Linda Riebel, The Green Foodprint



Part I: Linda Riebel
The Green Foodprint

Linda Riebel, is a psychologist and environmental educator. At Saybrook University in San Francisco, where she has been on the faculty since 1993, she helped create the sustainability program. A graduate of Wellesley College, she is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, as well as of many environmental organizations. At, she is program director of Edible EdVentures, which brings the message of earth-friendly food to classrooms around the Bay Area.

Linda was assisted by Ken Jacobsen, a researcher and planner for high-tech corporations, who has also catered, taught cooking, and written a cookbook. Their original edition of the book was Eating to Save the Earth: Food Choices for a Healthy Planet (2002).

The Green Foodprint draws from a variety of sources: books, government reports, scientific studies, newsletters and websites of environmental organizations, and personal communications with numerous experts. Newspapers, including the New York Times, were valuable in showcasing good news (such as growing food on rooftops), and keeping us up to date on unfolding stories, such as ocean depletion.


Caryn Hartglass: Hello, I’m Caryn Hartglass and you are listening to It’s All About Food. Thank you for joining me for another week where I get to talk for an hour about my favorite subject, food and all the things that are related to the food that we eat: our planet Earth, our health and animals. So, today I want to talk about food and food choices and how they affect the health of people and the health of the planet and I’m going to be doing that specifically with my new guest Linda Riebel, who wrote a book called The Green Foodprint.

Let me tell you a little bit about her. She’s a psychologist and environmental educator. At Saybrook University in San Francisco, where she has been on the faculty since 1993, she helped create the sustainability program. A graduate of Wellesley College, she is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, as well as many environmental organizations. At, she is program director of Edible EdVentures, which brings the message of earth-friendly food to classrooms around the Bay Area. The Green Foodprint draws from a variety of sources: books, government reports, scientific studies, newsletters and websites of environmental organizations, personal communications with numerous experts. Newspapers, including the New York Times, were valuable in showcasing good news (such as growing food on rooftops), and keeping us up to date on unfolding stories, such as ocean depletion. We’re going to be hearing a lot more about this book from Linda. Welcome to It’s All About Food.

Linda Riebel: Thank you, Caryn.

Caryn Hartglass: Hi, how are you today?

Linda Riebel: Well, I’m very excited to be speaking to your listeners and really supporting the movement toward food that’s healthy for person and planet.

Caryn Hartglass: Amen. So, we all need to be doing our part, and you certainly have done a good piece in writing this book, which sums up a lot of very important information.

Linda Riebel: Thank you. Yeah, my goal was, as you said, to sum up a lot of information, because there’s so much information out there and so many kinds of decisions to make that I wanted to boil it down to make it easy to remember and also for people to have kind of a mental template for dealing with so much conflicting new information.

Caryn Hartglass: It’s so worth using.

Linda Riebel: For varying new types of ideas.

Caryn Hartglass: It’s so, so confusing. I love the internet, and there’s so much information there, but you have to know what’s good and what isn’t good. What’s real and what isn’t real.

Linda Riebel: Exactly, and you need to be able to tell which website or speaker is simply fronting for big agribusiness.

Caryn Hartglass: The title ‘Foodprint,’ that’s kind of clever. Where did that come from, and what are you trying to say with that?

Linda Riebel: Ok, well, it actually started out as a typo. My first book on food and the environment was called Eating to Save the Earth and came out ten years ago, and I was just typing up folders of letters to people and that kept cropping up. As people began to talk about their carbon footprint, I thought well, gee, this makes sense. If we can reduce our food footprint on the earth, it’s incredibly important because the agriculture portion of our economy, and by that I mean including packaging, transportation, etc., produces something like 20 percent of greenhouse gases. So, anything we can do individually to cut that down is important, and actually even the big corporations are paying attention. I’m just reading the most recent news, which I’m sure you’ve been on top of as well, that General Mills has found a way to put more Cheerios into their big Cheerio boxes, and they figure that this one change alone will save 1,000 trees a year.

Caryn Hartglass: Right, because there is always so much extra space in those cereal boxes!

Linda Riebel: Right, and I’m not a big c­ereal eater, but a lot of people are, and if that one change can save a thousand trees, just imagine all of the other changes.

Caryn Hartglass: There are so many things that we can do just by thinking, and most people aren’t. Most people are kind of sleepwalking or not focused on what’s really important, but absolutely, there are so many ways that we can save little bits here and there, and those little bits do add up. It’s just like the little drops that are necessary to fill a bucket.

Linda Riebel: I’m remembering a talk that Howard Lyman gave some years ago. Howard Lyman, I’m sure you know and maybe your listeners need to know, is the author of Mad Cowboy, in which he tells the story of growing up as a cattle rancher and then having an epiphany and then turning out and becoming an organic, vegan activist. In this talk he said, “We don’t have to reach everybody.” If we reach enough people, and I don’t know if he said 20 percent or what figure, then the rest will follow. When I get discouraged, I remember that and say: we’ve got to reach the key people and we are.

Caryn Hartglass: Well, you wrote a book ten years ago about saving the earth and now you’ve written this one. What have you seen change in those ten years?

Linda Riebel: Oh, well first of all, it’s wonderful. There are so many… there is so much more awareness. The organic niche of the food market has been growing hugely every year, and that’s because people are buying it. They are willing to the price, premium. And every bit of news that comes out about GMO and pesticides, it just drives people more and more to awaken. Another thing is, that I’ve seen in the last ten years, is the number of organizations involved. [Caryn: Mm-hm.] Do you know Paul Hawken’s group Wiser Earth? It’s a website,, and it’s kind of a clearinghouse of groups all around the planet that are working for sustainability, and I just checked it out today. If you put in “sustainable food,” there are over 5,000 non-profit organizations working on sustainable food, and if you put in “healthy food,” there are 900. If you put in “organic food” in this website, you get over 8,000 organizations. So, the positive news is that people are getting together, and of course there is your organization. You have a 501(c)(3).

Caryn Hartglass: I do.

Linda Riebel: Yes, exactly.

Caryn Hartglass: And that’s what it’s all about: healthy food.

Linda Riebel: Yes, your name. I love your name, and I love the acronym, so I’m so happy that you are inviting me to be on the show here.

Caryn Hartglass: Oh, thank you. Thank you.

Linda Riebel: We’re really on the same page.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. Well, I always like… I like talking to people that I agree with. [Laughs] But you know what? Occasionally, I talk to people that I don’t entirely agree with, and I’m kind of on a campaign right now to align with people about what we do agree on. Many of us, even though we don’t agree on some of the details, we do agree on ending factory farming, making food organic, getting most of our food from local sources, ending genetically modified food and making food accessible and affordable. I think everybody in the alternative food movement can agree on those issues.

Linda Riebel: Exactly. Well, you know as a psychologist, I have some thoughts to offer on how to talk to people who are different from yourself. In fact, I even want to create a course on this for Saybrook, where I teach. But for the moment, let me just mention some thoughts. Some of these may be pretty obvious, that your readers, I mean your listeners will say oh, yes, yes I know that one. The first is to emphasize the positive. Now, those of us who are deeply engaged in the alternative food movement have got to understand the negative. We have to read all the bad news, but when we are talking to naïve people, that is, people who are busy with their lives and have kids to raise, or whatever, and we’re not blaming them that they just… they’re newbies, right?

Caryn Hartglass: That’s right.

Linda Riebel: So, we emphasize the positive, so instead of saying: Oh my god, this pesticide’s everywhere, we could say: Isn’t it wonderful that there’s so much organic food? And the second tip I would give is to emphasize options. There are so many choices, and, in fact, that was one of the main drivers of my book The Green Foodprint is to say whatever your lifestyle, if you want… even if you don’t have a lot of money, there is a little bit you can do for organic.

Caryn Hartglass: We can always do better.

Linda Riebel: Right. Even if you eat meat, which I don’t, and I would love it if our meat industry gradually fades away, because it’s the most damaging aspect of our whole food system.

Caryn: Absolutely…

Linda Riebel: But even if you do eat meat, you can do A, B and C to reduce your meat impact and slowly make your way towards sustainability. I think a third point is to set an example. Whenever I go to potlucks, I take the tastiest vegetarian dish that I can and invite people to try that out.

Caryn Hartglass: Yep, we have to be the best we possibly can. Just be the best model and then people want to know what it is you are doing.

Linda Riebel: Right and I don’t think we need to be perfect. In fact, I think that probably would backfire…

Caryn Hartglass: That’s my problem. [laughs] I’m kidding.

Linda Riebel: My 25 years in therapy practice working with people who had eating disorders – they knew what the right thing to do was. They know where they wanted to get, and the perfectionism of ‘I’m going to lose ten pounds tomorrow’ or some impossible goal was part of the problem. I think the last persuasion point I would make is to take questions and criticism as an opportunity to educate. In other words, if somebody says, as you and I always hear, “Well where do you get your protein?” Instead of rolling our eyes and saying, “Oh my god, I can’t believe you don’t know that” say, “Oh, I’m so glad you asked. Did you know…” and then we’re off on our little stump speech.

Caryn Hartglass: Yes. I met someone recently who said he and his wife had been vegan, but they started eating fish because they were low on protein. It was not… I wasn’t in a place where I could really continue a conversation, but afterwards I was thinking: Okay, how did he know he was low on protein?

Linda Riebel: Right!

Caryn Hartglass: Did he have a test, or did he just assume because they were feeling fatigued, a little run down, and then you just start to say you need more protein? And most people say that and they don’t know what they are talking about.

Linda Riebel: Yeah, or they just got worn down by all their friends telling them they were low on protein.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, sure. I’m kind of curious, because you have a great background in psychology and so many people, most of their food issues are related to personal, emotional problems. So, right now in the United States we have about a third of the adult population who are overweight, obese. We can put all this great information out in front of them, but there’s a bigger problem there.

Linda Riebel: Yes, I’m glad you brought that up. I think we’re in the middle of a huge cultural shift. Now, it’s easy for me to say because I live in the San Francisco Bay area, and apart from the fact that every third person is a therapist, every fourth person is a healthy food advocate. So, you know. And you’re in New York where there is lots going on. Nevertheless, I think the cultural shift is happening. For example, I’m sure you saw this in the news: Disney recently announced, like yesterday, they’re not going to put junk food advertising on their television shows, radio and website.

Caryn Hartglass: Wow, that’s big.

Linda Riebel: That’s huge. Michelle Obama said, “Man, this is a game changer.” So, it really is happening, and I’m just really sad for the children that are obese now because it’s going to be an uphill battle for them to regain their health. But anyway, back to the culture change, the idea that vegetarianism is not an aberration. It’s just a choice. You can go into most restaurants and find at least one vegetarian option, or the chef will fix something for you. I don’t want to forget your question, the emotional causes of overeating.

Caryn Hartglass: Well, because it’s so prevalent today. It’s so prevalent. I talk about the importance of green juicing all the time, because, for lots of reasons. A lot of people I talk to ask me about juicers, and they buy a juicer, and they use it for a week, and then it goes up in their cupboard, and they don’t use it, and then they start putting on weight…

Linda Riebel: Oh, I have to plead guilty to that one.

Caryn Hartglass: [Laughs] How do we turn that around? As a psychologist, there are a lot of people who have emotional issues, and as a result it’s affecting their health, and it’s affecting all of us. [Linda: Right.] It’s a big question.

Linda Riebel: Yes, I know. Of course, as a retired therapist, I believe in the profession of learning about yourself and discovering your inner emotional life. I think most people could benefit, at one time or another, from a venture into psychotherapy, even if they don’t have overt symptoms, so that’s one thing. Culture change, in terms of turning people on to organizations in their local community, because a lot of people eat from loneliness. So if they could hook up… it could be anything. It could be a dog rescue organization. It could be a little league team. Whatever it is that gets them out of the house and connecting with people. The research shows that longevity is partly impacted by how big your social network is, quite apart from any other thing.

Caryn Hartglass: Well, it’s a really challenging problem, because, with myself and my nonprofit, I’m always trying to think how can I help to get people healthier, and basically what we’re doing at Responsible Eating And Living is providing all kinds of information for those who want it, but I’m always looking for some secret angle to help those that are really, really challenged. I don’t know what that is. I think when individuals want to make change, and they recognize that there are some issues, I think we all have the capacity to go within and figure out what our challenges are and decide if we are going to work on them or not. There are just some that don’t want to.

Linda Riebel: Right. It’s like what they say in the 12-step group, you have to want to be there.

Caryn Hartglass: Mm-hm. But then I think it’s sort of like a catch-22 where some of the diets that so many people are on today kind of enforce this lethargy and this kind of blasé attitude in not wanting to make change. It’s kind of hard to get out of it when you are eating the foods that you’re eating that aren’t giving you energy and keeping your brain clear.

Linda Riebel: Exactly.

Caryn Hartglass: It’s a challenge. It’s very challenging.

Linda Riebel: Yeah. I think that… well, let me just share with you one tidbit from my eating disorders practice. There is one thought that I can put into one sentence that is the cause, and I’m going to make up a number here, of 80 percent of the overweight in this country. Ok, that’s a ridiculously ambitious statement, but I wanted to get your listeners’ attention. Here’s the thought: Well, it’s 10 o’clock, and I’ve already blown it for today. I might as well go all out. So, it’s the black and white thinking, and I’ve had people tell me, “Well, all my overeating comes after I think that thought.” So, one thing that people can do who are seriously challenged is to really not believe that thought, because that just digs you deeper.

Caryn Hartglass: Keep that in mind. Even if you made a mistake, don’t knock yourself for it. Just pick yourself up and get back to where you want to be.

Linda Riebel: Right, and the partner strategy to that is, when you do make a good choice pat yourself on the back. Another thing that I heard often, I would compliment somebody; they would tell me a story or something that happened, and I would say, “Wow, that’s wonderful,” and in about one nanosecond, they would say, “Oh, well, I should have known that ten years ago” or, “Everybody knows this already, what’s wrong with me?” So the follow up thought is just as important to challenge and to support your support, as it were.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. I have not studied the brain. I don’t know what goes on there, but my understanding is a lot of people continue to hear these negative voices and these voices that do not encourage, and it takes a lot of work to rescript that and to have the voices telling you you’re doing a good thing and not to beat up on you all the time. That’s a lot of work, but it’s definitely worthwhile.

Linda Riebel: Oh, exactly. Thank you for bringing that up. That’s the cognitive therapy approach, and cognitive therapy was invented to give people practical tools, and there are books, and you can practice it yourself. So, one book that is a classic is called Feeling Good by David Burns, and he walks you through how to rescript these voices. Sometimes it takes a lot of work, and sometimes people go, “Oh. I get it.” So I always try to leave room for the possibility that you might have a sudden ‘ah-ha.’ At the same time, with change, prepare yourself to take a thousand steps, but also be ready to receive a moment of ‘ah-ha.’

Caryn Hartglass: We just have a couple minutes left, so I wanted to just highlight a few things. You have five most important decisions in your book: Eat clean food, eat lower on the food chain, eat shorter on the food chain, eat wider on the food chain and ‘nude food.’ Just a few minutes, what is nude food?

Linda Riebel: Nude food refers to less packaging.

Caryn Hartglass: Mm-hm. Like, eat an apple.

Linda Riebel: Yeah, or a banana or a walnut. They come in their own packaging. The amount of natural resources wasted in packaging is just breathtaking. Petroleum to make the plastic and then we just throw them away after one use. So, one thing people could do is support the ban on plastic bags in their community, if they want to get politically active, as some people do. So, nude food refers to anything that reduces packaging.

Caryn Hartglass: It’s just something to think about. Pay attention everywhere that you’re buying food, because so many foods come wrapped and then wrapped and then wrapped. It’s just so over-wrapped.

Linda Riebel: Yes, or in tiny packages. Now, I understand that parents of school-age children, it must be incredibly tempting to buy juice in those little boxes.

Caryn Hartglass: Right, and it looks like everyone else’s, and it’s convenient. But there are ways. You can buy those containers that look about the same size and fill them up with juice from a larger container. There’s all kinds of solutions.

Linda Riebel: Yes, so that would be something else that people could do about packaging. Obviously, recycle religiously.

Caryn Hartglass: Well, there’s a lot of tips, and they’re all in your book, The Green Foodprint. It’s time to go. Anyway, I’ve really enjoyed talking to you, and thank you for joining me on It’s All About Food and you have a website,

Linda Riebel: That’s correct.

Caryn Hartglass: All one word, Lots of great tips up there. Thank you so much for joining me on It’s All About Food.

Linda Riebel: Oh, Caryn, thank you, and thank all your listeners.

Caryn Hartglass: Ok. Thank you everybody! I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food, and we’re going to take a short break and come right back, because I’ll be talking with chef Roberto Martin, the personal chef of Ellen DeGeneres. While you’re waiting, go visit, my nonprofit website with lots of other wonderful information. We’ll be right back.

Transcribed by Maggie Rasnake, 3/8/2013

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