J. Morris Hicks, Healthy Eating, Healthy World. A former corporate executive with Polo Ralph Lauren in New York, J. Morris Hicks has always been what he calls a “Big Picture” guy. As a public speaker, his favorite topic is Our Health. Our Planet. Our Future as a Species — as he explains how our food choices not only threaten our health but also Earth’s ability to sustain us indefinitely as a species.
Without a doubt, his topic is of great importance to every human being in the world, and he has drawn upon his entire career to cover it well. In 2002, after becoming curious about the “optimal diet” for humans, he began an intensive study that led him to explore a much bigger picture than he ever imagined — discovering many startling issues and opportunities along the way.
He holds a BS in Industrial Engineering from Auburn University and an MBA from the University of Hawaii. In 2010, he earned a certificate in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Foundation and e/Cornell. Since publishing his book, Healthy Eating, Healthy World in 2011, he has pursued a career in public speaking, wellness consulting and blogging to an international audience—publishing over 800 articles in just 2 ½ years at hpjmh.com
Jim is the father of two and a grandfather of six. When not working passionately on his topic of food and sustainability or spending time with his family, you might find him sailing off the coast of Connecticut.
Caryn Hartglass: Hello everybody, we’re back. I’m Caryn Hartglass. You’re listening to It’s All About Food. I have my second guest here with me in the studio and I’m anticipating this to be a very interesting half hour, maybe a little longer. J. Morris Hicks is a former corporate executive with Polo Ralph Lauren in New York. He holds a BS in Industrial Engineering from Auburn University and an MBA from the University of Hawaii. In 2010 he earned a certificate in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Foundation at eCornell. Since publishing his book Healthy Eating, Healthy World in 2011, he has pursued a career in public speaking, wellness consulting and blogging to an international audience and publishing over eight hundred articles in just two and a half years. His website is www.hpjmh.com and that would be Healthy Planet J. Morris Hicks. Welcome and thanks for joining me Jim.
J. Morris Hicks: Thank you Caryn.
Caryn Hartglass: I can hear you.
J. Morris Hicks: I’d like to lead off by thanking you for basically playing a pivotal role in my coming down this path that I’m on today. It was in November of 2005 just after the China Study had come out and through dinners at the Zen Palate in New York City you had three separate occasions where I met in person T. Colin Campbell, Joel Fuhrman and Caldwell Esselstyn, respectively. Now I sit on T. Colin Campbell’s board. I know I’ve worked with Fuhrman for a year or so and also I know Esselstyn very well. Who knows, if it weren’t for you and EarthSave, and people like John Robbins, I might not be here today doing what I’m doing now that I’m officially an activist.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right, I didn’t mention that but I’m glad you brought it up. That’s part of the bio, an activist. When I first saw you I think last year and you told me all that you had been doing, it’s always wonderful to see how the seeds spread. I keep asking myself, I use to organize these monthly dinner lectures in Manhattan at a restaurant and offer a vegan meal and I keep wondering is that worthwhile doing again? I haven’t done them for a long time and I’m not quite sure just doing this show takes a lot of time. I don’t know, I think there’s value in looking at people and seeing them eye to eye. We’re getting further and further away from that. I love the internet, technology, wi-fi and all of that but there is something about being with fellow human beings while we can. Okay, so you are doing some incredible work. Let’s just talk about the light subject, the future of the human species.
J. Morris Hicks: The future of the human species.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, what do you think about that Jim? I know you’ve been thinking about it.
J. Morris Hicks: Well yes I’m thinking we’re in trouble.
Caryn Hartglass: We’re in trouble.
J. Morris Hicks: The big wake-up call for me, I’ve been studying this topic now since 2002 and I originally started out studying for the health regions, the nutritional side of the equation. Then I gradually shifted more into the environmental side, now the sustainability side and I’m talking about the ultimate sustainable issue which is the sustainability of the human species. A wake-up call book which I call a wake-up call for leaders is a book by the title Ten Billion written by Stephen Emmott who is the head of computational science at Microsoft in the UK. This book is a one-hour read and it hasn’t gotten wonderful reviews on Amazon, not as high as my book or Colin Campbell’s book, modestly speaking. But that’s because it’s bad news. It’s a bad news book and a lot of people don’t like bad news books. But I call it a wake-up call for leaders because leaders like reality books. They like books that tell the truth, the real truth and the whole truth. That’s what Stephen Emmott did and I was excited to be able to visit with him personally in London this past October. I posed to him a question because I had noticed in his book that basically said we will definitely, our civilization, will collapse well before the end of this century. For a lot of reasons that he covers very succinctly in the book and nobody is working on all of those reasons. So I posed to him the question that if we were able somehow to get the world’s most affluent two billion people, which are the ones that eat 70% of the meat, dairy, eggs and fish, if we can get that group influenced to replace 75% of their calories with plant-based alternatives, what would that do? He said he can’t be sure exactly but the positive impact on the environment would be enormous. So that’s all we need to do, it’s simple.
Caryn Hartglass: Meanwhile, what was his feeling about food?
J. Morris Hicks: He writes about food in the book and he was well aware that meat, dairy, egg and fish calories require a lot more land, water and energy to produce than the plant-based calories. But he didn’t suggest that we start moving in that direction. He didn’t really suggest any action, it was a wake-up.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay so he’s just telling it like it is but not making any recommendations?
J. Morris Hicks: Right. But he did say that he personally is eating a lot less meat than he used to and he knows that it’s a real environmental disaster.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. Well it stuns me when people are aware of what’s going on that they don’t totally avoid the things that are of trouble.
J. Morris Hicks: Yes and that’s kind of moving forward to my kind of development, deciding what I’m going to do, what is J. Morris Hicks going to do to help fix this mess? I’ve always, when I was in business as an executive and I had a few hundred people working for me, I would try to do only the tasks that only I could do. I would delegate everything else. So in my case now, my background as first as an engineer, I studied industrial engineering as an undergraduate. I got a Masters in business, and I was the management consultant and strategy consultant. I was a senior corporate executive with a number of companies and most recently I’ve been a corporate head hunter. So how does one leverage that background for the greatest good in terms of that mission that I just stated which is how do we get the top wealthiest two billion people in the world to shift over to more of a plant-based diet. I noticed the German lady in the last conversation said she thought meat was tapering a bit in Germany on a per capita basis. I believe that’s true here as well. However, I’ve run the numbers and according to my numbers, when you consider the people in China and India that are moving toward meat for the first time, I figure that for every American who is moving in the direction of a plant-based diet, there are ten Chinese moving in the other direction. China right now has the largest consumer of meat in the world, twice as much as the United States, not nearly on a per capita basis.
Caryn Hartglass: When you talk about getting leaders involved, there are many corporate leaders that are involved with businesses in China and in India to help them consume more animal products.
J. Morris Hicks: Absolutely. We were talking earlier, I think the first step as I do in business, the first step with anything is leadership. We got to decide who’s running the show. Who is going to take the lead and that task of informing the world’s top two billion most affluent citizens?
Caryn Hartglass: Do you have any ideas?
J. Morris Hicks: I do have some ideas. A lot of people raise their eyebrows at some of them. I’ll just read off a little short list here, that would be Biz Stone, cofounder of Twitter here recently.
Caryn Hartglass: And he’s also involved with Beyond Meat.
J. Morris Hicks: Yes, as is Bill Gates. I’ve been blogging and commenting on his blogs, and sending him letters. I’m trying to get an introduction to Bill Gates. I know he knows that what we’re doing is unsustainable. He’s invested in the meat companies but he’s spending most of his time trying to relieve the suffering instead of fixing the systemic issues here. James Cameron, I met with him twice in the past year. Ted Turner, I’ve got a meeting with his daughter tomorrow, I met with her in February. I’m on the lookout for an introduction to Michael Bloomberg and I’ve got Prince Charles on my list.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh he likes the environment.
J. Morris Hicks: So what all of these people have in common is they have global name recognition, some more than others. I think as I mentioned to Caryn a just a few minutes ago, I think the leader that’s going to have the ability to do what really needs to be done, first of all got to be able to surround himself or herself with a few caring billionaires to finance a huge global awareness campaign. But it’s got to have the global name recognition to influence a whole lot of people. Therefore I think the person that’s going to do this has not yet been enlightened as to what needs to be done and is not yet enlightened about the fact that the whole food plant-based diet is far superior to any kind of meat-based diet. Therefore I think it’s an easier task to enlighten one leader than it is to go with the mediocre leader that already gets it. So that’s what I’m doing.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, we’re looking for the Messiah.
J. Morris Hicks: We’re looking and I’ve written a number of blogs about this. We’re seeking one powerful global leader and a few caring billionaires. And so you say well how much would a global campaign cost? Well there’s a term called effective frequency in advertising. The first time you hear a message, you may say you don’t believe it. And the fortieth time you hear it maybe you buy the product. I don’t know what the effective frequency is to get people to switch their diet but it’s going to be different in every city, in every country and all over the world. This is a global problem. Our atmosphere is something we share with everybody. It’s not going to be managed by a country or a single elected official with special interest or corporations. It’s got to be managed by a leader with a reputation for integrity and someone who genuinely cares about the environment. I’ve been writing about Ted Turner. He gave one billion dollars of his own money. This is before he lost nine billion dollars with the AOL deal, of his own money to the UN. He founded the Goodwill Games. He’s a real champion of the environment and he just hasn’t yet figured out the fact that there’s this disconnect between meat and the environment.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow. Well I’m glad you’re thinking this way and you’re putting it out there because I don’t think anything will happen unless someone thinks of it first and puts it out there. That’s the step one. We all have a lot of work to do. I know I’ve been doing this most of my life, for about forty, forty one years now. This thing about repeating the message, I’ve been repeating it for forty-one years to my friends and family! And some of them finally get it! It takes a decade, two decades, three decades and all of a sudden different people come to me and they get it. It does take a long time and there are so many other influences that affect all of us. But this isn’t the only thing you’re working on. You seem to have your hand in a bunch of different projects.
J. Morris Hicks: Let me just mention one more thing on that.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay.
J. Morris Hicks: The global awareness campaign that we’re talking about would require five or ten of the largest public relations organizations crafting a strategy for every country, region and language. It would cost a lot of money. So what’s a lot of money? Ten billion dollars, fifty billion dollars or one hundred billion dollars? How about one trillion? What difference does it make if one powerful leader really understands what’s at stake here? When you’re talking about one hundred billion dollars, we just spent fifty billion for the Sochi games.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh please!
J. Morris Hicks: Facebook just acquired WhatsApp for nineteen billion dollars.
Caryn Hartglass: The money is there.
J. Morris Hicks: Give me a break. How much was spent for the FIFA World Cup? We spend so much money entertaining ourselves and then we say oh my goodness, we can’t afford to spend ten billion dollars on an awareness campaign. Well you can if you understand the total problem.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right. But it’s not sexy and it’s not fun. I don’t have children but for people who do, I can’t understand how they don’t want to work toward a future for their children and children’s children. I do. I don’t want to see the world coming to some violent end. I don’t know why we’re not working towards that.
J. Morris Hicks: Well people ask me from time to time, how do you manage to stay optimistic and why are you doing what you’re doing?
Caryn Hartglass: You can just go sailing everyday!
J. Morris Hicks: Yes and why don’t you ever get depressed? And I said once you fully understand the problem and able to conceive of a solution, you just can’t quit trying. I’m not just talking about my grandchildren, I have six, but I figure the project I’m working on, searching for this one powerful leader is an executive search assignment that I am conducting for my clients who are all the children of the world. I figure my own grandchildren, I wrote a blog about what they might be saying about me in 2050 after I’m gone and they might say while we’re running out of water and none of us have jobs anymore. Our civilization has collapsed in 2070 maybe. And they’ll say they found this book that granddaddy wrote with my father and they knew what was going on back then but no one would listen to them. But granddaddy did all he could, that’s what I want. If I’m unsuccessfully, I want my grandchildren to believe that I did everything that I could.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay well let’s talk about some of these other business strategies you’ve got going on. 4Leaf for Life?
J. Morris Hicks: 4Leaf for Life is a healthy eating concept that I introduced in my book Healthy Eating, Healthy World in 2011. It’s basically based on a statement Dr. Campbell made which is the closer we get to eating a diet in whole plant-based foods, the better off we’ll be. And I had these veggie doctors arguing about little issues which I think is totally unproductive yet they all agree with that statement. Let’s just consider that statement. Let’s not worry if someone is 99% vegan, 94% vegan or wears leather shoes. Let’s just give them a formula that’s positive based on what you are eating, not based on what you’re not eating. So 4Leaf basically is four levels of leaves. One leaf is 20 to 40% of your calories from whole plants. Two is 40 to 60%, three is 60 to 80% and the four leaf level is 80% or more of your calories form whole plant-based foods. As I contend, eating vegan is not necessarily healthy and you know that.
Caryn Hartglass: Yup. We have vegan donuts, vegan ice cream and all kinds of crap.
J. Morris Hicks: Vegan potato chips and vegan diet coke, and you can call yourself a vegan. So I ran that by Dr. Campbell before I put it in the book and he loved it because it was something based on the source of what you are eating. The 4Leaf for Life corporate wellness idea, I started thinking about back in 2013, realizing that the only powerful people in America that have an incentive for people to eat whole plant-food based, a financial incentive, are the guys paying the health care bills, and that’s the largest corporations of the country. I figured as a consultant, I should be able to go in and get consulting assignments basically doing a conversion of the culture so that people in these companies start eating whole food plant-based and this would be led by the CEO of the company. In a company of ten-thousand people, they can easily save twenty-five million dollars a year.
Caryn Hartglass: Well Whole Foods is kind of trying to prove that right now, right?
J. Morris Hicks: Well John Mackey is the only corporate CEO in the Fortune 1000 that’s doing it. I’ve got an eleven page vision document that you can find on my website if you really search for it. I’m ready to go. I’ve assembled a team of doctors, nurses, and people that can teach. I can put three people on the ground in any city in American in three days but I have yet to find one CEO that’s ready to do it because it’s not easy. It’s not easy unless you are enlightened and so I’ve decided to shift to the executive recruiting but I’m still looking for that first CEO client. If somebody knows one, go to my website and give me a call.
Caryn Hartglass: Well there are little pockets here and there, companies doing these programs. I know PCRM (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine) has worked with some companies to do some training but I guess its novice.
J. Morris Hicks. Yes they work at Blue Cross there in Washington. But they did a little study. I asked Dr. Barnard about it when I was with him in his office. By the way, he’s one of my heroes. He’s featured prominently throughout my book. I asked him what did the CEO think of the results of the study? And he didn’t know who the CEO was or whether the CEO ever even heard of it. He was doing a study to prove that the diet worked, he wasn’t doing a culture conversion project which is what I’m trying to do.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s where it has to happen. We see it in the microcosm of when a family has a health crisis like a child or someone in the family. They have the greatest success when the entire family, from the top down, eats the way they are supposed to in order to make that one person healthy. It’s true of a family, of a corporation, of a country and of a planet. Oh goodness, okay I like that idea. All right let’s talk about The Plantrician Project. This is a good one.
J. Morris Hicks: I and Susan Benigas, the executive director, are so glad you brought that up. The Plantrician Project is a new not for profit entity that is targeting the medical community to help doctors learn the truth about nutrition. We have realized that even with the global awareness campaign, we might have thousands of people and millions of people ready to make changes in their diet until they get to their physician’s office, who is more than likely, ten-to-one, to give them caution rather than encouragement. That’s because they don’t know themselves. They eat the typical western diet themselves and why would they encourage their patients to do otherwise? That’s a big challenge but it’s one that we’re committed to. I’m now acting as the chief development officer that means I’m going to be trying to raise money once we get our 501(c)(3) status established. The second International Plant-Based Nutrition Healthcare conference will be held in San Diego on September 17th through the 20th. You can learn all about that at www.pbnhc.com. It’s a really easy website, Plant-Based Nutrition Healthcare Conference. The first one was held last October in Naples. There were people from something like twenty countries and that’s when they changed the name to international. So that’s just one of the things that The Plantrician Project will be doing. There’s a lot more things that people will be hearing about as we get underway.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. So I see this coming from two directions. We need to re-educate our current doctors.
J. Morris Hicks: Yes.
Caryn Hartglass: And then the new ones that are coming up need to start learning in their own programs.
J. Morris Hicks: Well they need to learn in medical school.
Caryn Hartglass: In medical school.
J. Morris Hicks: Or they need to learn in nutrition school. I’m kind of on the inside here with Dr. Campbell and I asked Dr. Campbell this question again last week. I said Dr. Campbell, how many nutritional scientists are in the world? And he estimated ten thousand. I said how many of them have endorsed your work or agree with your work? And he said probably ten or fifteen individuals. I said how many have publicly endorsed your work and it’s not a single one. So that’s where we are. We’re at ground zero and we have not a single school of nutrition teaching plant-based nutrition. Cornell cancelled his course abruptly without even checking with him, that was about ten years ago.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes I remember that.
J. Morris Hicks: There’s not a single school of medicine teaching how to promote health with food which, when you go back to Hippocrates, he said “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
Caryn Hartglass: Yes it’s extremely frustrating. Occasionally I go with people to their doctors if they’re going through a health crisis especially with cancer because I have some experience with that and to hear what the doctors say. Sometimes I come armed with articles because I know what they’re answers are going to be and I’ll say you mean you didn’t read this? Here, let me leave it with you! But the arrogance is so thick and it’s criminal. To hear a doctor say that you can eat all the sugar you want since it has nothing to do with the growth of cancer. And the little things that most of us know a little bit about.
J. Morris Hicks: I know a PCRM instructor. A real good friend of mine on Cape Cod and her name is Joanne Irwin. Her husband is suffering with cancer, he’s taken chemo now and radiation I think. He still eats meat, dairy, eggs and fish, and she spends her life teaching people not to do that. Recently he goes to his doctor and asked his doctor if it’s okay to eat chicken. The doctor says absolutely, chicken is good for you in fact all meat is good for you and you should eat a lot of meat. Until the medical community gets on board, this is never going to be embraced broadly and quickly. Our shift to plant-based diet will be elusive at best.
Caryn Hartglass: Now okay let’s get back to you Jim.
J. Morris Hicks: Yes.
Caryn Hartglass: You’re a healthy handsome man and well dressed. You’ve come from the Polo Ralph Lauren line. How did it happen for you when the vale was lifted? What was the first step?
J. Morris Hicks: Well the first step for me was a coincidence that I started studying this. It happened in 2002, I was asked to speak at Georgia Tech as an executive recruiter. They had a group that met every month and they had a speaker that they paid to come in and speak. Excuse me, they never paid them. But they liked to have head hunters to come because people liked hearing from them and they thought they knew the secret to getting a job.
Caryn Hartglass: Right.
J. Morris Hicks: I decided to write about an article I just posted on my website which was called First Get a Life, Then Get a Job: My 7 Secrets. One of my seven secrets was to get real serious about health. Shortly after that we decided in my executive search firm that we would conduct a Get a Life seminar as we were going broke. This was after 9/11 and we had no business. I was going to do a seminar in Atlanta and as I was studying the topic I said well to do a seminar, we need to study these seven secrets so we can deliver a reasonably effective seminar for these people that fly in for the day. I said I was going to take the health one and somebody else was going to take the financial one and whatever. I started ordering books on Amazon and the first book I ordered was by Harvey Diamond because I read his book Fit for Life back in the eighties. So on Amazon it said people that read that book read these two books and over the next six months I read about forty books. The last two books that I read before my big transformation was Mad Cowboy by Howard Lyman.
Caryn Hartglass: Yee-haw!
J. Morris Hicks: And Diet for a New America by our beloved John Robbins. I read those two books over Memorial Day 2003 and that’s when I said I had my blinding flash of the obvious. We’re eating the wrong damn food!
Caryn Hartglass: You were born again, say hallelujah!
J. Morris Hicks: For so many reasons it was just like a blinding flash of the obvious.
Caryn Hartglass: The blinding flash of the obvious. Yes, how many of us have had that.
J. Morris Hicks: So the Get a Life seminar never happened but through that speech at Georgia Tech it sent me on a path where I’m spending virtually all my time as a writer, speaker and activist, and trying to search for that one powerful global leader who can find a few caring billionaires and get this thing going.
Caryn Hartglass: That sounds good to me, that sounds very good to me. Okay so we have just like two minutes or something like that. Two minutes, right.
J. Morris Hicks: Can I mention this article?
Caryn Hartglass: Yes please!
J. Morris Hicks: I wrote a blog about a statement by the CEO of the world’s largest food company back in 2011. His name is Peter Brabeck, he’s the head of Nestle and he’s now the chairman. He was in the news in 2011 and he’s probably in the news everyday but he was in the news this morning. And it says Nestle warns water security more urgent than climate change. And Peter Brabeck does most of the talking in that article but I go back to my blog where I quoted him in 2011 and he said that the demand for meat has a multiplier effect of ten. You need ten times as much land, ten times as much feed and ten times as much water to produce one calorie of meat as you do to have one calorie of vegetables or grain. So throughout this entire article, he never mentioned that again but yet he knows the answer has got to be to eat more plants unless he believes, which he very well may, that we actually need to eat animal protein. It’s that protein myth that has robbed us of the minds of the best and brightest people in the world who truly believe, and their doctors tell them, and it’s reinforced everyday that you need to eat some animal protein. Therefore if it’s good for you, might as well get all you can. So until we can dispel that protein myth, not much is going to change. I think the only way we can do it fast enough now is the huge global awareness campaign that I’ve been beating like a drum for the past year.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay well I’m looking forward to that. Let’s all meditate on that one leader who is going to get all those big billionaires together and spend all the money we need to get the story right. Jim, thanks for joining me on It’s All About Food. And your website again is?
J. Morris Hicks: www.hpjmh.com
Caryn Hartglass: H-P like Healthy Planet. I’m Caryn Hartglass. You’ve been listening to It’s All About Food. Join me at www.responsibleeatingandliving.com and watch the Lone Vegan: Preaching To The Fire please. Thank you and have a delicious week.
Transcribed by Stefan Pavlović, 8/11/2014