launched the Brave GentleMan label and eCommerce platform in 2010.
Part II: Hallie Rich, alternaVites
Hallie Rich is the founder & CEO of alternaVite the first quick-dissolving multivitamin for adults who can’t swallow pills. After the success of alternaVites for adults, Hallie launched alternaVites Kids, the all-natural alternative to sugary gummy vitamins that stick to kids teeth (Pediatric dentists highly recommend alternaVites). Recently, Hallie lobbied on Capitol Hill with the Natural Products Association – she can speak on that experience. She has a new book coming out in 2016 called, “Should I Scoop Out My Bagel?” – Gives no holds-barred answers to the questions that keep every modern woman wondering why her weight is high, her libido is low, and her mind is scattered.
TRANSCRIPTION PART I:
Caryn Hartglass: Hi everybody, I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. How are you today? I’m glad to be back. I missed last Tuesday because I was planning my big event and I’ll tell you about one more time. I know I talked about it quite a bit but now that it’s over, I want to tell you how great it was. So we had the Happy B’Eathday Reveu last week on Earth Day, yes, it was my birthday, I know you know. It was really a lovely, lovely celebration of all good things about food, even though I did get to share some not so nice stories about food but the bottom line is, we had the answers for a healthy, delicious, sustainable world if we can all move towards eating plants, plants that are grown free from toxic residues, pesticides and herbicides. But you know what, the answers are there, it’s not rocket science. We have the answers but the action, we all need to take action and this is where you come in. We all need to do our part and we all need to do something. The first step I believe in is eating a plant based diet because not only is it nutritious and delicious, it’s fun and it’s easy! I think it’s easy and I try and help other people see how really easy it is when you stop resisting. I’m part of the Food Revolution Summit this week which is so empowering and it’s also exhausting because it’s 3 hours every day. I don’t know how many of you are taking part in this but if you go to www.responsibleeatingandliving.com and scroll down a bit to the Food Revolution Summit, it’s going on April 25th to May 3rd so we’re half way through. There are 3 experts that are interviewed every day by John Robbins and then his son, Ocean Robbins, gives really lovely commentary and sums everything up. And I participated giving the recipe and tip for the day, helping people along in their plant-strong food journey. I’m so inspired by this event because there are like 150,000 people that have signed up and are listening and that is inspiring to know that so many people are taking the time to learn. In the forum for this event, I am continually surprised and amazed but also happy. I read all these people who are stunned to find out all of the things that we already know about but they’re stunned to find out what’s going on with our food system and they want to make a difference and help so this is really exciting. We’ve been talking about genetically modified food and the politics of food and the exploitation of animals and people when it comes to food and then of course nutrition. There are so many things that are being covered in such a short amount of time so I want you to check that out when you have a chance. So let’s bring on our first guest for today, shall we? Joshua Katcher, the Discerning Brute, is an adjunct professor at Parsons the New School for Design and has taught sustainable fashion at the Laboratory Institute of Merchandising. He’s currently writing his first book, Fashion & Animals, and has lectured on that topic at Princeton, The American University of Paris, Parsons, Brown, UPenn and FIT among others. Katcher started the men’s ethical lifestyle website The Discerning Brute (www.thediscerningbrute.com) in 2008 and launched the Brave GentleMan label and eCommerce platform in 2010. Joshua, how are you today?
Joshua Katcher: Great. Thank you so much for having me on the air.
Caryn Hartglass: You’re very welcome. People may not realize it but I talk about food all the time and there’s so many crazy things going on with food, the exploitation, the poisoning of the food, the poisoning of our planet, the cruelty to animals and I’m out of breath listing all the horrible things that are going on with our food today.
Joshua Katcher: I know.
Caryn Hartglass: But when we allow what’s going on with our food system to occur and allow animals to be exploited, it’s that much easier to allow the same exploitation to go on with our clothing.
Joshua Katcher: You know, it is a parallel industry and what a lot of people don’t realize is that the fashion industry has global implications, the same way that the food industry does.
Caryn Hartglass: Yup.
Joshua Katcher: The fashion industry has a very interesting way of being able to be perceived as benign or frivolous or harmless. We look at clothes and we see it as just something fun to do. Go find a deal and pick out a nice outfit but the thing that we don’t see about fashion is that it is a global industrial complex where it affects millions and millions of workers, billions of animals and ecosystems everywhere. It’s considered one of the top polluters in the world and one of the top causes of waste when it comes to textile waste. When you look at and when you combine the issue that affects workers, the issues that affect animals and the issues that affect the environment, you’re talking about a really serious, serious industry.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes. So what do we do about it Joshua? Are you here to save the day?
Joshua Katcher: Well I would like to, that would be fun.
Caryn Hartglass: Put on a cape, a fashionable cape.
Joshua Katcher: An ethically made cape. You know, there are a lot of small independent designers that are popping up everywhere that are really going against the grain and they’re pushing back against this fast fashion system. And when I say fast fashion, it’s similar to how we look at fast food. It’s a very similar concept. It’s really cheap, high volume production to make the greatest amount of profits for the industry and the minimal amount of expense and considerations provided to those that are wrapped up in the production process. Just the other day was a new holiday that we started celebrating just a couple years ago called Fashion Revolution Day and this year, Fashion Revolution Day asked everyone to consider the question: who made my clothes? And that’s a really important question to ask and I like to contribute to that and say it’s equally important to say of whom are my clothes made, in addition to who made my clothes? So animals are turned into fashion objects and they’re hidden behind this industry where we don’t see how they’re processed. We do see how they are processed and for most people, it goes against the values that all of us already share.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s a very interesting world we live in and I know that many of us fall into this lifestyle where we want a deal, we want a bargain and it’s so tempting because you can walk into just about any store and everything is on sale and there are some things that are incredibly inexpensive. You want it. It looks good.
Joshua Katcher: And that’s the dangerous thing about fashion. It’s similar to food where we want it to taste good and we don’t want to think about how it’s made. That’s what I call esthetic irrationality where because something is pretty or because something is yummy, that makes it a good and not a bad. Even though the way it is made might be considered a bad but that’s hidden under layers of marketing and very expensive advertising. That’s the thing that the manufactures don’t want you to think about. It creates fantasies for us and to believe in those fantasies are the fashion ads that we see, the runway shows and all the glitter and glamour that surrounds the fashion industry. And the parallel to that is what we see happening in the food industry with happy meat, organic meat and all of these attempts to green wash and white wash things that might otherwise be seen as horrible.
Caryn Hartglass: All right, let’s just talk about people for a moment. Let’s get to the animal story in a moment but we hear occasionally about some nightmare that occurs in a non-western country where people are locked in a building or crammed in a building and they’re treated really poorly. They’re paid next to nothing and they are just like slave labor and then some disaster happens. There’s a fire where everybody dies or they can’t get out. But these things are going on all the time today. It’s not a random experience. A lot of our clothing today is made by like serfs, feudal labor almost.
Joshua Katcher: It is and the problem isn’t getting better, it’s getting worse and that’s what a lot of people don’t realize is that we think that sweat shops were a big issue in the ‘90s and we somehow worked it out. No. What’s happening is the companies are being much more quick with their responses about let’s say that we are addressing these issues or let’s say that we’re making our policies more safe for workers and that we’re going to have more oversight. But really, it’s just happening more and more frequently. And if anybody watches John Oliver on HBO, I think it was just either last night or the night before, he did a whole segment on this very issue. It’s really – he uses comedy to address this and if you just Google “John Oliver sweat shop” it’ll pop up and it’s really worth watching because what he does is shows the history of how frequently this happens that there’s a tragedy in a factory, a bunch of people die or they discover that it’s a bunch of 12 year olds working 14 hour days and being paid nothing and they can’t even buy the equivalent of a meal for their family with a day’s salary. It is slavery, it isn’t like slavery.
Caryn Hartglass: No, it is.
Joshua Katcher: This is not getting better so this has a lot to do with our desire for cheap clothes, our desire and entitlement to feeling like we deserve a $10 t-shirt. It seems though that we are willing to pay a little bit more for organic food now and we should be willing to pay a little bit more for fair labor and fashion, and also for ethically made fashion that doesn’t use and harm animals. Animals are even more exploited in the fashion industry than laborers are because the laborers can at least attempt to organize, they can at least talk to each other and try to fight for their rights and protests. They often get crushed in their protests but at least they are able to do that. The animals aren’t even considered valid beings, their just seen as units of production. Their needs are very, very rarely met. Who speaks on behalf of them? If we let the industry speak on behalf of the animals, of course they’re going to tell us that the conditions are fine, their happy and their well taken care of and it’s just a haircut. That’s what we always hear from the wool industry, it’s just a haircut.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh god. I remember when I first read about wool production, I got some little book and it’s horrifying to read what goes on to sheep for their wool.
Joshua Katcher: It is something that most people don’t think about and have no idea about. It’s something that the sustainable fashion industry likes to claim as sustainable, that wool is this product that is considered biodegradable and natural and we hear all these lovely key words and then we look at the actual numbers and we look at how the sheep, the livestock themselves, impact the environment. We know that livestock are the number one cause of the worst environmental problems. That means sheep. There’s a billion sheep on the planet, a billion. That’s one for every six people. When you consider the amount of resources that need to go into raising that number of sheep, the amount of land use, the amount of drinking water and the amount of chemicals to process the wool, and it’s a high volume, high turnover industry where the shearers are expected that they are paid by volume, many of them in America and Australia. These are prey animals. Sheep are prey animals and they don’t like to be pinned down so they resist and they fight and in undercover investigations, you can see these undercover investigations if you just search wool exposed or wool investigation. They resist, they don’t want to be pinned down and then these workers who have to shear a thousand sheep a day get frustrated and they end up beating these animals over the head with their shear blades and they get cut. It’s just a nightmare. It isn’t just a friendly haircut and it’s terrible for the environment. So that’s a big problem with wool.
Caryn Hartglass: And then I’ve read how destructive they are on the terrain, specifically in Australia and when the animals are spent, just like in the food industry, then they’re liked shipped over to the middle east to be slaughtered as meat.
Joshua Katcher: Yes. So when you look at the area of the area like New Zealand and Australia which is one of the leaders in the production of wool, their number one source of green house gas emissions is sheep.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow.
Joshua Katcher: The industry really doesn’t want people to know about that and they’ve just in the last several months have paid for studies to try and show that wool is eco-friendly because it didn’t get very positive results when they had their life cycle assessment looked at. So they’re doing a little bit of back cuddling and trying to figure out how to repackage wool as environmentally friendly again because it’s not. But if you look at the hair by itself, detached from the animal, then yes, it’s a great product, but can we have wool without the animal? And that’s a question that we’re actually asking right now, that science is asking, that we are able to answer. The answer is soon, yes, we will be able to have wool and fur and we already have leather without the animal attached. And there is a lot of really exciting things happening in the realm of biotechnology that is going to enable us to remove animals from the production equation.
Caryn Hartglass: Well I have to say that I never thought about the green house gas emissions from sheep so thank you for bringing that up. I never connected the dots. That’s genius and just one more thing to be upset about.
Joshua Katcher: But regarding your question or point about the land, yes, land erosion from sheep grazing is a big problem and what they tried to do for a while was confine the sheep in the same way they do to pigs on these high confinement gestation crate style operations. They tested that out and it didn’t work out very well and so they stopped doing that. They realized that it’s a problem and whenever there’s a lot of money at stake, you are going to see the industries doing anything and everything that they can to find a different way to make it work or just to green wash and deny, deny, deny until they absolutely can’t anymore.
Caryn Hartglass: This green washing is really important to pay attention to so people may not realize there are companies that want to appear that they are with it and doing good things for the environment. They make all kinds of claims and some of them are misleading and some of them false. They appear green but they’re really not.
Joshua Katcher: It’s a really big problem and it’s confusing and it’s disheartening for citizens to have to try to decipher whether a business is being honest or not. And the lesson that we learn again and again is that if an industry claims it’s environmentally friendly, you should be suspicious and you should look into and find out, are they really environmentally friendly? Are they really ethically? What is at stake for them and why are they making this claim? Those are really important questions to ask because if an industry that’s a traditional industry or huge corporation, often times, it’s just marketing.
Caryn Hartglass: Now let’s talk about sustainable fashion. Is there a sustainable fashion organization or a certification? What does that all mean?
Joshua Katcher: The concept of sustainable fashion in itself is not regulated, per say. There are regulations that exist in different countries regarding whether you can label something organic or whether you can label something made in a certain country, but no, it’s a de-regulated concept. It’s really up to the companies to proclaim to themselves whether they are ethical, whether they are sustainable. Under the sustainable fashion umbrella, you have all these different concerns, the labor concerns. So a company that takes pride in being all made in the U.S. or being all made under fair labor conditions could be considered under the umbrella of sustainable fashion or a company that has all organic fancy fabrics like linen or organic cotton or recycled cotton; any sort of recycled material are under the umbrella of sustainable fashion. There’s no oversight and one of the reasons for this lack of oversight is because most people think the politicians don’t see fashion as being an important thing. That first point that I made that fashion is seen as this frivolous thing that permeates every area of our society that the people empower also sees fashion as a frivolous thing. The people, who don’t see fashion as a frivolous thing, are the people who are making a ton of money and some of the world’s most wealthy people are the heads of these fashion companies. The head of Zara is I think the fourth wealthiest person in the world and Zara is a fashion company like H&M and Forever 21, these companies are the ones you can go in and buy a $5 t-shirt and then it falls apart and then you go and buy ten more within a week. These companies are making a killing and that pun is intended.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes. I’m sure politicians know about them because they know where the money is and they want to support the folks that are going to give them big campaign contributions.
Joshua Katcher: Right. One of the fashion editors of the New York Times made a really interesting point when she said that sometimes the people she interviews say they never think about fashion and she responded by saying this is something that you should think about because it isn’t just about your clothing choices, it’s about manipulating people into how they perceive you. So there’s this whole other side of fashion where it isn’t just about the physicality and the materiality of it, it’s also about the sociology of fashion and the symbolism and the power that can be aimed through appearing a certain way and to utilize fashion to become who you want to be perceived as, and that makes it an even more complicated topic.
Caryn Hartglass: Absolutely and that’s what makes marketing so evil. They are screwing up the minds of so many young people and so many young women today have all kinds of image issues and it’s spilling over to the young men. You’re not fat enough, you’re not thin enough, your butt’s not big enough or small enough or whatever. It’s a problem, a big problem.
Joshua Katcher: It is and we were just talking about that in my class this morning. I teach at Parsons as you said and we have a whole section in our fashion class about creating unachievable standards through advertising and marketing where even the models that they hire, you never see the real models. These models are retouched in Photoshop and they’re made to be perfect and there is no such thing as a perfect human being. Human beings come in all shapes and sizes, and in all colors. You don’t often see people who see themselves reflected in the fashion industry and we’ve seen a lot more recently with curvier models and models with more diversity on the runway and even models that are in wheelchairs. It’s much more inclusive but there’s still so much to change and so much more to do in that realm.
Caryn Hartglass: Now women have a much greater variety and selection of clothing, especially when it comes to cruelty free options, things that don’t use animal products, no wool, no silk and no leather. Men have more of a challenge. Where does the Discerning Brute go?
Joshua Katcher: Men have a twofold challenge because most mainstream men are a little bit – I mean it’s been better in recent years but shopping for fashion is perceived as a feminine thing. We live in a sort of macho culture, a patriarchal culture, and guys don’t really want to identify as fashion consumers. So a lot of them claim to just not be interested in fashion but we all participate in fashion. If you close your eyes and pick up a t-shirt off your floor and you pick up a pair of jeans that you’ve worn everyday for a month and put them on, you’re still making a fashion decision. You’re still participating in the fashion system. You’re inescapable. Even if you’re a nudist, you’re still making a fashion decision.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s a choice.
Joshua Katcher: But guys have a problem. There isn’t very much offered by way of men’s wear that is ethically made and that’s why I started the Discerning Brute in 2008 to address that void and to start addressing men in a similar way that GQ or Esquire or Details magazine appeals to men. I wanted to appeal to men in this way but also make them feel comfortable talking about issues we care about and that it’s okay to talk about sustainable men’s wear and its okay to talk about ethical men’s wear and to see a hero and a protector and a defender of workers and animals in the environment. This can be a masculine thing. I wanted to create that space and hope that men who are looking for fashion would find the Discerning Brute and be turned onto issues that they wouldn’t have sought out otherwise.
Caryn Hartglass: I think more men are getting into fashion these days. There’s all kinds of things that have been going on like the entertainment world that has spilled over into everyday lives. More men are wearing creams, lotions, and makeup and hair products. The fashion seems to be getting a little bit more interesting and adventurous for men, which is nice. I have some questions that I don’t know if you have the answers for them but you can find, for example, for a man who wears suits, either occasionally or regularly, you can find summer suit cottons and linens that are quite lovely. But when it comes to winter time and you need a suit to wear – for example, we went to a funeral a month ago and we didn’t even know it but it was outdoors and we froze. My partner Gary was in a suit and it was a thin suit because he doesn’t have a heavy winter vegan suit.
Joshua Katcher: Yes, well my brand Brave GentleMan, we make those and I think we’re the only brand on planet Earth that specifically makes autumn-winter vegan sustainable, fairly-made men’s suits.
Caryn Hartglass: What are they made out of?
Joshua Katcher: We use a variety of materials and one of the most exciting materials that we’re using right now is a blend of recycled cotton and recycled poly and it has a beautiful wool-like hand feel and it’s a gorgeous tweed. And actually, in the factory that I work with in New Your City right now, I’m working on a new collection that’s going to be ready in probably about a month for this coming autumn-winter season. It’s really impressive the tactile technology that we’re looking at right now. The technology to recycle fibers that would otherwise have ended up in the landfill or to engineer plant-based biodegradable bio plastics and polyesters that are made from recycled water bottles or any number of new technologies. The exciting thing about technology is that it’s always getting more refined, it’s always getting greener and it’s always getting more efficient. And when you compare that to an animal model, like having animals on a farm, that really can’t change that much, there’s only so much you can do to modify a living being. You can confine them and you can modify what you’re feeding them but ultimately the industries that rely on animal bodies to produce fibers are really inefficient and it’s just a bad design. When you look at it from a design standpoint, it’s incredibly energy inefficient and it’s incredibly slow and it’s really messy. These new textile technologies – I like to call the material that I use future wool. We have future wool and future leather and future fur and we have all these materials that are superior to their animal based counterparts. But we’re up against industries that are very well funded that don’t want to be competed with any other industries. I hope that my suits and my collaboration I have with Novacas that these looks get out there and not just to people who are looking for the vegan suit but it should appeal to anybody who likes good menswear.
Caryn Hartglass: Well what seems to succeed in our capitalist society is an idea that attracts investors who think they’re going to get a good return on their money so we have companies like Hampton Creek Foods that are replacing chickens to make eggs with plant-based eggs and we have Beyond Meat where they’re replacing the animal to make plant-based meats and investors are really excited about this. So you need to come up with a product that investors would like to invest in.
Joshua Katcher: We’re working on it.
Caryn Hartglass: I bet you are. Now I heard about a fabric made from the green leaves from pineapple plants.
Joshua Katcher: Yes.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s exciting.
Joshua Katcher: It’s called piña text and the women who spearheaded piña text, she used to be a leather industry executive and she realized that leather was incredibly harmful to the environment. The tanning process it completely toxic. But even before you get to the tanning process, you’re already starting with the industry that is the number one cause of the world’s worst environmental problem. So you can’t have sustainable leather and you can’t have vegetable tanned leather as they like to call it in this green washed version of leather because the tanning project is just piling on even more harmful effect to an already problematic livestock based industry. When we think about leather, we can’t think byproduct, we have to think whole product because looking at leather as a byproduct is really damaging to the idea that when they tell us they are just making use of something that would otherwise be thrown away, this is not at all the truth. If it wasn’t for the leather industry, a lot of these companies would go out of business. They rely on the money that they make from leather as one of their primary economic investments. So without leather, these industries wouldn’t be able to make their ends meet.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay I have one more question about some of these synthetic materials. A lot of times when I buy something that’s polyester, there’s a lot of static cling. Are some of the newer ones solving that problem?
Joshua Katcher: Solving the problem of static cling?
Caryn Hartglass: Yes.
Joshua Katcher: That’s not something I looked into.
Caryn Hartglass: Put it on your list Joshua.
Joshua Katcher: I’ll put in on the list; solving static cling. I think if we just demagnetized the earth, we’ll be okay.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, well that may lead to some other problems.
Joshua Katcher: I’m just kidding.
Caryn Hartglass: Well Joshua, it was great talking to you today and there’s a lot more that I think that I need to learn from you so we’ll have to pick up this conversation another time.
Caryn Hartglass: The Discerning Brute or Brave GentleMan, which you are Joshua Katcher. Thanks for joining me again, take care.
Joshua Katcher: Thank you so much, bye-bye.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay bye. All right, let’s take a quick break and we’ll be back to talk about vitamins.
Transcribed by Stefan Pavlović, 6/9/2015
TRANSCRIPTION PART II:
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, everybody—we’re back. I’m Caryn Hartglass, and this is the second part of It’s All About Food. And before I bring on my next guest, I wanted to just sum up a little bit more about our recent fundraising event, The Happy B’Earthday Revue. We had some really great sponsors at this event, and one I wanted to bring up is Vaute Couture, which is a vegan fashion company, and they offered a vegan version of wool for this lovely little felt pencil skirt. It was really adorable, and we had one of those to give away in one of our silent-auction boxes. And the Catskill Animal Sanctuary, which is really a lovely, lovely sanctuary—they offered a stay in their homestead, which is a lovely bed and breakfast, and if you ever want to get a gift for someone, this is a great gift because they get to go and stay in a beautiful place in a lovely atmosphere, and then if you want for them to learn a little bit more about what’s going on with animals, then they can just take a little trip over to Farm Sanctuary, and in a loving, nonjudgmental, beautiful way, they can learn about some of the terrible things that are going on in the world, and it might just change their lives.
And we had some really wonderful things in our gift bag, including coupons for Tofurky and Gardein—all these plant-based meat alternatives. MayWah gave some of their product; they were really very generous. They make all kinds of vegetarian meats. You can find them at MayWahNYC.com, and you don’t have to live in New York City to take advantage of them; they ship all over the place.
But one of the other goodies we had in our gift bag was something called alternaVites, and we are going to learn a little bit more about them right now because I have Hallie Rich on with us, who is the founder and CEO of alternaVites, the first quick-dissolving multivitamin for adults who can’t swallow pills. And after the success of alternaVites for adults, Hallie launched alternaVites Kids, the all-natural alternative to sugary gummy vitamins that stick to kids’ teeth. And she recently lobbied on Capitol Hill with the Natural Products Association and has a new book coming out in 2016 called, Should I Scoop Out My Bagel? Welcome to It’s All About Food, Hallie.
Hallie Rich: Hi. Thanks so much, Caryn. How are you?
Caryn Hartglass: Good. I was really excited when I found your product alternaVites.
Hallie Rich: Thanks. We are so excited to be found by you.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, well I don’t have a personal problem swallowing vitamins, and when I went through a romp with advanced ovarian cancer eight years ago, one of the things that I did was take lots of nutraceuticals, and I was taking tons of pills every day.
Hallie Rich: I’m sure.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank goodness I could swallow them. But a lot of them, if I could, I opened them up and put them in a smoothie because that made it a lot easier.
Hallie Rich: Yeah, that’s one of the things with our vitamins. It’s actually a powder, so you can pour it in your mouth and take it like you would a Pixie Stick when you were younger, or you can also mix it into anything you want, so smoothies, puddings, applesauce, cereals. Anything, but obviously that doesn’t involve heat because that would ruin the integrity of the nutrients. So it is something for people who can’t swallow pills or just something who are looking for an easier way or more inclusive way of not having to pop more pills throughout their day.
Caryn Hartglass: And I’m surprised that there really aren’t any others out there for a multivitamin.
Hallie Rich: Yeah, there really aren’t that many. I mean, there are some gummies out there, which as you know, contain gelatin, so they’re not a great—most of them do anyway—not a great source for vegetarians or vegans. But a lot of these non-pill alternatives out there actually have some drawbacks to them. And when I set out to develop alternaVites, I thought it was really important to take all the positives and leave out all the negatives. So when it comes to animal products and by-products, artificial sweeteners, lots of sugar in there, lots of those different types of things that really prevent people from taking vitamins, I feel that the more people we can bring back into the category, the better, and that’s something that I hope that we accomplish with our vitamins.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so first I was pronouncing it wrong.
Hallie Rich: Everyone pronounces it wrong and my name wrong. I’m well used to it.
Caryn Hartglass: And how is your name pronounced?
Hallie Rich: Hallie.
Caryn Hartglass: Hallie, okay, I got that right. Or did I say Haley?
Hallie Rich: No, I think you said Hallie.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh my goodness, you say Haley, and I say Hallie.
Hallie Rich: Exactly. I get it all. As long as you are pointing in my direction, you got my attention.
Caryn Hartglass: Good. Now, there are all kinds of crazy ingredients that you can find in vitamins like GMO-based cornstarches and things that people don’t even think about, and then we’ve heard most recently some scary things about different vitamin suppliers where you’re not even getting the product you think you’re getting. And you might be getting something toxic or horrible.
Hallie Rich: Well, I guess let me address those two separately. When it comes to GMOs, I agree, but I think that’s not a problem that’s only inherent to vitamins. Unfortunately, you don’t know most of what you are taking because of the label laws, what’s from GMO and what’s not. We’re very proud that our vitamins have no GMO ingredients in them, and we label them appropriately so that people who are looking for non-GMO products know that ours fulfills that requirement. For people who aren’t too concerned with GMOs at this point, it’s neither here nor there for them.
In terms of the recent studies that came out, some of the testing methods were a bit questionable. Now I agree with you completely that if there are any supplements on the market that don’t have what they state to have, then they should absolutely be off the market. But that would be illegal. So it’s not that that’s common practice in the industry at all. And I don’t make herbal supplements, so I am definitely not an authority on that side of the business, but an example that was told to me was that if you took the coffee that you buy at a regular coffee shop and took that to a research lab and had them test it for coffee, that they would actually not be able to find any DNA of coffee in it because it’s an extract. And the same goes for some herbal supplements that are made from extracts. So while you’re looking for the DNA of it, it’s kind of ruined in the process because you’re dealing with something different—the part of it, just not the whole. So I thought that was a really interesting explanation of kind of the science behind the testing. And the FDA itself said that alone, they wouldn’t use this DNA bar-coding method in isolation for these things. So I do think it’s important to look at it through the right lens and to say if these are wrong, absolutely get them off the market, but let’s just use the right testing to go after it.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, now do you have a personal story why you started this company?
Hallie Rich: I do, actually. I am the third generation in my family to be in the vitamin industry, but up until I started my own company, I actually never took vitamins. Believe it or not, I can’t swallow pills, as you mentioned earlier, so I was kind of like the pill maker’s daughter who couldn’t take pills or the modern-day shoemaker’s daughter who didn’t have shoes. So I kind of set out to create this delivery form for people who can’t swallow pills or who don’t want to. Because I passionately believe in the power of proper supplementation, but I’ll tell you one time vitamins definitely won’t work is when you don’t take them. So I tried to answer my own need and found out that there were millions of Americans who were just like me who were looking for non-pill supplement alternatives.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, now are there some things that have to be in a pill that can’t be loose in a powder?
Hallie Rich: I guess of my invention I would say that nothing has to be anything, but there are restrictions for what some things can come in, and a lot of it has to do with taste because basically what I did with my vitamins is, it’s kind of like eating the cookie dough before the cookie. You just take the recipe, you just don’t put it into the oven to make it. So it’s not that it’s so different, it’s just we’re using some coated vitamins so it doesn’t inherently taste bad on your tongue because anyone who’s ever taken half a pill or burped up a regular pill or capsule knows those things don’t generally taste so good. But a lot of things more have to do with taste than have to do with the format it comes in.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, and then, when I get vitamin C, for example, I like to get the powdered version, and I just scoop out a quarter teaspoon or something because I like the most inexpensive version and controlling it myself; is that possible with multivitamins, to have a big loose container of powder that you just scoop out, or do they have to be in individual doses, or that’s probably the way the most people like them?
Hallie Rich: Most people do like them in individual doses just because it’s premeasured, they don’t have to worry about, am I really getting, is it a heaping teaspoon, is it a regular teaspoon, where I am calling it off? Especially when it comes to something like a supplement or even if there was ever an OTC powder, most people want them premeasured, but yeah, absolutely, you can take the packets, open them up, and do anything you want with them.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s good. Now, I’m looking at your alternaVites website, and there’s so many things that are not in your vitamins.
Hallie Rich: Yeah, we’re proud for our vitamins just as much as what we do have as just as much what we don’t. We don’t have any GMOs, as you mentioned, we’re sugar-free, we’re gluten-free, there’s no animal products or animal by-products, there’s no high-fructose corn syrup or aspartame, we’re certified kosher, so we’re really proud of doing this in what we find to be a very clean way of making a vitamin. We don’t have any of those artificial fillers and binders and sweeteners and preservatives and colors and dyes, and the list can go on and on about what some of the other vitamins have out there, so we’re very proud of, like you said, not only these vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that we do have, but all of that long laundry list of stuff that we don’t.
Caryn Hartglass: Now are you planning more different types of multivitamins? We live in a world where we can’t have enough choice. There’s like a gazillion different versions of so many different things, but a lot of vitamin manufacturers today, they have a man’s formula, a woman’s formula, a child’s formula, and then a formula with extra this and that for people that want it, and I’m even thinking about—I don’t know if you are familiar with Dr. Joel Fuhrman, who has his line of vitamins, but he always tells us to stay away from adding certain vitamins in the multivitamin, and so I wonder if you are considering any of those things for other variations?
Hallie Rich: Right now, our multivitamin is staying as is. Later this summer we’ll be introducing a vitamin C product, a vitamin D product, and a calcium product as stand-alone items, but as far as multis, we’re really happy with our product as it is now, and in the immediate future we have no plans for targeted multivitamin formulas. That’s something that, as the research continues, that we’ll keep taking a look at.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, really good. So what happened when you went to Capitol Hill?
Hallie Rich: It was really interesting to kind of walk into those offices of our senators and our congressmen and meet with their aides. It was really refreshing. You hear so many bad things about politics and politicians, and I must say, the aides of—I am from New York, so I met with the aides from some New York senators and congressmen—they were very engaged, very into healthy living and being proactive about their constituents’ health, and it was really interesting explaining to them where we are with the industry, where we want to take the industry, and it was really, I would say, a welcome surprise to see the interaction between us, and it was a wonderful experience.
Caryn Hartglass: That is nice for a change to hear something good about our government. I’m just finding your upcoming book title hysterical.
Hallie Rich: Thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: Because I know so many people who have scooped out their bagels. What’s it about?
Hallie Rich: So a dear friend and colleague of mine is a registered dietician, and we were speaking one day over work about how we constantly are being asked the same questions over and over again by colleagues, by friends, by complete strangers who find out I’m in the vitamin industry, and she’s in the nutrition business, and how even with the wealth of information out there at our fingertips, it’s so contradictory, and you just don’t know what to believe and who has what agenda, and so we decided to take our top one hundred questions that were always asked and write a book and make a Q & A. It’s very tongue in cheek and very witty, and it’s not preachy at all, but we just lay out the facts. We want people to realize that life is fun and that it’s meant to be enjoyed, but there is a healthy way and a moderate way to do everything, and that’s really our approach to the book.
Caryn Hartglass: Do you eat bagels?
Hallie Rich: I do eat bagels, and I love bagels, but I do scoop my bagels.
Caryn Hartglass: You are a bagel scooper!
Hallie Rich: I am a scooper.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s funny. I rarely eat bagels these days. I do love them, though, but I just avoid them. I am part of the Food Revolution Summit this week, which is being put on by John and Ocean Robbins. It’s an all-week-long exhausting summit all about food, and there are experts on every day, and it’s three hours a day, and today they were talking about Flintstone vitamins, as a matter of fact, and how horrible they are.
Hallie Rich: Yeah, there’s a lot of bad information out there about some of what Flintstones does and doesn’t have, but I don’t like to speak bad about my competition, and I’d just like to say that I think ours are better, how about that?
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, well, okay, I just want to mention that they have artificial colors and aspartame and gluten and things that you think are safe for children but a lot of children react really negatively to these artificial things that we consider okay to put in our bodies.
Hallie Rich: Right, I mean, I like to say without knocking anybody, there was a time for vitamins from the Stone Age, but that time has passed.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s good.
Hallie Rich: Thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s really good. Now your vitamins are manufactured here in the United States?
Hallie Rich: Yes, we’re actually manufactured right here in New York. We are manufactured, packaged, distributed, and headquartered in New York.
Caryn Hartglass: Very nice, I love to hear that.
Hallie Rich: Yes. As do we. Like to keep things close to home.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, very good. Well, I want to really thank you for being a part of my fund-raiser last week by offering all of our attendees samples of your alternaVites. That was a really nice little unusual treat to have in our gift bags.
Hallie Rich: Well, thanks for letting us be a part it. We like to think that we are a company with a conscience, and it’s nice to partner with people who feel the same way.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, we do. So thank you. And I do know some people close to me that can’t swallow vitamins, so I’m definitely going to let them know about this.
Hallie Rich: Fabulous, thank you so much.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, well thank you for joining me on It’s All About Food. It’s all about vitamins.
Hallie Rich: Have a great day. Thanks so much.
Caryn Hartglass: You’re welcome. That was Hallie Rich, and the website is alterVites.com. You can find out more about that if you have a hard time swallowing vitamins or know someone who does.
So we just have a few minutes left, right…that was funny—a few minutes left, right—okay, I amuse myself all the time. So I mentioned a number of times this Food Revolution Summit, and we’ve listened to people this week like Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser, and today we listened to Raj Patel. It’s really been a very inspiring thing to be—knowing that hundreds of thousands of people are listening at the same time you are, or at least will be within the day or so, and want this information—there is something about the power of numbers. But like I mentioned at the beginning of the program, I’m thrilled that people want this information, and it’s great to hear these food expert leaders talking, but it won’t go anywhere if it’s just talk and listening.
We have to act, and the real action—the real work—happens from you and me. It doesn’t happen from these celebrity, well-known, best-selling book-author people. It happens from all of us making a difference, so we do whatever we can, right? We eat plant foods; we try and get to know our local farmers. A lot of us who are vegan and vegetarian or plant-strong kind of people, we’re horrified about what’s going on with our non-human animal friends that we share this planet with, but horrible things are happening to humans too who make our food. And like we were talking about earlier with Joshua and the fashion, when you’re wearing a piece of clothing or when you’re eating a piece of food, do you take the time to think, how did this get here, and what were all the things that happened along the way? And unfortunately, with our food, with our fashion, there’s a lot of exploitation in every step. And the only way that we can change that is really being aware, not supporting the businesses and brands that we know are not doing nice things. Sometimes that means we have to go without. You may not be able to buy that cheap t-shirt if you realize whose hands touched it and what they had to go through to get that into a store near you. And money speaks louder than anything else; we just can’t support these things. So I’m excited to know that there are people out there doing their part, creating products that we can believe in, that we can support, and then we do the rest.
Now, I was talking to Jane Velez-Mitchell a couple of weeks ago, and I’m really excited to hear that people have been responding to some of the things she said and are contacting their local politicians about some of the things she spoke about, all kinds of horrible animal testing and things going on. And we all need to do that, and it’s hard. I know, we’re all busy, we’re all involved in our own lives, but we each have to do something.
So this is my call after Earth Day last week, and we can come up with a different excuse every day why we need to do more. I just hope I can inspire you a little bit to speak louder. And that may just mean inviting people over and making them delicious healthy food and letting them know—I do this all the time, and I know that some of the people I socialize with are just never going to get it, but there’s always hope that one day they will, and they will. It just takes time. So we just have to be joyful about it and generous and stay on the path, that’s my message. Stay on the path.
Yes, I want to mention also Go Organic NYC. I think I mentioned before, they were another sponsor for our event, and I’m so grateful for them, not just because they donated some gift certificates for my event, but they have made it a lot easier for me—especially in this last week when I have been extremely busy, busier than ever before, if that’s possible—because they deliver. I was able to get my kale and my collards and have healthy food to eat. And they do it really reasonably, so if you‘re in the New York metro area, I really recommend checking out Go Organic NYC.
And for any of you that are involved with the Engine 2 diet, Rip Esselstyn’s book and Engine 2. They have a website, engine2extra.com. I’ll be there tonight in their chat—I don’t know what it’s called, but they have some kind of chat room on the engine2extra.com site, and I’ll be there chatting away at 9pm Eastern time tonight, so join me there, that’ll be fun.
And that’s all for now. Have a delicious week.
Transcribed by Kris McCoy, 5/31/2015