How did we get into this mess in the first place?
In 2002, when I began learning all about the powerful impact that what we eat has not only on our health — but also on the environment, world hunger, the energy crisis and so much more; I began to wonder how this all happened. Realizing that I had stumbled onto a very big, powerful and controversial topic, I wanted to make sure that I wrote it all down and tried to simplify what I had learned for all of my loved ones.
Originally written in the spring of 2007 while flying from Boston to Atlanta to visit my daughter, I began writing I would want to tell my loved ones if I only had thirty minutes to live. For a less morbid title of a speech, I later renamed it….
Give me thirty minutes…and I’ll give you thirty years…
Dear ones, before I leave you, I want to share some very important truths about the way we eat and how it affects our health & longevity, our environment and the future of life on Planet Earth. We don’t have much time so I won’t be able to answer questions or discuss in more detail what I am about to tell you. So, just listen carefully as I tell you my last bedtime story before I go to sleep for a very long time.
You may have trouble understanding and/or believing some of my message; but for now, just listen. Later, if you are interested, I urge you to do your own homework; read, study and discover for yourself the simple truth about the way all of the pieces fit together…Here’s how I see it:
1. Let’s begin with nature. All species were created to work together in sustainable harmony; and things worked pretty well for millions of years until just a few hundred years ago. That’s when human beings started doing things that were not in harmony with nature. They began eating an unnatural diet for their species, one thing led to another, and gradually things got out of control. In just the past 300 years, the human population of the world has grown from 500 million to the nearly 7 billion that we have today. During that period (a mere blink of history), as he became the infestation of planet Earth, man drifted far away from nature’s course and created an unsustainable lifestyle that has resulted in a sad combination of global sickness, widespread starvation, and a host of environmental problems throughout the world.
2. The good news is that it’s not too late to repair the damage. I believe that the best place to start trying to fix this mess is by doing something about the health care crisis that is rapidly spreading throughout the world. Fortunately, the solution is refreshingly simple although the process of making the change is extremely complex and difficult. A little background…we are not winning the war on cancer, heart disease is still the number one killer while both obesity and diabetes have been on a meteoric rise for the past 30 years. What’s going on here? We have gradually shifted to a diet that does not provide our body with the nutrients it needs to take care of itself; concurrently, that diet has also caused a tremendous amount of environmental damage. So, if we can just teach people how to promote their own health, a by-product of that improved lifestyle will work wonders for the environment as well. “It turns out that if we eat the way that promotes the best health for ourselves, we also promote the best health for the planet.”T. Colin Campbell, PhD, author of The China Study.
3. Did you know that you can choose the level of health that you desire? Our bodies have the power to heal themselves of, or prevent, almost any disease. We simply must provide them with the nutrients, the exercise, the rest, and the desire in order for this miracle to happen. By choosing health, you will be able to enrich your life for as long as you may live. Our bodies were designed to function with vibrant health for our entire lives, but they must have the right fuel for starters. Most of us put much more thought into the type of fuel that we put in our cars than we do the food we put into our bodies.
4. Your food will be your medicine. Hippocrates, known as the Father of Medicine, said thousands of years ago “First, do no harm…your food will be your medicine and your medicine will be your food.” He was referring to the human body’s ability to promote health provided that we feed it the right stuff. Although our doctors still take the Hippocratic Oath upon graduation from med school, today’s methods of treatment bear no resemblance to the wisdom expressed by Hippocrates. What happened?
5. Today’s doctors do not promote health; they treat symptoms. Unfortunately, modern medicine took the wrong road many years ago, moving away from promoting health and beginning to treat all diseases with drugs, surgery, radiation, chemo-therapy, etc. Sadly, our medical schools do not teach the future doctors how to promote health; they only teach them how to diagnose problems, and then how to prescribe some kind of treatment, much of which actually does more harm than good. Most people simply do not realize that ALL drugs are toxic and almost never eliminate the root cause of the illness. Why don’t the doctors learn to promote health? Well, you see, there is no money to be made in the medical industry by teaching millions of people how to take charge of their own health and get healthy for good.
6. Most disease results from nutritional folly. My friend and colleague, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, estimates that if everyone ate an optimal diet, we would need 90% fewer doctors. “We live in an era where the majority of Americans think that diseases strike us because of misfortune, genetics, or unknown factors beyond our control. When serious disease strikes, we run to doctors and expect them to fix us with a pill. Most people have no idea that most diseases — including cancers, heart disease, strokes, and diabetes — are the result of nutritional folly and are avoidable.” Joel Fuhrman, M.D.
7. What does he mean by nutrtional folly? Most Americans eat what has become known as the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.) and it features animal products three meals a day, 365 days a year. While humans have always craved calorie-dense foods like meat, oil and cheese, it was simply not available or affordable in great quantities until about 60 or 70 years ago. That is when a bunch of clever business people began to mass-produce and distribute these types of foods so efficiently that nowadays everyone can easily afford to eat them almost every meal. That’s when all the trouble really got started; as the average person began to experience the diseases that had previously been somewhat exclusive to the affluent class.
8. Diseases of Affluence. In the olden days, only royalty and the very rich could afford these “rich” foods and guess what? The upper class began to suffer from obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis and other diseases that came to be known as the diseases of affluence. Conversely, in populations where most people primarily ate whole, plant-based foods, these diseases have been almost non-existent. But not anymore; with the exportation of our S.A.D. to Japan, China, India and other countries, their people are now experiencing the same levels of those diseases as we have in the good old USA.
9. How healthy is the S.A.D.? We have been eating this way for so long now that most people think that the S.A.D. is a pretty healthy diet and that it can be a superior diet if they simply “watch what they eat,” whatever that means. The truth of the matter is that the S.A.D. contains very little nutrition and is primarily responsible for the obesity epidemic as well as the prevalence of cancers, heart disease, diabetes & stroke, just to name a few.
10. How did all of this happen and why haven’t you heard this before? Here’s what happened. Not knowing that it was unhealthy, man started eating these unhealthy foods because they tasted good and would fill you up. Over the years, food manufacturers got better at producing these foods cheaply, doctors got better at treating diseases caused by these foods, drug companies got better at developing drugs that relieve symptoms caused by these foods, the media has been smart enough to not say bad things about the products of its sponsors, advertisers gradually convinced the public that the unhealthy products are actually good for them, and the government just tries to keep the economy going so that the politicians can get re-elected. All of the above has worked together to create one of the sickest nations on earth, despite the fact that our health care (disease care) costs are by far the highest in the world. It’s really no one’s fault. Most people who work in the “system” actually believe they are doing good things; they are just doing what they have been taught and are all simply trying to make a living.
11. What is the answer to solving this dilemma? The answer lies in learning the truth about nutrition. Most nutritionists, dieticians, doctors and nurses only know what they have been taught and, unfortunately, they haven’t been taught the complete truth about nutrition. But the information is out there for those who take it upon themselves to learn it; you see, the healing powers of nutritional excellence have been known for a long time but they simply haven’t been embraced for the many reasons listed in the previous paragraph. If you really want to learn the truth, you should start with the written works of Colin Campbell, Caldwell Esselstyn, John McDougall, Joel Fuhrman, Howard Lyman and John Robbins. And don’t stop there, keep reading and studying until your knowledge of nutrition is solidly embedded in your life permanently. Here are some of the things that you will learn…
12. What is the optimal diet for humans? Human beings are herbivores; our hands, our teeth, our intestines, our entire bodies are designed to eat plants. Sure, our forefathers probably ate almost anything they could get their hands on, but that doesn’t mean it was good for them. Other herbivores include animals like gorillas, elephants, horses and giraffes; all of which manage to become big and strong without the “animal protein” that most Americans truly believe they must have in order to be healthy. In addition to the essential vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals; this natural diet provides us with the fiber that we need. The recommended fiber is about 25 grams per day and the average American gets less than 10. An optimal diet will ensure that you average between 50 and 80 grams per day.
13. As herbivores, the natural food for our species is plants. We know from a vast amount of research that the healthiest form of plant foods for us is whole and unrefined (fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts & seeds in nature’s package). The gorilla in the wild eats nothing but this kind of food. We Americans, on the other hand, get only a paltry 7% of our calories from these whole plant foods; getting the remaining 93% of our calories from meat, cheese, chips, sweets, sodas, fries, oils, and other highly refined products with very low amounts of nutrients per calorie. Most Americans are over-fed and under-nourished; the S.A.D. is woefully short on fiber, vitamins, minerals and the recently discovered phytochemicals that you may have heard about.
14. Why Traditional Weight-loss diets don’t work. Studies show that most diets have a 97% failure rate; only 3% of the people manage to lose weight and keep it off. So, what’s the problem? Weight-loss diets are unsustainable, are lacking in valuable nutrients, and require some level of deprivation. Like the S.A.D., no matter how much you eat, your body never gets enough nutrients and is continually craving more food. Of course, all this adds up to a population of over-fed and under-nourished people. The answer to achieving one’s ideal weight and optimal health is adopting a permanent diet-style based on nutritional excellence. Once you learn how to select, prepare and eat the right kinds of foods, your body will take care of the rest without calorie counting, portion control or deprivation. We’re talking about a diet-style based on maximizing the consumption of whole, unrefined plant-based foods. How simple is that?
15. How much whole plant-based foods should we eat? In nature, the ideal would be 100%; however that is probably not practical in today’s world. Experts like Dr. Fuhrman define the optimal diet as one where at least 80% of the calories are derived from whole, unrefined plant-based foods…with an emphasis on green leafy vegetables and other foods with high nutrient density scores. While moving from 7% to 40% of calories from these highly nutritious foods would definitely be a good move, the experts agree that in order to have the maximum protection against disease and to enjoy vibrant health your entire life, you really need to shoot for 80% or better. That will also ensure that you exceed the 50 grams per day target for fiber; and that alone will make a huge difference in the way your body functions.
16. Why should I shift to this plant-based diet? For me, the most important reason was health. From a health standpoint, this diet-style will protect you from diseases of affluence, will provide you with vibrant health for your entire life, and will very likely keep you out of the old nursing home. Along the way, you will likely get sick far less frequently, maintain a trim body without “dieting,” feel more energy, have clearer complexion, sleep better, enjoy better sex, have less body odor, save money on food, think more clearly, reduce your chances of developing dementia, eliminate constipation forever, minimize menstrual cramps, improve eyesight, lower blood pressure, eliminate asthma & allergies, lower bad cholesterol, eliminate most (if not all) prescription drugs and on and on and on. And that’s just a few of the health benefits. There are many other reasons for eating this way; read on…
17. Almost everyone claims to be an environmentalist. It’s hard to find anyone these days who doesn’t think that doing “green” things for the environment is a good thing. Unfortunately, just like with the nutrition issue, we haven’t been told the complete truth about what causes the most environmental damage. Take global warming for example; if we took a poll regarding that issue, I would bet you that by a very wide margin that the average American would list the gas guzzling cars and trucks as the single biggest villain…that’s sort of what was conveyed in Al Gore’s movie a while back. Would it surprise you to know that the raising of livestock for our dinner tables causes 30% more global warming than ALL of transportation in the entire world combined? That data was reported by the United Nations in November of 2006, but for some strange reason, the media has never seen fit to share that little tidbit with the general public… Why? Refer to Paragraph 10. And the great news here is that unlike global transportation which would be almost impossible to reduce very much if any (considering population growth); with the raising of livestock, it would be relatively simple to eliminate the entire industry…just by shifting to a plant-based diet. This obvious solution is never mentioned in the media because very few people understand that eliminating meat from our diets would be a good idea from a nutritional standpoint.
18. And global warming isn’t the only environmental problem. I mentioned global warming first because that is a hot topic these days; everyone’s buying hybrid cars & recyclable bags and trying to use less electricity…but very darn few are even thinking about reducing our consumption of animal foods. Maybe if they learned about the other environmental problems caused by the animal foods industry….things like water pollution, topsoil erosion, depletion of our water supply, unprecedented species extinction, destruction of the rain forests, land degradation, just to name a few…things would be different. The key to all of this is education; we need to figure out a way to tell the people everywhere what is really going on or there won’t be much of a planet left for the future generations that follow us.
19. World Hunger. Anyone worried about how we will manage to continue feeding the planet’s booming population? A little background…it took the world’s human population 99,900 years to grow from about 10,000 people to two billion. Then in just the last 100 years (1/10,000 of the time), we added another five billion people, bringing us up to the SEVEN BILLION that we have today. So what kind of a job are we doing in feeding all those people? Not very well actually, considering that more than 40,000 children starve to death every single day on the planet. Contributing to that sad state of affairs are the shortcomings of our extremely inefficient method of feeding ourselves that the Western world has created and is now exporting throughout the world. Did you know that it takes about 325 acres of land to feed 100 people the S.A.D.; any idea how many plant eaters you could feed on the same amount of land? Would you believe 2,000? Not only would everyone be a lot healthier, but we could feed 20 times more people while doing some wonderful things for our fragile environment.
20. Pretty compelling stuff, huh? Let me get this straight; by just eating a nutritious plant-based diet, we can prevent or cure heart disease, cancer & diabetes, we can greatly improve the vibrancy of our lifelong health, we can save the environment and we can solve the age-old problem of world hunger. Why then, for God’s sake, are there so few people eating this way? Does it taste bad? Is it expensive? Is it too much work?
21. The Majority Rules. Most people must think that the S.A.D. is a smart way to eat since virtually everyone in the USA is eating some version of it today. If you have heard what I have said so far, you should know by now that the S.A.D. is a very unhealthy, inefficient, destructive and unsustainable diet. Even so, some 95% of the nation’s population is eating some version of this diet and only about one percent of us are eating the optimal diet, getting at least 80% of our calories from whole, unrefined plant-based foods. Why? Refer back to Paragraph 10. There are many barriers out there that only a solid education can tear down. Right now, most of us get all of our nutrition information from television, magazines, newspapers, the internet, our doctors, friends and relatives. The net effect of all of the above is that people who eat the optimal diet are in a very small minority and are often thought to be a little weird. Many people think that we have lost our minds and that we will soon be very ill or die due to a lack of animal protein in our diets.
22. Nobody wants to be a vegetarian. Be honest, what comes to mind when you think of a vegetarian? You probably don’t think of gold medal winners like Carl Lewis, Edwin Moses or Dave Scott; all of whom are vegetarians. For the record, I do not consider myself a vegetarian. The problem with “labels” like vegetarian or vegan is that they only give people some clues about what you don’t eat; they don’t describe what you DO eat, and that is what’s most important. While the vast majority of my calories come from whole plant foods, on occasion I will have a bite of foods like fish, cheese and eggs while visiting in someone’s home; therefore I am not a vegetarian. So, what am I? I am a person who has learned the truth about nutrition and has made the decision to give my body the best possible foods that I can find. And since I ate the S.A.D. for almost fifty years, I don’t want to waste too many of my calories on foods that afford me no protection but rather might damage my body. I have to think about the damage I may have done during those first 46 years.
23. When does heart disease start? Heart disease and other common western diseases start developing the day we start eating a diet that is heavy in animal protein and light in fresh fruits and vegetables. We have been led to believe that these diseases are a natural part of the aging process. That is simply not true…actually these diseases are the natural result of eating a damaging diet such as the S.A.D. Autopsies of U.S. soldiers killed in Korea showed that almost 80% of these young men in their 20′s had advanced coronary artery disease…it just hadn’t been diagnosed yet. The age to start eating a healthy diet is as young as you possibly can. Studies show that our diet as children is one of the best predictors of the kinds of diseases we will suffer as older adults. We also know from numerous recent studies that heart disease is reversible with a superior diet.
24. Can’t imagine life without cheeseburgers? I mentioned the many barriers that prevent people from embracing the healthy diet that I have described. One of those barriers is that people simply can’t imagine life without some of their favorite foods. Some say that they would rather die young than give up their bacon & eggs, burgers, steaks, lobsters, cheese, pizza, etc. People actually think that they are addicted to these foods and that they cannot live without them. But studies show that foods are really not addictive; certainly not like cocaine, nicotine, and caffeine. They are merely habits…and habits can be broken and can be replaced with healthier habits.
25. The Joy of Eating. Let’s face it; food is a very big part of everyone’s life. Almost everything we do centers around some form of feeding our face. We eat at church socials, wine & cheese receptions, all parties, business lunches, when we drink, when we smoke, when we socialize, when we watch TV, at sporting events, graduations, weddings, in the movies, as a bedtime snack…and on and on. And we like it. We have also become accustomed to eating the same kinds of unhealthy foods for most of our lives. So how do we change? We must become educated to the extent that we can make a real commitment to a healthier diet-style. And then when you do that, guess what happens? You will find, as have thousands before you, that you will truly find more joy in eating than ever before. Your taste buds will change, you will savor natural flavors, and it will feel good to know that your meal did not damage the environment. Further, you will never have to worry about eating too much or being overweight again…just eat all you want. Finally, not a single animal will have suffered or died so that you could have their dead flesh on your dinner plate.
26. So what about the animals? As a young boy, I worked in my dad’s dairy, hog and chicken operations and found myself feeling a closeness to some of those farm animals. I also saw a few slaughterhouses and can remember them vividly to this day. I sincerely believe that if all of us were forced to spend one day a year working in a slaughterhouse, that the consumption of animal foods would take a very sharp decline. Paul McCartney says, and I agree, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, we would all be vegetarians.” Almost everyone claims to love animals, yet we casually eat animal flesh from billions of animals every day without any thought about the barbaric treatment and disgusting torture these animals must endure for their entire lives. We buy our nicely-packaged meats with names like sirloin steak, pork sausage, veal cutlet and we feed our childrenHappy Meals. I wonder how many children would become vegetarians at the age of six if part of the first grade included a mandatory trip to a slaughterhouse.
27. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s worth it. Nobody in the very small minority has ever had it easy while bucking something as wildly popular as the S.A.D. But, that doesn’t mean that we should stop trying. Once you are educated…and know for sure that you are right, you must never stop trying to promote a healthier diet for all…for your health, for the starving children, for the environment, for the critters, and for your future great-grandchildren who follow us on planet Earth.
28. If you give it four months, it’s really not that hard to change. When you have become educated to the extent that you have a conviction to shift to this wonderful diet-style, I recommend that you take the 4-Leaf, 4-Month Challenge. Clean out your cupboards of all the unhealthy items and remove ALL meat and dairy from your diet. Start putting the high-powered, nutrient dense plant-foods in your body and see how you’re feeling at the end of four months. You may suffer a few unpleasant effects of detoxification during part of your journey, but this will pass. Just stay with it and the chances are very good that you will never want to go back to your old way of eating. Why four months? To be sure, you’ll notice many benefits within weeks, but the longer you stick with it, the greater the odds that this healthy change in your diet will be permanent.
29. Give Me 30 Minutes and I’ll Give You Thirty Years! That’s what I told you about 29 minutes ago. You see, the average period of vibrant health ends for most people by the time they are in their fifties or sixties. With proper nutrition, exercise, and motivation; there is no reason that you should not enjoy vibrant health for your entire life…well into your nineties and beyond…maybe even to 105 or older.
30. Who would want to live to be 105 anyway you may ask? My answer to that question is simply this, “How about a vibrantly healthy 104 year-old that had great sex last night?”
Please pass along this valuable information. I pray that you will learn from this message, enjoy your life, and do all that you can to leave our planet in better shape than you found it. Once we understand how all of the pieces are connected here on our planet, it becomes much easier to understand what actions we should take to make things right. Sadly, most people don’t yet understand how all those pieces fit together and some don’t really want to understand. My prayer is that my work will better enable you to help them.
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—J. Morris Hicks, board member, T. Colin Campbell Foundation