Part I – Pam Popper, Food Over Medicine
Dr. Pam Popper is a naturopath, an internationally recognized expert on nutrition, medicine and health, and the Executive Director of The Wellness Forum. The company offers educational programs designed to assist individuals in changing their health outcomes through improved diet and lifestyle habits; to assist employers in reducing the costs of health insurance and medical care for employees; and to educate health care professionals about how to use diet and lifestyle for preventing, reversing, and stopping the progression of degenerative disease.
Dr. Popper is the author of several books; her most recent is Food Over Medicine: The Conversation That Can Save Your Life . She is the Founder of The Wellness Forum Foundation, which offers programming in schools designed to improve children’s health through better nutrition.
Dr. Popper serves on the Physician’s Steering Committee and the President’s Board for the Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington D.C. Dr. Popper is one of the health care professionals involved in the famed Sacramento Food Bank Project, in which economically disadvantaged people were shown how to reverse their diseases and eliminate medications with diet.
Dr. Popper is part of Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s teaching team at eCornell, teaching part of a certification course on plant-based nutrition. She has been featured in many widely distributed documentaries, including Processed People and Making a Killing and appears in a new film, Forks Over Knives, which played in major theaters throughout North America in 2011. She is one of the co-authors of the companion book which was on the New York Times bestseller list for 66 weeks.
Dr. Popper is also a lobbyist and public policy expert, and continually works toward changing laws that interfere with patients’ right to choose their health provider and method of care. She has testified in front of legislative committees on numerous occasions, and has testified twice in front of the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.
Part II – Norman Phelps, Changing The Game
A frequent speaker at animal rights conferences, Norm Phelps is the author of Changing the Game: Why the Battle for Animal Liberation Is So Hard And How We Can Win It, The Longest Struggle: Animal Advocacy from Pythagoras to PETA, The Great Compassion: Buddhism and Animal Rights, and The Dominion of Love: Animal Rights According to the Bible (all published by Lantern Books). He has contributed numerous articles to journals and anthologies, including Call to Compassion, and Earth, Animal and Disability Liberation: The Rise of the Eco-Ability Movement, and is a regular contributor to the Dharma Voices for Animals website. Norm is a member of the Institute for Critical Animal Studies, a regular contributor to the website Dharma Voices for Animals, and a founding member of the Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians. A practicing Tibetan Buddhist and Unitarian-Universalist, he lives in Funkstown, Maryland (USA) with his wife, Patti Rogers, and their family of rescued cats.
TRANSCRIPTION PART I:
Hello I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. Thank you for joining me today. It’s July 23rd, 2013—gosh I was going to say some other year. Here we are, it’s lovely summer day. I think we’re kind of over the heat spell, I hope, I hope. I’ve been trying to keep cool and before we get started with my first interview today I wanted to remind you: You know you can call in and ask questions. The number is 1-888-874-4888 and you may know this, you can e-mail me any time, during the program or any time during the week, firstname.lastname@example.org. A couple of other things going on. I wanted to mention some of my friends. Betsy Carson who is producing the vegan mashup season has a Kickstarter going on to get season two going with Terry Hope Romero, Miyoko Schinner and Toni Fiori, and if you want to help they are looking for funding and they have four days to go to reach their goal. So if you google “kickstarter vegan mashup” you should be able to find it. If you want to help that would be a lovely, lovely thing to do. OK, now let’s get to my first very wonderful guest Dr. Pam Popper is a naturopath, an internationally recognized expert on nutrition, medicine and health, and the Executive Director of The Wellness Forum. She has helped tens of thousands of people regain their health and has helped many employers reduce health care costs with worksite health improvement programs for employees and is founder of the Wellness Forum Institute for Health Studies. She appeared as an expert in the acclaimed film “Forks Over Knives”. Welcome to It’s All About Food.
Pam Popper: Thank you for having me.
Caryn Hartglass: Hi. It was really lovely meeting you at the BenBella anniversary celebration in Brooklyn at The Gutter. That was a really hip bowling alley place, a really nice party.
Pam Popper: That was fun, that was a great event. Of course we were celebrating, everyone has a new book out…including me. That was fun.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m excited because I’m going to be talking to not only you but Dr. Campbell later on and also Bhava Ram who wrote Warrior Pose. I don’t know if you got to read that book but…
Pam Popper: I have it, it’s on my stack. I always have like a hundred books I haven’t yet read. The problem is I keep buying more. I’m like a book junkie. I guess I could have worse habits, right?
Caryn Hartglass: Right. That was really an inspirational story. I didn’t even know until the end that we went vegan. So that was like an extra bonus in the whole story. OK, let’s get to the meat of the conversation today—that’s the plant-based meat, of course.
Pam Popper: Of course.
Caryn Hartglass: So you have helped so many people and I’m sure that’s made a lot of people happy and that must mean a lot to you.
Pam Popper: Well, it does and it’s why I love coming to work every day. I think it’s such a contrast. If you talk to people in the healthcare field most of them are pretty disenchanted with it: They don’t like it; they’re not making money; they’re depressed and discouraged and it’s not fun and the whole nine yards. It’s just such a contrast to the way that people who practice and administer health care the way that we do see things because when people come in here they get well. And then they’re happy and they love you and you never get tired of that. We’ve helped a lot of people and it’s a very gratifying experience and I can’t ever imagine doing anything other than this.
Caryn Hartglass: Now a lot of people who enter the health care industry, especially doctors I think, really have a good motive. They want to help people get well and then over time falling into the system…whatever…it must be really frustrating.
Pam Popper: Well it is and part of the problem is that nobody, including me, is taught, or was taught, how to cure anybody of anything. It’s all about symptom mitigation and of course if you’re a traditional medical doctor, symptom mitigation is with pharmaceutical drugs. If you’re trained as a naturopath like me, symptom mitigation is with supplements. It all points to the same end which is the patient feels better while he or she gets worse because you’re not addressing the underlying cause of what caused the illness which is almost always related to diet and lifestyle choices. So I’m sure it’s frustrating for a physician to spend a small fortune to go to school to learn how to be a doctor to watch people get worse instead of better and crankier instead of nicer. At some point in time you say, gosh I don’t think this is what I signed up for. Then, as you mentioned, you fall into the institution of medicine which is I think kind of an unsavory business these days and that makes it even less fun.
Caryn Hartglass: OK, so you’ve created the Wellness Forum and before I get into some of the questions that I have with your book why don’t you tell us about the Wellness Forum.
Pam Popper: The Wellness Forum is in business to help people change their health outcomes by making diet and lifestyle change. We offer educational programs that lead to that result. And then there are so many applications for programs like that. So we help individuals who want to regain their health, we help companies to lower health insurance costs by going into the work site and teaching people how to eat and exercise their way out of the conditions that are costing their employers so much money. We own a school so we teach healthcare professionals how to practice differently—we make up for the training that they’re not getting through their traditional education. And we have a foundation that goes into schools and provides educational programming to school children and teachers that isn’t sponsored by industry. So lots of different applications for the same message which really is that most of what we spend our time, money and resources on in this country from a health care perspective is degenerative disease and I call these food-borne illnesses. You eat your way in and we can show you how to eat your way out.
Pam Popper: And you’re located in Ohio?
Pam Popper: We’re located in Ohio but we do business all over the United States and many, many foreign countries because all of our programming can be done via distance learning. So we have conference calls and books and DVDs and you can participate no matter where you are. So we have members in Bulgaria and Iceland and Greece and all over place. It’s really kind of interesting the different types of people we get to interact with. It’s also interesting that the problems are the same everywhere. In other words there may be a few little oases of health that are left on the planet where people are actually kind of trim and doing well from a health perspective but in almost every country now you’ve got a large population of people who are overfed, overweight and undernourished and sick. That’s great for business but not so great for mankind.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s kind of an amazing thing how we got to this place. Sometimes I wonder: Are humans just meant to suffer? As we become more affluent and we have means, are we just looking for new problems, we we just creating these problems? Because these are problems we know how to fix.
Pam Popper: Well, I don’t think that we’re looking for problems and I don’t think humans are meant to suffer. I think the problem is that we’re living in an environment for which we’re not very well adapted. In other words, if you look at our history on the planet, we didn’t used to have to make choices about food. Nobody went to the grocery store a thousand years ago and wandered around with 200 choices of ice cream. Humans ate locally grown, available food, inexpensive food, unless you were part of the royal class. And it had a protective effect. And in places in the world where people still, mostly for financial reasons, eat that way, they don’t suffer from chronic degenerative conditions. So what’s happened is our ability to produce massive amounts of food inexpensively, some of which I would not even classify as food. You read the labels on some of these packages and there’s nothing food in it. It’s just chemicals and coloring agents. But we live in a land that’s filled with this stuff and we don’t really teach people how to make the right choices when given the choice between good and bad choices. So that’s where our problem is. Humans for the first time in their lives can choose anything they want, at any time of the day or night, and they invariably make poor choices because they don’t know the consequences of doing so.
Caryn Hartglass: You know it’s funny, I don’t know if you hear the little chimes in the background, but the ice cream truck is around my neighborhood, you don’t even have to go to the grocery store, it comes to you. You barely have to move.
Pam Popper: That’s the other thing too. Our whole existence is set up now so that you don’t have to move. We’ve got cordless phones, we don’t have to get up an answer the phone. We’ve got remotes on our TV. Our jobs are sedentary. I’m sitting here talking to you which is why I have to go out and run because so much of what I do I’m sitting around a desk or on the phone. So we really have to work hard to do the things that human beings are designed to do which is eat a plant-based diet and to be physically active because our natural lives these days, the way that they trend, doesn’t provide either of those things.
Caryn Hartglass: Alright, let’s get to Food Over Medicine. I like the style, it’s a conversation between you and Glen Merzer. We almost feel we’re right there with you getting the information. It’s very comfortable, very easy to understand.
Pam Popper: Yes. I have to give Glen the credit for it. It was actually his idea. I also have to say I think I’m pretty smart about diet, health and medicine and I know a lot of stuff but to the extent that this book is fun to read, I also give Glen the credit for that. He’s a marvelous marvelous writer and I think he took what could be a rather dry subject and turned it into something interesting, easy-to-follow and easy to understand. So I have to give him the credit for that. I’ll take credit for the ideas but I’ll give him credit for the writing because he deserves it.
Caryn Hartglass: OK, thank you Glen. So let’s talk about some of the things just to whet people’s appetite about the book.
Pam Popper: Let’s start with the reason I wanted to write this book. There’s so many books about diet and health and medicine right now, why do we need one more? I think the first thing is I have some things to say about diet that I think haven’t been covered real well and I wanted to say those things. But the big point I wanted to make, and it’s very important, is that you can watch every morsel you put into your mouth and eat what we might term a plant-perfect diet and you still can end up having adverse health consequences as a result of your interaction with the medical community if you’re not an educated medical consumer. The days are over when you can just show up in a doctor’s office and do what you’re told because doctors are trained to administer tests and treatments and drugs and supplements most of which are useless and many of which are harmful. So what I really want to do is I want consumers to be educated medical consumers. The exception to the rule is if you’re involved in some type of traumatic event like a car accident and boy you want to go to the hospital and do what they tell you to do so they can save your life but what most of us is engaging in is not that, it’s regular trips to doctors where we are recommended, all kinds of things are recommended, ranging from diagnostic testing to the drugs and supplements as I mentioned and a great deal of it is not really a very good idea.
Caryn Hartglass: I want to talk quickly about breast cancer and prostate cancer because you mention some really scary things in your book about people getting diagnosed and being treated for something they really shouldn’t be treated for.
Pam Popper: The problem with diagnostic testing is that first of all, we now have such great imaging equipment and that sounds like that would be great but we’re actually diagnosing people and they might be better off not knowing anything that is wrong. In other words, let’s start with prostate cancer because that’s a little bit easier situation. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has now said that prostate cancer screening, PSA testing, as it were, is useless for men of all ages. The man who invented the test has said it’s not really very useful. One of the reasons is that PSA is not really a very good marker for determining if you have a form of prostate cancer that is gonna kill you or you’ll die with but not of. Humans are not wired to be told that they have prostate cancer but just forget about it, go live your life, we just don’t do that. Once you’re diagnosed with prostate cancer even though we have no way of knowing if it’s going to turn into anything we treat everybody as if it is. You have some people with early stage or really slow-growing cancers that they’d be better off not knowing about and doing all kinds of treatments that often lead to incontinence and impotence and that sort of thing and a great deal of that treatment is just unnecessary. If you look at breast cancer, mammography does not reduce the risk of dying of breast cancer. And in fact, it’s quite harmful. About one out of 2000 women will get some benefit from mammography screening and for every woman that benefits we actually kill six. And I meant what I said—kill six. I don’t think that most women who have mammograms know that and I don’t think many of them would choose that if they really understood that. That’s an example of how we misuse diagnostic testing. And one other thing I want to mention is, the other thing we don’t talk much about, is when people have these tests they think the testing is going to save their life and so they have the test and they’re told that we didn’t detect anything and then they go back to living their lives, eating a bad diet, not exercising and I’ll get tested next year and see if I’m still getting away with my bad habits instead of understanding that testing isn’t going to save your life. And what you better do is change your bad habits now so you’re not dealing with something that can’t be fixed. A lot of times by the time people find out that they’re sick they have something that’s pretty aggressive and you can’t always fix it. So diagnostic testing and early detection really are virtually useless and people say well my gosh what are we supposed to do? I tell them you’re supposed to live the right life style and eat the right diet for humans. And that’s the best protection you’re going to have. I wish I could tell you that all the rest of the stuff would help you but it just doesn’t.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s really powerful information and I know that so many people are just scared, they’re feared into going to the doctor and having the check. It’s quite criminal.
Pam Popper: And doctors enthusiastically recommend this stuff. And get angry if you don’t do what you’re told. I have people that I know that have been fired by doctors—if you’re not going to do what I tell you to do you can’t come here any more. It’s the arrogance of …
Caryn Hartglass: I wish there were doctors…I know there are a few…but I wish there were more doctors that would fire patients that didn’t do the right thing. I remember a doctor who wouldn’t treat patients who weren’t trying to quit smoking. He would say if you’re not going to do the best that you can for your own health then I don’t want to participate.
Pam Popper: Exactly, exactly. That’s the way that it should be. At the very least we need to be having what I call the informed consent discussion. Here’s the way it should go. When you show up in the doctor’s office and for the first time you get a blood test that shows that your cholesterol is going up the conversation should go like this: Doctor says to patient: Look, your cholesterol is too high. We have a couple of options here. I can put you on a statin drug and the best of the bunch will reduce your risk of a major coronary event or death from a coronary event by about 1.6%. Lots of side effects, pages and pages and pages of them including cognitive decline, one of the top ones now. The FDA made them add that to the list and a lot of other things you don’t want to have happen or I can show you how to change your diet, your cholesterol will drop to the place where it will be lower than your IQ within a few months and you’ll never have to worry about the stuff again. You’ll be heart attack proof and you can go on and live your life and a lot of other bad things won’t happen to you either. So which would you like to do? I think that most people…my experience is most people when confronted with that stark contrast and that information will choose to at least try the diet. But that’s not what’s happening. What’s happening is people not only get sucked in to doing all this useless diagnostic testing but then when they find out that something is wrong then they’re told to engage in taking drugs or procedures or surgeries and biopsies and all kinds of other stuff that don’t really offer much protection and a lot of which do more harm than good. Also, not even told that they could eat their way out of their condition.
Caryn Hartglass: I think more people are getting the idea that a healthy plant-based diet can definitely help with heart disease and diabetes. At least I know my listeners know that because I’ve been talking about it for such a long time. And many people have seen the film that you were in, Forks Over Knives, which is so important, an easy way and a powerful way to get the message really fast about how food can be your medicine. But there are other illnesses that aren’t getting as much press. We’ll stick with the clogged artery for a moment and coronary artery disease but you have a number of anecdotes in your book, different people that you’ve worked with and one of them I just wanted to highlight because I know someone who has recently had something similar so this was your story with Barry and Elizabeth and Barry had…his mind went blank. It would last for a few minutes and he had a lot of tests done. All he had was high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Your interpretation of what he had I found really interesting. What should people do with a symptom like this which can be really scary?
Pam Popper: Well Barry’s experience was really instructive and the first thing is the interesting parts of the story is to me, first of all if you have friends and family who haven’t listened to you yet, don’t give up hope because these are some of my dearest friends and they’ve never eaten fast food and junk like in the traditional sense but they never really ate my diet either. They were always really respectful and all that sort of thing and I stay with them for a few days every year and they always had the stuff for me to eat and everything but they weren’t eating this diet and they weren’t really to terribly much interested in changing to it. The second thing is that they have this terrible thing called “good insurance”. So when Barry got…this started happening to Barry he ends up at a very famed clinic in South Florida where they spent thousands of dollars testing him. I thought this was fascinating. In fact, when he really got frightened and he said I want your help and I’ll do anything you tell me to do, he overnighted his medical records to me and they came in a box. I said I need to look at all this stuff because I’m thinking, I want to make sure I’m not missing something. They had images…I mean he’d been in there for lots of testing. They really took advantage of the fact that he had such good insurance. He sent me this box of medical records and all this stuff that they did…images and I’m looking at the whole thing and the bottom line is he had advanced coronary artery disease and he was a candidate for…they wanted him to have bypass surgery and that scared him half to death and he was a candidate for a heart attack. So I called him back and I said listen, this isn’t anything exotic, as you mentioned, you’ve got high blood pressure and high cholesterol, here’s what you need to do and it’s time for you to eat my diet. He said I’ll do anything you tell me to do because I don’t want to have surgery. He and his wife adopted two children from Russia so he’s got these two children and he says I want to be able to raise my kids and the whole nine yards. So he instantaneously converts to the diet and of course Elizabeth, his wife, does too because she loves her husband and is supportive and the whole nine yards and, long story short, within a few days–problem gone. When he went back to the clinic to have a blood draw and that sort of thing, they actually did the brachial artery tourniquet test. They told him he had the arteries of a 20 year old man and he’s in his 60s. So within a very short time he ate his way out of it. They both lost a lot of weight. They’re both really attractive people but…they look like a Hollywood couple, as I said in the book, now. It was just that simple. He’s never strayed from it and he’s never had another one of those events and his cholesterol has stayed low and his blood pressure’s low, he doesn’t take any medications and hopefully he’ll live to be a hundred and that’s wonderful. I care about this story because first of all I want everybody to be healthy but the second thing is these are really, really good friends and if something had happened to Barry it would’ve touched me in a very personal way. So when you get a chance to save a friend that’s really a special thing.
Caryn Hartglass: The symptom though is what triggered my attention. He just blanked out for a few minutes, couldn’t remember names of things and you said that was impaired oxygenation to the brain from coronary artery disease and I don’t think most people really realize that.
Pam Popper: Well you know I spent two days last week attending a conference on nutrition and the brain and looking at this very issue…lots and lots of presenters and I think they thing that people don’t realize is that the brain is the biggest utilizer of energy, oxygen, water and when those arteries…if you have coronary artery disease you don’t get it in one place, it’s systemic, you get it everywhere. So when the arteries start to become filled with plaque and the epithelial tissue is damaged and you’re not pumping out nitric oxide any more. You don’t have that problem just in your legs or near your heart, you’ve got that problem in the arteries that go to your brain also and so that impaired blood flow starts to cause…you’re not only at risk of a heart attack, you start to experience cognitive decline and had Barry not changed his ways he could have had a heart attack and that could have been devastating. The other thing that could have happened, he could have ended up with Alzheimer’s Disease and we see millions and millions of people right now suffering from that. It’s one more food-borne condition that can be prevented and, in its early stages, even helped a bit by eating the right diet and engaging in physical activity.
Caryn Hartglass: Plaque in the brain or plaque in the arteries—it gets you either way.
Pam Popper: Yes and it’s preventable. I think that’s the message we have to get out to people. It’s such a fatalistic attitude…oh you know this runs in my family so I’m destined to get it.
Caryn Hartglass: Talk about the diet, what’s the food? What do you tell people to eat and not to eat?
Pam Popper: You want to get the dairy out of the diet. That’s out. You want to get the oils out of the diet, no liquid pure fat, that’s just a bad idea. But the four principal food groups that our people live on are fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, so lots of potatoes and rice and beans and vegetables and salads and fruit. Just picture the freshest, the most fabulous plant-based meals you can imagine. That’s what we eat all day. Very little processed food. There’s room for some cereal, bread and pasta and that sort of thing but that’s kind of higher up on the list, you don’t eat as much of that stuff. Really minimizing the high fat plant foods and this is important because a lot of people will convert to a plant-based diet and they’ll eat a lot of nuts and seeds and olives and coconut and that sort of thing and that’ll pack the pounds on you just like animal food will. So you want to really pay attention and not have too much of that. And if you’re going to eat animal foods, no more than two or three servings a week, must be organic or wild-caught, less is better, none is fine too. You certainly don’t need to eat it, but we don’t necessarily take it away. And then understanding that there’s a place for treats. I think sometimes people look at our diet and they think, you know, how do these people have fun. I’ll have a piece of cake at a birthday party and champagne on New Year’s Eve is nice. There’s room for that but the problem that people get into is they don’t really differentiate between food and a treat and they start treating themselves five times a day and that’s how they end up in my office with some of the problems described in the book. This stuff just needs to be occasional and situational. You know, cookies aren’t lunch and you don’t need them every day. Christmas is a good time for a cookie.
Caryn Hartglass: The thing that makes it a treat is that it’s special.
Pam Popper: Yes, absolutely.
Caryn Hartglass: And it’s only special if you save it for special occasions when you can enjoy it.
Pam Popper: And along that line, you have to get this stuff out of your house. You just can’t tempt yourself and play willpower games. I know a lot about why to do this. I’m pretty educated on the topic obviously but if I’m standing in my kitchen at 10 o’clock at night saying, I’ve got some blueberries, some bananas and apples and peaches and chocolate and cookies. Sooner or later that stuff is going to call my name and I’m going to eat it. So I really keep my environment real clean. I only have this stuff when I’m out some place and I can have a piece of it or a bite of it and then when I go home there isn’t any more so I can’t really hurt myself with this treat-type food. You have to get good at setting up your environment to help you succeed instead of trying to play willpower games with yourself.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m a big believer. I’ve been pushing this diet for a decade but there’s some new information all the time about how this diet can really affect different illnesses. Can we…we just have a few more minutes left…I wanted to touch on Crohn’s Disease which is becoming more and more popular and many doctors will tell you it’s not curable.
Pam Popper: I know and I love treating people with Crohn’s Disease because we can help them and it is curable. Basically, Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis, both very similar conditions, are inflammatory bowel conditions and the life that these people lead is eventually so horrible. They have twenty bloody bowel movements before noon. They are always conscious of where the nearest bathroom is. The pain and agony associated with this eventually results in very intensive medications including chemotherapy drugs and sometimes bowel resection. We use a whole foods, plant-based diet here. It’s a little bit different protocol here because you have to calm down the inflammation first. It takes us about three to four weeks at the outside to get the inflammation calmed down so that people are having two or three bowel movements a day and then we start very gradually adding more and more healthy plant foods to the diet and doing some probiotic treatment. Within a few months these people are functioning normally eating a diet very much like the one you and I eat. There are a few additional restrictions but not many and they remain asymptomatic. My longest success story has been asymptomatic now for eleven years and of course, Jill Collette’s story’s in the book. She ended up working in our yoga studio here and found out she could come and see me for free. It’s one of the best benefits of working here. Within just a short time…her problem had gone on for twenty years, all cleaned up. And she‘s never had another episode, this was a few years ago, so I’m always excited to work with these people for two reasons. First of all, because I know how to help them and I’m so excited about it and the second thing is they’re so miserable that they’ll do what I tell them to, they don’t argue with me so we don’t have diet problems with this particular population. They follow directions carefully and as soon as they start to see things improving they do not go back.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s just amazing that so many people are plagued with this and they are told they can’t be cured. It’s just evil.
Pam Popper: Oh, it is.
Caryn Hartglass: Do you ever talk to the Crohn’s Foundation?
Pam Popper: Have you seen the advice on their website? They tell these people to eat all these foods that actually cause things to get worse. They absolutely have no interest in promoting diet. I don’t want to pick on them because the MS Society doesn’t have anything about diet on their website…
Caryn Hartglass: …and the Breast Cancer websites tell you to drink milk.
Pam Popper: They’re funded by pharmaceutical companies and the food companies so we’re not going to change them. What we have to do…what we’re doing right now is very important. We have to get out to the consumer and let the consumer know that there’s a different alternative and eventually you just dry up the number of people patronizing these organizations and they’ll go away. When everybody in America is healthy there won’t be any need for a Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation and there won’t be any need for the American Cancer Society. People say oh Pam you’re just daydreaming. I’m really not. I really see this happening in my lifetime. I really believe that this whole medical system is going to completely be toppled and we will be having this conversation when we’re in our rocking chairs at the age of 90 saying wasn’t that a fabulous thing we just watched happen.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I can’t wait for that. We’re not going to be in rocking chairs though, we’re going to be running marathons.
Pam Popper: Yeah there are people who do that at the age of 90 actually. I know my grandfather was working on a construction site at the age of 94, the day before he died. He just went to sleep and he didn’t get up. I want that to be me. Not necessarily the construction site but the go to sleep and don’t get up the next day.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you Dr. Popper so much for writing this book. I recommend everyone pick it up especially if you know people who have illnesses. This is really easy read and a great way to get people to come over to the path of our food.
Transcribed by Suzanne Kelly, 8/15/2013
TRANSCRIPTION PART II:
Caryn Hartglass: Hello everybody, we’re back, I’m Caryn Hartglass, this is It’s All About Food, July 23, 2013, and this is the second part of our show, I want to remind you that you can send questions/comments during the show or any time during the week, email@example.com. I never get enough e-mails, I love to have conservations with all of you. So let’s talk, okay, now, onto the next part of the show, Norm Phelps, a frequent speaker at animal rights conferences, he is the author of Changing the Game: Why the Battle for Animal Liberation is so Hard, and How we can Win It, also the Longest Struggle: Animal Advocacy from Pythagoras to PETA, The Great Passion: Buddhism to Animal Rights, and the Dominion of Love: Animal Rights According to the Bible, and they were all published by Lantern Books. He has contributed numerous articles to journals and anthologies including Call to Compassion and Earth, Animal, and Disability Liberation: Rise of the Eco-ability Movement, and he’s a regular contributor to the DARMA Voices for Animals website, enormous member of the Institute for Critical Animal Studies, a regular contributor to the website DARMA Voices for Animals, and a founding member of the Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians. He’s a practicing Tibetan Buddhist and Unitarian Universalist, he lives in Funkstown, Maryland, with his wife Patty Rogers, and their family of rescued cats. Norm, thank you so much for joining me today.
Norm Phelps: Thank you for having me Caryn, it’s a pleasure to be here.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, I just finished reading Changing the Game: Why the Battle for Animal Liberation is so Hard, and How we can Win It, and let’s talk a bit about it shall we.
Norm Phelps: Love to.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so I want you to know my listeners may know this, I became a vegan over 25 years ago, I was already vegetarian, and the motivating factor for me was not wanting to kill animals, that’s how I came to the scene, I’ve become very passionate about the health benefits of a Vegan plant based diet and the powerful gentle effects it has on the environment, it’s a win-win-win all around. Okay, I’m back, I’m sorry about that, that’s technology for you, Norm, are you with me.
Norm Phelps: I’m here.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, that was fun. Okay, I was saying that I got into this whole movement because I didn’t want to kill animals and then I found about all the other benefits to eating a plant based diet and how good it was for the environment, but you know, I focus on so many different things in trying to get the message, I spend the last hour with Dr. Pam Popper talking about the power of plant foods on health because I’m looking for any angle I can to attract people to not killing animals. But it’s very hard to sell and I want to win it.
Norm Phelps: I could not agree more, as you say, different messages appeal to different people, and different messages appeal to the same people at different times. I think we have to use every tool in our toolkit.
Caryn Hartglass: I want to believe, and I have this feeling from your book, we will win, and it’s just going to take time.
Norm Phelps: It is going to take a very long time.
Caryn Hartglass: I’ve spoken with lots of different people on the show, some of them have been hardcore animal rights activists, others have been believers in the animal welfare process, and you talk about how both are actually necessary.
Norm Phelps: I think that’s right. Animal abuse is the most deeply entrenched form of oppression in history, ever, anywhere. It’s eeply embedded in our individual psychology and in our culture, and we’re not going to overcome that in a matter of a few years or probably even a few decades. Just as the struggles for the abolition of human slavery and the liberation of women were carried on for centuries, I think the animal liberation struggle is too, and we just have to be prepared for the long haul.
Caryn Hartglass: You bring up some interesting points and one is that all of these other social moments, the people that were moving them forward had self-interest at stake, women pushed forward in the women movement to improve their life situation, people in the civil rights movement, the same thing, but animal don’t have a voice.
Norm Phelps: Try to imagine a movement for the abolition of human slavery that depended entirely on converting the slave owners to the cause, and that is precisely the situation that the animal rights movement is in. About 3% of the population is vegan, the adult American population is vegan, 2-3%. And that means 98-97% feel that they benefit personally from animal slavery and slaughter, and that’s the population that we have to convert.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, you know, when you put it that way, and unfortunately people don’t put it that way enough, people benefit from animal slavery and slaughter.
Norm Phelps: Yes, we do.
Caryn Hartglass: You know, we need to hear more of that language telling it like it is.
Norm Phelps: Some of the benefits are imaginary, fanciful, but deeply believed, which is all that matters, and some are real, but they are there, and they are what keep people oppressing animals. We oppress animals because we like the benefits of it, we benefit from it, we enjoy it, it satisfies our appetites, it’s convenient, we make money off of it, and we can get away with it. There are no adverse consequences to oppressing animals, and that is basically why we do it.
Caryn Hartglass: You give some brief history, well it’s not even that brief, you give some pretty comprehensive history on social movements to improve people’s lots and how humans have engaged since we began and our history isn’t very nice.
Norm Phelps: It is a very long, very slow, and very indirect path, that social justice movements have always had to take. There is a very deep strain of selfishness embedded in the human psyche, and it is very difficult to overcome, but there is also a very deep strain of empathy and compassion embedded in the human psyche, and that is what we have to appeal to, and I believe we can successfully, although as you say it will not be a quick or easy process.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s that embedded word, you know, how do we bring out what we want and not the rest, it’s a big challenge. All right, there’s a number of different things, I’m looking for them in your book, that I highlighted that I wanted to talk about. The animal rights movement is exploring uncharted territory; we are attempting to be the first social justice movement in history to succeed without the organized conscious participation of the victims, kind of alluded to that a moment ago.
Norm Phelps: It does have another aspect that we didn’t talk about, and that is this. Try to imagine a women’s movement that was staffed if you will, made up entirely and led entirely by men. There’s no mechanism to get feedback from women on whether the tactics were working, whether it was succeeding, even whether the goals were what they really wanted. Or try to imagine a civil rights movement made up entirely of whites with no mechanism to get feedback from African Americans. That’s what we’re trying to do in the Animal Rights Movement, and it’s the first time in history that anything of that sort has been undertaken.
Caryn Hartglass: Which is, rather exciting.
Norm Phelps: Yes, it is, we’re pioneers and, we might have wished we weren’t.
Caryn Hartglass: Alright, you have a section called “The Shock of Recognition: The Realization that We are all mass murderers who have lived our entire lives off of the fruits of the most gruesome and widespread slavery and murder every practiced by human beings generates intense, often unbearable emotional distress.”
Norm Phelps: Yes
Caryn Hartglass: And that some people, if they realize it consciously or subconsciously, rather than face that truth, will continue doing the same thing and finding justifications for it.
Norm Phelps: The enormity of our crime against not-human animals is such that when you recognize that it is a crime, that they are sentient, sensitive beings like us, who long for happiness and have an aversion to pain, who long for continued life and dread death just as we do, then that is an extraordinarily painful recognition. And, rather than face it, most people simply lash out at the messenger, deny the message without really listening to it, and continue to commit the crime because if they stop committing the crime, they have to admit that it was a crime to themselves, and they just can’t bear the pain of that.
Caryn Hartglass: I never thought of it that way and it was very interesting reading it, it takes a lot of courage.
Norm Phelps: It takes a lot of courage, yes it does, a lot of ability to be forgiving of yourself and of others.
Caryn Hartglass: Be forgiving of yourself, be forgiving of your parents who raised you a certain way, and all the people that have nurtured you.
Norm Phelps: Indeed it does, and all our political and philosophical and entertainment heroes, it takes a lot of forgiveness and forgiveness take courage.
Caryn Hartglass: Talk about creating a universal rights movement, and the argument you say in parts 1 and 2 of your book, has been that “animal rights has made such slow progress during its first 35 years because of the inherent difficulty of the challenge and the ascendancy of a conservative political philosophy that is hostile to all social justice movement.”
Norm Phelps: Absolutely, I think the importance of this fact, in fact, there’s this historical thing, is very much overlooked within the animal rights movement. Nearly all of the social progress for human beings that was made in this country was made during a very short period, one generation really, one and a half generations. Between the 1930s, the New Deal, and the 1960s, the Civil Rights era and the Great Society with the exceptions of the abolition of human slavery, the extension of voting rights to women, and the American With Disabilities Act which was passed in 1990, that era, just all about all of our social programs, from social security, and laws supporting unions, to Medicare, Medicaid, head start.
Caryn Hartglass: All the things conservatives are trying to repeal and turn around at this point.
Norm Phelps: They’re trying to repeal everything that took place during that one remarkable period between 1930, 32, 33, ending somewhere in the early to mid 1970s, and with the 1970s and especially with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, the atmosphere in this country changed. And we became a nation that was very hostile to the concept of social welfare, social justice, very hostile to the concept that government can be an instrument for good and looking after the welfare of everyone who is subject to its power. The animal rights movement was created by the impulse of the 1960s, that period between the 30s and the 60s. It was the spirit of that movement that created and still infuses the animal rights movement, but we came into being, say, with the publication of Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation in 1975, we came into being just as that era was dying. And we have had to grow up in an environment that is extremely hostile to animal rights movements. You might say that animal rights is the orphan child of the 1960s, it’s having to scratch out its own living on the streets in a very hostile environment.
Caryn Hartglass: So our timing wasn’t good, but it’s also a much bigger challenge, we’re not talking about humans, and we’re not even nice to humans still, we still do horrible things all over the world. And to ourselves, we’re talking about how the conservatives are taking away so many of the benefits of poor people, disadvantaged people. We’re bringing out all that bad stuff that’s embedded in our psyche.
Norm Phelps: That’s true; it’s truly an appalling situation.
Caryn Hartglass: So, we need to do some educating, and you recommend educating the left on the importance of showing that all of the oppressed get equal value regardless of species.
Norm Phelps: Exactly so, because animal rights is consistent with the fundamental philosophy of the left, it is inconsistent with the fundamental philosophy of the right. The fundamental philosophy of the left is mutual existence, co-operation, mutual caring. The fundamental philosophy of the right is competitiveness, mutual warfare if you will, social Darwinism, it’s sort of as (Herbert) Spencer put it, “root hog or die,” without any help from your neighbor, is the fundamental philosophy of conservatism, and that philosophy is hostile to the human rights and animal rights, the left is halfway there, the left understands the need for mutual caring and mutual concern, and collective responsibility for one another. The left understands the true meaning of community in a way that the right does not. The left for example understands the evils of racism, what they don’t understand is that speciesism is simply the most extreme version of racism. The left understands the evils of sexism, they don’t understand that laying hens and dairy cows for instancw, are victims of the worst kind of sexism, they suffer and die, because they’re female, the left is halfway there, and has a fundamental orientation that is compatible with animal rights, it’s friendly towards animal rights, it should be, but the right does not, and therefore, I think it is very important as we consider ourselves a social justice movement among other social justice movements, and that we work very hard to form a unified front with the political left.
Caryn Hartglass: You are a Tibetan Buddhist, how did that happen, how did that fit with your philosophy of animals.
Norm Phelps: I don’t really know how it happened, I was raised a southern Baptist and Methodist, and I just did not personally find that a satisfying spiritual practice for me, I understand that there are many people for whom it is and I certainly respect that, but it just wasn’t for me, and I just started looking around, and I came to Tibetan Buddhism, and it worked for me. I studied for 12 years with a Tibetan Lama and found it very satisfying, both intellectually and spiritually. It works for me because the fundamental ethical value of Buddhism is compassion for all sentient beings based upon empathy, and I think that is also the basis for the animal rights movement. Compassion for all sentient beings based upon empathy. I think the two dovetail perfectly for me.
Caryn Hartglass: Now are Tibetan Buddhists normally vegetarian or they’re not?
Norm Phelps: Sadly enough they’re not.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, you’ve mentioned the different religions and how many of them had elements that would encourage vegetarianism and how some have kind of gotten off the path.
Norm Phelps: Yeah among Buddhists worldwide all schools of Buddhism, an educated guess, there are no real statistics, but an educated guess would be that about half are vegetarians. Among Tibetan Buddhists the number is far lower, but there are Tibetan Buddhists and important teachers among Tibetan Buddhists who are vegetarian, and the number of young Lamas who are growing up in India and Nepal and in the west who are vegetarian is growing, and I think that’s a very hopeful sign.
Caryn Hartglass: And yes, well unfortunately, there’s a lot of human rights issues too, in Tibet, and many other places.
Norm Phelps: There are, it’s a very tragic situation.
Caryn Hartglass: Very tragic, thank you human beings.
Norm Phelps: We strike again.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, let’s see, we just have, just a handful of minutes left, so, I remember a long time ago when I was becoming an activist that I was thinking about the world as like a timeline and that some of this had to be super super extreme in order to move the mainstream a little bit over in the middle, and that’s what I was thinking of when you were talking about these people who really believe in only approving things that will benefit animals wholly, rather than marginal steps to get them to a better place, and I like to side, I’m an idealist, and I think I like to stick with the idealist, but I do realize that we do need to have this middle ground where we take small steps to ultimately achieve the goal, we need to move people over more in the middle and we need to have those that are more extreme in order to find a safe place in the middle that people will agree to.
Norm Phelps: Yes, we absolutely need both camps. I have no argument with the folks who argue and campaign exclusively for veganism and exclusively for the abolition of all animal exploitation. I myself believe absolutely and whole-heartedly that a vegan world and the abolition of all animal exploitation are the only morally adequate solution to the problem, but, I also believe at the same time that in addition to vegan advocacy and abolitionist advocacy, we need to push partial steps, indirect steps, we need to push things like flexitarianism, we need to push things like cage free facilities for laying hens, things that move us, just nudge us a little bit towards the goal, I think the two strategies complement one another, I think they support one another, and where the wheels fall off for me is where people say we should only pursue abolitionist vegan advocacy, and not the other. We need to pursue both equally.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I think what’s sad is that there’s a little bit too much energy that goes towards the disagreement between the two groups, and I’d really like to see just everyone say, “ok, that’s what you want to do, fine, it’s all part of the fight and I’m going to work over here and work on my project”.
Norm Phelps: Could not agree more, we waste entirely too many resources, too much time, too much energy, criticizing people that we disagree with on points of strategies.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, well, I think we’ve come to the end of the half hour, and I want to thank you for the work that you do and for writing Changing the Game: Why the battle for animal liberation is so hard and how we can win it, another wonderful Lantern Book publication, we had Martin Rowe on the show last week.
Norm Phelps: Lantern’s a great publisher, and I love them.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, some of my favorite books are from Lantern, the books that no one else will publish.
Norm Phelps: They’re performing a tremendous service.
Caryn Hartglass: Well thank you Norm, enjoys the hot weather, and stay cool, and keep fighting the good fight.
Norm Phelps: Thank you so much for having me.
Caryn Hartglass: Ok, thank you Norm, I’m Caryn Hartglass you’ve been listening to It’s All About Food, join me at responsibleeatingandliving.com, we’re going to have a brand new food show up very soon, I’m real excited about it with some great barbecue recipes and we’ll be introducing the Swing in Gourmets which I know you’ve heard about, so please look out for that, and have a delicious week.
Transcribed by Brandon Chung, 7/30/2013