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Part I: Jill Eckart
Jill Eckart, C.H.H.C., is nutrition program manager at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting preventive medicine, especially better nutrition, and higher standards in research.
Caryn Hartglass: Hey everybody, I’m Caryn Hartglass. It’s time for It’s All About Food, and you know what, I just realized that this week is my fourth anniversary, here at Progressive Radio Network, hosting this show, It’s All About Food. I wanted to talk about that for just a minute. I am so grateful to have this opportunity, grateful to the Progressive Radio Network, the whole crew and the studio, and to Gary Null. I have learned so much from doing this show, and I have heard from so many of you and what you’ve gotten out of it, and I can’t say thank you enough. I can’t believe four years has gone by, and now what we are doing is this transcription project where we are transcribing all these shows, so many people that I’ve spoken with, experts in the food movement, getting their information down, documenting it, making it easier for you to access this information. Four years, can you believe it? Now, one thing I want to remind you of, for those who are new to the show or those who have been listening for four years, is why I do it. Obviously, I promote a vegan, plant-based diet, and my primary reason, all this this time, has been the animals. I became a vegetarian when I was very young, and I don’t believe in killing animals. It’s that simple, but during this journey I have learned so much, and it’s just a wonderful bonus to know that plant foods are healthy. Also, eating plant foods instead of animal foods is great for the environment. So it’s a win, win, win, and I love talking about food, healthy, delicious food, and it’s just been a great time for me. One of the things I do on this show is to talk to all kinds of people about food. Certainly, I love to give an opportunity to people who are vegan to promote the vegan message in any way they can through cook books or information about food and nutrition, and also doctors and nutritionists. I also like to talk to people who aren’t vegan because there are a lot of people out there who aren’t eating vegan, but they have a lot of good information about food that I think is important to talk about, such as food policy, for example, which effects all of us no matter what we choose to eat. Then there are people who are promoting different diets that I don’t agree with, but I think there is something there to talk about which is of value, and we talk about those things. So, we all learn something in the end. The bottom line is that one thing is for certain, nothing, and, although, I believe very strongly in the diet I eat, there is a lot of information out there that is confusing, and we are all not going to come to the same decision. So, I like to offer my opinion, common sense, and I love to hear from you and what you have to say. So that’s it, my fourth anniversary on It’s All About Food. Now, let’s get to my first guest whom we’ve had on our show before. Jill Eckart is a nutrition program manager at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, PCRM. We love PCRM, a Washington DC based, nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting preventative medicine, especially better nutrition and higher standards in research. Welcome back to It’s All About Food, Jill.
Jill Eckart: Great to be back!
Caryn Hartglass: Hi, Jill. I spoke to you earlier today, and I told you that I wanted you to tell us all kinds of horrible things about the food we are serving in schools.
Jill Eckart: I am ready, and unfortunately it’s not good news.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, it’s not good news.
Jill Eckart: What we are seeing is just really scary, and what I really want to zero in on today with your listeners, is processed meat, the risk with processed meat, and what we are seeing in the schools.
Caryn Hartglass: Now, I remember maybe 10-20 years ago we started talking about nitrates and things which are in processed meat, and it got some attention, but then somehow people forgot about it.
Jill Eckart: Yeah, people have forgotten, but the science is really coming in more and more every week, and we are seeing really a consensus that processed meat is a stronger link than ever to colorectal cancer. We have seen a really great study come out just two weeks ago linking processed meat to premature death. We are also seeing a link to diabetes.
Caryn Hartglass: Where did that most recent study come from?
Jill Eckart: That came from the EPIC trial which is short for the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. It’s a ginormous study of 440,000 men and women.
Caryn Hartglass: Were they surprised with that result? Were they expecting that result?
Jill Eckart: Well, it supports the findings that we had seen prior, but it really helps having all this additional evidence. What it says is that eating red meat and processed meat increased the risk of dying by 14% for men and 44% for women. So, it is supporting what has come out in the past from Harvard, linking red and processed meats to premature death. So, we have bad news, but have good things that we can do about it.
Caryn Hartglass: Let’s not get to the good news yet, however. So, you said 14% for men and 44% for women. Both of those numbers are big, but why such a difference between men and women. It’s like men are supposed to eat processed meats, or they can get away with it? I don’t get it.
Jill Eckart: Yeah, it’s unclear, but it is an exceptional study with almost 13 years of follow-ups.
Caryn Hartglass: Have there been any critics of this study since it has come out. There are always nay-sayers saying they should have done this or that.
Jill Eckart: I’m sure there are, but this study is a really, really, well-known study, and it’s very, very large. The fact that it is supporting what we have seen come out before is really good. It’s not brand new news, but it really helps us to continue to try and get this message out to the public in a stronger way.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. Now, what other studies have there been that you are familiar with that point out this obvious, at least to me, information.
Jill Eckart: Yes, right. The Harvard School of Public Health found that a daily serving of processed meat increases the risk of premature death by 20%.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow!
Jill Eckart: Yeah, and basically what we are talking about is one hot dog.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow, one hot dog a day!
Jill Eckart: Yes, basically like a 50 gram serving.
Caryn Hartglass: Now, let’s talk about what are processed meats?
Jill Eckart: Good question! Now processed meats are deli meats, pepperoni, hot dogs, chicken dogs, any kind of dog is usually a processed meat. Also, bacon, sausage, turkey ham. Usually when people think of something with turkey in it, they think it is healthier, but these are really processed meats, like the turkey ham. Turkey is another category in itself, but, yeah, sausage, bacon, pepperoni, deli meats.
Caryn Hartglass: Bacon…there is a big trend, now, where people are getting back to bacon and really going crazy about it, and that’s a processed meat?
Jill Eckart: Yeah, and people are really putting themselves at risk because, as I mentioned, just one serving is increasing your risk by 20%, just one hot dog. So, yeah, people are going crazy for bacon which is the opposite direction we want to go in.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, and it’s also not very nice for the animals, and people don’t want to connect those dots. So, as I mentioned at the beginning of the show, my motivation all along has been about the animals, the cruelty that happens to animals and the factory farming and horrible treatment, and I know that’s where PCRM got started too; but, we have to prove in so many other ways the reasons for people not to eat animals, and health is such an important one.
Jill Eckart: Absolutely, and in terms of school lunches, we know how important meals are to students in terms of them thriving in their classes. There is a lot of good research supporting how important breakfast is. So, breakfast is one of those meals we zeroed in on in our research with schools. We just found tons of sausage, tons of bacon, and turkey ham on the menus across the country, and we saw that the cities and states with the highest amounts of colorectal cancer were linking up with the schools which were serving the most processed meats.
Caryn Hartglass: Like Mississippi, for example.
Jill Eckart: Yeah, very scary.
Caryn Hartglass: Why do they do that? Why are they serving these foods at breakfast? Who tells them to do that? They have nutritionists that are somehow involved with these programs, don’t they?
Jill Eckart: Yeah, they do, and I do think that one of our goals is to really increase education around this issue because I really think people don’t know. Even healthcare professionals are lacking in the knowledge about this. So, we really want to make a huge campaign around just educating people about the risk of processed meat. So number one, maybe some people don’t know. Number two, I think people are really mirroring fast foods in school lunches. So that’s what we are seeing for breakfast, what we’re seeing for lunch. I probably talked about this the last time we talked when we were talking about snacks for kids. We are seeing a lot of fast-food style foods on breakfast and lunch menus as well.
Caryn Hartglass: Now, fast foods. How much of the fast food’s meats are processed meats?
Jill Eckart: Oh, you see it in every menu. You see bacon all over the place. At breakfast you are seeing sausage on every menu, so it’s there, and, of course, hot dogs. It’s all over the place. When you go to a ball game people have hot dogs.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so we have the evidence now that these foods are bad. What’s in them that is so bad. I don’t believe in eating any meat, but why are they worse than meat that isn’t considered processed meat?
Jill Eckart: There really isn’t a consensus on what it really is, and that can be part of why it is so challenging to get this message out to school food professionals as well as healthcare professionals. There is still some information we don’t know. Is it the nitrates? We need more information there, but we do know that these studies are coming out with this critical information. I think we just don’t really know exactly what is in the processed meat that is putting us at such a risk for colorectal cancer. So, we have more to learn on that.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, because those numbers are bigger than the risks if you are just eating a steak. That’s not good either, but the processed meats definitely rings a bell with great risk.
Jill Eckart: Absolutely. The other issues with processed meats above and beyond the link with colorectal cancer is that they are loaded with cholesterol and saturated fats. So, there is, sort of, this other picture of these processed meats, making a really good case for pulling them out of school lunches.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, now part of the problem is the government and what the government subsidizes, recommends, and supports. So, where is the government on processed meats.
Jill Eckart: Yeah, well I think they need as much education as everybody else. I think that a lot of groups are aware of these links and are seeming to wait for even more evidence, but actually the evidence is already in. We know that just one hot dog increases your risk so much, so we think that’s enough to take action, but perhaps some of these other agencies need a little more convincing. So we are working on some dialogues with these agencies, as well, that can make change, but I do think it is not required for schools to serve processed meat. So, a campaign to the schools to be a leader and remove processed meats from their school lunches is something that any school can do.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so let’s say a parent is listening and they want to do something to get the processed meats out of their child’s school lunch program. What can they do?
Jill Eckart: I would recommend having a discussion with their food service professional, the director of food and nutrition, to make a request for either beginning slowly or removing altogether the processed meats from their menu.
Caryn Hartglass: It does take a parent or someone close to the individual school to make things happen.
Jill Eckart: I think parents have a great perspective. They can request a meeting with the principal or food service director. They can get a group of concerned parents together, go to the PTA and talk about it, or a wellness committee is a great place to bring in conversations about this.
Caryn Hartglass: Does PCRM have helpful materials that people can bring to their schools.
Jill Eckart: We do. We have a lot of material at our website, PCRM.org, and we also have a special website for school lunch issues, and it is HealthySchoolLunches.org.
Caryn Hartglass: Now, what about vegetarian analogues to these processed meats, like vegi-deli slices and vegan hot dogs? What do you think of those?
Jill Eckart: Yeah, those things are acceptable. They might not be especially affordable for schools. So, our focus for this campaign with processed meats in schools is to have the schools remove them from the menu, and while these meat analogues, certainly, have no risk for colorectal cancer or premature death, they may not necessarily be affordable for schools. I think they are certainly worth looking into, and I have seen some of them on the menus in schools for lunch or breakfast, so I think it is a great alternative.
Caryn Hartglass: I think it is a great alternative for people that are thinking about eliminating meat from their diet, as a transition food. I think we both know that it is not the healthiest food on the planet because it is loaded with sodium, but it is probably a better choice than the actual meat products.
Jill Eckart: Absolutely. Just take baseball stadiums, for instance, all across the country. If they were to pull the hot dogs in the interest of what’s best for public health and subbing in the veg dogs, that would be fantastic.
Caryn Hartglass: That would be so beautiful, and most people wouldn’t even know. You give them a bun, sauerkraut, and mustard, and they wouldn’t even know.
Jill Eckart: Absolutely.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so what are you telling the schools to substitute? What foods can they use that kids will eat?
Jill Eckart: Some schools really have good menus, but they are still serving processed meats. So, what we are asking is that they pull the processed meats off. If they need to substitute other things, there are tons of healthy options, but really our campaign is about getting this risk off the menu, pulling these off. There are other options. In talking about breakfast, we are seeing sausage-egg-and-cheese biscuits. We are seeing hot dogs for lunch. We really are seeing hot dogs on lunch menus as well as pepperoni pizza, but there are a lot of healthful options that don’t include processed meats.
Caryn Hartglass: One of the things is that schools serve foods that they think the kids will want to eat, and there is a whole discussion here in that is that really
what kids want to eat? Would they eat more healthful options? Is it partially the parents’ responsibility to not bring their kids up eating the wrong foods? The kids need education too. So, how is PCRM communicating to the kids about not wanting to eat processed meats? Is there anything for the children?
Jill Eckart: I absolutely agree. I think it is very important to talk to kids about this risk, and the way we are doing this is mostly educating the adults and having them try to take the action in their households or take action by talking to schools. We have rolled out this campaign to remove processed meats from school lunches. We are trying educate the school’s food service professionals as well, because it is very important that the food service professional have the education because they do influence the kid’s choices in the lunch lines, for sure.
Caryn Hartglass: So, have you personally worked with any school services? I’m just wondering what their response has been to the suggestion of removing processed meats?
Jill Eckart: Yeah. So our campaign to get schools to remove processed meats is fairly new, but in my work with schools, many of them are very interested in trying to reduce meat, in general. There are some challenges to that, and some of it is that they think the kids won’t eat the foods, but there are lots of ways to work with schools to make these healthy changes, and we have had some really good success in some of our pilot programs aside from this processed meat campaign. We really are just at the beginning which is really exciting, and we are going to be making a request to schools across the country to remove processed meats from their menu, while at the same time working on a policy level to try to change the national school lunch programs so they don’t allow it to be served.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. I always see it as a three-prong problem, this whole food thing. One is the individual that includes the person who is eating or if it is a child, their parents and all the people around them, and another prong is the government and the food policies that make it either affordable or not affordable or provide information so that people know what the right foods are, and I don’t think the government is doing a very good job at that. Then there is marketing and media and all that information that brainwash us literally about what we should be eating. So, we need to attack all three of those in order to make change.
Jill Eckart: Absolutely. It’s very important to be working on all levels, and were excited to be doing that.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, Jill, thank you, and I am so glad you are doing this work with processed meats. I’m certainly going to do my best to stay away from them. Oh, wait, I already am (ha ha). I love all the work that PCRM is doing, PCRM.org. Any last tidbits before we go?
Jill Eckart: Yes, absolutely. We also have the site HealthySchoolLunches.org, and we appreciate anyone coming to the site, and helping us spread the word.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. Thank you so much for joining me, Jill. All the best to you.
Jill Eckart: Thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow, stay away from hot dogs, but you know that already, though, don’t you. I don’t eat very many processed, vegetarian meats either. Although, when I was transitioning a long time ago, they came in handy. They still do come in handy for some people, and once a year, maybe July 4th , I actually may indulge in a vegan hot dog to try to feel American in some bizarre way. I wanted to tell you some more things I am involved with. This is really super exciting. I can’t wait to tell you. Last week I mentioned some of the places I was going to be speaking. I’m going to be in California in mid-April until the end of April, and I will be speaking at Berkley Vegan Earth Day on April 20th. The real exciting thing is that we have started a new project called the Swinging Gourmets, and it is a vegan musical and vegan cabaret act that we will be premiering in Los Gatos, California, on Earth Day, which is my birthday. We are going to be having a big birthday party and a musical show with a vegan message. It is going to be fun, funny, and if you are in the neighborhood, I really would love for you to be there. You can find out more about it by going to ResponsibleEatingAndLiving.com, or we have a bright, shiny, and new website SwinginGourmets.com. If you would like the Swinging Gourmets to come to you, send a message to me at info@RealMeals.org because we will be touring. We will be going to South Florida in May, bringing it home to New York sometime in late summer or fall, and honing the show and bringing it all around. I think this message is so important, and there are so many different ways to communicate about eating plant-based foods. We need to get it from all angles, and entertainment is a very important part. I am a believer in theatre and how people can learn from watching a performance piece. Somehow that is a way in to connecting the dots for people, in addition to reading books and listening to radio shows, a whole host of things. So, I think this is also an important piece, and I am really excited about that. So, I hope to see you somewhere along the tour. That’s SwinginGourmets.com. I talked about this once before, and I have to bring it up again because it is just crazy, but walking up Broadway here in Manhattan on the way to the studio, very often there are people out soliciting one thing or another. Very often there are people who want you to sign a petition for one thing or another. There could be Green Peace or other organizations, some of them being very worthwhile and having great missions, but I always want to bring people to what I believe in. So, when people come up to me to sign a petition or ask me something, the first thing I ask them is “are you vegan?” This lets them realize that what they are talking about is so connected with food. With Factory farming our environment is being devastated primarily because of all the animals we are growing on this planet to feed people, and if we stopped, or at least reduced it, we would have dramatic positive effects on the environment. So, when people stop me to talk about the environment, one group or another, that’s the first thing I ask. The response I usually get back is, “well, no, maybe I should be,” and it’s kind of vague. So I proselytize right back to them with my message. Today, a woman came up to me who had some Biblical message. She had some pamphlets talking about the Bible, and my question right back to her was, “are you a vegan?” She did not know what vegan was, so I asked her if she was a vegetarian. My question to people like that who want to promote their religious philosophy, I want to remind them of a number of things, such as in the ten commandments there is that little one about how thou shalt not kill. So, I always ask who, who are we not killing? Is it white men saying I am not going to kill other white men? Is it men saying I’m not going to kill other men, or I’m not going to kill people of my religion, or does it just mean not killing any living thing? So, I like to always throw that out there. Then there is this other thing in the Bible, and you have to understand, and I have said this many times, I am not a religious person, but I respect other people’s philosophies, but I am not a practicing anything, other than being vegan, but there is this one little line in the Bible in Genesis 1:29 which talks about how all we should be eating is plant foods. I remind people of that because I’m always looking for an angle, one way or another, to stop this cruelty to animals. So if it’s through religion, through entertainment, whatever it is, I’m going to use it. So, why don’t we take a break. That sounds good to me, and while taking a break visit SwinginGourmets.com, ResponsibleEatingAndLiving.com , all those great websites, so much to do, and It’s All About Food. We will be back in just a few minutes.
Transcribed by Ann Dungey, 3/25/2013