1/7/2014: Michael Greger, Elizabeth Kucinich
Part I: Michael Greger, MD, Nutrition Facts 2013
Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized speaker on a number of important public health issues. All proceeds from his speaking engagements and the sale of his books and DVDs are donated to his 501(c)3 nonprofit NutritionFacts.org, the first science-based, non-commercial website to provide free daily videos and articles on the latest discoveries in nutrition.
Part II: Elizabeth Kucinich, Center For Food Safety
“An experienced advocate and government affairs professional, Elizabeth comes to CFS from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), where she advocated prevention over cure, nutrition over drugs, and human-relevant research and training over the use of animals.
Before joining PCRM, she was a congressional liaison for the 63rd President of the United Nations General Assembly. Elizabeth serves as a board director of several notable organizations including Sean Penn’s Haitian relief organization, J/P HRO, and the Rodale Institute.
Elizabeth is the Executive Producer of “GMO OMG”, a documentary exploring genetic engineering in agriculture and food production (www.GMOfilm.com), which premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in February 2013. She is also a producer of “Hot Water”, a documentary about the nuclear industry, uranium mining and the radioactive pollution of our water (www.ZeroHotWater.com). “Hot Water” premiered at the DC Environmental Film Festival in March 2013.
She lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband, Dennis Kucinich, a former US Congressman and two-time US Presidential candidate. They share their home and garden with three rescue dogs, Harry, Lucie and George; Falcon the cat and a hive of bees they lovingly refer to as their girls.”
TRANSCRIPTION PART I:
Hello Everybody! I’m Caryn Hartglass you’re listening to It’s All About Food. Here’s to a wonderful 2014 and I’m on a very chilly spot on the universe in the universe right now 10 degrees in New York City its fun when its cold. When you’re in or out and I wanted to mention a few things before we get into the main part of the program. Robert Goodland, does that name ring a bell? He died on December 28 and I wanted to mention him because I’ve had him on this program and he was a wonderful environmentalist, researcher, and writer. Perhaps you remember when the Food and Agriculture organization put out this groundbreaking report in 2006 and they said that 18% of human induced greenhouse gases were caused by animal agriculture and then World Watch Institute and their magazine put out an article by Jeff Anhang and Robert Goodland later on reevaluating that study and they said 51% of human induced greenhouse gases are caused by animal agriculture. And since that time there has been a lot of back and forth about how that’s right how that’s wrong etc era. I’m not going to get into it there but Robert Goodland has written many wonderful works and I just invite you to visit my website https://responsibleeatingandliving.com go to the front page and click on remembering Robert Goodland “The Conscious of the World Bank” you can listen to my interview with him you can check the links and see some of his writings lets just keep his work alive. It’s so important and it’s so good.
All right and now back to the living. I want to invite my next guest on Dr. Michael Greger. He’s a physician, author and internationally recognized speaker on a number of important public health issues. He has a 50123 non-profit http://nutritionfacts.org the first science based non-commercial website to provide free daily videos and articles on the latest discoveries in nutrition. There’s so much more about Dr. Michael Greger he’s also the director of public health and animal agriculture at the Humane Society and so much more. Dr. Greger welcome to Its All About Food!
Dr. Michael Greger: Thank you so much for having me on Caryn. Its great to be back.
Caryn Hartglass: I miss you! I haven’t seen you in so long.
Dr. Michael Greger: Well, you know I’m going to be in New York this weekend actually.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s actually why I mentioned it. I heard you were coming up here. There’s a big event happening with a lot of cool people talking about food.
Dr. Michael Greger: Indeed and I am but one of many.
Caryn Hartglass: And you are but its all good so Where is that? When is it that? How can we know more about it?
Dr. Michael Greger: Ahh.. you know I should have suspected you’d ask something like that. So it’s at the Hudson Theatre, Millennium Broadway Hotel 145 W 44th street. One can get more details at http://therealtruthabouthealth.com.
Caryn Hartglass: Right or your website http://www.drgreger.org which can lead you to http://nutritionfacts.org which can link to your event. People can find you all over the place including New York in just a few days.
Dr. Michael Greger: If I don’t freeze on my way.
Caryn Hartglass: Please don’t. Well, it’s probably cold in Washington too isn’t it?
Dr. Michael Greger: It’s pretty chilly but I’m all warm and toasty inside and looking at all the poor suckers outside.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so let’s jump into some nutrition facts. My first question for you is, in your opinion, based on fact is there an ideal human diet?
Dr. Michael Greger: All one can really do in terms of making decisions in life is based on the best available balance of evidence at any one time that may change as we learn more and more but I think currently the best available balance of scientific evidence suggest that the healthiest diet, the diet most associated with longevity and the lowest rates of chronic diseases that are laying waste our society like heart disease, obesity, hypertension, diabetes is a diet focused around whole plant foods.
Caryn Hartglass: Very good. That’s what I always say. Excellent, so what about all those Paleo people out there?
Dr. Michael Greger: Well you know so the Paleo people make this argument that human beings have been around for two million years and just the last ten thousand just a blink of the eye in terms of geologic history. We’ve been eating the way we have with the advent of agriculture about ten twelve thousand years ago but you know I think it’s important that’s an important perspective from an evolutionary biology perspective but what they miss is that actually we as human beings have been evolving for the last two hundred million years from the Miocene era when primates first started and so for 99% of are evolution from 200 million years ago to 2 million years we were eating a diet centered around fruit and vegetables. Centered around plants you know dark green leafy vegetables meaning leaves and fruits and so for 99% of are evolution are biology is in tune to eating plant foods all day every day all day long. And really the blink in history is really just this last two million where we also incorporated some animal foods but are biology I think is really in tune to that of are fellow primates which is best shown by the chronic diseases that effect people that eat kind of a meat heavy diet and so I think one can make a better argument for a Miocenic diet than a Paleothic diet but regardless they do have an important good point that these processed foods whether it be Coca-Cola or these sugary food are really don’t have a place in the human diet and its associated with all of these health outcomes and so they are certainly right about getting rid of junk food even Dr. Atkins, the Atkins diet he said look get rid of don’t drink milk don’t eat Twinkies basically anyone who says don’t eat doughnuts is going to improve the health of Americans but that’s not far enough…
Caryn Hartglass: Even vegan doughnuts..
Dr. Michael Greger: …Towards a more whole plant foods..
Caryn Hartglass: Even vegan doughnuts..
Dr. Michael Greger: See vegans use to be really healthy people because what could they eat? They were stuck in the produce aisle but now practically those in Brooklyn can gorge on amazing vegan junk food and can be just as unhealthy as everybody else almost just as unhealthy same thing with the gluten free people. People with Celiac disease my patients with Celiac disease a couple decades ago they were forced to be healthy they couldn’t eat doughnuts they couldn’t eat cake they couldn’t eat all this junk that the American diet is centered around but now there is gluten free junk food, you can get gluten free doughnuts so now they can be as sick as everybody else.
Caryn Hartglass: Amen to that now moving on I think it’s linked to processed foods. I want to talk about bugs so bacteria has been getting lots of press as we learn more about having them around and some of them are good and some of them are bad and some are kind of bi where they go good or they go bad. Can we talk a little bit about them? Are you a probiotic, prebiotic, antibiotic?
Dr. Michael Greger: I recently had a number of videos about prebiotics and probiotics in fact today I had a blog about the effects of probiotics on mental health which is a new field on neuroendocrinology that has to do with the effect of our gut on our whole nervous system as well enteric neuroscience. In general probably prebiotics are more important, so probiotics play a role for people in terms of treating antibiotic induced diarrhea, preventing and treating antibiotic induced diarrhea and so for those people I would put them on a acidophilus regimen and we can talk about that, but for people that are not suffering from G.I systems don’t have diarrhea, don’t have chronic bloating, some of these other problems well they don’t need probiotics their bacteria is fine what they need is prebiotics they need to eat things like fiber and resistant starch found in beans found in whole grains that feed that don’t get broken down in our small intestine end up in our large intestine and feed our good bacteria so they can do what they were meant to do and they produce all sorts of wonderful compounds, propionate and butyrate, which have anti cancer compounds to circulate thorough tout our entire body and have all sorts of psychological effects. We have a symbiosis were kind of an organism made up of multiple different types of organisms and we feed them they feed us but when we change our diet we can dramatically effect the ecosystem down in our gut for good or for ill. In fact this recent study got a lot of press, there was a letter publish in the New England Journal that found that people that switch from a plant based diet to eating animal foods get a boost in the populations of these bacteria that are associated with inflammation this goes along with that whole methylamine story where carnitine, this compound in muscle foods and choline, this compound in eggs in particularly but also in poultry can be turned by bad bacteria in the guts of meat eaters into this something called trimethylamine-N-oxide which can cause inflammation, increase your risk of heart disease all sorts of bad things but if you can take vegans and feed them a steak which they actually had in this study they took a longtime vegan and they were willing, in the name of science, to eat a steak and they didn’t create any of this toxic substance from the carnitine in that meal because they didn’t have the bugs they had not been fostering these bad bugs all the time and so they didn’t have the bad bugs in their system now had they kept eating steak then eventually they would slowly but surely foster the growth of steak eating bacteria but when you foster the growth of fiber eating bacteria then you get these wonderful bacteria that can have all sorts of beneficial effects not only for our physical health but our mental health as well in our finding.
Caryn Hartglass: And prebiotics when we get them from food are cheaper than probiotics in little capsules.
Dr. Michael Greger: Oh sure and actually by eating plant foods we are getting both these lactic acid producing bacteria that’s what makes sauerkraut How do you make sauerkraut? You basically put cabbage and salted water. Don’t you have to put a culture in? Don’t you have to put bacteria in? No the bacteria is found naturally on the leaves of cabbage. And the only reason you add the salt is to prevent the growth of other bacteria, bad bacteria, so it doesn’t spoil. And so there are those probiotics these lactic acid producing bacteria these acidophilus like bacteria found on produce found on fruits and vegetables so by eating fruits and vegetables we get the best of both worlds we get the probiotics and the prebiotics and your right its cheaper and its safer as well.
Caryn Hartglass: Now I’m going to ask you what some of your favorite discoveries were in 2013, but I just want to mention one that I found out about that got me very excited was resistant starch.
Dr. Michael Greger: Oh, neat! You haven’t seen nothing yet I got I must have 5 or 6 videos coming up in 2014 on resistant starch I just touched really on resistant starch..
Caryn Hartglass: But isn’t it the greatest thing since, I don’t know, I don’t want to say sliced bread, but the greatest thing since kale!
Dr. Michael Greger: Yeah, no it’s really amazing so basically this is talking about the benefits of legumes. The benefits of beans, peas, lentils and soy foods we really need to eat beans everyday. In fact in the latest edition of Becoming Vegan by Davis and Melina they even suggest eating beans at every meal. Be like the Britain’s and eat beans for breakfast because they’re just so incredibly healthy. One of the things that’s found particularly in beans and less so in other foods is this wonderful resistant starch and they call it resistant because it resists digestion in our upper digestive tract so it makes it down and its able to feed our good bacteria and has all sorts of wonderful health promoting effects and its really hard to get enough of it unless one is eating lots of beans.
Caryn Hartglass: And we don’t even get the full caloric effect that we thought we were getting from them.
Dr. Michael Greger: Oh it has all sorts of neat..there’s actually kind of starch digestive blocking enzymes these amylase blockers within beans that actually kind of protect the starch from digestion and so yeah it has this kind of effect some of these kind of starch blocker over the counter drugs that are sold but without the bad side effects. In fact many of those supplements are actually made from white beans there kind of extracted from beans but its better to just eat the beans and get the benefits that way.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay lets hear it for the beans. Woo! What else was good in 2013?
Dr. Michael Greger: You know I’m glad you asked. Last year I did a kind of a year review blog talking about the most popular and most interesting videos of the year. I should do that again.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes!
Dr. Michael Greger: I will make that note for myself, 2013 videos. Oh my god there was such wonderful stuff. Such cool stuff remember that esophageal cancer strawberry one? That was just insane. So Dr. Ornish and colleagues, the first to really publish about reversing heart disease by opening up arteries without drugs without surgery just a healthy plant based diet and other lifestyle changes. That was really a revolution in the field we can reverse not just stop but reverse the number one killer so after checking off the number one killer off the list. Ornish went on to try and reverse cancer and successfully was able to treat men with prostate cancer with a vegan diet for a year, actually saw a reversal in the cancer biomarker PSA level and so that’s really the kind of hot field right now. Is reversal of cancer and precancerous lesions and so what this group did they looked at esophageal cancer one of our deadliest cancers, unfortunately its found really late and typically people just have a few months to live when they find out they have it and so that’s why this is the cancer you want to prevent in the first place. Basically what they did they gave the people a pound or two if strawberries every day for a couple weeks and so these are people with proven precancerous lesions these dysplastic lesions in their esophagus that turn into cancer and they were able to show that you actually reverse the progression. They were hoping well they could stop the progression so it didn’t turn into cancer but instead they went and half the patients the lesions completely disappeared.
Caryn Hartglass: With strawberries!
Dr. Michael Greger: With strawberries! Complete cases of complete clinical regression with what was this magic miracle drug, well it wasn’t a drug at all it was strawberries and the reason this isn’t headlines news everywhere is because there is no profit, no one makes money off the strawberries. If it were a drug it would be making some drug company billions of dollars we would hear about it everywhere there’d be ads on TV, but when that quote on quote drug is just strawberries, which cant really be patented or branded no one is going to.. Even a strawberry company wouldn’t pay for a promotion because odds are when you went to buy strawberries you wouldn’t buy their strawberries you’d benefit another strawberry producer so it doesn’t make financial sense to promote produce that why we’ve never seen an ad on TV for broccoli so we don’t hear about this stuff and that’s why I created http://nutritionfacts.org/. Because there’s some tremendous science out there this amazing mountain of evidence that just no one ever heard of it, its not that the science isn’t there its just that no one know about the science because there’s no profit motive to get it out to the public get on the evening news and so that’s why I created the site two years and its been growing ever since.
Caryn Hartglass: Yay Dr. Greger! Now another thing with that is that most of us mere mortals do not have access on the Internet like some amazing medical doctors do to some of the journals that are putting out this information that you have to have subscriptions to..
Dr. Michael Greger: It use to be worst there was this real tremendous professional monopoly around this information where doctors were the complete mediators of this kind of medical information and that there is no hope for the public to make any kind of independent decisions about what the best available evidence was now things are better there’s a lot of so called open access journals where you can actually read some of these scientific articles and studies that are coming out now often times they are written in kind of techno speak so again it makes it difficult for people to for the public to understand but your right still there’s payment firewalls or pay walls blocking access to many of the scientific publications out there that’s why you have to live biking distance from the National Library of Medicine here in Washington D.C. The reason I live where I live is because I’m right next to the biggest medical library in the world which essentially has access to everything and so I to don’t have access to even. I only have access because of where I live I am able to give that access to everybody and translate all the kind of medical speak and bring it out the world than I’m happy to do it.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you. Now I was reading in the New York Times this weekend about what we are dying of these days and how long were living and they were saying that were dying less of heart disease and more often of cancer and there kind of catching up with each other.
Dr. Michael Greger: In Canada actually cancer is actually number one and heart disease is number two. I know this because I give this talk on preventing, treating and reversing the top fifteen killers and everywhere I go I have to give a slightly different version. When I went up to Canada I was surprised I start off the talk talking about cancer and heart disease drops down to number two. There’s no reason heart disease should be anywhere on the list because it’s a disease that can essentially be completely prevented in the first place so no ever has to get it and never need progress if you do have it and can get on a good diet it can actually be reversed in the majority of the cases and so the fact that it’s a leading killer at all it shouldn’t be there and so as people learn more about good nutrition hopefully it will fall off the radar and we will be telling are great grand kids about how there was this terrible scourge, people used to die of heart attacks your heart actually stopped beating and then are great grand kids go no! And you go yes!
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I look forward to that time. Okay now on the big proponent of dark leafy green vegetables and I get them every way I possibly can and I think I’ve been quoting you for a long time saying “There’s nothing that kale cant do” did you say that?
Dr. Michael Greger: If I didn’t I should have.
Caryn Hartglass: I think you did say it and I think I’ve been quoting you. Anyway were stealing it from you but is there anytime when you can get too much kale? Or to many greens?
Dr. Michael Greger: Yes, to many raw greens, yes. Cruciferous vegetables have these natural goitrogenic compounds, which can infer in thyroid function with people with marginal iodine intake so what these compounds do is they block the thyroid to take up iodine but the answer is not to avoid these super healthy foods but just get enough iodine in our diet. So that’s why sea vegetables are wonderful foods and we should all develop a taste there’s similar goitrogenic compounds in flaxseeds and soy foods and so but again we don’t avoid those foods we just make sure we get enough iodine.
Caryn Hartglass: And how do we do that?
Dr. Michael Greger: These compounds are also destroyed by cooking and so it’s not something you have to worry about if you cook it. There was a case in New England Journal Of Medicine the title of the case Comma Induced by Raw Bok Choy this woman ate about three pounds everyday, about fifteen cups a day for months and she wasn’t getting enough iodine and so she actually ran into real serious problems. Ended up in the ICU she had consumed about a thousands cups of raw bok choy, so that’s you know.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow, I love bok choy but that’s a lot of bok choy.
Dr. Michael Greger: You really shouldn’t eat more than about twenty-five cups of coleslaw a day in terms of how much is in cabbage. You know in trying to think of raw cauliflower doesn’t have a lot so fifty cups you shouldn’t exceed fifty cups of cauliflower everyday probably the highest is mustard greens so about three cups of raw mustard greens is probably about the daily max on a regular basis and its possible maybe people juice mustard greens sounds like a nasty juice but you could probably get more than three cups in and so that’s something you wouldn’t want to do everyday but we should not kid ourselves that food that have pharmaceutical effects like real effects on our physiology eating kale actually improves our immune function. We should not kid ourselves that something that powerful couldn’t have a potential downside if one overdid it. You can drink to much water kind of wash out the electrolytes in your body and run into problems. So these are powerful foods and we should include them in our diet but lets not go totally crazy.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay lets not go totally crazy but is there a blood test or something to check how much iodine we have?
Dr. Michael Greger: No but you can check thyroid function something called TSH, thyroid stimulating hormone level you can make sure its not being pushed down or is not getting elevated which means you have a hypoactive thyroid gland but its not something I would worry about unless one is symptomatic, systems of hypo thyroidism the tradition ones are dry skin, dry hair, unexplained weight gain, fatigue those are kind of low thyroid symptoms and if that’s the case and you are juicing huge amounts of kale everyday and not eating sea vegetables or if you are using salt which I don’t encourage people to do. If you do, use iodized salt it’s just an easy way to get your iodine in but you know otherwise it’s not something I’d worry about.
Caryn Hartglass: Well I think it’s not really a good idea to worry about anything.
Dr. Michael Greger: I would worry about not eating dark green leafies, you actually do need to eat dark green leafy vegetables everyday.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay Dr. Greger what are you eating these days?
Dr. Michael Greger: Oh yummy! Lets see so this morning I take a pomegranate, which its pomegranate season, in some parts of the world now. You take a pomegranate and you cut it hemi spherically you open it up and then you whack it with a wooden spoon get out all our aggression and spit out the seeds into a little bowl then I added some unsweetened kind of Greek-style almond yogurt with some unsweetened cocoa powder to make kind of a chocolate pudding with the pomegranate added some pumpkin seeds so I had this chocolate pudding pumpkin and the little seeds are like little explosions of juice it was absolutely delicious. One of my favorite breakfasts during pomegranate season and this afternoon I just had leftovers from last night, which was a kind of huge amounts of vegetables in a kind of a marinara sauce on whole wheat pasta.
Caryn Hartglass: Excellent. Very good okay well I’m going to let you go and thank you very much for everything that you do and for who you are and check out http://nutritionfacts.org right? And that where its all happening.
Dr. Michael Greger: You do wonderful work yourself
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you! Be well; hope to see you sometime soon. Stay warm and thank you. Now I think we’ll take a break and while were taking that break you might go over to https://responsibleeatingandliving.com and check out that post remembering Robert Goodland and then were going to be back with the Center for Food Safety, Elizabeth Kucinich.
Transcribed by Sabrina Benitez, 2/22/2014
TRANSCRIPTION PART II
Caryn Hartglass: Hello, everybody. I’m Caryn Hartglass, and we are back for the second part of It’s All About Food here on this very chilly January 7, 2014. Alright now, continuing talking about my favorite subject, food, only we’re going to look at it a little differently now. I’m going to bring on my second guest, Elizabeth Kucinich, who is with the Center for Food Safety (CFS). She is an experienced advocate and government affairs professional, and she was originally with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) where she advocated prevention over cure, nutrition over drugs, and human relevant research and training over the use of animals. We are going to hear more about the Center for Food Safety with Elizabeth Kucinich. Thank you for joining me on It’s All About Food.
Elizabeth Kucinich: Thank you for having me. It’s great to be with you.
Caryn Hartglass: I met you a couple of Decembers ago at the PCRM Leadership Conference. That was an amazing event. I was so inspired with what PCRM was doing and is doing, and the work that you were doing.
Elizabeth Kucinich: Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is just a super organization. It was such a privilege to work with them for a number of years.
Caryn Hartglass: Center for Food Safety is working on all kinds of issues that we talk about a lot on this program: genetic engineering and seeds, factory farms, organic food, food safety. What are you working on?
Elizabeth Kucinich: All of the above and a little bit more. Obviously, the whole question of GMOs is a really hot topic. There have been, obviously I am sure people are aware, the state ballot initiatives and there are a number of initiatives that are coming up this year. People are filing them, which is exciting. We have got the federal legislation, which is the Right to Know Act. That is the one question of GMOs, just the labeling, really. We work on a vision for food and for agriculture, which is that the way we grow food and the way that we eat food is going to be a way that really sustains the planet. We think of the way we are growing our food now. I cannot imagine that we will be doing it in this way in a thousand years’ time. Can you imagine hundreds of millions of tons of chemicals that we put on our land every single year to grow our food? It is not sustainable in any way, whether it be because of the toxins that we are eating, the toxins that are going into our water, into our air, into our bodies, or just the fact that we are coming to peak oil, and all these chemicals are petrochemicals. They are made from oil. There are lots of different things that we need to be considering, so helping our society to transition to a truly sustainable food system is something that is really very, very important to everybody.
Caryn Hartglass: Now this whole genetic engineering thing, I want to say it is a hot topic and yet, it isn’t that hot in most people’s lives because most people are not talking about it. They don’t know about it, they don’t understand it, and unfortunately some people spread a lot of incorrect information about it. It’s really messy.
Elizabeth Kucinich: Yes. Anything that is slightly complex is always going to be messy, and anything that has different people with alleged sides going against each other, there is going to be a lot of spin and messaging, and there are people who get confused in the middle. So we really try to simplify things basically on the GMO question. When it comes to labeling, it is that you have a right to know. We are not making any claims one way or another, whether it’s safe or unsafe, you have a right to know what you are eating. From a personal point-of-view, my own concern is that the genetically modified foods that are out there, that are in around ninety percent of the processed foods that people eat, have been genetically engineered not to do something really nice and fluffy—not to feed the world and to overcome the challenges of climate change and drought issues—but really have been bred or genetically engineered for two purposes. One is to produce pesticides so we have a type of GMO which is pesticide-producing. The pesticide itself is found in a number of plants, only not in the high concentration that it is found in the genetically engineered crops. This means that it is a pesticide, so it kills animals, or kills pests that go onto it. But also it means that we are ingesting that. So, what does that mean to our human health? Well, we need longitudinal studies on that, but people’s own precaution could be that they can choose whether to choose or not to choose it, should that be labeled in a supermarket. The other kind of GMO that there is, is herbicide resistant. That means that a plant can grow from a genetically engineered seed and it can be sprayed with a type of chemical that it has been engineered to be resistant to. At the moment it’s glyphosate, which is Roundup. If people have gone to their stores and they maybe spray their weeds and their garden—which I ask you please don’t do that, maybe they do—that Roundup then is sprayed directly onto the crop, and for the first time we are directly ingesting those low levels of herbicides in our diet because plants actually are able to withstand those chemicals.
Caryn Hartglass: They are smarter than we are!
Elizabeth Kucinich: There are those two issues. What has gone on from that? We can see this starting a chemical warfare now. We have the pesticide-producing GMOs, genetically modified organisms, that are growing. The pests that are meant to be dying from it, you see now 500 different kinds of pests have actually become resistant to that kind of toxin. So the answer to that, if you are looking at it logically, would be to increase the level of chemical that is engineered so it would be stronger and the pest presumably would not be tolerant to it immediately. But again, what would that mean to our health? On the other side, when we are talking about herbicide resistance, there are many crops now—many kinds of weeds—that are resistant to this kind of herbicide, to glyphosate. There is an estimated 80 million acres of American cropland that are blighted now with herbicide-resistant weeds. Again the logical sequence of that would be that the biotech companies would engineer seeds, and therefore plants, that would be resistant to even stronger kinds of chemicals, and that is exactly what is happening. There are chemicals now, and seeds which have stacked genetic traits, not only for glyphosate resistance, but also for dicamba and 2-4-D. I don’t know if you know, but 2-4-D is a major component of Agent Orange. The only reason you would have a seed that is resistant to 2-4-D is because you intend to spray it with 2-4-D, and we can’t see all of those chemicals going into our environment, into our food supply, into our water systems. We already know that so many plots and plots of land in the United States, communities are blighted now with groundwater which is completely toxic due to chemical applications from agriculture. Whether it is looking at it from an ethical point-of-view, that people are uncomfortable with the technology, or an environmental point-of-view, that the partnering of chemicals is unsustainable, we really do have the opportunity to have our voice heard, and that is exactly what I try to do in Washington, to help people to really understand what is going on and to have a stake in it.
Caryn Hartglass: From my point-of-view when I talk about genetically modified foods, I like to steer away from whether it is good for us or not because we just don’t have enough information, but I like to steer towards what you were just talking about: the facts. The things we clearly know that are not working, and the fact that genetically modified foods enable us to continue all the wrong practices, and we need to change those agricultural practices. There was an article in the New York Times this weekend about what is going on in Kona, Hawaii, with a council member, Greggor Ilagan. Did you read that article or hear about it?
Elizabeth Kucinich: I did, yes.
Caryn Hartglass: I like the New York Times, and I like a lot of the stuff that they talk about, but sometimes when I read an article, and I scream at an occasional paragraph, no one hears me. I appreciate this council guy trying to get the information, but I really . . . Did he talk to you? He should have.
Elizabeth Kucinich: The thing about that article is that they very selectively chose who they quoted in the article and quoted from the hearing. There was some, as I understand it, and I was not there, no… I actually wouldn’t consider myself as qualified. We have wonderful attorneys and wonderful scientists that we work with. That is the kind of people I would want to see really doing a hearing on this. Really good people were speaking at that hearing and so for a journalist to choose some quite sketchy examples of what was said is really a very underhand thing to do, and it is very sad that such a credible newspaper should choose to do that. It was a very cleverly written article. It was extremely cleverly written. It seemed very, very reasonable, but when you do understand the facts of what is going on and you understand what was included and then what was completely conveniently excluded, it was very sad. But anyway, we focus on the good things that are happening, which really is that Hawaii is mobilizing and there is obviously a great deal of motivation. The thing that Hawaii really does have to be concerned about is that it is a test bed for all of these things. There is a direct threat to their environment and to everything that is going on. Being an island, I am sure that has some kind of bearing on the fact and the reason why biotech likes to go there. It is surrounded by a lot of water. If something goes wrong, then the chances of it spreading across are a lot slimmer than if you do something on the mainland. What I got from that article is that, obviously there is a lot of miscommunication, and from our side as well. There are a lot of people who understand innately that there is something wrong. But we really need to help people get to the facts and be able to put the best foot forward.
Caryn Hartglass: So how do our politicians learn, and how do they respond to you, and do they give you enough opportunity to present your side of the story?
Elizabeth Kucinich: Well, my husband, Dennis Kucinich, former member of Congress—before I worked for Center for Food Safety, when he was Chair of Government Oversight, Subcommittee on Domestic Policy—he held hearings on GMOs and on herbicide-resistant weeds, superweeds as they are termed. There have been opportunities; there have been discussions, obviously that are in the Congressional record from a few years ago. I think that what I really love, and I actually often mention this when I do events on the Hill, is that I will get a Congressional staffer that will come up to me, and it won’t necessarily be because they have heard something, because a constituent has ranted and raved on a phone call or they have received some letters, but they will say to me, “Why is my wife making me eat organic?” I am like, “Yes, this is fantastic,” because the message is being received and people don’t live in a bubble. There are lots of different ways in which people receive a message and become interested in something. The most significant thing for me as an activist and as somebody who works in policy is that food is of such great consequence to everything that we care about, ourselves being obviously right there first and foremost. Our physical health is obviously completely reliant on the food that we eat, and I am glad that you mentioned the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine because they do extraordinary work looking at the opportunity to prevent and reverse disease through the food choices that you make. Partnered with the work that we do at Center for Food Safety, really looking at the way in which our food is grown to really try to make sure that it is as pure as possible and as least contaminated as possible, that is very important. From our own health to the health and well-being of animals, the environment, everything is connected to the food that we eat. As an activist, it is immediate. Every time that you eat, you are making a decision. You are making a decision as to the way agricultural policy is moving forward and the way in which certain companies are making money. If you are buying, if you can, locally sourced, organic produce, then your money is going to something that is supporting where you want agriculture to move and where you want our food system to move. If you are going to a chain restaurant and buying something that is deep-fried and highly processed, then that is where you are choosing for your money to go and that is what you are supporting. I don’t necessarily support the idea of consumerism being the solution to anything, but the fact that we are consumers and have to consume food every day to live, this is extremely convenient for a food movement.
Caryn Hartglass: It is the very least thing that we can do, buy the food that represents what we believe in and is the best for us. Absolutely. Okay, so most of us are not really impressed with what is going on in our government these days. Is there anything good going on with food?
Elizabeth Kucinich: Yes, I think that there is. We do have a lot of movement in the question of food. We do have a lot of members of Congress now really asking questions and very interested in what is going on. As I have mentioned before, there is the labeling bills and a number of other different things that are being worked on. The general population really is helping to drive that. They are really helping to make sure that food starts to become front and center. Last year we had some very, very significant victories in the food movement where some very destructive policies were actually stripped down to bills because of the political might that the food movement is showing that it has. One of those things was what was dubbed the Monsanto Protection Act, that was against the odds. First of all, the initial one that got in was made so it was only relevant to the lifetime of the bill, which was six months, and then when they had to renew the bill that provision was stripped completely. For people to really take on such big interest at such a time in such a contentious political environment and win, I think says a lot for what we are really managing to achieve.
Caryn Hartglass: Is Monsanto really that evil?
Elizabeth Kucinich: I’m actually somebody who… How can I put this? I don’t like to think in terms of polarities. I think there is good and bad in everything. I think that biotech has a most fantastic business model. If you are someone who believes in a bottom line of investment in shares and things, and you want to patent genes and you want to be able to basically monopolize over a food supply, you are onto a very good thing. For the rest of us, not necessarily a good thing, but for yourself it is great. I think that there are ways of thinking about food and about solutions to problems that we have and about visions as to where it is that we want to move toward. As I said, I want to see a food system that really will comfortably take us into the next thousand years or be able to feed our growing population, but also at the same time not be destroying our population’s health by the methods in which we are producing the food. That is where my vision is.
Caryn Hartglass: Does the Center for Food Safety have a vision of what that future looks like?
Elizabeth Kucinich: Yes. The basis really is organic as the foundation. At the moment we can think in terms of GMOs are obviously, as we said, a big button issue, but you can think in terms of them being the most contaminated because of the chemicals that they encourage to be partnered with the drug methods. Conventional, or what is termed “conventional,” can be anything. We can say that is moderately contaminated because we are not sure that the highest level of contaminants and destructive chemicals are actually applied to it, but many, many chemicals can be applied to and are applied to the fruits and vegetable that you eat under “conventional”. Organic, it’s not perfect, but it is as good as we’ve got under the labeling system now, and we would say that is minimally contaminated. Seeing as organic would be the foundation stone for where we would like to see the food system move, and on top of that we would like to see appropriate scale. Humane. Socially just. There are label laws, and the workers really do have rights. We see so many people who have pesticide poisoning and terrible effects from the different things that they have been exposed to while growing our food. There are a number of different levels to a food system. Everything that we do really works to those bottom lines of local, appropriate scale, humane, sustainable, socially just, and bio-diverse. They would be where we would like to see agriculture go.
Caryn Hartglass: Now, I am a vegan for twenty-five years or more and I am always promoting the power of plants. Animal agriculture, CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations), what is your feeling about them, and is there any hope to not see them in the near future?
Elizabeth Kucinich: There are the very large companies like Smithfield who have said that they will outlaw things like gestation crates, albeit in a very, very long time. There is movement within the system that we see, but to be honest it is not a sustainable system and it is a very big and unwieldy thing. Our government, our tax dollars are really going to support the subsidizing of cheap feed and other different things that are obviously not sustainable. On the outside of that is a great externalization of costs. All of the waste that comes out of these industrial animal factories is awful and it is not processed like human waste is. They don’t have systems that process the water. It is actually just put into big pits and left for some time and then sprayed on fields that are saturated. It goes into the groundwater, it goes into the rivers, it goes into the oceans; we have got the dead zones in the Gulf [of Mexico] and the Chesapeake Bay, so big environmental consequences and of course absolutely abhorrent conditions for the animals. Center for Food Safety does work on litigation, does work on upholding environmental regulations and pursuits for humane practices, but of course brilliant organizations like the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine really show people how really, if you want to prevent and reverse disease, this is the way that you eat and it is a plant-strong diet. It is one that is really based in eating foods that come from plants.
Caryn Hartglass: You mentioned upholding regulations, and I know that there are regulations that our government has and that very often they are broken and either the government can’t afford it or they just turn a blind eye. But even the ones that we have are often not solid. How do we get them upheld?
Elizabeth Kucinich: We are in an interesting political time when government is seen as a very, very bad thing and therefore regulation is seen as a very bad thing except that when we realize that we need it. We need it to make sure that our food is safe and to make sure that our water is clean and things like that. We need to start to really turn the debate on that, I think. It is an enormous, enormous issue. We work on local, state, and federal levels. On a local level, we look actually at things, not only at pollution and the breaking of local environmental laws and try to encourage people to take matters that are necessary, but we also look at zoning to actually prevent things from being built. We need to make sure that regulations are upheld. The thing that CFS does is we litigate where the government refuses to regulate. When the government is not doing what it needs to do, when it is not actually upholding the letter of the law and is encouraging, therefore, people to break standards, then we come in and try to force the issue. But sadly, it should not be left to a non-profit to do that.
Caryn Hartglass: I know. You can only do so much.
Elizabeth Kucinich: Exactly.
Caryn Hartglass: And there is so much to do.
Elizabeth Kucinich: There is so much to do. Sometimes it becomes overwhelming when you think about, it’s a big order . . . We’ve had some great victories, though.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s good. We can eat our plant foods, we can eat our organic plant foods. What else should we be doing?
Elizabeth Kucinich: Getting active. If people would like to sign up, come to our website, centerforfoodsafety.org, we are a very active organization. We have lots and lots of material on the website. We have shoppers’ guides and very practical things, but we also have very activist-y things, so if you want to get engaged and see what you can be doing, either in your local area or federally, then there are resources for you there, so that’s a really good thing. As I’ve said, not that I am advocating consumerism, but every day you do eat, so choose wisely and obviously, live within your means, but if there is a way you can join a CSA—community-supported agricultural program where you support a local farmer, preferably obviously an organic one or one that uses the least amount of chemicals possible—that is a wonderful way to really support good things happening in your community and to also keep the money in your community so that you are helping to bring jobs and keep your own community thriving, as well as your health. But really, just open your eyes. Food is a really personal issue, and people often take great umbrage with people bringing it up. It’s not something that we need to force onto people, but I think there is an awakening happening. Just make sure that you get the facts from places like the Center for Food Safety and then let people know when they come to you, share with them what you know.
Caryn Hartglass: We just have a couple of minutes and I am looking at the website right now and I am looking at your featured actions. Can we just talk briefly about Coca-Cola?
Elizabeth Kucinich: What would you like to talk about?
Caryn Hartglass: Coca-Cola and Monsanto having in common how they have been funding anti-labeling campaigns. Be careful what you’re drinking.
Elizabeth Kucinich: This is what I am saying. Where we put our money, the companies that we put our money in, is ultimately the policy that we get and the agricultural reality that is born, be it through the way that the companies themselves are directly growing or what they are putting their profits into.
Caryn Hartglass: But it’s not that obvious! How many people know that Coca-Cola supported the Monsanto anti-labeling campaign? There is just so much out there that most of us don’t know or don’t have the time to know. Oh goodness.
Elizabeth Kucinich: It’s an exciting world that one can explore and learn about.
Caryn Hartglass: There we go. Well, I think we are pretty safe if we are going for organic, plant foods, minimally processed, whole, that we are avoiding most of the problems.
Elizabeth Kucinich: Because there are only five GMO crops out there, they are easy, pretty much, to avoid if you do go for the whole food, plant-based options—unprocessed—then most of the foods that you will find, I’m sure, will be absolutely fine. Then again, if it has “USDA ORGANIC” written on it—it’s the little logo, it’s a circular logo—then that is the logo to really look for. That is a good basic standard to adhere to. You know when food is not good for you to eat and drink anyway, so you should be regulating them within your diet. Maybe not. You might not be supporting the people at the GMA (Grocery Manufacturers Association) quite as much as maybe before.
Caryn Hartglass: Very good. Well Elizabeth, thank you so much for joining me on It’s All About Food. Love your work, love what you are doing.
Elizabeth Kucinich: Thank you. Thanks for having me on.
Caryn Hartglass: Have a wonderful 2014.
Elizabeth Kucinich: You too. Happy New Year.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. Whee!
Elizabeth Kucinich: You’re so bright.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you. Visit centerforfoodsafety.org. There’s so much information there that we all need to know about. Now we’re at the end of the show. Thanks for joining me on It’s All About Food. Have a very delicious week, and stay warm!
Transcribed by JC, 3/9/2014, edited Rebekah Putera 7/17/2014