A program called “The 2014 Food Revolution Summit” began on April 26. The first day of the proceedings brought to mind, at one point, Dante’s 1814 Divine Comedy.
The Summit featured a series of 24 free lectures on the Internet, each lasting almost an hour, conducted over an eight-day period, with three talks per day. The range of topics dealt with the challenge of eating in ways that are good for the health of the individual, that respect and conserve the environment and that exhibit decent regard for other life forms. A lot of attention, as you might expect, was focused on the power of what one speaker called the “corporate kleptocracy” that transgresses mightily against the three interests noted—human health, the environment and other animals.
No doubt a major theme of this event was this: That food products created and promoted by major industries cause massive amounts of suffering all over the planet. Details concerning this proposition were offered depicting the degradation of the food supply, with stomach and brain churning data regarding the problems and hazards of our industrial food system. No wonder such an overwhelmingly large segment of society does not live and dine wisely. The Summit is simply another reminder of the fact that reality is not cheerful—“cantdoit” is the norm and it’s not going anywhere soon.
Over 100,000 participants registered for this free Summit event. While the nature of the dreadful system described is unlikely to change anytime soon, awareness of the realities is unquestionably useful for the small number of informed people who can recognize how and why things are as they are.
The founder and leader of the Summit ia John Robbins, assisted by his son Ocean. Robins is an author, social activist and a humanitarian. He is a recipient of many honors, including the Rachel Carson, Albert Schweitzer, Peace Abbey’s Courage of Conscience and the Green America Lifetime Achievement awards. The two men interviewed 24 highly engaged doctors and others well-known for their books, research, nutrition-reform initiatives and other involvements. All these speakers are, as usual, celebrated in some nutrition circles, loathed in others. That’s how it is when you make a mark in the world or, come to think of it, when you fail to make a mark in the world, as well. Not only can you not please all the people all the time; it seems you can’t avoid really pissing off a good number of them, either.
The goal of the Summit is to promote a movement for change in the American and other food systems that will enable greater opportunities for a future with healthier, more sustainable, more humanely derived and consciously enjoyed food for all.
Day One: The Big Three of a Plant-Based Diet Approach
I tuned in to the first day’s three lectures, featuring three of the biggest “guns” or “hardest hitters” or whatever phrase might be assigned to the renowned lead-off medical experts with rather nutrient-dense portfolios.
First up was Mark Hyman, a family physician, author and adviser for multiple media outlets, politicians, a charlatan or two and varied citizen groups active in large scale weight loss projects. Among them are Rick Warren’s mega-church, though it’s obvious that Dr. Hyman’s diet advice must be of little interest to the Reverend himself, a bloated bloviator of biblical babble.
The second speaker was Dean Ornish, founder of a noted research institute and author of six best-sellers. More than any other, the Ornish program is based on making lifestyle changes an alternative to drugs and other medical strategies. In addition to the usual diet, exercise and stress reduction emphases, Dr. Ornish advocates such REAL wellness qualities as love, enjoyment and meaning to extend and transform lives.
The third speaker was , a former rancher, surgeon and successful author who runs a plant-based diet program at the Cleveland Clinic and from his own foundation that he claims will render adherents “bullet-proof” to heart disease. Needless to say, this makes him a lightening rod for powerful interests in the medical community whose careers, livelihood and reputations are founded on interventions to treat heart disease. Dr. Esselstyn is also the father of Rip Esselstyn, a former professional triathlete who himself is quite famous and successful for his books and programs about “Engine 2” whole-foods plant-based approaches to well being.
The three opening day speakers provided sweeping overviews of the system—one noting that there are 600,000 food items available today—and you don’t benefit from most of them. Politics and disease drive the health, or rather medical care system, with our Federal government inadvertently subsidizing the obesity epidemic.
Common fallacies were addressed, such as the idea that all calories are the same, that if you balance calories in and calories out you’ll do fine. This was termed absurd. It’s the nature of the calories taken in that matter more than number consumed. The extent of dysfunctional subsidies for unhealthy food that Congress steers to mega-farming industries was documented. Politically-driven priorities are, of course, guided by massive campaign donations. Surprisingly, such perfidy is not universal: Mexico is one of the few countries that subsidize and promote foods high in nutrient values.
The determinants of health were reviewed. Dr. Hyman said that “we inherit tendencies from our parents, but we don’t inherit destinies.” At present, the food industry, “which is the biggest drug ring on the planet,” profits by alienating us from our bodies. People can change, but under present conditions it’s unlikely—they can’t do it. The good doctors downplayed genetics from its all-controlling reputation to a 50/50 role with environments and chance. One identified an overlooked variable—the lifestyles of friends. (“You are more likely to be overweight if your friends are overweight than if your parents are overweight.”) Our connections are more controlling of the choices we’ll make than anything else. The advice: If you want to be fit and trim, hang out with healthy people who eat and otherwise live wisely. Good plan, and of course offered in the context of other considerations (e.g., being kind and helpful to those who don’t meet the healthy test).
One needed strategy for all who desire food system reforms is to decentralize; local actions are more likely to succeed. All speakers want us to “reclaim our taste buds,” dulled by sugar and other non-nutritive added ingredients. In mocking health claims on labels (with many examples, such as “vitamin water”), Dr. Hyman offered an ironic guideline, “If a product has a health claim on the label, it’s probably bad for you.” He agreed that milk, as the dairy industry ads proclaim, “is nature’s perfect food” but added, “if you’re a dairy cow.” All three first-day speakers in varied ways suggested that our food aid export programs inflict our bad eating habits and food production processes on other nations. One remarked that if another country wreaked as much havoc on the health of American children as we do just about everywhere, we would go to war over it.
The three speakers, especially Dr. Esselstyn, hold thoroughly to the premise that our food culture is toxic. Big companies contaminate food with pesticides, hormones, GMOs and chemicals, and create products attractive to kids that are in fact sugary junk. No wonder 18 percent of our GDP goes for medical expenditures—this will not change for the better if we remain locked into a chemical-laden, highly processed, sugar infested and pesticide-contaminated pseudo-food diet.
A considerable emphasis was placed on the wisdom of choosing foods that are organic, sustainable, subject to fair trade, guided by GMO-free policies and obtained in ways both humane and healthy.
Major campaigns are in underway in 30 states for GMO labeling, improved treatment of animals and policies that require factory farms to pay for the pollution they produce. In addition, efforts are widespread across the country to reform school lunch menus currently designed by and beneficial only to the dairy, cattle and other food industries—not school children or taxpayers.
Dean Ornish focused on making healthy choices, doing the right thing for your health based not on disease avoidance but on the payoffs of positive returns. His was a REAL wellness message, a quality that has always characterized his work. He reviewed the limits of medicine and the sad fact that we seem conditioned to look for a new drug, gizmo (e.g., laser), surgical intervention—all things high-tech and, unfortunately, as expensive as they are ineffective for health enrichment. According to Dr. Ornish, ”seventy-five percent of the $2.7 trillion in health care costs, which are really ‘sick care’ costs, are from chronic diseases that can be largely prevented, or even reversed, by changing diet and lifestyle.”
All promoted simple choices we can make every day—“what we eat, how we respond to stress, whether or not we smoke, how much we exercise and the quality of our relationships.” Dr. Ornish made the case for overcoming obstacles and barriers great and small on an individual basis, though in concert with others, whenever possible.
The three doctors addressed issues of science, the health insurance system, the role of behaviors on all the major diseases, needed medical reforms, the problems with fear-based motivation and the need to link good health with joy, love, meaning in life, fun, optimism, better bodies, good sensations (and vibrations, no doubt) and all of that.
Dr. Ornish said that the work he has done under the wellness banner is indeed a bit “touchy-feely” but it’s backed by science and it works.
If you want to listen to any or all of these freepresentations now, after the Summit has concluded, you will have to spend a little money to do so. However, it won’t cost much. You can buy one of the three optional packages on offer and you will have all the lectures and more. This small investment will surely be wildly profitable in terms of knowledge gained and, assuming you follow at least some of the advice, quality of life returns. (The lectures were free during the Summit; however, the three daily lectures were available at no cost online only for 24 hours during the week-long Summit.) Three Food Revolution Summit Empowerment Package options range in price from $97 to $227.
Many thousands of well-informed, highly conscious people have reaped the rewards of switching from the standard American diet to a whole foods, plant-based menu promoted by the Summit speakers. I expect that tens of thousands more will benefit from the work of John Robbins and the 24 truly exceptional speakers featured in the 2014 Food Revolution Summit, as well as from related efforts across the Western world. But, this aware segment of the planet’s population will remain a small portion of the six billion humans struggling to get by every day, many grateful to have anything at all to eat, and thus the poignant realities for most people will not be much affected in our lifetimes. There is no reason, save for the fortunate few, to expect a major change in the controlling reality that blocks the way to even a reasonable level of well being for most, let alone that resulting from a REAL wellness mentality and lifestyle.
Just the same, oh fortunate ones, continue to eat wisely, live well and enjoy your time. Though it is true, as Ingersoll observed, that “we are all children of the same Mother and the same fate awaits us all,” while we’re here our realities are more unalike than similar. Try to make the most of what you have but also consider doing what little you can for the well being of your fellow man.