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Part I: Patti Breitmen Carol Adams, Ginny Messina, Even Vegans Die
Patti Breitman is a co-founder of Dharma Voices for Animals and director of The Marin Vegetarian Education Group. She is the co-author of many books including Even Vegans Diet (with a foreword by Dr. Michael Greger). She is on the advisory councils of the Animals and Society Institute and Jewish Veg. In 2016 she was honored to receive the Lisa Shapiro Award for Unsung Vegan Heroes. Patti lives in Fairfax, CA where her neighbors and friends include coyotes, foxes, rabbits, bobcats, spiders, birds, snakes, deer, and countless other beautiful creatures.
Carol J. Adams is the author of the landmark book The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory and The Pornography of Meat. Besides advancing scholarship and developing theory in the area of interlocking oppressions, Carol has created a series of books that address the vegetarian/vegan experience: Living Among Meat Eaters: The Vegetarian Survival Guide, Help! My Child Stopped Eating Meat! and The Inner Art of Vegetarianism and Meditations on the Inner Art of Vegetarianism. She lives outside Dallas, Texas.
Virginia Messina, MPH, RD, is coauthor of Vegan for Life and Vegan for Her and of the first textbook on vegetarian nutrition for medical professionals. She writes and speaks on vegan nutrition for both consumers and health professionals. Ginny serves on the board of directors of Vegfund and on advisory boards of One Step for Animals, Veg Youth, and the Vegetarian Resource Group. She lives in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, with her husband and an ever-changing population of rescued cats. Find out more about Ginny at TheVeganRD.com.
Part II: Eunice Wong, What the Health
Eunice Wong is a multiple-award-winning actor, writer, editor, and teacher. Her most recent book is “What The Health,” the official companion book to the documentary of the same name. She also wrote “The Sustainability Secret,” the official companion book to the documentary, “Cowspiracy.” She was a speaker in 2017’s Asheville Vegan Fest in North Carolina.
Eunice is Chief Editor of the Countering Violence Against Women series on Truthdig.com, as well as the editor of the Truthdig Book Review, which under her direction has won two National Entertainment Journalism Awards (Los Angeles Press Club) for Online Critic, and a Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column. She has written for Truthdig’s Arts and Culture section, the Truthdig Book Review, and the Philadelphia Inquirer Book Review.
As an actor, Eunice trained at the Juilliard School and has appeared nation-wide and internationally in professional theaters, including New York’s Atlantic Theater, Classic Stage Company, Target Margin, Pearl Theatre, NAATCO, La MaMa, Working Theater, Boston’s Huntington Theatre, the Guthrie in Minneapolis, Yale Rep in New Haven, Cincinnati Playhouse, Studio Theater in Washington D.C., Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia, Virginia Stage Company, Berkshires Theatre Group, Merrimack Rep, among others. TV and film appearances include “Law and Order” (NBC), “Sex and the City” (HBO), “Strangers with Candy” (Comedy Central), “The Job” (ABC), “Deadline” (NBC), and “My Sassy Girl” (Gold Circle Films). Her most recent role was Lavinia Mannon in New York’s critically acclaimed revival of Eugene O’Neill’s “Mourning Becomes Electra” this spring.
Eunice is the recipient of a Helen Hayes Award (Lead Actress), a My Theater Boston Award (Best Actress), a Barrymore nomination (Lead Actress), and an IRNE nomination (Best Ensemble), as well as being a member of Actors’ Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA.
As a teacher she has taught English and poetry at New Jersey State Prison, a men’s super-max facility in Trenton, New Jersey, as well as yoga at Princeton’s YogaStream studio, where she first learned about the primary precept of yoga, ahimsa: do no harm — to the planet, to the beings around us, and to ourselves..
Since 2009, It’s All About Food, has been bringing you the best in up-to-date news regarding food and our food system. Hosted by Caryn Hartglass, a vegan since 1988, the program includes in-depth interviews with medical doctors; nutritionists; dietitians; cook book authors; athletes; environmental, animals and health activists; farmers; food manufacturers; lawyers; food scientists and more. Learn about how we can solve many of the world’s problems today and do it deliciously, here on It’s All About Food.
Transcription Part I:
Caryn Hartglass: Hi, everybody. Hello, everybody. I’m Caryn Hartglass and thanks so much for joining me today for another episode of It’s All About Food.
Would you believe that this program is now in its ninth year? That’s a lot of talking about food and my favorite subject. We cover a lot of topics on this program, most related to food. Today we’re going to be talking about food-related topics. Two topics that people are uncomfortable talking about are death and bowel movements, right? But we’ve covered a lot about bowel movements on this show. So we’re going to be talking about the other topic.
I like to quote my dad, who has a bunch of sayings, and he likes to say, “No one gets out of this world alive.” We haven’t talked about death and dying, and we’re going to do some of that today. I don’t know if you’ve heard this, but Woody Allen once said, “I’m not afraid of death. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” What we’re going to talk about today in relation to death is many things, including being prepared for it and being there when it happens.
My guests today are the terrific trio: Carol Adams, Patti Breitman, Ginny Messina. We’ve had them on the show before three years ago to talk about their book, Never Too Late to Go Vegan. Whenever you go vegan—early, late, or never—their new book is for you: Even Vegans Die. What I’d like to do is introduce our guests one at a time. This way we can calibrate their voices and we know who’s saying what.
So let’s start with Carol Adams. She’s the author of the landmark book, The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory and The Pornography of Meat. Besides advancing scholarship and developing theory in the area of interlocking oppressions, Carol has created a series of books that address the vegetarian/vegan experience: Living Among Meat Eaters: The Vegetarian’s Survival Handbook, Help! My Child Stopped Eating Meat!, The Inner Art of Vegetarianism, and Meditations on the Inner Art of Vegetarianism. She lives outside Dallas, Texas. Carol, welcome.
Carol Adams: Thank you very much, Caryn. It’s an honor and thrill to be on your show today.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you. It’s such a privilege to talk to you, always. Are you in Texas today?
Carol Adams: Yes, and it’s hot.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s hot! (laughs) Okay, that was a question. Welcome to global warming.
All right, let’s bring on Patti next. Patti Breitman is the co-founder for Dharma Voices for Animals and the director of the Marin Vegetarian Education Group. She’s the co-author of many books, including Even Vegans Die. She’s on the advisory council of Animals & Society Institute and Jewish Veg. In 2016, she was honored to receive the Lisa Shapiro Award for Unsung Vegan Heroes. Patti lives in Fairfax, California, where her neighbors and friends include coyotes, foxes, rabbits, bobcats, spiders, birds, snakes, deer, and countless other beautiful creatures! Patti! I’m sending you a hug. How are you?
Patti Breitman: Hi, Caryn. I’m fine, thanks for having me on again.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, well… I’m grateful, grateful that you are on the planet.
And now let’s bring on Ginny. Ginny is Virginia Messina, the co-author of Vegan for Life, Vegan for Her, and the first textbook on vegetarian nutrition for medical professionals. She writes and speaks on vegan nutrition for both consumers and health professionals. Ginny serves on the board of directors on Vegfund and advisory boards for One Step for Animals, Veg Youth, and the Vegetarian Resource Group. She lives in Pittsfield, Massachusetts with her husband and her never-changing population of rescue cats. And you can find out more about Ginny and lots of information at theveganrd.com. Ginny, hi.
Ginny Messina: Hi, Caryn. It’s great to be here. I think this is my third time on your show.
Caryn Hartglass: I think so too. We talked about Vegan for Her, and then we talked about—
Ginny Messina: Never Too Late to Go Vegan.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. You know what, it might be your fourth. Because I think we talked another time. Didn’t you co-author another book?
Ginny Messina: I did. I co-authored a book seven years ago with Jack Norris from Vegan Outreach: Vegan for Life.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah! I think we told about that too!
Ginny Messina: We go way back.
Caryn Hartglass: (chuckles) (singing) Memories. Okay, well, you’re all doing wonderful work, and this particular book is an unusual one. So my first question is whose idea was it to write Even Vegans Die?
Patti Breitman: Well, I have my version of the story—this is Patti. (chuckles)
Ginny Messina: (chuckles)
Patti Breitman: My co-authors may not share it, but I wanted to write an article. I didn’t think we had enough for a book; I thought it was an article. It was mostly to remind people to make sure that they had a will and make sure that they had an advanced directive and make sure they take care of “right now” when they’re healthy that everybody has plans for when they’re no longer able to take care of their animals, take care of their possessions when we’re not here. And Carol and Ginny promptly convinced me that it was more of a book than an article.
Carol Adams: Well, it wasn’t so prompt—this is Carol. (chuckles)
Patti Breitman: (laughs)
Carol Adams: We worked on Patti for about a month.
Caryn Hartglass: (laughs)
Carol Adams: She was willing to suspend her disbelief and see what we had. We were talking in March of 2016, catching up and talking about getting Never Too Late to Go Vegan into nursing homes and assisted living places.
When we were all comparing notes about vegans who had died or Patti had just been the executor of a will, and we were talking about vegans who were ill and felt they weren’t being supported by the vegan community. I think at the same time, Patti said, “Well, we should do an article.” Ginny and I had light bulbs above our heads saying this should be a book. Patti delivered the title of the book immediately and eventually realized that Ginny and I were right, which is part of our great teamship—or I don’t know how do you describe that—our great camaraderie as co-authors. We learn how to benefit from each other’s wisdom.
Patti Breitman: It wasn’t the last time that I came around to seeing that you were right.
Caryn Hartglass: We’re all right.
Now, it’s amusing to me because Dr. Michael Greger wrote your foreword. I remember when his book came out; How Not to Die, and I have to confess that it wasn’t until I read the foreword that I really understood by what he meant by his title. Even after interviewing him and reading his book, for some reason I didn’t get it. But I understand now that his book, How Not to Die, didn’t mean that we weren’t going to die, that vegans aren’t superhuman and invulnerable, but that there were ways to reduce our risk and live a quality life of longevity so that we would die well! I guess… Something like that.
Carol Adams: Yeah.
Patti Breitman: (chuckles)
Caryn Hartglass: (laughs) Anyway, it was an interesting title when we first all saw it.
So let’s move on. There are a lot of wonderful things in this book, and, yeah, Patti, you’re right about wanting people to plan because in our culture, nobody likes to talk about death. Nobody likes to think about death and very often people don’t want to plan.
Patti Breitman: That’s right.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s almost a selfish thing, not planning.
Patti Breitman: Exactly, exactly. It’s a gift you can give to your loved ones, your friends, your animals to take care of those details now. People are afraid that they’re jinxing themselves if they make plans for when they die when, in fact, they are giving the gift to people who care about them. Because on top of grieving, people who care about you don’t want to have to start sifting through papers and going through legal problems and working with your superintendent to get into your apartment and looking through all your stuff.
If you don’t have a will, it’s a big mess. And somebody’s going to have to take care of that mess. You want to name that in person while you’re alive. Have conversations with that person while you’re alive. Make sure that you trust that person and make sure that you’ve legally taken care of making that person official. Because unless they’re the official person named in your will, they can’t get your bank accounts, they can’t close your Comcast account or your AT&T account—they can’t do anything on behalf of your estate.
The word “estate” scares people; it doesn’t mean that you have to own a lot of stuff. If you have an apartment with a rug in it, you have an estate.
Caryn Hartglass: You know, I know a number of elderly people who have not prepared. They have often talked to me about their treasures—the things that they own, the things that they want to make sure go to people who care for them—but they have made no plan to do that. It’s heartbreaking.
Patti Breitman: 60% of Americans have not made plans, and I found that out when Prince died without a will. That was a real loss of opportunity. He could have helped so many animals and organizations. He could have helped all kinds of advocacy groups. He loved animals and he could have done a lot to help them, but it’s going to take years to straighten out that estate.
In fact, only 40% of adults have wills and it really is a shame. It should really be up to 100%. It doesn’t have to be expensive; you can do it fast. You can always hire a state planning attorney or you could go to a website called GYST. That stands for—I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say this on-air…
Caryn Hartglass: Yes. (laughs)
Patti Breitman: Okay. It’s “get your shit together.” getyourshittogether.com is abbreviated as gyst.com. And it’s a wonderful website that talks you through the different companies offer online will preparation services and compares them, and tells you how you can do it.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, what I didn’t know until recently is that you can actually write what you want and have two people witness it. That will be acknowledged. But it has to be in the hands of someone who knows that it’s there.
Patti Breitman: Caryn, the rules vary by state. Some states will allow that, some states won’t, and some states have rules like it has to be typed-written or it has to be notified. Some states don’t. You have to go online and find out from one of these reputable companies that are listed on gyst.com. Find out what the requirements are in your state. It’s not the same for everybody across the country.
Carol Adams: Caryn, I just want to point out that you refer to some elderly people who haven’t made wills. But our argument—we were drawing on a young vegan activist in her twenties who is really advocating for everyone to make a will. If you’re an adult, you need a will. So we’re not just writing to people over 50, over 60, over 70—anyone who is a vegan/animal activist who is involved in the movement should have a will, especially if they are caring for animals, so that they can ensure that those animals have some sort of protection and care if they were to die.
I think that our section on death and dying in particular is very helpful, but I would not want anyone to think that we’ve only written this for people over a certain age. We’ve written this for all adults.
Patti Breitman: I agree, and I want to say also that death is very democratic and very unpredictable. Sometimes you’re in an accident. Even if you’re the healthiest vegan on earth, you can—heaven forbid—get hit by a bus, you can get hit by a car; you can have a terrible unplanned accident. There are earthquakes, there are hurricanes—things happen. People get hurt and people die. Not having a will is almost like a slap in the face for people who care for you and the animals that you care for.
Carol told me this, maybe it was Ginny: one of the most common calls of animal shelters is, “Come get this animal today or we’re going to euthanize it because the person who took care of it is dead.”
Caryn Hartglass: It is such an important point. I don’t have any companion animals, but I never thought about it. And I’m sure people who do haven’t thought about it either.
Patti Breitman: Well, I’ve heard people who have children who don’t even have wills, which is really scary. It’s just as scary as having dogs, cats, and other animals. Without a will, you’re putting your loved ones, whether they’re human or not, in danger.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. You cover very early in the book some important concepts. When many of us are vegan, we think we are invulnerable. We think that this lifestyle, this diet is going to save us from everything. Then when we hear that one of our fellow vegans has fallen ill or died, it’s almost scandalous. And we really shouldn’t have that opinion.
Carol Adams: Well, why don’t we let Ginny—Ginny worked very hard on that first part to talked about how we ended up looking at veganism in a sort of inaccurate way. Ginny?
Ginny Messina: Yeah, we talked about the issue of “disease shaming,” and there’s no doubt about the fact that eating a healthy vegan diet, engaging in other lifestyle habits is going to impact your risk of getting certain diseases. But that’s about improving odds and it’s not a guarantee. Based on what we know right now, we don’t have complete control over our health.
When we get sick or when other vegans get sick, it is just not fair to second-guess why they got sick. Whether they were eating the wrong kind of diet, whether they weren’t doing everything that they’re supposed to do, it’s not fair to suggest that they were doing something wrong. Because we don’t have all of these answers.
This is kind of something that morphs into the whole idea of “disease shaming”: it places vegans who are sick into a very uncomfortable position. They don’t feel like they can ask for the kind of support that they need. They don’t feel like they can really share what is really going on with them. They kind of feel alienated from the whole vegan community. We’ve talked with lots and lots of people while we were writing this book, vegans who have various chronic diseases who were struggling with poor health. This is something that we’ve heard from them over and over and over again: they felt alienated from the vegan community because they felt like they weren’t supposed to get sick. They were being good models of vegan health and energy.
The fact is that this can happen to anybody. Anybody can get cancer, anybody can get heart disease, no matter what you’re doing with your diet and your lifestyle.
Caryn Hartglass: Sometimes we put that self-judgment on ourselves. I know. I had advanced ovarian cancer with a 10-20% survival rate, and I remember one of my first social outings after my diagnosis.
Martin Rowe, the co-founder of your publisher, Lantern Books—we love Lantern Books—, he knew and he came up to me and said, “Do you want to talk?” I felt back then like I was wearing the scarlet letter; I felt like I was wearing a big “C.” (chuckles) It was just really great to sit down and talk with him; he was very sensitive and understanding. It really helped, and I don’t feel like I’m wearing a big “C” anymore.
But I do feel like I’m part of a club: those who have had cancer. It’s a club. I’m vegan and I’ve had cancer. And I’ve moved on.
Carol Adams: I think one of the things that we want to make clear in this early part is that by excluding anyone who doesn’t seem to have perfect health, we’ve not only injured the vegan movement, that loses diversity because of that. Those who aren’t vegans who might be looking for anyone who is like them who are vegans won’t find them. So it would only be a disservice to vegans who need our care and love and inclusion in potlucks, activism, and to the outside world as well.
So we really feel it’s important to get beyond this fixation on veganism as health. We’re not arguing that it doesn’t do anything. We know that there are statistics and that there are ways to work towards health. But we are saying that it’s no guarantee that you won’t get Crohn’s disease, acne, cancer, or any other kind of disease.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, shit happens.
Patti Breitman: One of the things that I like about the book that Ginny and Carol really made this clear to me: when somebody does have a diagnosis that’s serious—whether it’s cancer, heart disease, or anything else—the first reaction should never be, “How does that happen?” The first reaction should be, “I’m so sorry that you’re going through this.”
I love the chapter about how to show up for people who are sick because we tend to want to distances ourselves and make it clear that that can’t happen to me ‘cause I didn’t do whatever you did.
Caryn Hartglass: (chuckles)
Patti Breitman: Whenever you hear that somebody has lung cancer, the first reaction was, “Did he smoke?” instead of “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that.”
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah.
Patti Breitman: And we have to train ourselves as vegans and to take pride. “We’re so compassionate, we’re so compassionate.” We have to relearn to be so compassionate to our fellow humans. Not only the animals, but every human deserves our compassion as well. I think the book goes a long way to teach people how to do that in practical ways.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, it does. There were a few things that I liked. I liked the discussion of the Ring Theory, and you can go into detail about the Ring Theory. One of the things that I liked about it: you grouped people into rings in order of importance to the person who’s affected, who’s in the center. Whatever ring you’re in, you don’t complain inward, you only complain outward…?
Patti Breitman: Mm.
Carol Adams: Correct. That’s from a Los Angeles [20:34].
Ginny Messina: (chuckles)
Carol Adams: But the important point is that those of us who are, say, friends or relatives of the person in the middle, we can’t go to the person in the middle and ask them to take care of our feelings. Care in and dump out. We can turn to someone who knows that person less, who doesn’t know that person at all, and say, “God, I feel shitty about this. This is awful.” But we don’t dump in, we care in and we dump out.
Once you have an insight into the Ring Theory, then you understand the kind of things that are inappropriate to say to the person in the middle. Not just “Did you cheat as a vegan?” or “Have you tried some cure that you believe is appropriate?” And to non-vegan, to say, “Try a vegan diet at this point.” It’s not for us to suddenly have all the remedies and all the common sense, and why they don’t know what they’re doing.
Caryn Hartglass: I certainly got a lot of that. I got a lot of recommendations of what I should be doing when I was going through my own treatment. It was just good to read the Ring Theory; I think it’s wonderful. There can be people that can be very close to you that will complain, even when they want to help. I remember having to remind some of them, “You’re here for me and this is what I want now. It’s not about you right now, it’s about me.” (laughs) So I would like everyone to learn more about the Ring Theory, it’s really brilliant.
The other thing that I enjoyed, which I know is not your creation, but is another important thing to know about are the Five Wishes. Could someone talk about that?
Patti Breitman: Sure. The Five Wishes has a lot of names; it’s an advanced directive and sometimes it’s called a Living Will. Basically, the Five Wishes is a free form you can get online by going to—I’ll get the factual name by going to the index of the book in our research section. The Five Wishes allow you to have an emotional, spiritual, and personal observations and thoughts, as well as legally binding advance directives. It tells people how you want to be cared for at the end of your life, it tells people what you do and don’t want. It’s a form that makes it easier to do that. So I highly recommend it.
It asks you questions, and it can be placed in an advanced directive or be your advance directive. It asks you basically who do you want to make healthcare decisions for you when you can’t and what kind of medical treatment do you want or don’t want if you have a terminal illness. If you have a heart attack while they’re treating the terminal illness, do you want to be revived or not? How comfortable do you want to be? Do you want to have drugs to ease the pain or do you want to be conscious and very aware of the pain, if there is pain? How do you want people to treat you?
And what do you want your loved ones to know; that is one of the most important things to differentiate the Five Wishes from any advanced directive. It’s almost like writing a love letter to your loved ones and saying, “This is what I want you to know if I die suddenly and I can’t tell you…” that I was proud of you or I loved you. Whatever it is, the Five Wishes helps you do it.
Ginny Messina: Caryn, one of the things about our book is that we looked at a lot of these tools and these resources that have been developed for the general population. They’re not developed specifically for vegans. We looked at the ways that they can specifically help vegans and be relevant to people who are living a vegan lifestyle. Because the Five Wishes gets really specific.
You can list, for example, the kinds of personal care products that you want used if you can no longer take care of yourself, what kinds of body lotion do you want people to put on you. And you can specify if you only want cruelty-free products to be used. You can specify that you want your pets to be with you at all times. There are a lot of issues here that are really relevant and specific to vegans.
Caryn Hartglass: That is indeed very important, not just when we’re dying but any time that we’re ill or going to a hospital.
Ginny Messina: Right.
Caryn Hartglass: Because I didn’t plan, and they were smearing all kinds of crap on me I didn’t want on my body. (laughs)
Patti Breitman: I have a friend who hikes a lot with me and she’s on her own sometimes. She fell on a hike, broke her wrist, and couldn’t get home. Thank goodness, a number of her friends knew where she—well, some of us took her to the hospital—but some of us knew that she kept the key to the house in the rain boot that she keeps outside her door and we can get in and take care of her animals.
But you don’t have to die. If you get ill and something happens that keeps you from getting home, who’s going to walk your dog? Who’s going to feed your cat?
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, everybody, I hope that you’re getting this message because it applies to all of us. No matter what you eat.
Patti Breitman: It does.
Carol Adams: Caryn, I just wanted to jump in. I know that we don’t have much time left.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah.
Carol Adams: We also draw or suggest that this inability of our culture to deal honestly with stuff of dying may have something to do with our attitude towards animals. It becomes something not just vegans should do because we live in a vegan community and we’re not benefiting our friends and relatives if we fail them by not taking care of our own death and dying, but also by talking honestly about death and dying, we may take some of the negative association it has and that has been placed upon animals.
So we have, in a sense, a much more radical reason to talk about death and dying. Our own experience of mourning for animals offers some insights and help into this conversation. We really do link all of this and also how the ethics of care would inform both how we are activists for animals and how we care for our friends and relatives if they are ill or dying.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s beautiful and thank you, Carol. Leave it to you to connect the dots that most people never even know are there to connect. (chuckles)
Patti Breitman: (chuckles)
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. Patti, Carol, and Ginny: thanks once again for joining me on It’s All About Food and for putting together Even Vegans Die, which is a practical guide to caregiving, acceptance, and protecting your legacy of compassion. Be well, all of you. Live long lives.
Patti, Carol, Ginny: Thank you, Caryn. Thank you. You too. Bye bye.
Caryn Hartglass: Bye bye. Okay, did you take notes? Did you get that? Such important, important information.
You know what? I just thought before we move on to the next part of the program, I wanted to read a little poem. It’s something that I learned when I was in junior high school or high school, I think. We were assigned to read a book called Death Be Not Proud, a 1949 memoir by an American author, John Gunther. He took the name of the book from a poem—actually, a holy sonnet by John Donne who lived from 1572 to 1631. The book talks about the real story of the author’s teenage son who struggled to overcome a brain tumor and his ultimate death at seventeen. The character in the book was really inspirational; the caregivers in the book were inspirational.
Something that was interesting is that they did attempt to use the Gerson Diet. You may be familiar with that. It’s a diet that uses a lot of juicing. Unfortunately, ultimately, it did not save his life because sometimes these remedies don’t work for everyone. They may work for a lot of people, but not for everyone.
Anyway, here’s the poem that I had to learn from memory when I was a teenager:
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
One more quote from Steve Jobs: “If you live each day as if it were your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.”
Transcribed by HT, 7/10/2017
TRANSCRIPTION PART II:
Caryn: Hello everybody, I’m Caryn Hartglass and we’re back with the second part of the show. Thanks for joining me today. It’s time to take a really good breath. What’s fantastic about breathing right now- breathing in the month of June here in New York, my favorite tree, the Linden tree is starting to bloom. It is the most amazing fragrance anywhere. We have a Linden tree growing quite tall in front of our terrace and it hasn’t bloomed yet and it better bloom soon. It’s just wonderful to smell that air and it’s summer! Happy summer to everyone. OK, let’s move on. I would like to introduce my next guest. Eunice Wong is a multi-award winning actor, writer, editor and teacher. Her most recent book that we’re going to be talking about today, What the Health is the official companion book to the documentary of the same name. She also wrote The Sustainability Secret the official companion book to the documentary Cowspiracy. She was a recent speaker at the 2017 Asheville VeganFest in North Carolina. There’s a lot more to learn about Eunice Wong. You can go to her website eunicewong.com. Right now we’re going to be talking about What the Health. Hi Eunice! How are you today?
Eunice: Hi Caryn, I’m well how are you?
Caryn: Good. I am well, thank you. It’s nice to be well. We just spent the last half hour talking about being prepared about death and dying.
Eunice: I know. I heard the interview. It was fascinating and so needed. Such a necessary addition to the sort of vegan literature that’s out there.
Caryn: I know! No one gets out of this world alive!
Eunice: No, that’s true.
Caryn: But! Why shouldn’t we feel as good as we can for as long as we can?
Eunice: Yes, that’s true. There’s a quote, there’s an interview with Dr. Neal Barnard in What the Health and he says, “While we’re alive, let’s be alive.”
Caryn: So many people believe as we age, that pain is normal, that high blood pressure is normal.
Eunice: Yeah, absolutely.
Caryn: It’s not.
Eunice: Yeah, it’s not. You guys talked about Dr. Gregers’ book, How Not to Die. He actually talks in that book about how people don’t die of old age, they die of disease. So old age itself is not the thing that gives us our aches and pains and inflammation and the arthritis. It’s something going awry in the body.
Caryn: You cover everything in this book that’s related to food and health and even more than that. We talk a lot on this show. I’ve been doing this show; I’m in the 9th year now. So we’ve talked about food and the horrors of dairy and meat and chicken and fish and GMO’s and organic food vs. conventional. It’s all in this book. What I want to talk about are the things that I find the scariest to me because even though I take the time, the care to buy the best food I possibly can. Organic whenever possible and I’m major vegan. I choose the foods that I believe are the healthiest for me and I make them fabulously delicious. There are a number of things that are out of my control that are especially scary. You talk about them in this book. So lets start with one scary topic, which is antibiotic resistance.
Eunice: Oh yeah. Antibiotic resistance. Dr. Margaret Chen who was the Director General of the World Health Organization. I’m not sure if she was the first one to bring it up but she brought it up in a WHO meeting in 2011 on World Health Day. She said that this era of post antibiotic resistance coming upon us and it is a global health crisis. One of the major drivers of post antibiotic era is the enormous inconceivable amount of antibiotics that are poured into the feed of animals that we raise for food and for their secretion because they’re kept in such appalling conditions. It gives them a remote chance of surviving basically, to have this antibiotic into their system constantly, even if they’re not sick. So these animals develop antibiotic resistance which means that they develop diseases and infections that are literally resistant to the antibiotics and then become un-treatable. Then the human workers in the factory farm also contract that antibiotic resistance and bring it out into the human community. The problem with this, of course, is that our antibiotics are now failing. The danger of a post antibiotic era is that you could die, potentially from an infection contracted from scraping your knee on the sidewalk or if you get strep throat. The most basic medical procedures, what we consider basic today would be extremely dangerous because we would no longer have the antibiotics to render those operations safe.
Caryn: It’s extremely frightening and it’s not fair.
Eunice: It’s absolutely not fair.
Caryn: It’s not fair to me. I’m being selfish right now.
Eunice: I know, I know.
Caryn: I’ve spent decades doing the best that I can…
Eunice: One of the titles that Kip and Keegan were considering for their film originally was “Second Hand Eating”. That’s exactly what it is.
Caryn: That’s genius.
Eunice: You always hear about second hand smoking right? That’s why people give smokers the dirty looks when they’re in crowded places because you’re like, “OK I’m inhaling your carcinogens? That should not be happening.” But it’s second hand eating because the eating habits of our country, of our culture are in some many ways beyond antibiotic resistance, are effecting the lives of those of us who are attempting to eat as healthfully as we can and not to support these systems of factory farming. It’s absolutely unfair, yeah.
Caryn: I think. I don’t want to believe in the doomsday theory but sometimes I call myself, I don’t know what it is an optimistic pessimist. Pessimistic optimistic. I like to stay happy and optimistic but I really think we’re doomed. The plague could be one of them, this antibiotic resistance. It’s either we’re going to melt, or the plague or maybe a combination.
Eunice: Yeah, I know we’re not here to talk about climate change, but I am so terrified about global warming and of course the animal agriculture industry blends into that. I think it is a combination of stuff. It’s the climate. The climate will affect our food supply and everything is interconnected. I love Carol Adams work because she connects the dots between feminism and veganism and it’s the same here. The connection between the environmental movement, the animal rights movement, the health movement. They’re inter-related and you really can’t pull them apart without tugging on another thread that belongs to another movement. That’s what I think people need to realize. Great, if you want to become vegan because you want to loose 20 pounds, that’s one thing. But we really need to start looking at everything holistically. Nothing’s going to change until we do that.
Caryn: Lets connect these dots a little bit. I want to mention, I didn’t mention this before, but you also wrote with Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn The Sustainability Secret, which was the companion book to their movie Cowspiracy. I spoke with them, that was about three years ago or so on this program. But, you talked about the United States Government in your book and the policies or the lack of policies or the policies that aren’t followed. Here is one where we can talk about the connection between the environment and health where scientists were preparing guidelines for the USDA and they actually came out and said that the environment effects our health and should be part of the nutrition guidelines. Then all the lobbyists came along and said, “No, that’s out.”
Eunice: Yeah. The lobbyists and the government are an enormous part of the problem. The meat, dairy and egg industry spend at least 138 million dollars, I believe lobbying Congress alone, a year. That’s just Congress. The government wants that money to keep coming in and so they return the favor. Each one-dollar industry contribution, each of those 1 dollars of that 138 million dollars results, usually in a $2,000 return as Federal Tax subsidies. So it’s like this you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours and the one who’s left out of the equation is the American public whose illnesses are being turned into a money-making commodity. I mean, we really are. Our heart disease, our cancers, our diabetes are a money making engine just as much as the pigs in their gestation crates or the dairy cows.
Caryn: There are many people who feel that it’s their right to be able to consume whatever they want and they get very aggravated when they hear people like us. Maybe we’re not in their face, but talking about these issues related to food and what’s healthy and what isn’t. They have no idea how manipulated they have been. They talk about this right, this free choice. They’re decisions aren’t made from free choice. They’re decisions have been made from marketing brainwashing.
Eunice: I know. Well one of the most creepy things in the research for this film and the book are the government check off programs. Like check it off, not as in Anton Chekhov unfortunately.
Caryn: We love Anton Chekhov.
Eunice: When I first heard it, I heard it rather than read it and I’m like, “Check off programs? That sounds amazing.” But no it has nothing to do with the Russian playwright.
Caryn: But Chekhov, I’m digressing here but he was an environmentalist.
Eunice: Yeah, he was an amazing man in so many ways. He was aware of so many of these problems.
Caryn: OK back to the government check off programs.
Eunice: A little theater geek moment there. So these check off programs. They are incredible and most people don’t know about them even though they’ve seen the fruits of them. Everyone’s seen these advertising campaigns. Like, “Milk, it does the body good.” And “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner.” “Pork, the other white meat.” But people don’t realize that these are government run, federal government run advertising schemes for specific food industries like milk, like beef, like pork. And how it works is that each producer of these foods are taxed a certain amount. I don’t know the amount but say for instance the dairy industry; everyone is taxed $1 a gallon, whatever. That dollar, the hypothetical dollar gets put into this enormous fund, which is then run by the USDA. So they have this huge amount of money and the government will run these advertising programs to promote these foods to the public so that the public will keep buying them and keep supporting the animal agriculture industry which then send their millions of dollars to the government in lobbying money. The check off programs also run advertising for something they called “Industry Trendsetters” so something like McDonald’s, or Dominoes Pizza, or Wendy’s, they’re industry trendsetters because they can sell a certain amount of dairy and cheese or beef or pork or bacon. So an advertising campaign like Wendy’s Bacon Double Cheeseburger is a government program. In fact, the Supreme Court ruled that these check off programs are government speech because they are administered by the USDA and created by Congress. So we have government speech, very big brother, very 1984. Telling us that we should eat these foods that mountains of scientific literature have revealed are literally killing us. Placing us in chronic health conditions, chronic diseases, and/or killing us.
Caryn: I have to take a deep breath every time I hear this stuff. I mean, I know it and then I hear it and it just gets me in the gut.
Eunice: I know. And I feel like information knowledge, getting this knowledge out and we do know it and every time I hear it I feel something in my gut too. But so many people don’t know it. That’s a big obstacle to change. If people knew this, and changed their buying habits. I mean, I always say that being vegan is the most direct action that you can make. What can you do about the fossil fuel industry? What can you do about building wind turbines on shore and off shore? Not a whole lot unless you have like billions of dollars. But as a vegan you can direct action every single day, three times a day. I don’t know if you saw in the New York Times recently. There was a feature of this non-profit called Project Drawdown.
Caryn: Oh yeah I’m going to be speaking to Paul Hawken in a few months, yes.
Eunice: Yeah, it’s an International coalition of climate scientists who have sort of ranked the method of most effectively halting, or slowing down at least global warming. The first one was like manage refrigerant like the disposal of refrigerators and air conditioners. Second one was wind turbines on shore. Third one was food waste. And the fourth one was a plant-based diet. They said in their website that eating a plant based diet is probably the most effective thing an individual can do to effect climate change.
Caryn: To effect everything.
Eunice: Can you tell I’m obsessed?
Caryn: Everything! It affects everything!
Eunice: Yes it does
Caryn: Everything! Climate change, health care cost down, everything!
Caryn: Anyway, I’ve been talking about this for years. But it’s great to see it come together, not only in a book but in a film. I’m not sure which I prefer because they both have a value so what I like in the book is you can really sit and savor every horrible piece of information that’s in there as you learn it and see the references. Let’s take an example. The film opens with the Doctor who’s a Chief Scientist at the American Diabetes Association? And if you don’t believe in the book that this man actually says what he says, you can see it.
Eunice: You can see it, yes.
Caryn: There’s no amount of editing, you know? Like reality show editing to make him appear any different. You see it all in the film.
Eunice: Yeah, absolutely.
Caryn: Where he denies evidence.
Eunice: Well, yeah he just shut Kip down. Kip asked a very simple question about a study and he’s not, you know getting in his face or being argumentative. He’s literally just asking a question and this guy just shuts him off and he says, “I’m not going to go there. The interview is over. Goodbye.” And it’s like wow what just happened? That was very, very strange.
Caryn: Now this guy, does he know that he’s in this film?
Eunice: I’m sure he does and I don’t know if he had any reaction to it. But I’m sure he knows he’s in the film. I love the film. I’ve seen it so many times. I’ve seen it in tons of rough cuts and what I love about the film is that you can sit down and in 90 minutes, get the gist of this argument. What I love about the book is that because I had so much more space in the book and I had unlimited access to the hundreds, literally hundreds of hours of interviews that Kip and Keegan did with these amazing people who appear in the film. I could go through the entire transcript and where as they were limited to a few minutes of showing the interview, I could put in enormous chunks of the interview that never appeared in the film and sort of follow different paths. There’s a whole section on George McGovern in the book that doesn’t appear in the film that I love because 40 years ago, 40 years ago this man tried to tell the American public that eating animal products was a public health concern. He was shut down by the animal agriculture industries. It’s this, you know, on the one hand very disheartening and on the other hand extremely inspiring because he was trying to tell the truth. I feel like now the truth is starting to come out and we just have to just keep on doing that. We can’t be discouraged by the billions of dollars that these industries have or the sort of negative press that the dairy industry is throwing onto the soymilk industry because now the soymilk industry is taking a bite out of the dairy industry. We just have to keep on telling people and spreading the word.
Caryn: You know some people would maybe criticize and say, “You’re trying to create conspiracy theories.” And I just know first hand, for example my grandfather who I never met because he died when my dad was 6. He was a milkman in the 30’s and this was during a time of something called the “Milk Wars.” He was a union activist trying to get a better deal for the milk deliverers because they just kept cutting the price and the people that were struggling were the farmers that were making the milk and the deliverers, every body except I guess some powerful people who were in control of the whole business. They murdered him.
Eunice: Oh my god.
Caryn: Murdered him. Murder incorporated. And there’s no telling what can happen when people are in a position of power and making a lot of money and what they will do to keep it.
Eunice: Yeah and I often hear questions about bias. Like “Oh you’re just biased. You want everyone to be vegan because of the environment or because of the animals.” And I just say look at the facts. Like for instance, Kaiser Permanente which is one of the country’s largest non-profit health plans began advocating in 2013 for something like 17,000 doctors to actively and firmly encourage their patients to avoid eating animal products. Because for them in their best interest. They’re an insurance company. Of course they want people to be healthy and so they’re looking at the science saying, “Wait a minute. If people are eating the standard American diet, we’re going to have to pay out all of this money so that they can have their heart bypasses and their stents and their chemotherapy and whatever else.” But they’re doing it for the money, of course. But they’re asking their doctors to tell, to educate their patients to be plant-based. That’s not biased. That’s just the facts. Scientific evidence.
Caryn: Yes and then you have to educate the doctors and as you talked in your book about a recent law that Dr. John McDougall tried to put forward in California. Yeah, it didn’t go very well.
Eunice: No, and that’s the amazing thing because it was the Medical Association who are fighting back against having nutrition education for doctors. They said that it was too much time. I think Dr. McDougall initially asked for 12 hours every 4 years of nutrition education. Then they cut it down to 12, then down to 7 and then it got cut down to 0 and that’s when the bill passed.
Caryn: It has a lot of meat in it that bill. OK Eunice, we have two minutes left. I just want to know how did you come to where you are with your philosophy about veganism?
Eunice: I watched Cowspiracy, honestly. I was shocked because I always considered myself an environmentalist. I didn’t know anything that was in that film. I was absolutely shocked. I just felt like I couldn’t live with the hypocrisy of now knowing what I know and continue to eat animal products and say that I want this Earth to thrive and to be sustainable. The more I learned, I veered off from environmentalism. I learned about the horrific conditions of factory farms, of course I spent a lot of time researching this book on health and the more I learned the more as I said, everything is connected. There’s just no way that I would ever live any other way. Now that I know what I know, I have to live by my own beliefs, which are about the environment, which are about compassion and non-violence and you know being healthy so we can continue to fight for change.
Caryn: Yes. Well Eunice, thank you very much for joining me today on It’s All About Food. I believe we should all be living what we believe in. What the Health can help you! So read the book, see the documentary! Thank you for joining me again on It’s All About Food. We have just a minute left and I wanted to remind you that we have a non-profit it’s called Responsible Eating and Living. You can find us at responsibleeatingandliving.com. It’s a mouthful, I know. But you know we do have mobile apps which you can get once you arrive at the website to make it easier to get there all the time. I use that app all the time to get my own recipes when I want to make breakfast, for example. We have a daily blog called What Vegans Eat. So if you learned from the book or the documentary What the Health that you want to go vegan but you don’t know how, here’s one tool that can help you. This daily blog, What Vegans Eat, it’s linked to recipes. I hope you’ll join me there. And if you have any comments or questions you can find me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ve come to the end of another program. Thank you so much for joining me and have a delicious week!
Transcribed by Adella Finnan 6/30/2017
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