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Patti Breitman is a co-founder of Dharma Voices for Animals and director of The Marin Vegetarian Education Group. She is the co-author of many books including Even Vegans Diet (with a foreword by Dr. Michael Greger). She is on the advisory councils of the Animals and Society Institute and Jewish Veg. In 2016 she was honored to receive the Lisa Shapiro Award for Unsung Vegan Heroes. Patti lives in Fairfax, CA where her neighbors and friends include coyotes, foxes, rabbits, bobcats, spiders, birds, snakes, deer, and countless other beautiful creatures.
Carol J. Adams is the author of the landmark book The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory and The Pornography of Meat. Besides advancing scholarship and developing theory in the area of interlocking oppressions, Carol has created a series of books that address the vegetarian/vegan experience: Living Among Meat Eaters: The Vegetarian Survival Guide, Help! My Child Stopped Eating Meat! and The Inner Art of Vegetarianism and Meditations on the Inner Art of Vegetarianism. She lives outside Dallas, Texas.
Virginia Messina, MPH, RD, is coauthor of Vegan for Life and Vegan for Her and of the first textbook on vegetarian nutrition for medical professionals. She writes and speaks on vegan nutrition for both consumers and health professionals. Ginny serves on the board of directors of Vegfund and on advisory boards of One Step for Animals, Veg Youth, and the Vegetarian Resource Group. She lives in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, with her husband and an ever-changing population of rescued cats. Find out more about Ginny at TheVeganRD.com.
Since 2009, It’s All About Food, has been bringing you the best in up-to-date news regarding food and our food system. Hosted by Caryn Hartglass, a vegan since 1988, the program includes in-depth interviews with medical doctors; nutritionists; dietitians; cook book authors; athletes; environmental, animals and health activists; farmers; food manufacturers; lawyers; food scientists and more. Learn about how we can solve many of the world’s problems today and do it deliciously, here on It’s All About Food.
Caryn Hartglass: Hi, everybody. Hello, everybody. I’m Caryn Hartglass and thanks so much for joining me today for another episode of It’s All About Food.
Would you believe that this program is now in its ninth year? That’s a lot of talking about food and my favorite subject. We cover a lot of topics on this program, most related to food. Today we’re going to be talking about food-related topics. Two topics that people are uncomfortable talking about are death and bowel movements, right? But we’ve covered a lot about bowel movements on this show. So we’re going to be talking about the other topic.
I like to quote my dad, who has a bunch of sayings, and he likes to say, “No one gets out of this world alive.” We haven’t talked about death and dying, and we’re going to do some of that today. I don’t know if you’ve heard this, but Woody Allen once said, “I’m not afraid of death. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” What we’re going to talk about today in relation to death is many things, including being prepared for it and being there when it happens.
My guests today are the terrific trio: Carol Adams, Patti Breitman, Ginny Messina. We’ve had them on the show before three years ago to talk about their book, Never Too Late to Go Vegan. Whenever you go vegan—early, late, or never—their new book is for you: Even Vegans Die. What I’d like to do is introduce our guests one at a time. This way we can calibrate their voices and we know who’s saying what.
So let’s start with Carol Adams. She’s the author of the landmark book, The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory and The Pornography of Meat. Besides advancing scholarship and developing theory in the area of interlocking oppressions, Carol has created a series of books that address the vegetarian/vegan experience: Living Among Meat Eaters: The Vegetarian’s Survival Handbook, Help! My Child Stopped Eating Meat!, The Inner Art of Vegetarianism, and Meditations on the Inner Art of Vegetarianism. She lives outside Dallas, Texas. Carol, welcome.
Carol Adams: Thank you very much, Caryn. It’s an honor and thrill to be on your show today.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you. It’s such a privilege to talk to you, always. Are you in Texas today?
Carol Adams: Yes, and it’s hot.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s hot! (laughs) Okay, that was a question. Welcome to global warming.
All right, let’s bring on Patti next. Patti Breitman is the co-founder for Dharma Voices for Animals and the director of the Marin Vegetarian Education Group. She’s the co-author of many books, including Even Vegans Die. She’s on the advisory council of Animals & Society Institute and Jewish Veg. In 2016, she was honored to receive the Lisa Shapiro Award for Unsung Vegan Heroes. Patti lives in Fairfax, California, where her neighbors and friends include coyotes, foxes, rabbits, bobcats, spiders, birds, snakes, deer, and countless other beautiful creatures! Patti! I’m sending you a hug. How are you?
Patti Breitman: Hi, Caryn. I’m fine, thanks for having me on again.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, well… I’m grateful, grateful that you are on the planet.
And now let’s bring on Ginny. Ginny is Virginia Messina, the co-author of Vegan for Life, Vegan for Her, and the first textbook on vegetarian nutrition for medical professionals. She writes and speaks on vegan nutrition for both consumers and health professionals. Ginny serves on the board of directors on Vegfund and advisory boards for One Step for Animals, Veg Youth, and the Vegetarian Resource Group. She lives in Pittsfield, Massachusetts with her husband and her never-changing population of rescue cats. And you can find out more about Ginny and lots of information at theveganrd.com. Ginny, hi.
Ginny Messina: Hi, Caryn. It’s great to be here. I think this is my third time on your show.
Caryn Hartglass: I think so too. We talked about Vegan for Her, and then we talked about—
Ginny Messina: Never Too Late to Go Vegan.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. You know what, it might be your fourth. Because I think we talked another time. Didn’t you co-author another book?
Ginny Messina: I did. I co-authored a book seven years ago with Jack Norris from Vegan Outreach: Vegan for Life.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah! I think we told about that too!
Ginny Messina: We go way back.
Caryn Hartglass: (chuckles) (singing) Memories. Okay, well, you’re all doing wonderful work, and this particular book is an unusual one. So my first question is whose idea was it to write Even Vegans Die?
Patti Breitman: Well, I have my version of the story—this is Patti. (chuckles)
Ginny Messina: (chuckles)
Patti Breitman: My co-authors may not share it, but I wanted to write an article. I didn’t think we had enough for a book; I thought it was an article. It was mostly to remind people to make sure that they had a will and make sure that they had an advanced directive and make sure they take care of “right now” when they’re healthy that everybody has plans for when they’re no longer able to take care of their animals, take care of their possessions when we’re not here. And Carol and Ginny promptly convinced me that it was more of a book than an article.
Carol Adams: Well, it wasn’t so prompt—this is Carol. (chuckles)
Patti Breitman: (laughs)
Carol Adams: We worked on Patti for about a month.
Caryn Hartglass: (laughs)
Carol Adams: She was willing to suspend her disbelief and see what we had. We were talking in March of 2016, catching up and talking about getting Never Too Late to Go Vegan into nursing homes and assisted living places.
When we were all comparing notes about vegans who had died or Patti had just been the executor of a will, and we were talking about vegans who were ill and felt they weren’t being supported by the vegan community. I think at the same time, Patti said, “Well, we should do an article.” Ginny and I had light bulbs above our heads saying this should be a book. Patti delivered the title of the book immediately and eventually realized that Ginny and I were right, which is part of our great teamship—or I don’t know how do you describe that—our great camaraderie as co-authors. We learn how to benefit from each other’s wisdom.
Patti Breitman: It wasn’t the last time that I came around to seeing that you were right.
Caryn Hartglass: We’re all right.
Now, it’s amusing to me because Dr. Michael Greger wrote your foreword. I remember when his book came out; How Not to Die, and I have to confess that it wasn’t until I read the foreword that I really understood by what he meant by his title. Even after interviewing him and reading his book, for some reason I didn’t get it. But I understand now that his book, How Not to Die, didn’t mean that we weren’t going to die, that vegans aren’t superhuman and invulnerable, but that there were ways to reduce our risk and live a quality life of longevity so that we would die well! I guess… Something like that.
Carol Adams: Yeah.
Patti Breitman: (chuckles)
Caryn Hartglass: (laughs) Anyway, it was an interesting title when we first all saw it.
So let’s move on. There are a lot of wonderful things in this book, and, yeah, Patti, you’re right about wanting people to plan because in our culture, nobody likes to talk about death. Nobody likes to think about death and very often people don’t want to plan.
Patti Breitman: That’s right.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s almost a selfish thing, not planning.
Patti Breitman: Exactly, exactly. It’s a gift you can give to your loved ones, your friends, your animals to take care of those details now. People are afraid that they’re jinxing themselves if they make plans for when they die when, in fact, they are giving the gift to people who care about them. Because on top of grieving, people who care about you don’t want to have to start sifting through papers and going through legal problems and working with your superintendent to get into your apartment and looking through all your stuff.
If you don’t have a will, it’s a big mess. And somebody’s going to have to take care of that mess. You want to name that in person while you’re alive. Have conversations with that person while you’re alive. Make sure that you trust that person and make sure that you’ve legally taken care of making that person official. Because unless they’re the official person named in your will, they can’t get your bank accounts, they can’t close your Comcast account or your AT&T account—they can’t do anything on behalf of your estate.
The word “estate” scares people; it doesn’t mean that you have to own a lot of stuff. If you have an apartment with a rug in it, you have an estate.
Caryn Hartglass: You know, I know a number of elderly people who have not prepared. They have often talked to me about their treasures—the things that they own, the things that they want to make sure go to people who care for them—but they have made no plan to do that. It’s heartbreaking.
Patti Breitman: 60% of Americans have not made plans, and I found that out when Prince died without a will. That was a real loss of opportunity. He could have helped so many animals and organizations. He could have helped all kinds of advocacy groups. He loved animals and he could have done a lot to help them, but it’s going to take years to straighten out that estate.
In fact, only 40% of adults have wills and it really is a shame. It should really be up to 100%. It doesn’t have to be expensive; you can do it fast. You can always hire a state planning attorney or you could go to a website called GYST. That stands for—I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say this on-air…
Caryn Hartglass: Yes. (laughs)
Patti Breitman: Okay. It’s “get your shit together.” getyourshittogether.com is abbreviated as gyst.com. And it’s a wonderful website that talks you through the different companies offer online will preparation services and compares them, and tells you how you can do it.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, what I didn’t know until recently is that you can actually write what you want and have two people witness it. That will be acknowledged. But it has to be in the hands of someone who knows that it’s there.
Patti Breitman: Caryn, the rules vary by state. Some states will allow that, some states won’t, and some states have rules like it has to be typed-written or it has to be notified. Some states don’t. You have to go online and find out from one of these reputable companies that are listed on gyst.com. Find out what the requirements are in your state. It’s not the same for everybody across the country.
Carol Adams: Caryn, I just want to point out that you refer to some elderly people who haven’t made wills. But our argument—we were drawing on a young vegan activist in her twenties who is really advocating for everyone to make a will. If you’re an adult, you need a will. So we’re not just writing to people over 50, over 60, over 70—anyone who is a vegan/animal activist who is involved in the movement should have a will, especially if they are caring for animals, so that they can ensure that those animals have some sort of protection and care if they were to die.
I think that our section on death and dying in particular is very helpful, but I would not want anyone to think that we’ve only written this for people over a certain age. We’ve written this for all adults.
Patti Breitman: I agree, and I want to say also that death is very democratic and very unpredictable. Sometimes you’re in an accident. Even if you’re the healthiest vegan on earth, you can—heaven forbid—get hit by a bus, you can get hit by a car; you can have a terrible unplanned accident. There are earthquakes, there are hurricanes—things happen. People get hurt and people die. Not having a will is almost like a slap in the face for people who care for you and the animals that you care for.
Carol told me this, maybe it was Ginny: one of the most common calls of animal shelters is, “Come get this animal today or we’re going to euthanize it because the person who took care of it is dead.”
Caryn Hartglass: It is such an important point. I don’t have any companion animals, but I never thought about it. And I’m sure people who do haven’t thought about it either.
Patti Breitman: Well, I’ve heard people who have children who don’t even have wills, which is really scary. It’s just as scary as having dogs, cats, and other animals. Without a will, you’re putting your loved ones, whether they’re human or not, in danger.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. You cover very early in the book some important concepts. When many of us are vegan, we think we are invulnerable. We think that this lifestyle, this diet is going to save us from everything. Then when we hear that one of our fellow vegans has fallen ill or died, it’s almost scandalous. And we really shouldn’t have that opinion.
Carol Adams: Well, why don’t we let Ginny—Ginny worked very hard on that first part to talked about how we ended up looking at veganism in a sort of inaccurate way. Ginny?
Ginny Messina: Yeah, we talked about the issue of “disease shaming,” and there’s no doubt about the fact that eating a healthy vegan diet, engaging in other lifestyle habits is going to impact your risk of getting certain diseases. But that’s about improving odds and it’s not a guarantee. Based on what we know right now, we don’t have complete control over our health.
When we get sick or when other vegans get sick, it is just not fair to second-guess why they got sick. Whether they were eating the wrong kind of diet, whether they weren’t doing everything that they’re supposed to do, it’s not fair to suggest that they were doing something wrong. Because we don’t have all of these answers.
This is kind of something that morphs into the whole idea of “disease shaming”: it places vegans who are sick into a very uncomfortable position. They don’t feel like they can ask for the kind of support that they need. They don’t feel like they can really share what is really going on with them. They kind of feel alienated from the whole vegan community. We’ve talked with lots and lots of people while we were writing this book, vegans who have various chronic diseases who were struggling with poor health. This is something that we’ve heard from them over and over and over again: they felt alienated from the vegan community because they felt like they weren’t supposed to get sick. They were being good models of vegan health and energy.
The fact is that this can happen to anybody. Anybody can get cancer, anybody can get heart disease, no matter what you’re doing with your diet and your lifestyle.
Caryn Hartglass: Sometimes we put that self-judgment on ourselves. I know. I had advanced ovarian cancer with a 10-20% survival rate, and I remember one of my first social outings after my diagnosis.
Martin Rowe, the co-founder of your publisher, Lantern Books—we love Lantern Books—, he knew and he came up to me and said, “Do you want to talk?” I felt back then like I was wearing the scarlet letter; I felt like I was wearing a big “C.” (chuckles) It was just really great to sit down and talk with him; he was very sensitive and understanding. It really helped, and I don’t feel like I’m wearing a big “C” anymore.
But I do feel like I’m part of a club: those who have had cancer. It’s a club. I’m vegan and I’ve had cancer. And I’ve moved on.
Carol Adams: I think one of the things that we want to make clear in this early part is that by excluding anyone who doesn’t seem to have perfect health, we’ve not only injured the vegan movement, that loses diversity because of that. Those who aren’t vegans who might be looking for anyone who is like them who are vegans won’t find them. So it would only be a disservice to vegans who need our care and love and inclusion in potlucks, activism, and to the outside world as well.
So we really feel it’s important to get beyond this fixation on veganism as health. We’re not arguing that it doesn’t do anything. We know that there are statistics and that there are ways to work towards health. But we are saying that it’s no guarantee that you won’t get Crohn’s disease, acne, cancer, or any other kind of disease.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, shit happens.
Patti Breitman: One of the things that I like about the book that Ginny and Carol really made this clear to me: when somebody does have a diagnosis that’s serious—whether it’s cancer, heart disease, or anything else—the first reaction should never be, “How does that happen?” The first reaction should be, “I’m so sorry that you’re going through this.”
I love the chapter about how to show up for people who are sick because we tend to want to distances ourselves and make it clear that that can’t happen to me ‘cause I didn’t do whatever you did.
Caryn Hartglass: (chuckles)
Patti Breitman: Whenever you hear that somebody has lung cancer, the first reaction was, “Did he smoke?” instead of “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that.”
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah.
Patti Breitman: And we have to train ourselves as vegans and to take pride. “We’re so compassionate, we’re so compassionate.” We have to relearn to be so compassionate to our fellow humans. Not only the animals, but every human deserves our compassion as well. I think the book goes a long way to teach people how to do that in practical ways.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, it does. There were a few things that I liked. I liked the discussion of the Ring Theory, and you can go into detail about the Ring Theory. One of the things that I liked about it: you grouped people into rings in order of importance to the person who’s affected, who’s in the center. Whatever ring you’re in, you don’t complain inward, you only complain outward…?
Patti Breitman: Mm.
Carol Adams: Correct. That’s from a Los Angeles [20:34].
Ginny Messina: (chuckles)
Carol Adams: But the important point is that those of us who are, say, friends or relatives of the person in the middle, we can’t go to the person in the middle and ask them to take care of our feelings. Care in and dump out. We can turn to someone who knows that person less, who doesn’t know that person at all, and say, “God, I feel shitty about this. This is awful.” But we don’t dump in, we care in and we dump out.
Once you have an insight into the Ring Theory, then you understand the kind of things that are inappropriate to say to the person in the middle. Not just “Did you cheat as a vegan?” or “Have you tried some cure that you believe is appropriate?” And to non-vegan, to say, “Try a vegan diet at this point.” It’s not for us to suddenly have all the remedies and all the common sense, and why they don’t know what they’re doing.
Caryn Hartglass: I certainly got a lot of that. I got a lot of recommendations of what I should be doing when I was going through my own treatment. It was just good to read the Ring Theory; I think it’s wonderful. There can be people that can be very close to you that will complain, even when they want to help. I remember having to remind some of them, “You’re here for me and this is what I want now. It’s not about you right now, it’s about me.” (laughs) So I would like everyone to learn more about the Ring Theory, it’s really brilliant.
The other thing that I enjoyed, which I know is not your creation, but is another important thing to know about are the Five Wishes. Could someone talk about that?
Patti Breitman: Sure. The Five Wishes has a lot of names; it’s an advanced directive and sometimes it’s called a Living Will. Basically, the Five Wishes is a free form you can get online by going to—I’ll get the factual name by going to the index of the book in our research section. The Five Wishes allow you to have an emotional, spiritual, and personal observations and thoughts, as well as legally binding advance directives. It tells people how you want to be cared for at the end of your life, it tells people what you do and don’t want. It’s a form that makes it easier to do that. So I highly recommend it.
It asks you questions, and it can be placed in an advanced directive or be your advance directive. It asks you basically who do you want to make healthcare decisions for you when you can’t and what kind of medical treatment do you want or don’t want if you have a terminal illness. If you have a heart attack while they’re treating the terminal illness, do you want to be revived or not? How comfortable do you want to be? Do you want to have drugs to ease the pain or do you want to be conscious and very aware of the pain, if there is pain? How do you want people to treat you?
And what do you want your loved ones to know; that is one of the most important things to differentiate the Five Wishes from any advanced directive. It’s almost like writing a love letter to your loved ones and saying, “This is what I want you to know if I die suddenly and I can’t tell you…” that I was proud of you or I loved you. Whatever it is, the Five Wishes helps you do it.
Ginny Messina: Caryn, one of the things about our book is that we looked at a lot of these tools and these resources that have been developed for the general population. They’re not developed specifically for vegans. We looked at the ways that they can specifically help vegans and be relevant to people who are living a vegan lifestyle. Because the Five Wishes gets really specific.
You can list, for example, the kinds of personal care products that you want used if you can no longer take care of yourself, what kinds of body lotion do you want people to put on you. And you can specify if you only want cruelty-free products to be used. You can specify that you want your pets to be with you at all times. There are a lot of issues here that are really relevant and specific to vegans.
Caryn Hartglass: That is indeed very important, not just when we’re dying but any time that we’re ill or going to a hospital.
Ginny Messina: Right.
Caryn Hartglass: Because I didn’t plan, and they were smearing all kinds of crap on me I didn’t want on my body. (laughs)
Patti Breitman: I have a friend who hikes a lot with me and she’s on her own sometimes. She fell on a hike, broke her wrist, and couldn’t get home. Thank goodness, a number of her friends knew where she—well, some of us took her to the hospital—but some of us knew that she kept the key to the house in the rain boot that she keeps outside her door and we can get in and take care of her animals.
But you don’t have to die. If you get ill and something happens that keeps you from getting home, who’s going to walk your dog? Who’s going to feed your cat?
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, everybody, I hope that you’re getting this message because it applies to all of us. No matter what you eat.
Patti Breitman: It does.
Carol Adams: Caryn, I just wanted to jump in. I know that we don’t have much time left.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah.
Carol Adams: We also draw or suggest that this inability of our culture to deal honestly with stuff of dying may have something to do with our attitude towards animals. It becomes something not just vegans should do because we live in a vegan community and we’re not benefiting our friends and relatives if we fail them by not taking care of our own death and dying, but also by talking honestly about death and dying, we may take some of the negative association it has and that has been placed upon animals.
So we have, in a sense, a much more radical reason to talk about death and dying. Our own experience of mourning for animals offers some insights and help into this conversation. We really do link all of this and also how the ethics of care would inform both how we are activists for animals and how we care for our friends and relatives if they are ill or dying.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s beautiful and thank you, Carol. Leave it to you to connect the dots that most people never even know are there to connect. (chuckles)
Patti Breitman: (chuckles)
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. Patti, Carol, and Ginny: thanks once again for joining me on It’s All About Food and for putting together Even Vegans Die, which is a practical guide to caregiving, acceptance, and protecting your legacy of compassion. Be well, all of you. Live long lives.
Patti, Carol, Ginny: Thank you, Caryn. Thank you. You too. Bye bye.
Caryn Hartglass: Bye bye. Okay, did you take notes? Did you get that? Such important, important information.
You know what? I just thought before we move on to the next part of the program, I wanted to read a little poem. It’s something that I learned when I was in junior high school or high school, I think. We were assigned to read a book called Death Be Not Proud, a 1949 memoir by an American author, John Gunther. He took the name of the book from a poem—actually, a holy sonnet by John Donne who lived from 1572 to 1631. The book talks about the real story of the author’s teenage son who struggled to overcome a brain tumor and his ultimate death at seventeen. The character in the book was really inspirational; the caregivers in the book were inspirational.
Something that was interesting is that they did attempt to use the Gerson Diet. You may be familiar with that. It’s a diet that uses a lot of juicing. Unfortunately, ultimately, it did not save his life because sometimes these remedies don’t work for everyone. They may work for a lot of people, but not for everyone.
Anyway, here’s the poem that I had to learn from memory when I was a teenager:
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
One more quote from Steve Jobs: “If you live each day as if it were your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.”
Transcribed by HT, 7/10/2017