Glen Merzer is an author, playwright, and screenwriter. Merzer grew up in Bellmore, N.Y., on Long Island, and attended college at New College of Florida in Sarasota. After college, he became a stand-up comic in San Francisco circa 1980, working with such comics as Dana Carvey, A. Whitney Brown, and Will Durst. He then attended two graduate schools in theatre (Indiana University and the U. of Alabama), receiving a degree at neither one, and one graduate Creative Writing Program (at Boston University, studying under Leslie Epstein), where he received his M.A.
Merzer’s most recent book is a novel (his first), Off the Reservation, published by Vivid Thoughts Press (Dec., 2014). Off the Reservation is a comic narrative about a quirky vegan congressman from Bloomington, IN, who undertakes an unconventional quest for the presidency; actor Jason Alexander called it “as politically savvy and poetically literate a book as I have read in a long while…. a completely gorgeous and rewarding experience.” Kirkus Reviews chose it as one of the “Best Books of 2015—Indie,” and The Progressive Magazine chose it as one of their “Favorite Books of 2015.”
Merzer began his career in book-writing as co-author, with Howard Lyman, of Mad Cowboy (Scribner, 1998) and No More Bull! (Scribner, 2005). Merzer is also co-author of Unprocessed (2011), by Chef AJ; Food over Medicine (BenBella Books, 2013), with Pam Popper; Better Than Vegan (BenBella Books, 2013), with Chef Del Sroufe, and The Plant Advantage, with Benji Kurtz (Vivid Thoughts Press, 2015). He is also, with Eric Brent, one of the editors of The HappyCow Cookbook (BenBella Books, 2014).
Merzer has had dozens of productions of his plays staged throughout the country, including two productions that toured to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Three of his plays have been published by Samuel French. Merzer directed a production of his play, The Sizemore Interviews, an expose of fraud at NBC during America’s invasion of Panama, in Hollywood in 2001; Variety called it “a thoroughly compelling probe of the potential for the manufacture of news by the media.”
One of Merzer’s screenplays was produced, Enemies of Laughter (2000), starring David Paymer, Rosalind Chao, Peter Falk, and Bea Arthur.
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: Hello everybody. I’m Caryn Hartglass and it’s time for It’s All About Food. Thank you so much for being here with me today. I am back in Northern California. We tend to jump over to the West Side from time to time. I have some projects going on. It’s an interesting time to be here. There are a lot of wildfires going on. I know people that are frantically evacuating and leaving their homes. I haven’t gotten a whiff of the smoke yet, but other people around me have. So, it’s an interesting time. We’re going to talk about the weather a little more later on in the program because it’s not just about conversation anymore. Talking about the weather- it’s a serious conversation. I wanted to let you know- do you remember a couple of weeks ago I interviewed Dr. Pedram Shojai who was a fantastic show. If you haven’t heard it, I hope you come back to the archives. Either at PRN.FM or you can find it on my website, responsibleeatingandliving.com. We talked about his documentary, Prosperity. Well, it is now available to watch for free and it’s fantastic. It’s inspiring. And who doesn’t need a little inspiration right now? If you remember, we talked about how it is possible to do things that are good for the environment, that are also profitable. I hope you check out responsibleeatingandliving.com- it’s right there on the home page. You can click to see the film, Prosperity. When you register there are lots of other opportunities to get involved with Dr. Shojai has an event called The Road Map to Prosperity. You’ll learn all about that too. OK? Fantastic. Now, on to my guest for today is Glen Merzer. He is an author, playwright, and screenwriter. He grew up, not far from where I grew up in Bellmore, NY on Long Island. Attended college at New College of Florida at Sarasota. After college he became a standup comic in San Francisco around the 1980’s and worked with comics like Dana Carvey, A. Whitney Brown, and Will Durst. Then, he attended two graduate schools in theater and didn’t get a degree at either place. He ended up getting a graduate degree in creative writing at the creative writing program at Boston University- studying under Leslie Epstein. He’s written a number of books we’re going to be talking about them today. His first novel is called Off the Reservation. It’s a comic narrative about a quirky vegan congressman from Bloomington, Indiana who undertakes an unconventional quest for the Presidency. Then you’re probably familiar with a lot of other books that he co-authored including Howard Lyman’s Mad Cowboy and No More Bull. We had chef AJ on the show to talk about her book Unprocessed and Merzer is a co-author of that book. We had Dr. Pam Popper on the show to talk about Food Over Medicine and Merzer is the co-author. We’ve had Del Sroufe on many times to talk about a number of his cookbooks- Better Than Vegan is also co-authored by Glen Merzer. And The Plan Advantage with Benji Kurtz. OK. I think we’re going to have a lot of things to talk about that are seemingly food-related. Glen, welcome! How are you?
Glen: Fine Caryn, how are you?
Caryn: You know what? I’m going to be honest. I have a little cold.
Caryn: You know, we vegans like to think that we’re super people. That we don’t get colds. But, I know what I did. I’m working to get better really quickly. This last month has been really challenging. My 89-year-old father is having some health challenges. I’ve been taking him to all kinds of appointment and procedures and as a result, I end up staying up late at night to catch up on my own work and then we got on an airplane- which is probably the worst thing you can do when you’re run down because it kicks you further down. Then I got a cold!
Glen: Air travel can be bad even for vegans.
Glen: But we do bounce back faster than the meat eaters. I find.
Caryn: That’s my plan. Bouncing. Bouncing back. Anyway, it was great to meet you, what was it? Just a few months ago, right?
Glen: Yes. It was in July.
Caryn: Yeah. At one of my favorite restaurants out here in the Bay Area, The Vegetarian House. Although, I don’t know that you loved it as much as we do. It wasn’t quite as clean as you would have liked it to be.
Glen: Well, it was a nice restaurant. It was a big menu, it was fine. It was a little harder to avoid oil than I’d like but that’s not unusual in vegetarian restaurants.
Caryn: No, in fact I think that was part of my- what knocked me down this past weekend because we landed and an old friend of mine hosted us for a few days and he’s really been wonderful. He wanted to cook vegan food and do all kinds of things and as a result, it was a lot of oil flipping around. You have to decide am I going to really split hairs here? Or am I going to accept the gifts and offerings that people are sharing with me?
Caryn: You know, I’ll stop- I won’t eat an animal. If someone prepares something that isn’t vegan I’m not eating it. But if it has a little oil, oh well.
Caryn: OK Glen. You wrote this book a couple years ago, Off the Reservation. I did read it as soon as I came home once you gave it to me. I enjoyed it very much and even though we’re not living with an administration today that is progressive and we don’t have any vegan politicians in the top offices, I found that there were some really prescient things that went on during the election in your book that related to what we went on in our recent election in late 2016.
Glen: OK and what are you specifically referring to?
Caryn: Well, you know, I haven’t read it in a while. I’m trying to remember the details.
Glen: One thing that was similar was that my candidate, Evan Gorgoni the vegan congressman from Bloomington, Indiana. His campaign manager said to him we don’t want you to be corrupt so we’re going to limit donations to $20. He ran a campaign where he’s funded on just $20 donations and as it turned out, Bernie Sanders ran a campaign- he didn’t limit to $20 by any means, but his average contribution was something like $29.
Caryn: That’s right.
Glen: You can raise tens of millions of dollars that way if you get enough donations.
Caryn: Yes, I think that was the one that really tickled me. How did you know that?
Glen: I don’t know that. Maybe Bernie read the book, I don’t know. If you do the math and you get 2 million, $20 donations- you got 40 million bucks!
Caryn: The other thing that I liked and that was some what similar but actually turned out to be drastically different and detrimental, was you pointed out that everyone was hungry for a change and hungry for a politician to speak his mind. Your character did just that. He didn’t want to run, he just spoke the truth. Then everyone wanted him because he was saying what people wanted to hear and we thought, well some people thought that was happening in November 2016 with the current man who is in office. I can’t even say his name.
Glen: Right. Well, my candidate didn’t use teleprompters. In the novel he gives his nomination acceptance speech without a teleprompter. I think what attracted a lot of voters to Trump- hope you don’t mind if I say his name. I think what attracted a lot of voters to him was that in their minds, there was a kind of authenticity to his just going off the microphone and saying whatever was on his mind. He’s a kind of authentic fraud. Authentic con-man. But he’s authentic! My guy’s a lot better human being than the current president, but there was that same quality where you didn’t know what my candidate would say next and you didn’t know what Trump would say next.
Caryn: Maybe Trump read your book too.
Glen: I don’t think Trump has read a book in his life.
Caryn: Ha-ha, yeah there is that question of whether he really can read.
Glen: I don’t think he read the Art of the Deal that he allegedly wrote.
Glen: I just don’t think the man can read more than a page or two.
Caryn: Mm. OK let’s back up a little bit, to you.
Caryn: So, you have a kind of a colorful past. Where you were a stand up comic. You grew up near where I did. When did being a vegetarian kick in?
Glen: I became a vegetarian as a teenager. I was big into Dick Gregory who passes away recently. He was talking about the vegetarian diet. I had two uncles- one was in his 40s and one was in his 50s and they died of heart attacks when I was a teenager. They were my Mother’s two brothers. On my Father’s side of the family, all the men seemed to die at age 56. My Mother who was then, let’s say about 50 or 52, she was getting heart pains- angina. She would walk up 7 steps to the kitchen; she was maybe a few pounds overweight but not much. Maybe 5 or 10 pounds overweight. She’d walk up the steps to the kitchen and she’d grab her heart and have terrible heart pain. I just watched everybody dying around me like flies. My Mother having pains and I said- this is crazy. We got to stop eating meat. So I decided that I would stop eating meat after my last day of high school of my junior year. Starting that summer. The first day of summer vacation, I got up in the morning and I made myself an English muffin for breakfast and I put some jam on it and then the phone rang and it was my old buddy Dave who I grew up with. I said hey Dave congratulate me I became a vegetarian. He said that’s great, since when? I said, well you know- since breakfast. He laughed at me. Because he laughed at me, I think I was resolved so I haven’t had any meat since then. I think it was helpful to be laughed at right away. That was now, 44 years ago or so that I stopped eating meat.
Caryn: Me too! I became- I stopped eating meat when I was 15 and that was 44 years ago.
Glen: There you go!
Caryn: Something must have been in that Long Island water.
Glen: Yeah. And then, unfortunately I kept eating dairy because people told me oh where do you get your protein and I thought oh cheese. I unfortunately kept eating dairy until I was about 33 or so. I don’t know what caused it, but at around that age I was starting to feel some kind of electrical shock. I would suddenly feel this electrical shock near my heart and I didn’t know what the hell it was. I still don’t know what the hell it was. It happened to me 4 or 5 times and I said, I’m eating cheese, it’s what Howard Lyman calls liquid meat. It’s crazy. Why am I eating dairy products that are also high in fat and saturated fat and cholesterol? So I gave it up and haven’t had that sensation since then. I think that maybe my bad family genes for high cholesterol, combined with the fact that I was still eating dairy was- I was starting to damage myself already. Even on a vegetarian diet.
Caryn: Yes. We can do that. I was right there with you. I didn’t give up dairy until I was 30.
Caryn: And I know it took its toll.
Caryn: You know you mention protein. People unfortunately are still talking about protein. I don’t know if you saw it- I read the New York Times– and about a week ago Jane Brody wrote an article. I’ve never liked what Jane Brody has to say because she always seems to be way behind the current nutritional information. She has an article called, “Good Vegan, Bad Vegan.” She’s kind of reviewing the documentary What the Health. She’s taking the side that a lot of the information that’s presented as facts are a little bit sensational and not true. Then she goes further. She says she doesn’t endorse the inhumane treatment of farm animals and the pollution of the environment with animal waste and misused antibiotics and pesticides. I’m reading it right out of the article. Of course it’s OK for her to eat them, she thinks that can be humane. But at the bottom of the article, this is where I started like pulling my hair out because she repeated this ancient information that was de-bunked in the 80’s and that has to do with plant foods not having complete protein.
Glen: Oh boy, she’s behind the times.
Caryn: So behind the times. So folks you’ve probably heard this before. Back in the 70’s Frances Moore Lappe wrote the book Diet for a Small Planet. It was fantastic book. I loved the granola recipe in there. I still have my original copy and it’s all falling apart and ripped to shreds. She was putting together the fact that all this plant food was used to feed animals and we could feed so many more people, all of the hungry people if we weren’t eating meat. She mentioned in the book, because she looked around all around the world, and said that plant foods can be nutritious if we combine them properly. Because there are 8 or 9 essential amino acids- the building blocks of protein that we don’t have in our bodies. That we need to get to make the proteins that we need. We need to get them from food. All plants have all of them. Some plants have them in different ratios than others. It is important to eat a diverse selection of food- but that’s true on any diet. So she was talking about combining beans and rice in Mexico and other legumes and grains in other places and that’s how you get complete proteins. But Frances Moore Lappe came out in her revised edition 10 years later and said, Oops I was wrong. The body is smart. You don’t have to eat the exact ratios of everything in one sitting. Your body knows how to manage it and store it and put it together when it needs it. Do you want to add anything to that Glen?
Glen: That’s of course absolutely right. It’s just silly. Who do we know that’s in a hospital today because they had- they’re vegans and they didn’t get enough protein? Or they’re vegans and they got protein in the wrong ratio? There’s nobody in the hospital in America today. We have 320 million people, there isn’t 1 person in 1 hospital in America today who has that problem. But we have hospitals full of people who have had heart attacks and full of people with diseases caused by the meat based diet. So, it’s imagining a problem that doesn’t exist.
Caryn: Yeah, how is it that she’s still working for The New York Times?
Glen: That I won’t get into. But, you know Michael Pollan is another example of these seemingly sensible, moderate reporters who yes they don’t like the confined animal feeding operations and they recognize that people are eating too much flesh, but they can’t quite come to the simple basic truth that human beings are herbivores. Everything about the way our bodies are designed makes us herbivores. There’s absolutely no need for any animal flesh in the human diet. There’s no need obviously for any bovine lactation in the human diet. There’s no need to eat any eggs. There’s no need for any of it and people like you and me who are eating none of it are in good health and not suffering from any protein deficiency. To them, it’s just too extreme to endorse the vegan diet, the plant based diet. But, in fact there’s nothing extreme about eating the way the body was designed. Our closest cousins are the primates and they are essentially herbivores. As I mentioned there’s a talk I did that people can find on YouTube if they type in my name. I gave at the WGA but I point out in that talk, that chimpanzees are about 95-98% herbivores but they apparently occasionally, the male chimps will trap a monkey in the trees and break it’s neck and take the flesh and give that flesh to female chimpanzees to eat in exchange for sex. As I point out in the talk, that is just appalling behavior. But, they’re not doing it for nutritional reasons they’re doing it to get laid. Other than that, our primate cousins are herbivores.
Caryn: Well maybe there are some dots connected there where human men think they need to eat meat because they’ll get laid somehow.
Caryn: They’re not sharing it; they’re just eating it themselves. Who knows? It’s a crazy world.
Glen: So, you know- apparently people like the taste of flesh. There is probably an evolutionary incentive for people to like the taste of fat because originally the great struggle of our ancestors was not to live to 100 to try to stay in great health and have a long, vibrant life until 100. The imperative was to live to 25 and procreate. So, our ancestors didn’t have to worry so much about heart disease, they had to worry about getting enough calories. Fat has more calories than carbohydrates or protein. It’s possible that there was an evolutionary incentive to like the taste of fat. Nuts and seeds are fatty and give you lots of calories so there was an incentive to like the taste of nuts and seeds. To the extent-, which I think is overrated- that our ancestors ate flesh, they were motivated to like the taste of flesh. There are a lot of calories in it. But, today our problem isn’t that the American people need more calories. We have a very, very rich diet. That’s what happens when you’re getting too much fat instead of not enough fiber and complex carbohydrates in your diet.
Caryn: I was talking with Dr. Joel Fuhrman last week because he has a new book out called Fast Food Genocide. I brought this up on the show last week, but I’m still kind of amazed by it- how nature works. He was talking about animals in nature and how when they have a rich diet, where a predator for example if eating out, eating up the population of it’s prey- nature kicks in and they’re not able to procreate in great numbers for 2 or 3 generations. It’s not just 1 generation. So, we’re seeing all kids of repercussions that nature is kicking in right now and some of it may be linked just to trim the population.
Glen: Well, the reality is that people procreate in mostly in their 20’s and 30’s, a little bit in their 40’s. The diseases that our Western diet is causing tends to kill people in their 50’s and 60’s and 70’s. Also, if it doesn’t kill them, things like strokes reduce your quality of life. So, the problem is that heart disease tends to afflict people in middle age after they’ve already procreated. It’s not that it’s going to trim the population, it’s that it’s going to ruin people’s lives, shorten people’s lives and escalate health care costs. What gets me, and I’m a regular watcher of MSNBC and I’m a fan of Rachel Maddow and Laurence O’Donnell but all of these progressive hosts on MSNBC whenever they discuss the issue of health insurance and Obamacare, they never mention the fact that we are the fattest, sickest population ever to walk the face of the Earth. It’s just amazing how much political dialogue I’ve listened to- ever since Obama did Obamacare- without anybody imagining, seemingly on the airwaves that we have a bigger problem than health insurance. We have a health crisis. Not a health insurance crisis. All they talk about is who should pay the bill. They’re never addressing the fact that we’re the fattest, sickest population every to walk the Earth.
Caryn: My dad has a lot of expressions. One of my favorites is, if you can’t solve the problem, eliminate the problem. It applies beautifully to just what you were talking about. So we have all of these tremendous costs. We can’t figure out how to insure people fairly and properly. But, we’re not talking like you said of eliminating the problem. People shouldn’t be sick. I like to go even further and say if everybody was eating well and living a long quality life and wasn’t dying and falling prey to heart disease, diabetes, cancer and all the chronic diseases that are out there today- our medical professionals are trying to work on the challenging diseases that we don’t know much about. The things that really plague us that aren’t affecting many people fortunately but wouldn’t that be nice?
Glen: Yeah. We need more doctors who treat, who understand nutrition. We have so few doctors who understand nutrition. The average medical education includes less than an hour of nutritional studies. Which is just insane. It reinforces in the young doctor’s mind, the idea that well nutrition couldn’t be terribly important- they don’t tell us anything about it. So, doctors are literally ignorant about literally the first thing about health, which is the thing that will affect your health outcomes, more than anything else is the food you eat. Unless you’re also chain-smoking, then that will affect your health the most. If you’re a heroin addict that will affect your health. In general, it’s diet that’s going to have the most affect on your health. Doctor’s literally know nothing about it and don’t make it a part of their practice. I’d like to tell you about a friend of mine, Doctor Steven 28:39 in the LA area, who shared his story with me that when he went to medical school he never learned anything about nutrition. It just wasn’t part of the curriculum. He himself was overweight. 80-90 pounds overweight. He started practicing at Kaiser in the LA area. He found that for the first 8 years he was in practice, he hardly helped anyone. He’s a very intelligent guy, very nice guy, very caring guy and he kept up to speed on the medications he was to dispense. He would give people their Metformin for their Type 2 diabetes or whatever drugs he was supposed to administer. He would monitor the dosages and do the best he could to take care of everybody and he never helped a soul. Perhaps he exaggerates when he says that but he found that he was not helping anyone and they were getting sicker and just changing their medications and dying. He felt terrible and he was also very worried about his own health. Then he listened to an audiotape of a Joel Fuhrman book as it happens you just mentioned Joel Fuhrman. He became acquainted with plant-based nutrition and his first reaction was this can’t possibly be true or someone would have told me about it. He himself went on a plant-based diet. He lost 80 or 90 pounds and now when patients come to him for their Type 2 diabetes or their obesity or their autoimmune disease or their heart disease. He’s a family practitioner and they come to him for a variety of problems. He begins by talking to them about diet. He gets his patients to adopt the correct diet and now he helps everyone. Or at least everyone who is willing to listen to him and change their diet. He’s become so well known in his area that he started to give classes in the evenings at Kaiser. He’s got a waiting list of people to come and hear because people will start to say, Holy cow there’s actually a doctor in town who helps people.
Caryn: That story is a little like Doctor John McDougall. He talks about that in the beginning of his practice. He wasn’t making anybody well either.
Glen: Yeah, and all of our hearts go out to him because I heard that he lost him home in the fire.
Caryn: Oh my goodness. I was wondering about him and I was wondering about True North Health Center, which is in Santa Rosa as well.
Glen: Right. I heard that True North had a little smoke damage but not bad. But, Dr. McDougall lost his home. He’s OK but he lost him home.
Caryn: Yeah. Let’s talk about the weather.
Caryn: Let’s talk about the weather. So you’re- are you in Southern California at the moment?
Glen: I’m in Southern California.
Caryn: No smoke there where you are?
Glen: Well, Anaheim had bad fires but we’re not smelling the smoke here, I’m in the San Fernando Valley. But, Howard Lyman and I wrote about this in Mad Cowboys 20 years ago. That as we do more and more animal agriculture, one of the effects on the climate will be to dry the climate and cause more fires. It’s not the only reason this is happening to the climate but it’s a major one. We’re reaping the whirlwind of animal agriculture.
Caryn: Yes we are. We don’t want to sit here and say I told you so. It’s devastating and so many people are experiencing losing their home and there are a few people that have already died because of the fires. We see these kids of repercussions all over the world. We had one after the other of the hurricanes in Florida and all up the Eastern Coast. Puerto Rico is continually in the news. Floods. It’s all intensifying. Where are the causes? When do we get- do you think anybody…? I don’t know. I don’t like to be full of gloom and doom. I always like to stay optimistic. The 6th great extinction may be upon us. But in the meanwhile, I think we should do the best we can. Stay healthy. Enjoy our lives. Live as long as we can feeling good, and eat delicious food. And maybe turn things around.
Glen: What we also have to do politically is redefine what is progressive. Bernie Sanders definition of what is progressive seems to be let’s have Medicare for all and let’s just send everyone to the doctor. Whenever I hear on MSNBC the progressive political candidates talking about the climate they talk about fossil fuels. And how we have to make the transition from coal and natural gas and oil to solar and wind. Well, I agree with that- we do have to transition from coal to solar, absolutely. But you can’t just pick your favorite greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, and imagine that that’s the whole problem. Methane- we estimated it being 30-80 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Methane comes out of both ends of a cow. So, you can’t just wish that away. It’s the leading cause of climate change. The leading cause of climate change by a country mile is animal agriculture. It is, according to a UN report- animal agriculture contributes more greenhouse gases than all forms of transportation combined. According to a WorldWatch report, they said no the UN report undersold it. It’s actually 51% of greenhouse gases that are caused by animal agriculture. So, it is far and away the leading cause of climate change is hamburger. On top of which- it’s hard to factor in that they’re chopping down the Amazon for hamburgers. How much does chopping down the Amazon, in addition to causing a whole host of other problems. How much does that add to climate change? You have to factor in all the carbon dioxide capture and oxygen production that you’re loosing. It’s hard to do the math. But, chopping back rain forests for hamburgers, while you’re adding so much methane into the atmosphere by having 1 billion cows, this is what’s drying our planet and causing the heating up of the planet and causing these violent weather events that we’re having. We have to redefine what is progressive. What is progressive is not trying to send everybody to the doctor. What is progressive is getting to the root cause of climate change and the root cause of sickness. It’s the same thing. It’s animal agriculture. We need to have politicians who are brave enough to speak out against animal agriculture and on health policy- we have to have politicians who are brave enough to say, you know, the solution isn’t going to be sending everyone to the doctor for free. The solution is going to be making us a healthier population by eating human food, instead of eating meat 3 times a day. We’re not carnivores. Not even carnivores, like the lion, eats meat 3 times a day. So, it’s insane.
Caryn: It is insane.
Glen: Nor does the lion eat cheese.
Caryn: I agree with you that animal agriculture is a very significant contributor to climate change and all other kinds of environmental degradation. But, I think it’s a symptom of something that’s very human and that is we will exploit at any costs if we can profit from it. I’d like to see somehow, that as we evolve, if we are on this planet long enough, that we can evolve past that and kind of include in our own personal mission’s to do good. To be kind and not exploit.
Glen: I absolutely agree with you. That’s a healthier set of values for humanity. But, within the confines of the fact that we have a capitalist economy, we can- with political will, change things so that positive end results can come. For example, the government subsidizes animal agriculture. We give 100 billion dollars a year in subsidies, farm subsidies and almost all of that goes to animal agriculture. Animal agriculture would not be sustainable if we weren’t subsidizing! The political policy that we need to advocate is for either an end to all farm subsidizes or for farm subsidies to be directed towards growing organic fruits and vegetables for human beings instead of growing crops to feed the cows. Waste tremendous amounts of water and produce tremendous amounts of methane gas and ruin the lakes and streams with animal run off and so forth. We can within a capitalist economy, motivate healthy actions and healthy use of resources. What we’re doing now is within a supposedly capitalist economy, we’re giving socialists incentives to animal agriculture, we’re subsidizing it. That has to end.
Caryn: You just used a bad word, socialize. Because the folks that really believe in those subsidies are very anti-socialism. Except when it benefits them.
Glen: Except when it benefits them, of course.
Caryn: Yeah. So where we’re seeing our environmental protection agency loose regulations and funding to protect the environment, all in the name of reducing taxes. But still we will see a big tax budget come out and I don’t think there will be any mention of reducing subsidies to animal agriculture businesses or the businesses that make the toxic foods. Sugars, corn syrup, those things that don’t make us healthy. Where are the subsidies for organic broccoli everybody?
Glen: The kind of tea party reaction is to always get upset that the government is wasting tax dollars on whatever. Public television or planned parenthood or whatever. But they’re the first ones to vote for 100 billion dollars a year in subsidies to animal agriculture. Not one of them votes against that spend. They tend to come from rural America and they’re all for government spending when it’s for defense or when it’s for animal agriculture. For anything that wastes tremendous amounts of resources and has a negative effect on the environment.
Caryn: OK so the Glen Merzer health care health insurance plan; the progressive health care health insurance plan. What would that look like?
Glen: Well it starts from the premise that we don’t have a health insurance crisis we have a health crisis. Again, we’re the fattest sickest population ever to walk the Earth. So what do we do about that? The answer has to be that we change the food. Of course, the first thing we should do is end the farm subsidies that go to animal agriculture. In terms of the payments to doctors- I don’t believe that we’re going to see any time soon what Bernie Sanders and a number of Progressives are proposing which is Medicare for all. I’m a Progressive. I’m a left wing Democrat. I don’t have anything philosophically against Medicare for all or single payer. I know that it works in Canada and in Britain and in other parts of the world. I’m not against it philosophically but I actually think it would not work well in the United States at this time because in the United States not only are the people so terribly fat and sick, but in addition to that we have doctors who over diagnose and who run countless tests on people. Just imagine if everybody could go to the doctor 5 days a week for free for anything they want and doctors can run whatever test they want. My Mother when she was 90 years old went to her doctor who suggested she have a preventive mammogram, at 90 years old!!! I mean, it’s insanity. So, if we decide oh the government will just pick up the bill and people can just go to the doctor and the doctor’s can just be free to run any tests they want. They often make money in their own offices doing all kinds of testing. The sky is the limit with no restraints, there will be no money left for the Environmental Protection Agency. There will be no money left for education. There will be no money left for infrastructure. There will be no money left for any number of Progressive goals. Everything will go to doing PSA tests and mammograms and DEXA scans and one unnecessary test after another on people who trust their doctors. The medical community should not be blindly trusted. We have an opioid crisis in this country. People are dying right and left of heroin addiction, which was initially started because they went to the doctor who gave them opioids for their back pain. So why are we trusting doctors? Why do we want to give all of our tax dollars to doctors? I’m against single payer, not because philosophically I’m against government intervention in the market or something. But just because it won’t work in America today and we can’t afford it. We also have a pretty major private health insurance industry in this country and I just can’t imagine how many people who currently work at the health insurance companies would suddenly be out of a job. What I would suggest is we do the kind of thing that Obama was trying to do, which is to work within the confines of a private health insurance industry but we allow underwriting back into the equation. Before Obamacare, health insurers would underwrite people. Sometimes they would say, Oh you’re 100 pounds overweight there’s going to be a surcharge on your health case unless you enroll in this program to loose weight. Oh, you’re a smoker? Well you’re going to pay more for your health insurance. Sometimes they would decline people. People couldn’t get a health insurance policy. That was a moral outrage that people could be declined. Lets say someone had a job and they were getting their health care through work. They lost their job but they had a cancer diagnosis or they had kidney dialysis or something. So, the health insurance group declined them. That was a moral outrage that Obama addressed with his law that we call Obamacare. It was good of him to address that. It needed to be addressed. But there’s an easier way to do it than the Rube Goldberg contraption that he put together for Obamacare. The simple answer should be, if you are declined by a private health insurer, the letter of declamation goes immediately to two places. To the applicant and to Medicare. So if you are declined a policy for health reasons, you should get a Medicare policy immediately. In short, the government should insure the sick people, which are being declined by the health insurance. What that would do, is it would immediately force the health insurance industry to lower their cost of premiums. A very good provision of Obamacare was written by Senator Al Franken. It requires that 80% of all health care premiums go to pay claims. So, Anthem and Blue Shield and Kaiser and these companies- they can’t jack up premiums and just use it to pay themselves salaries. 80% of the money that comes in has to go pay claims. So, if you get the sickest people off the rolls of the health insurance carries. You put them on Medicare. Then the premiums will go down for everyone else. So that’s the solution. Obama’s solution to it was a Ruth Goldberg contraption where by he tries to force everybody to get health insurance, or you pay a fine. Then he makes the young and the healthy over pay for their insurance in order to lower the rates for the rates for the older and sicker people. Then he’s forcing the health insurance companies to do something illogical which is to provide in a private market health insurance for people who are terribly expensive. If I told you that an 80-year-old guy who is scheduled for a triple bypass and has a diagnosis of brain cancer, applies for life insurance and he is declined. You wouldn’t say to me oh that greedy life insurance company. Why won’t they give him a policy? You would almost laugh. Right? You would almost laugh that he would even apply for life insurance. Well, it’s the same thing. It’s a private health insurance company. It’s kind of crazy for them from a economic stand point, to have to give a policy to someone who they know is going to cost a million dollars a year. But on the other hand, it’s cruel to not let people have access to healthcare. The answer is those people should immediately get Medicare policies. Keep the sickest people on the public rolls. Get them off the private company’s rolls. Let the private company then lower prices for everyone else. Let them put underwriting back in the equation so they can motivate people to get healthy, to loose weight, to stop smoking. That was at least one good outcome from having a private health insurance system rather than public. So, let that one positive side of having private health insurance back into the equation. That would be the solution.
Caryn: Is anybody promoting something like that?
Glen: I actually heard a former Republican Congressman named David Jolly say something similar. I had put this on my blog a couple years ago. My blog can be found at offthereservationnovel.com. But I heard David Jolly, former Congressman from Florida suggest a similar idea. It seems to me such a simpler way to go about how to solve this problem. The problem is in a private system, why should a private company give health insurance to someone on kidney dialysis- it doesn’t make sense. So Obama’s solution is to force them to do it and then to raise the prices on the young and healthy. But, young and healthy people have enormous college debt that they have to pay. They have enormous struggles in this economy. Why should a young, healthy person have to pay $300 a month for health insurance that they are unlikely to use? So it’s the wrong solution to try to make young, healthy people pay more in order to force the health insurance companies to insure the older and sicker.
Caryn: Well, I like it Glen. I like the plan.
Glen: Thank you
Caryn: The question is how do we make it happen? We’ve got a lot of things that we need to make happen and right now I’m just sticking with breathing to get through what’s going on in our government right now.
Glen: Well we have to make sure that number one, Progressives and Democrats get out to vote in 2018 because if we can take back the house, then we can stop current administration from doing any legislative damage. There’s other ways they can damage but we can stop them from doing any legislative damage. Certainly Obamacare is a better alternative than anything the Republican’s have put up. So I prefer Obamacare and the Democrat’s position on this to- well the Republican position is to just basically lets have a tax cut for the rich and we’ll take it out of healthcare. For now, we are best off trying to keep in place what we have. But, we have to realize that the ultimate problem isn’t health insurance. The ultimate solution is to work on our own health. Make ourselves healthy by eating human food. We need to change the terms of the debate so that Progressives, real Progressives- people who understand that animal agriculture needs to be stopped or curtailed as much as possible and it should not be subsidized. We need to get people of that Progressive view on the air. Because as much as I like Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes and Lawrence O’Donnell you never hear anybody on those shows expressing this viewpoint. When they talk about climate change, they never talk about animal agriculture. When they talk about health care they never talk about health! They never talk about the fact that we’re such a sick society. I actually heard from a delightful woman name Anna Marie Cox, who is sometimes a guest on these shows, particularly Laurence O’Donnell. I tend to like the woman and often agree with her. I actually heard her say, when discussing Obamacare- what a tragedy it would be to lose Obamacare just and people’s access to doctors just when we’re in an opioid crisis. Any I’m thinking, who does she think caused the opioid crisis?
Caryn: She’s not thinking Glen, she’s not thinking.
Glen: Doctors cause the opioid crisis and what they call iatrogenic death- death by doctor and the medical system is the 3rd leading cause of death in America. John Hopkins did a study estimating it at between 250,000-400,000 deaths per year.
Caryn: Glen, we have a minute left.
Caryn: And I know that you can go on talking about all of this for a really long time as I could. We’re really passionate about this. But it’s been a very informative hour and I really appreciate you sharing everything. Can you tell me again the website where your blog is?
Glen: offthereservationnovel.com By the way the novel Off The Reservation just this week (for those who are listening live) had a Kindle sale of just 99 cents, for the Kindle version on Amazon. Just go to Amazon and type in Off The Reservation. The Kindle version is just 99 cents this week.
Caryn: Good, it’s a fun read I recommend it. Glen, thank you so much for joining me on It’s All About Food.
Glen: Thank you Caryn.
Caryn: OK be well. Yeah so we just have 30 seconds left and as I mentioned in the beginning of the program I want to remind you- go to responsibleeatingandliving.com and you can register for the Prosperity documentary where you can watch it for a limited time for free if you need inspiration and want to hear about some wonderful projects going on. This is a great film and I hope you watch it. That’s it! I’m Caryn Hartglass- you’ve been listening to another episode of It’s All About Food. My guest was Glen Merzer and have a delicious week!
Transcribed by Adella Finnan 10/21/2017