Interview with Julie Guthman 8/15/2012


Episode #162


Julie Guthman
Weighing In, Obesity, Food Justice and the Limits of Capitalism

Julie Guthman (Ph.D., Geography, University of California, Berkeley) is an Associate Professor in the Department of Community Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She has written extensively on contemporary activist efforts to transform the way food is produced, distributed, and consumed. Her book, Agrarian Dreams: the Paradox of
Organic Farming in California (University of California, 2004), won the 2007 Frederick H. Buttel Award for Outstanding Scholarly Achievement from the Rural Sociological Society.


Caryn Hartglass: Hello, I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. And it’s the 15th of August 2012. Thanks for joining me today. We’re going to have a lot to digest today so I hope you’re ready to do some serious chewing.

We talk about food on this show and all things related to food, health, the environment, and animals. And I’m always learning something, which is one of the things that I enjoy most about doing this program. I learned an awful lot from the last book that I just read and I’m going to be talking about that today and bring on the author of this book, Julie Guthman.

She got a Ph. D in Geography from the University of California at Berkeley, and she’s an associate professor in the Department of Community Studies at the University of California Santa Cruz. She has written extensively on contemporary activist efforts to transform the way food is produced, distributed, and consumed. Her book, Agrarian Dreams: The Paradox of Organic Farming in California, won the 2007 Frederick H. Buttel Award for Outstanding Scholarly Achievement from the Merrill Sociological Society.

Welcome to It’s All About Food… Dr. Guthman.

Julie Guthman: Hi! Thank you so much for having me on the show.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. I’m really looking forward to talking with you. I squirmed a lot reading your book.

Julie Guthman: You’re talking about Weighing In, though?

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, Weighing In.

Julie Guthman: Yeah, because we were just introduced Agrarian Dreams, which is my first book.

Caryn Hartglass: Yes, but the book that I just read was Weighing In.

Julie Guthman: Yes.

Caryn Hartglass: But we can certainly touch on everything else you’ve written before. I think it’s all very informative and very necessary.

Julie Guthman: Absolutely.

Caryn Hartglass: So, let’s just start with Weighing In, which is Obesity, Food Justice, and the limits of Capitalism.

Julie Guthman: Yup, it’s meant to make people squirm.

Caryn Hartglass: Well, I was, I admit it. But I learned a lot so we’re going to talk about some of those things. So one of the things that I liked right away in the book was you talked about how all kinds of studies have been interpreted and perhaps misinterpreted and as a result, we’ve gotten this belief that we have this obesity epidemic. You broke that down a little bit in terms of how we could understand, how some of that may have come about. And one of the items was the BMI, the Body Mass Index.

Julie Guthman: Yes. A lot of the statistics we hear about obesity really begins with the Body Mass Index, which is the measure to figure out if people are too fat or not. The Body Mass Index is basically a ratio of weight to height squared. And so anything …

Caryn Hartglass: Who came up with that, do you know?

Julie Guthman: Excuse me?

Caryn Hartglass: Who came up with that? Do you have any idea?

Julie Guthman: Oh, it originated … it’s very interesting history, actually. It originated with this 19th century physician named Quetelet; he was French. Or he was actually Belgian, excuse me. And he was just very interested in deciding what average man looked like and he did all sorts of calculations and noticed that this kind of ratio was constant. And so it was never intended to be … he was just interested in averages. It was never intended to be a norm; it was just kind of an observation. And of course it was based on Belgians in the 19th century. So that later became used by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company for actuary tables, then it became to be a [lie]. But again, it was never designed to be something that we should all aspire to; it became just a way of describing what’s average, like a population most people would have that particular kind of ratio.

Caryn Hartglass: It feels like a pantyhose-sized diagram to me when I look at some of those, the height, and weight … And just like pantyhose it never really fits right.

Julie Guthman: No, it doesn’t. And that’s the thing with the BMI, it’s useful for epidemiological studies because the other ways of determining how much body fat we have are very expensive because they involve clinical measurements: it can be the kind of … pinching people, or having them float on water, or these kinds of new X-ray technologies, all of which have their strengths and downfalls. But the BMI, you can use a cross of broad population because people can self-report them or they can be taken everyday, clinical measurements. So that’s why it’s become the preferred use of determining how big people are. But again, its origin was not about what it ought to be; it was just descriptive of what it. It was about an average, not … And the other thing about it is, of course, anything that makes you weigh more, even if it’s muscle of higher bone mass, would increase your BMI. And so you have a lot of bodybuilders, for example, who have high BMIs because they have a lot of muscle.

Caryn Hartglass: Right. So it’s not really a clear indication of anything.

Julie Guthman: No, it’s not a clear … it’s an indication of bigness; it’s not a clear indication of … It’s an indication of weight to height, but not of fat.

Caryn Hartglass: There you go, that’s what it is.

Julie Guthman: And certainly not to whether fat is pathological or not, which is another issue.

Caryn Hartglass: Now there have also been different studies that have come out or different interpretations determining that we’re having an epidemic and some of that is related to the BMI number because the boundaries of the BMI are just based on certain numbers and we’ve moved those numbers around and that affects our interpretation of where we are?

Julie Guthman: Right. That’s a great question. And so the way we understand it, there’s been a growth in bigness. And I don’t deny that people have gotten bigger. And wider. But how that is expressed through the media can be quite exaggerated. So the way the BMI works is juts an index, right? And so a 25 BMI is different from a 28 BMI so the way we understand it is there’s bigness … that there’s a great risk of obesity is how those things are categorized. And so we have people in the 20-25 BMI are considered normal, 25-30 are considered overweight, 30-40 are considered obese, and over 40 are considered morbidly obese. But depending on how tall one is the difference between one level of BMI to the next is about 5-8 pounds. So if you, at any given point in time, if you have a large part of the population having a 29 BMI and that would be in the overweight category. And over, let’s say, 5 years they all gained an average of 6-7 pounds, that huge swath of population would then fall into the next category of obese. And so all of a sudden it looks like there’s a huge number of obese people even though the average weight gain is only 5, 6, 7 pounds. So that gives one of the ways in which these numbers are portrayed can really overstate the issue.

Caryn Hartglass: But the point is, we do have an issue. I think one of the themes in your book is what is causing us all to be bigger and wider?

Julie Guthman: Yeah, what is causing us? And it’s not the … yes, one of the things is what is causing us but also is it the problem that we think it is?

Caryn Hartglass: Exactly. And so that’s what we’re going to talk about next.

Julie Guthman: Sure.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. You mentioned the energy balance. I loved that one when I was back in engineering school. We talked a lot about energy balances. It’s pretty simple to understand: you take energy in with food, you burn it up with everything that you do in the day and whatever you don’t burn up, it kind of accumulates.

Julie Guthman: Right. That’s the energy balance: the idea that calories in, the excess of calories in rather than calories out, is making us bigger. Since I’ve written the book I’ve just become utterly fascinated with calories. And there are some materials I’ve pulled since writing the book that are not in the book. But the calorie, it actually doesn’t adhere in food. We don’t have molecules of calories in food. So there’s an interesting question of why we think calories are the best way to understand how bodies get bigger. But what the book does talk about is that there’s some really important emerging evidence that suggests that there’s these non-caloric pathways to obesity. And one of them, while significant, is the probable role of environmental toxins. We’re talking about agro-chemicals; we’re talking about probably the hormones that are used in beef cattle, even though very little has been studied about that.

Caryn Hartglass: Well, it makes a lot of sense. We feed them these things to make them grow big and fat and if we eat it, why [shouldn’t] it make us grow big and fat?

Julie Guthman: Absolutely. And what’s really significant here is that the synthetic hormones that are given to cattle are analogs to DES, which is now banned. But DES is a synthetic estrogen that has been shown to cause increased weight gain in laboratory animals.

Caryn Hartglass: Some of the really scary things about this is that we don’t see the impact immediately sometimes from some of these chemicals. Some of them actually take a generation or more to see the effects.

Julie Guthman: Right. And that’s what I think is the really interesting piece of this environmental toxins.

Caryn Hartglass: Interesting? It’s scary.

Julie Guthman: Really scary. Really scary because these things do act inter- generationally. The history of DES is interesting in its own right. DES was horrible. It was given to women in the 1950s and 60s to prevent miscarriage and to increase lactation and the progeny of these women had much more susceptibility to various reproductive cancers and infertility. It affected a whole generation of children. And so that was an epigenetic effect that the women themselves weren’t adversely affected, not a big way, but their children were. So it looks like what’s happening in the environmental toxins is happening in the same way. So exposure to these toxins in utero are manifesting in all these things when people are children or adult. When people are adults; I was thinking of animals. And so these exposure to a lot of these agro chemicals … The experiments that have been done have exposed laboratory animals to various synthetic estrogens and seen that these animals are the same size as their non-exposed peers at birth and then by the time they’re adults they can be 30% bigger. And so now there’s this wide … strong contention that this is what’s happening with obesity rates. And it makes a lot of sense too because we know that these chemicals really started to proliferate the environment in the 60s, 70s, and 80s and now we have this huge jump in body weights in the 80s, 90s, and 2000s and could very well be related to those kind of inter-generational effects of the toxins.

Caryn Hartglass: I think there’s a lot of things going on with us physically and we don’t know and it’s so hard to know what the origins is of these issues. I just know, from my own personal experience, I had advanced ovarian cancer 6 years ago at 48- year old. And when I think about how I possibly could have gotten it I go far back as a teenager when I knew I had problems and I’m thinking, “Was that something I was born with that ultimately threw a variety of different pathways, got aggravated from dioxide in tampons and all kinds of other things?” But I’m sure a lot of us with health issues have unique stories because there are so many different chemicals out there.

Julie Guthman: Absolutely. We just know so little about it and it’s so understudied because the chemical industry isn’t interested in having a study in it. It is really frightening.

Caryn Hartglass: It is.

Julie Guthman: And a lot of the diseases associated with obesity like diabetes type II, well, there’s now evidence that environmental toxins are generating diabetes type II too. So where the obesity might be a symptom, it might not even be the cause people always assume. So yeah, it’s a pretty scary mix of chemicals we have out there in the environment.

Caryn Hartglass: I got my degrees in Chemical Engineering and I feel kind of guilty that I know so many of my colleagues are participating in doing some really scary things.

Okay, I think there definitely are so many different issues in making us unhealthy and making us overweight. But something is definitely true and that is we are not eating the same as we ate 50 years ago. We’re eating lots more cheese, saturated fat. We’re eating more meat; it may not be in the form of beef but in the form of chicken. We’re eating less plant foods and we know that that’s not healthy.

Julie Guthman: Well, I don’t …. There’s no question that we eat different than we did 50 years ago. But the way we ate 50 years ago was not so great. I think there’s a lot of romance that suggests that we ate better but we didn’t. First of all, people were often undernourished. But a lot of folks did not have a high fruit and vegetable diet. Yes, there’s been a growth in more chicken produced, as you’ve just referenced, but there’s also much more fresh fruit and vegetable availability than it was before. People ate a lot of grains and they ate worse cuts, well, not worse cuts but different cuts, of meat but the evidence isn’t there that people ate a whole lot more nutritiously. And in fact, the evidence is that they ate less nutritiously then.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I remember reading …

Julie Guthman: So for me, the question is kind of the way the food is produced. The use the agro-chemicals, the use of the hormones, and the antibiotics in the meat bear much more attention. I just don’t think we can kind of fantasize that diet 50 years ago were all that great. Remember, people ate a lot of that Betty Crocker cake mixes.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. I remember reading Aaron Bobrow-Strain’s book on white bread and was …

Julie Guthman: He was a good friend of mine.

Caryn Hartglass: Oh, yeah. I was so surprised to read some people get 30% of their calories from bread.

Julie Guthman: Absolutely.

Caryn Hartglass: Oh, goodness. Okay. So, we talked about chemicals and how scary they are. And let’s talk about … A lot of us think we’re doing good things. I know, personally, I feel so frustrated. I feel frustrated with the government for so many years now. I feel like there’s nothing I can do or say that’s going to make a difference in terms of the government and so what I do is I live my life the best way I can: I buy organic, I go to farmers’ markets, I participate in CSAs, and I feel really good about that. And then in reading your book there are some issues connected with all of these things that started me squirming.

Julie Guthman: Yes, that’s the chapter that gets everyone. Well, I do a lot of those things too, by the way. But I just don’t think they’re enough and I think they can even be problematic and let me try to explain why. What you said is absolutely right. People don’t think that there’s any kind of thing they can do to their government or through … they don’t think there’s a way to fight what corporations do. So they way we thought about changing the food system is pretty much through our own dietary choices. And the idea is if enough people make different sorts of choices and they buy organic or buy local, that somehow the market will grow and all the rest of these stuff will disappear, the bad stuff will disappear. And that’s just not what’s going to happen here because a lot of the good stuff … and again, I support it too. I buy organic, I go to the farmers’ market; I think it’s great food. But the whole way it’s regulated is designed to cost more. The idea that those who can afford to pay can go buy these stuff and that’s all great. The whole system of organic certification is it does not regulate what most producers do in the sense that if you want to buy this stuff, if you think this stuff is more valuable, you can pay more for it. Again, the system of organic regulation kind of institutionalizes that by saying if growers that abide by these particular standards and are willing to be inspected and get certified will be rewarded with higher prices. And so basically what that means is those who can’t afford to buy all that stuff are left to buy the rest of the stuff, and the rest of the stuff is unconscionably under regulated. So what we’re getting is this kind of bifurcated food supply, where we have some folks with money and will to do so getting some very high quality food and the rest of this stuff is under regulated. So growers who do not want to go by organic standards go on to use the worse of the agro chemicals perhaps and that’s what everyone else gets to eat. So a lot of the point of the book is to really get a focus on the policy environment in thinking of how we can really leverage major changes so that all people could eat better and not just have some people buy their way out.

Caryn Hartglass: Well, I absolutely want everyone to be fed and I want everyone to be fed with quality food; there’s no question about that for me. And whatever I can do to participate in that I am happy to do that. And I want to believe that by supporting with my dollars, something I believe in, and more people that do that business is going to grow. But at the same point, how do we get the regulations to change?

Julie Guthman: Well, so many people have given up on the policy environment. And one of the things that the book does is suggest it’s not even only our agricultural policies that we need to pay attention to. We don’t regulate our banks. We don’t, in my opinion, tax wealth enough. So we have dramatic inequality. We have to kind of really address things in these kinds of more structural levels and including … I think one of the ironies of the food movement is that it doesn’t focus on food workers. And food workers, there’s 38 million food workers in the United States. People who go to the farmers’ markets and buy all the local stuff, they care very much about the farmers but we’re not paying attention to farm workers or people who work in food processing, or people who work in food distribution, or people who work at Wal- Marts, or people who work at …

Caryn Hartglass: And they’re paid very poorly.

Julie Guthman: And these are some of the poorest paid people around. So we have theories in food system change that aren’t really addressing people who work in the food systems. So how we get there is, of course, really difficult. One of the things going on in the world right now is we’re kind of led to believe that change is possible. Again, people have given up on change through contesting corporate behavior or through policy. But I don’t think there’s a way around it because I know that all of us buying our way one meal at a time through local food systems isn’t going to cut it because it neglects so many people who don’t have the option to do that.

Caryn Hartglass: Another book that I’ve read a while ago is Tomatoland by Barry Estabrook. I always say now that every food has its own story and the tomato has a frightening story, especially in Florida where it’s grown. There are workers there that are treated like slaves and it really opened up my eyes to what’s going on all around the country, where we really think we have this freedom and then there are so many people, whether they are really enslaved or close to it, there are so many people that are bringing food to our plate, that, there’s slavery and pain and suffering in every bite of our food.

Julie Guthman: Absolutely. And pesticide exposure, I might add.

Caryn Hartglass: It’s a what?

Julie Guthman: Pesticide exposure.

Caryn Hartglass: Oh, yeah. Now the only good thing I see …

Julie Guthman: Farmers are exposed to constant pesticide drifts and they have terrible problems because of it. Add in the ones that … again, let’s focus on what people eat. So there’s a lot of discussions about Latinos are getting fatter because they don’t … they aren’t adjusting to American diet, but a lot of Latinos that are working in construction, and particularly farm work, are exposed to chemicals on a daily basis. And that may be the cause of some their bodily changes, their weight gains.

Caryn Hartglass: At least the one thing I feel good about with eating organic is that the workers that are growing that food are not exposed to those horrible chemicals.

Julie Guthman: They aren’t exposed to the worst of them. They are exposed to some, for instance they use sulfur in organic production and sulfur doesn’t kill; it just causes irritation. So people who work in organic farms tend to not have as worse exposure. They can still have poor paying conditions but not as many of the exposure.

Caryn Hartglass: Do you think we can move to a place where most of our food will be made organically? Is that a big leap of faith?

Julie Guthman: I mean, there’s organic and there’s organic. I think that there is the kind of deep organic that’s completely ecological that is not practiced far and wide. But there’s a lot of broader interests in more sustainable production techniques and a lot of major food corporations are getting involved in organics. I certainly think it’s technically possible, although difficult to grow, to employ agro- ecological methods on large scales because you can’t kind of mono crop. So I think it’s possible. It certainly possible for organics to grow more than it does but I just think the way to do that is not, again, not through kind of this “voting with your dollar” but through policies that encourage more sustainable production and discourage the more industrial production. And that takes a big change in the policy arena. For instance, outlawing particular pesticides. When I did my research for Agrarian Dreams that you mentioned I learned that a lot of producers had gotten into organics, not because they believed it was the greatest thing since sliced bread but because they were really worried about having particular pesticides regulated away and they figured they needed to figure out what they were going to do.

Caryn Hartglass: That’s pretty smart.

Julie Guthman: Yeah. Pesticide regulation can be technology-forcing; it can force growers to employ different source of methods. Maybe they’re not the purest organic methods but they can be less toxic. I guess I would like to see more policies that have a wider reach. There maybe not aren’t as pure as … I know it’s going to be done and it can be done through changing the way we subsidize agriculture. It can be done, again, through pesticide regulation. It can be done through more attention from the public universities that do research extension and extension on sustainable methods rather than agro-chemical methods. So those are all things that take policy changes but they’re very doable.

Caryn Hartglass: Now, we need to be doing what? Writing and calling our elected officials and letting them know how we feel?

Julie Guthman: We need to be doing that. We need to be changing the public conversation, to say that we do need focus on policy, that buying and doing our own self-practices of how we buy and what we do is not enough. Again, the public conversation is such a big piece of this. If people don’t believe they can’t make a difference, they won’t be able to make a difference.

Caryn Hartglass: That’s right.

Julie Guthman: There have been some interesting victories but they don’t get a lot of attention, for instance, methyl iodine; [it’s a] highly, highly toxic fumigant that was released on the market to replace methyl bromine. Methyl bromine is an ozone- depletor that was supposed to be phased out. Well, methyl iodine was far more toxic and was believed to cause birth defects among people exposed to it. There was a big public outrage and it was withdrawn from the market because it wasn’t seen as economically viable. It’s actually something I’m doing research on right now, how that exactly came down. That took effort but it worked.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, that was very good news. The thing is methyl bromine isn’t so great either and we’re supposed to be phasing that out and …

Julie Guthman: It’s supposed to be done in two years but …

Caryn Hartglass: Good luck.

Julie Guthman: Yeah. That’s the research I’m doing right now actually is what’s going to happen with that. But, yeah …

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, well I hope you figure out the right recipe to get those things done.

Julie Guthman: What was also interesting about the methyl iodine, it wasn’t the usual suspects; it was groups that were acting on behalf of farm workers. Those regulatory battles can matter and if there are enough of those that happen then people start believing differently about what’s politically possible.

Caryn Hartglass: Now, your book it all seems to come down on some really fundamental problems like capitalism.

Julie Guthman: Yeah.

Caryn Hartglass: And so you take a deep breath and you go, “Oh, my God. All this to get good food on my table.” But capitalism … how does that come into play with what’s on our plate?

Julie Guthman: Well, capitalism comes into play in all of these things. We live in a world right now where we are led to believe that we need to let business have its way for us to live a good life, that business wouldn’t be regulated, business shouldn’t be taxed, and somehow if money is made it’ll somehow trickle down to everybody else. This is the public conversation right now, particularly if you listen to the Republicans, correct? So what’s that meant is we have a world of tremendous inequality, again, of an unregulated industry so we have all these chemical outputs that we’re being exposed to on a regular basis. We do not, in my opinion, tax enough so that we can re-distribute some of the tax money to have more public services, to have, for instance, better food assistance so people can afford to buy … so those who do not have jobs could afford to buy better food. So all those things are basically about giving capitalism a flow, which is the very crisis problem we know first-hand right now because we’re in a significant crisis of capitalism. All these kind of things about reducing taxes and de-regulating all about trying to restore profitability but it’s quite debilitating so I do think we do need to look very hard at capitalism for us to really get a more sustainable food rule.

Caryn Hartglass: Yes. Is there … I don’t know, there’s got to be something after capitalism.

Julie Guthman: Right. And we don’t know what it is. The biggest trap is that most of the Socialist experiments of the 20th century weren’t too pretty and so that’s why people say, “Well, that didn’t work.” But we just don’t know what it is but we need to move to someplace different. Sometimes my students will say, “Well, what’s your vision?” I say, “When capitalism started emerging in 1450, people didn’t envision that it would be as it is in the year 2012, I mean, emerge.” It was just a different way, a different logic of how goods and services are produced. I think the key is just finding ways that are different and hope that they build but not, again, believing that that’s the only way, that capitalism’s the only way, that it’s inevitable. Capitalism’s not doing so well in its own terms.

Caryn Hartglass: You can say that again.

Julie Guthman: It’s a major crisis and who knows what’s really going to happen anyway?

Caryn Hartglass: I know. We don’t know. And what’s scary, it’s very scary in many ways, but I imagine our food supply will definitely be affected and many of us who have not experienced shortages will … I don’t even want to imagine what’s going to happen.

Julie Guthman: Yeah, it’s really hard to know. Certainly with a lot of crops going to biofuels these days, which is again is a kind of another fix of capitalism rather than re-think how we use energy, we use more and more crops going to biofuels; well, that certainly affecting crop prices and right now there’s a possibility of shortage, although for the most part, there’s been an excess of food and that’s been one of the problem. That’s a long, tricky conversation.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. I wanted to get back a little bit more about obesity but we need to take a break. Do you have a little bit more time where we can come back and talk a little bit more?

We’ll take a quick break and we’ll be right back.

Hello, I’m Caryn Hartglass. You’re listening to … Thank you so much for listening. And I am talking today with Julie Guthman, the author of Weighing In: Obesity, Food, Justice, and the Limits of Capitalism. She’s the author of Agrarian Dreams: The Paradox of Organic Farming as well. These are books that must be read. There’s so much important information and we’re talking a little bit about some of that right now.

I wanted to talk a little bit more about that calorie.

Julie Guthman: Okay.

Caryn Hartglass: I’m one of those alternative food-promoting healthism people that you talk about in the beginning of your book that has never really had a weight problem. I’m really quite exuberant about promoting the power of something that I believe in, which is eating a lot of healthy plant foods, local, organic. I am a vegan for a long time and I came to that because I don’t believe in killing animals. And I just wanted to say, there’re certainly a lot of diets out there and I know a lot of people struggle with food. My partner, he was 100 lbs. overweight and he had been on many diets all of his life; none of them worked and he’s now at peace with the foods that we’re eating and he looks great and he feels great so I have some firsthand experience with food and weight. One of the things that, I think, is a piece in the obesity equation is that many people are eating empty calories or eating calories that are not bringing them the nutrition that they need and their brains are starving.

Julie Guthman: Yeah. This particular book doesn’t go very much into nutrition per se but I’m … again, this is something that I’ve gotten curious about since I’ve read the book because a lot of the newer kind of nutritional science is contesting the “calories in-calories out” model. For other reasons too, that calories don’t quite get at the kind of different qualities of different foods. It’s not only the different qualities … there’s research that suggests that when we eat is not as important as what we eat but it’s certainly important. Eating first thing in the morning can help one lose weight, so it’s said. So I’m with you that I do think the food quality matters. I think some dietary facts have gotten a bad rap. We know that there’s a lot of evidence right now that suggests that carbohydrates are more of a problem so if you look at it from a calorie perspective, you wouldn’t want to eat more carbohydrates and calories.

Caryn Hartglass: You want to eat good carbohydrates. There are good carbohydrates and there are bad carbohydrates.

Julie Guthman: So I’m with you. I agree that there’s some … the nutrition matters and what kind of foods we eat matter but it’s not only about calories. I think where I … And I’m with you that … I guess the thing is, there’s so many other things that are affecting weight gain: some of it’s genetics, some of it has to do with all these different ways in which some people have faster or slower metabolism, and some have to do with these toxins that I’ve been discussing. I think the problem I have with nutrition is not the content of nutrition. I think it’s interesting stuff but I think that those who eat well tend to kind of proselytize to others about how to eat. It’s just not effective. It’s just not an effective strategy. I think most people…

Caryn Hartglass: Well, proselytizing is …

Julie Guthman: And they eat what they eat for other reasons.

Caryn Hartglass: We definitely need a change in …

Julie Guthman: I’m sorry.

Caryn Hartglass: … an education about food.

Julie Guthman: I missed what you said. I’m sorry.

Caryn Hartglass: I agree, proselytizing is never a good thing. But we know so little about food today. We’re so detached from it and people need … well, I don’t know that we’ve ever really understood much about food. Actually, in my reading about history, what people thought was good for them … But I think we need to have some better education about food and maybe the regulation is a part of that.

Julie Guthman: I would say more regulation because I think that so much focus on food politics right now is trying to get people to change what they eat. And we don’t focus very much at all on how food is produced. If we change how food is produced and we say that certain sorts of things, like transfats for example, shouldn’t be allowed, then they shouldn’t be allowed. So we need to have a public conversation of what sorts of things are unthinkable to have people eating, rather than ask people to individually make choices when individually, they have all sorts of reasons for eating what they want including portability, including pleasure. And so the food education, I’m not sure about that. I think that’s one of the … it gets a lot of attention because it’s something that feels doable. I work with students who want to change the food system and they all want to do food education because that’s something they can imagine doing. It goes back to what’s politically possible. They can imagine going to an elementary school and doing nutrition education and cooking classes. They can’t imagine going to Monsanto or whatever and saying, “You actually need to not … We’re going to do some action or whatever until you don’t use genetically-modified organisms.” So I’m not convinced that food education works. It feels good because it feels possible but again, I’d rather our efforts be focused on changing how food is produced than trying to convince consumers to eat differently. Again, I think most people know what they’re supposed to eat.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so here we are …

Julie Guthman: Again, I think most people know what they’re supposed to eat.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, probably. Yeah. Here we are in this trickle down society and there are a lot of nonprofits out there struggling to do well; I know, I have one. And you look for grants to support your cause and you always have to craft the grant in order to fit what it is they’re trying to fund and a lot of it is for obesity, or for children’s’ nutrition, or maybe for people in poverty. That’s probably another reason why we see a lot of focus on obesity. It’s kind of like a catch-22; it exists but the money that’s there is focused on what to do about it. There’s really a bigger picture.

Julie Guthman: Absolutely. I think that with the foundation world and the nonprofit world, it’s kind of the tail wagging the dog. Certainly philanthropists love to fund that sort of stuff because they love funding things where they can feel like there’s results and where it’s hands-on and so you have a lot of organizations … And the obesity epidemic seems to have some sort of cache’ that philanthropy want to fund these food projects that are supposedly going to reduce obesity. And because of the way nonprofit status is set up, that it has to be charitable and educational, you can’t get funding to lobby government to contest the pesticide. And so there are all sorts of ways in which the philanthropic world and the nonprofit world help drive what’s possible in political change.

Caryn Hartglass: Ergo, a lot of frustration.

Julie Guthman: Right.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, well, it’s really been great talking to you. Any pearls of wisdom before I let you go?

Julie Guthman: Oh. Pearls of wisdom … I just really just want to encourage your listeners to think hard about the policy world and recognize that eating our way to change is not going to do it, as much as I like good food too.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, we’re all foodies. Okay, thank you so much for joining me on … And thank you for writing this book, Weighing In. I squirmed and I’m glad I did.

Julie Guthman: Thank you so much for having me on the show.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay. Well, that was Julie Guthman, the author of Weighing In. I wholeheartedly encourage you to buy this book. It really … gosh, brings up so many different issues. Now, I have to say that I’m going to continue doing what I’m doing, which is my nonprofit, Responsible Eating and Living. I think I’ve learned a bit and I might actually include some of the important points that are in this book in some of the goals that I try to achieve with my nonprofit organization, Responsible Eating and Living.

I do want to talk a little bit more about that calorie and about dieting because I think it’s really important, and about nutrition. Certainly there are so many diet books out there. Everybody’s concerned about their weight and they want to look good, they want to feel good. Just because you look good on the outside doesn’t mean you’re healthy in the inside. There’re a lot of people saying that if they work out an awful lot they’re going to burn the calories from the food that they’ve eaten, whether it’s healthy or not, and look good. And they may look good on the outside but on the inside they’re not going to look very good because the food that they’re eating is not healthy. And I’ve talked before a little bit about how Americans are eating way more cheese and more meat per capita, that meat consumption and cheese consumption has gone up. Julie Guthman was correct in saying we haven’t been eating healthy; it’s just our diets that have changed over time. I’m always surprised when I read different books and hear about or read about what people thought was healthy at one point in time. It’s fascinating; we really know so little about our food. But I think we’re finally getting somewhere. And in my reading and in my studies I’m absolutely convinced that the number of sayings that we need to eat dark, leafy, green vegetables. They’re the ones that are loaded with most of the nutrients that we need and when we eat a lot of them raw and whole we get so much fiber that it fills our body and we feel satisfied for a longer time because our stomachs are full and our brains are being fed. I just don’t hear this enough and so I’m going to talk a little bit about it.

I acknowledge that this particular book wasn’t focusing specifically on nutrition but the whole time I was reading it I felt like it was an important piece in the equation. It’s very clear to me that industrialized manufactured food is not healthy for people and it’s not healthy for the planet. One of the things we didn’t talk about, and I’m now realizing I meant to bring it up but I didn’t was the factory farming of animals. We certainly talked about how in food production, the labor involved, the people that are involved in bringing the food to our plate, many of them are very underpaid and they live in very poor conditions and that’s, of course, the same or more so for animals that are being produced for food. I’m sorry we didn’t get to talk about that very much.

I want to get back to dark, green, leafy vegetables because there are so many different diets out there. She talked in this book how people get on diets and that they don’t work. But there is something that does work and I’ve seen it work with so many different people. That’s when you realize what is food and what isn’t food. And that whole minimally processed, locally grown, or organic if possible, even if it’s from a conventional supermarket, you can definitely lose weight and attain your healthy weight by buying plant food and staying away from manufactured foods: foods in a box, foods with the added sugar, salt, and oil. I talk a lot about juicing because I juice everyday, a juice made from kale, and collards, celery, and lemon. I do this everybody and I’ve done it everyday since I was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer six years ago. I really, absolutely believe this is one of the reasons why I’m talking to you today because I was able to fill my body on a regular basis with food and nutrients that really powered my immune system.

Okay, and then a few weeks ago I decided I would deconstruct my green juice and eat those foods in my green juice. I just didn’t feel like having a juice one day but it was really important to know that I could consume those foods. And what happened was I put all those foods in a food processor, chopped them up, and made this gigantic salad. And I put a little tahini dressing on it or some balsamic vinegar; I did it a few days and changed the dressings around. But here’s what happened: I could not eat it all in one seating. In fact, I had two large salads, one for lunch and by the time it was time for dinner I wasn’t even hungry but I ate it anyway because I knew that I had to consume these particular foods. These foods were my medicine. These foods were the foods that I had to eat everyday to keep my immune system charged. The only difference was instead of juicing them and removing the fiber, I was eating them with fiber. I did this for about a week. I don’t know, I like to shake things up and change things around a little bit. And every time I always learned something. But I had known this before but I kind of reminded myself of this again: when you eat a pound of greens, raw, with some added fruits and vegetables you don’t want to eat much else if you’re going to consume it all with the fiber. It’s so satisfying. Your belly is so stuffed you can’t eat anymore. And this is really a great way to weight loss and a great way to maintain your weight by filling up on fiber. We talked to Dr. Alan Goldhamer last week on this show and he talked about how it took about 4 weeks on a healthy regime or through fasting to reduce your cravings for salt. He said it took a little longer, maybe about 4 months actually, to get away from all of the unhealthy fats that are added to our foods so it does take some time. But I was so satisfied consuming these two giant salads. Now the thing is, it’s hard because it’s not fast food and so many people just want to gulp something down and get on with their day. It’s so important, I think, to sit and eat. Sit and chew the salad because it was made from that muscly kale. It took a lot of chewing action; really, a lot of chewing. And it took a long time to eat it and then I just didn’t want to eat anymore. I think this is an important piece that’s missing in all diets. And then, of course, when you reach the weight that you want to reach you can continue to eat … you should continue to eat a pound of greens a day, absolutely, because there are so many good nutrition in there but maybe you don’t want to eat only that, maybe you don’t want to eat … feel that full on just those foods. And so steaming your greens, and blending them in a smoothie, or juicing them like I do is the way you make sure you get them. A pound of greens. I really need to come up with a bumper sticker or something that says, “ A pound of greens everyday.” It’s so important.

Okay, now we just put a video up on the website,, that’s my nonprofit website. And we just put a little video. I hope you go and watch it. If you go to the website and go to the top left column you’ll see the 2012 Take Back Your Health Conference and there’s a little video we put up recently from when we were at that Take Back Your Health Conference. Some of the things that I talked about in that video, something I always find amusing at many, many different conferences that promote health is just because it’s called a health conference don’t mean that the information you’re going to get there has anything to do with health. A lot of time, people are just promoting their particular products, promoting different supplements, some of them are good, and maybe some of them aren’t so good. One of the interesting things about this particular conference was we certainly didn’t all agree on the same things. It wasn’t a vegetarian conference so there were people there promoting “humane” production of animal flesh and dairy products. I certainly don’t believe those items are healthy. Anyway, so I invite you to watch that video.

Before we go today I want to invite you also at the website, if you scroll down, way to the left hand side, bottom of the page, under REAL Programs, there is REAL Recipes. We now have 167 recipes, most of them are salt-free. There’s a handful that have some sugar because there are cakes, and cookies, and treats and I personally believe we all deserve a treat now and then. But most of them are made from minimally processed, delicious, whole, plant foods. I hope you definitely will take the time and check that out. How about it?

Okay. What else do we have here? How many more minutes do I have? Just a couple, okay. I talked to so many different people on this show and I would really recommend, if you haven’t heard all of them because I think there are now over 160 interviews. Definitely check out the archives. There’s so much wonderful information here. We need, all of us, as Julie Guthman told us, we need to become more active with our food and more knowledgeable about our ood so I’m going to say, yes, it makes a difference to express our desires with our dollars by encouraging organic and locally grown food, and plant food, and supporting our vegan distributors of foods and restaurants but we need to be bugging that government of ours. So I’m going to make a commitment. How about you? We need to start writing more letters. We need to start making it clear to our government. It’s that squeaky wheel thing. There was a time when the organic certification thing was going through and the government got hundreds of thousands of responses and they hard us. So I think we need to start kicking and screaming.

I’m Caryn Hartglass. You’ve been listening to It’s All About Food. You can reach me at Thanks for listening and have a delicious week.

Transcribed by DIana O’Reilly, 3/9/2013


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