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Part I: Gary De Mattei, Fictions in Culture
Caryn Hartglass is joined by REAL co-founder Gary De Mattei to discuss the fictions in culture with regard to food.
Caryn Hartglass: Hello, everybody. I’m Caryn Hartglass, and it’s time for It’s All About Food. It’s Election Day here in the United States, and I voted this morning. I was surprised at what an emotional experience it was for me. We live in New York City, in the county of Queens. I believe there are more languages spoken here than anywhere else in the world, and going to our place for voting, you can see the whole world there, people from all over that have come that have come to live here or have been born here. The volunteers were an amazing, diverse group of people, and I just felt this profound connection to history and the fight that many people have been a part of to make life better for everyone, to make it more equitable and just, and I’m welling up right now just thinking about it, and for those of you who are listening to this broadcast in the future, don’t tell us what happens. We’ll find out tonight with the election results. And what many people are talking about is breaking the glass ceiling, especially for women, being able to reach the highest office in this nation as President, and we’ll find out later if that indeed happens. I hope so. But we have a lot more work to do after we break the glass ceiling in order to make things more equitable and just not only for our fellow human beings, but for the nonhuman animals that we share our home, planet Earth, with. And we’re going to be talking about that a lot today. We’re going to be talking about fictions in culture with both of my guests today. I have Gary de Mattei for part one, my cofounder of Responsible Eating and Living, and then in part two we will be talking with Robert Grillo, the founder of Free from Harm and the author of a new book called Farm to Fable. Fiction, fiction in culture – it’s a powerful concept, so I want to bring on my guest Gary de Mattei. How are you today, Gary de Mattei?
Gary de Mattei: Hello, Caryn Hartglass, how are you? How are you?
Caryn Hartglass: I’m good. You voted?
Gary de Mattei: I just got here, yeah! I was going to send this guy over who actually voted before me. It was a big, long line, and he kind of talked like this. He was from Queens, and he says, “You get a free coffee? You get a free coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts. The line is about as long as it is when you get a free coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts. You ever get a free coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts?” And I said, “Gee, no. I haven’t.” He says, “Oh, you got to go! You got to go to Dunkin’ Donuts. You got to get a free coffee.” And I said, “When do they give you free coffee?” “Once a month! Once a month. So you get a free coffee, and it’s nice. But the line is longer here than it is at Dunkin’ Donuts when they give you the free coffee!”
Caryn Hartglass: Amazing. That’s too funny!
Gary de Mattei: It was a very long line. And for artistic license, I said that I just voted, but I actually got up at 6 a.m. and walked across the street. The polls were open, and the place was packed, and it was, as you mentioned, it was very… It was electricity. It was electrifying.
Caryn Hartglass: Wait a minute, Gary. We’re in New York City. There was ‘electrizity.’ We don’t say ‘electricity’ here.
Gary de Mattei: Electrizity. There was a lot of electrizity in the area. It was amazing. But we’re talking about food, right? And how food has a – I love Robert’s title of his book: Farm to Fable. That’s great because fiction and fables and all of these untruths that we hear, and hopefully we’re all going to clear that up today, in addition to having some fun because I’m sure everybody’s a bit stressed out about the world and how things have been going and just be… I know this word is being passed around a lot on social media, but just the vitriol that people are throwing at each other. And the thing that was nice this morning about being in a room full of people – as you mentioned, a diverse group of people – is that everyone was so what I remember being human was all about. Everybody was kind. Everybody was compassionate. They said things like, “Hey, I’ll stand in line all day. This is very important to me. And I know there’s a lot of criticism about one time every four years we vote for President, and people feel that they actually can make a difference, but then the rest of the years everybody just goes back to doing what they normally do. But this felt different to me, and hopefully we can keep the momentum going, and we can keep wanting good things to happen, and I think our job as activists is to let people know that, as you mentioned, there’s so much more to it that we’re not getting, and so let’s try and shed a little light on that, like these myths. Like these fables. Like these fictions, as you said.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I want to say – you mentioned vitriol, and there’s no vitriol here. I often say this, and I try to say it every time, but I don’t always remember: Here on It’s All About Food, we tune in love. This is an opportunity for all of us listening now and listening later to focus on that concept of love.
Gary de Mattei: Right. It’s very important.
Caryn Hartglass: It is very important, and in this moment where people are so divisive everywhere we go, sometimes the only thing that I could do is just envision pure white light around them and find the good because we all have good in us. It’s these fictions in culture that make us adapt and go one way versus another. And that’s where knowledge and education and truth really matter. I think probably as humanity evolved, we looked for reasons for things we didn’t understand. We made up stories. We’re a group of storytellers.
Gary de Mattei: Right, and a lot of the fictions were created to control the populations.
Caryn Hartglass: There’s that, too, yeah.
Gary de Mattei: And a lot of the fiction is also based on fear. For example, with respect to food, which is what the program is about – It’s All About Food – there’s a lot of fear when someone is asked… I just recently, the other day, we were in Florida traveling as you know. You were there, too. And a friend of mine – I got together with some dear friends, old friends from way back when. We all sort of met there, and one of them came up to me and said, “So, you’ve lost so much weight, and you’re a vegan now, but come on. Tell me. Isn’t it true what they say? Aren’t you deplete in protein now because of that? Isn’t there a huge risk of you getting cancer because you eat soy? Isn’t there…” And then all of a sudden there was all of these fears that they have heard that we have obviously done programs about at Responsible Eating and Living, proving that these are just fables. That they’re just untruths. That they’re fiction. But people are still out there thinking that if they adopt a plant-based diet, a vegan diet, they’re not going to get enough protein and it’s going to harm them. I think that’s the big myth right there that keeps popping up. And she was very kind in presenting it to me because she really legitimately, sincerely wanted to know, “Is this true? Am I going to get enough protein if I go to a plant-based diet?” And I said, “Yes.” Look at our program about soy. We’ve done the soy story, and they’re so many things that we – We’re trying to bust all the myths, especially the myth about soy and about protein and about so many other things that people are being told. “Oh, you can adopt the plant-based diet because you won’t get protein and you’ll get rickets.”
Caryn Hartglass: Fear is so powerful, isn’t it? Fear? And I think people are afraid that their foundation will crumble underneath them when they sift in their ideologies, and it’s so hard to hear them. I think the best skill to have, and I’m not exactly sure how to develop it, but to be totally open and objective to everything we see, to kind of wipe away all the assumptions that we have and see things how they really are. That’s almost an impossibility.
Gary de Mattei: Right. Like with this election and the media, for example. I don’t know how many people have been slamming the media. I’m certainly one of the people that is really amazed at how the media’s just gone completely berserk on this whole campaign between the two candidates, and the thing that they really based most of their untruths, their fictions, their fables, on is just – It’s all fear-based. It’s all – The candidates have done their share of it, but the media then just takes it and runs with it to the point where none of it makes any sense. And there’s so much of the watching and the listening that people are doing instead of, like today, getting out in the middle, standing in a line of people, and understanding that, “Wow. It’s going to be up to us to clean up this mess after this election because the media’s going to go on to their next villain. They’re going to go on to their next creation of – showbiz creation. It’s all fiction. And they’re going to create the next villain, and they’re going to create the next hero. They’re going to scare us all into watching and tweeting and Facebooking and Instagramming all of the fears and anxieties that we have in just trying to live our day-to-day lives, but it’s going to be up to us to bring out the brooms and sweep it up, and there’s going to be all kinds of different people doing that. Not just Democrats. Not just Republicans. Not just Independents. Not just Green Party members and the other parties that people want to belong to, but it’s going to be everybody. And so my big thing is, vote with your dollar. It sounds kind of simple-minded, but I’m a simple-minded guy.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s not simple-minded! It’s very profound and powerful.
Gary de Mattei: But it’s true that we have the power, yet we are made to feel powerless by groups like the media. But in reality – The whole idea, the thing that got me started on this was – and this connects with food, and I’ll just get to my point in a minute – we feel powerless, and so when we powerless, we feel that our only choice is to consume. That’s going to make us feel better. When we feel like we don’t have anywhere to turn, we go out and buy something, and so the media’s there to sell us stuff. For all intents and purposes, they’re there to sell a product and in doing so they have to keep us glued to a story, to a fiction, to an untruth, and it has got to be exciting, and it’s got to have drama and conflict, and it’s got to have all of the elements of a good story. And so even if it’s based on truth – now we’re not quite sure where the truth begins and where the story takes over, so then there is that commercial that comes in and it tells us, “Everything’s going to be okay if you buy this product.” Products are going to be sold to us, and then so it’s this vicious cycle. But we, in reality, have the power. We can just stop buying things.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, that’s what I would love to see. Everybody, just. Stop. Buying. If everyone didn’t buy anything for one day, do you know how much power we would have?
Gary de Mattei: It’s possible. That’s why the stock market shows you that how volatile that simple concept is. And so, that’s how much, much more general, these are, I’m speaking in generalities now. Very broad strokes here. This is just coffee talk, the free coffee.
Caryn Hartglass: Coffee talk! Let’s talk about holidays.
Gary de Mattei: Yeah, because the segue here is – Then the other big myth is about the big holiday that’s coming up or fable, that a turkey is important for Thanksgiving. You have to kill a bird, and we all know – Well, not all of us.
Caryn Hartglass: Not all of us.
Gary de Mattei: You and I know, and Mr. Grillo knows, that that’s just a big lie.
Caryn Hartglass: The turkey appears later on the scene. It wasn’t originally the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving holiday.
Gary de Mattei: Right.
Caryn Hartglass: And it’s such a romantic fable that the poor pilgrims who had starved and suffered the winter before now, thanks to the Native American Indians, had a reasonable harvest and they were celebrating and everyone was happy, and then later on we go and just wipe out that entire race of people.
Gary de Mattei: Right, and there’s so much happening now the truth finally coming forward that you can have a lovely Thanksgiving feast, a huge Thanksgiving feast, without a bird. And we have a great Thanksgiving show that we’ve just put back up that we filmed a few years ago, and it has some incredible dishes. And we’ve just gotten better and better at doing this, and every year – we’re not going to be home for Thanksgiving this year, we’re actually going to be with my family in California – but we’re going to make some of these incredible dishes, and I can’t wait.
Caryn Hartglass: Let me tell you some of my favorites for me. I know Thanksgiving traditions – and there’s another fun word, ‘tradition’, which we’ll blast later – we all have different traditions based on our family and our culture and our environment and, my Thanksgiving, I like to have apple pie. I like to have pumpkin pie. And after decades of vegan-izing and gluten-free-izing, I’m very happy with the apple pie recipe we have and the pumpkin pie recipe we have for Thanksgiving. We even have a savory pumpkin pie, not just a sweet one.
Gary de Mattei: Yeah, that’s amazing. But everybody talks about the main event. You have to have this big, dead bird on the table that’s stuffed and, okay, you want to have something to present. You want to have a main event for present, and so we did this thing with a red kuri squash with polenta stuffing. It’s on our website. It’s amazing. It’s gorgeous. And if you’ve ever had a – It looks kind of like a pumpkin, but it’s more like a pumpkin that you would find in The Hobbit. It’s got this really cool color to it, and it’s really attractive, and they come in all shapes and sizes, and we stuffed that with this amazing polenta stuffing, and it’s gorgeous, and you can still pour the gravy all over.
Caryn Hartglass: You can slice it. That’s what’s great about it.
Gary de Mattei: You can slice it, the stuffing is right there, and you were talking just a minute ago about these traditions, and what we are trying to do at Responsible Eating and Living is we’re trying to rescript the traditions. We’ll still get enough food, but the other thing is, is connect the dots to that bird. That bird feels. That bird is a living, breathing creature, and we aren’t connecting those dots because we aren’t shown how horrific the conditions are. Of course, they give you another myth now that it’s ‘free-range’, and it runs around, and it has this lovely life before it gets its head chopped off, but that’s such a myth.
Caryn Hartglass: A huge myth. And another myth is that these birds are dumb, and yet there are more and more studies that show that in some ways they’re smarter than us.
Gary de Mattei: I think so. There was a really profound moment that we had in Florida – bringing Florida back up again – where you and I were trying to take this romantic walk along the beach, along the pier, our first day there. It was nice, nice weather, and we saw these men on the beach pulling in these nets and dumping these beautiful, silver, gorgeous fish onto the sand, and they were flopping around, and I looked over at you and I said, “I can’t even believe how I feel right now. I feel sick.” And you said, “Yeah, it’s because you’re watching these creatures suffocate.” And from that point on, it was just… My mind was just going nuts because I thought, ‘I’ll never be able to walk on the beach again and not feel like an activist.’ And then we tried to take a walk a couple of days later on a pier, and we thought, ‘Okay, here’s this beautiful pier, and we walk through this restaurant to get onto the pier, and there’s like fifty people fishing and chopping up fish for bait and just – It was like the theme from Psycho was being underscored. It was like [Psycho theme] and all of these close-ups of all these former dead fish were – I thought I was having a nervous breakdown. It was very strange, and I’ve only been a vegan now for less than ten years. It’s going on ten years in 2017, and these were things that I used to do, and I used to feel nothing when I did them. Now when I see other people doing them, it just tears me apart.
Caryn Hartglass: Sometimes I feel responsible, maybe even guilty, that I help in opening the eyes of people. People say ignorance is bliss. If you hadn’t made this switch and had this epiphany, you could happily walk along a beach and see a bucket of suffocating fish and not think twice about it.
Gary de Mattei: No, I’m really happy where I am now in a very abstract, paradoxical way. I’m much more – I think everybody is – What I’m getting at is everybody would feel this way, too, because I was a big, big eater of animals before I became a vegan, and I was a hundred pounds heavier. Everybody has their own story. Mine was weight. Other people, it might’ve health. But mine was literally weight. I just had a big, keyword big, problem with weight and eating. And it wasn’t that I ate junk. I just ate a lot of food. I have Italian ancestry, and food is – Italians do food. It’s just – You don’t have just a simple, little meal. You have a truckload of food, especially at all the holidays, and a lot of that has to do with meat and salamis and all of these traditional foods. And breaking that habit, immediately the weight started to come off, and people ask me now, “Do you have a diet that you can give me?” And I say to you, and I’ll say it until I’m green in the face, “Diets don’t work. I’m never going to give you a diet.” What I did was I stopped eating animals, and I adopted a plant-based lifestyle. I guess you could call that a plant-based diet, but it’s so simple. Just cut out all of the animal products and watch the weight come off. Sure, Oreos are vegan. Sure, there’s a lot of products now like vegan butters and things that will make you fat if you just eat those, but you’ve got to understand that there are certain things that, again, people are going to market to you that’s going to tell you, “Eat this! It’s vegan!” Even the vegans are doing it now, where they’re making these products that are just unhealthy.
Caryn Hartglass: We’re back to the myths again, and there are many, many food myths, and one of the biggest food myths – because people are so busy, and people want to eat better, and they want to eat healthier, but they feel overwhelmed. Their lives are so busy. They don’t have time, and they don’t have skills. They’re not difficult skills, but they don’t know what to do in the kitchen, and they’re attracted to these myths about recipes that can be made in ten minutes or things that can be done so quickly. To make food and make it healthy requires planning, preparation, organization, and practice. You can make food quickly once you’ve got a hang of it, and you prepared things in advance.
Gary de Mattei: One thing about Responsible Eating and Living that you have to understand is we’re not a for-profit organization. We don’t make any money, per se, right? We’re not here to make money. We’re here to give you the truth, so it’s going to take you a long time to prepare food that’s going to be satisfying for you if you don’t have any skills in the kitchen. But if you stick with it, the truth is, you’re going to feel a lot better about slow cooking as opposed to getting a meal done in ten minutes. I don’t even know of a meal that can be cooked in ten minutes, even if it’s taken out of the freezer and put in the microwave. It’s going to take you at least two or three hours of your life to get that meal into your freezer because you’re going to have to go shopping. You’re going to have to buy gas. You’re going to have to take the subway or wherever you live. You’re confusing time with what you deserve. You deserve to spend that amount of time, whatever time it takes, to prepare this meal that’s going to nourish your body as well as your spirit.
Caryn Hartglass: Gary, we just have a few more minutes and I wanted to get back to Thanksgiving and talk about the three sisters, which is a favorite food combination of mine: squash, corn, and beans. It’s a beautiful, almost poetic, way. These three foods, the plants corn and squash and beans, support each other in growing and then go so well together in dishes. That is what should be the feature for Thanksgiving: the three sisters.
Gary de Mattei: Exactly. And it’s also an amazing play by Anton Chekhov, who was an environmentalist and a vegetarian, so check him out. There’s a great play on Broadway that we are actually going to go see tonight called The Cherry Orchard. It was his last play and so yes, the three sisters definitely and you know what Caryn I can’t even believe we just talked for a half hour and I didn’t even get to half of the stuff I wanted to talk about, but you need to get to talking to Robert Grillo about Farm to Fable. It’s an awesome book, and he’s much more articulate than I am, and he can get much more passionate about – I’ll think he’ll agree with some of the things that I’m saying and that you’re saying and even elaborate more on it and so I’m going to go get ready to go see Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard.
Caryn Hartglass: Good, I can’t wait. I’m going, too. Okay, thanks, Gary, see you later!
Gary de Mattei: Happy holidays, everybody. Happy Thanksgiving if I don’t talk to you until then and keep listening to Responsible Eating and Living’s brilliant woman, Caryn Hartglass the activist.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you.
Gary de Mattei: I would vote for you if you were running for President, Caryn.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you, Gary.
Gary de Mattei: Absolutely.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you. I’m not going to. I’m too smart!
Gary de Mattei: Bye-bye! Bye.
Caryn Hartglass: Bye! That was Gary de Mattei, the cofounder of Responsible Eating and Living.
Transcribed by Jessica Roman, 11/18/2016