Reaching the 95% who still eat meat. Since beginning my blog nine months ago, I have often referred to the estimated 95% of the American public who still “believe” that they must eat animal protein to be healthy. That is based on my informal poll of “mainstream” non-vegetarian audiences in twelve months of speaking engagements since completing my book.
Clearly, we have not successfully delivered our message to the masses. One of my readers posted this comment on one of my blogs last week; summing up our problem perfectly, Stephen writes:
The statistic of existing 95% carnivorous public you have stated several times tells me one thing about the healthy lifestyle movement – it is not promoting the idea of a healthy diet effectively.
For example, there is now a library of books on healthy diets, several of which are on the best seller list. But, since it is common knowledge that less than 10% of the public read books; then over 90% of the public are not getting the message. Further, the vast majority of readers are not compliant. Clearly, writing yet another health book will not make a dent in this problem.
You are going to need innovative approaches to be heard over the ongoing cacophony of food industry hype. A careful study of how the tobacco industry was tamed in the USA may offer some clues. Stephen.
I immediately wrote him back with this simple message, “You are so right Stephen, hitting the nail squarely on the head.” But what I didn’t tell him was that we had come to that same conclusion long ago and were in fact working on a “special project” to get our message to hundreds of millions of people around the world — maybe even one billion people.
Although we know that “science” is on our side, that doesn’t mean that the scientific community is on our side. In truth, it’s a very small group that is willing to speak freely about the dirty little nutritional secrets regarding the plethora of animal products in our Western diet.
We also have a large amount of clinical evidence supporting the superiority of plant-based eating; but once again, there are far more M.D.’s out there eating animal protein themselves than there are physicians committed to a plant-based diet-style — and advising their patients thusly. Notable exceptions are Dr. Dean Ornish and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, both of whom influenced President Clinton to adopt plant-based.
Further, the American Dietetic Association released a position paper that supported “vegetarian” diets in July of 2009. The press release can still be found on the ADA website, entitled:
Appropriate Planned Vegetarian Diets Are Healthful, May Help in Disease Prevention and Treatment, Says American Dietetic Association
CHICAGO – The American Dietetic Association has released an updated position paper on vegetarian diets that concludes such diets, if well-planned, are healthful and nutritious for adults, infants, children and adolescents and can help prevent and treat chronic diseases including heart disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes.
ADA’s position, published in the July issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, represents the Association’s official stance on vegetarian diets:
It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life-cycle including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence and for athletes…
…The revised position paper incorporates new topics and additional information on key nutrients for vegetarians, vegetarian diets in the life cycle and the use of vegetarian diets in prevention and treatment of chronic diseases. “Vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle,” according to ADA’s position. “There are many reasons for the rising interest in vegetarian diets. The number of vegetarians in the United States is expected to increase over the next decade.”
Vegetarian diets are often associated with health advantages including lower blood cholesterol levels, lower risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure levels and lower risk of hypertension and type 2 diabetes, according to ADA’s position. “Vegetarians tend to have a lower body mass index and lower overall cancer rates. Vegetarian diets tend to be lower in saturated fat and cholesterol and have higher levels of dietary fiber, magnesium and potassium, vitamins C and E, folate, carotenoids, flavonoids and other phytochemicals. These nutritional differences may explain some of the health advantages of those following a varied, balanced vegetarian diet.” (Link provided at end of this post)
Good news, bad news. The good news is that the ADA has published a powerful position statement that outlines many health benefits of eating plant-based. The bad news is that only a tiny percentage of the American public is aware of this powerful message. Why is that?
It’s simply not the kind of news that our meat-eating public wants to hear, so the media doesn’t “waste” time telling us about it. Oh, I’m sure there were a few news articles in a handful of states back in 2009, but there was never any serious dissemination of this information by the national media. Even now, you won’t find this “position” very easily on the ADA site unless you know what you’re looking for.
Conclusion. Even with scientific, clinical and ADA support for plant-based eating, this message is not getting to the masses; therefore, the percentage of vegetarians in the United States remains at less than 4%. The movie Forks Over Knives is the most effective effort so far in distributing the powerful message regarding a whole-foods, plant-based diet-style. But, one has to actually go to the movie in order to hear the message; and meat eaters are not very interested in hearing bad news about the food that they like to eat.
As Stephen mentioned, books aren’t getting the job done either. Like the movie, most of our books on plant-based eating are being purchased by the “already converted.” For the most part, we’re still “preaching to the choir” and simply must develop a plan to get this planet-saving message to the masses — without them having to read a book or watch a movie to receive it.
Several of us are meeting in Ithaca, New York with Dr. T. Colin Campbell next week to begin to devise such a plan. Some of the ideas on the table are mentioned in these two blogs: “Thinking differently” and changing the world…and Clinton Foundation seeks ideas to change the world…
The Bottom Line. Until we dispel the “protein myth,” we will not see much movement in the direction of plant-based eating. And until that happens, we will not begin to enjoy the world-changing environmental benefits that will result from a return to the natural diet for our species. And we will not be able to restore harmony with Nature on our planet. FYI, the code-name for our project is HARMONY. Stay tuned.
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—J. Morris Hicks…blogging daily at HealthyEatingHealthyWorld.com
ADA Press Release 7/1/09 – Appropriate Planned Vegetarian Diets Are Healthful, May Help in Disease Prevention and Treatment, Says American Dietetic Association.
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But the meat industry, including the cattle ranchers will fight to the death, anything that puts them or their product in a bad light because billions of dollars in profits are at risk. Not to mention the medical/pharmaceutical industry that makes billions treating the diseases that result from an animal based diet. Until we change from a capitalistic society that puts profits ahead of health, to one with compassion for all creatures, including each other, I see limited success in converting the masses.
It should also be considered that once the masses are converted to a plant based diet, the eating of refined grains poses just as much of a health risk as eating meat. I know several vegetarians who are as unhealthy as the general public due to the large amount of refined grains they consume. Just as the human species is physiologically not designed to digest meat, neither is it designed to digest grains.
Change takes time, persistence and continual education! Excited to hear about project Harmony and let me know what I can do to help.
I read a very interesting book about facilitating change. It was called “Switch” and was written by Chip and Dan Heath; professors at Stanford and Duke respectively. Maybe good background reading before the meeting, if you aren’t familiar with it already? http://www.heathbrothers.com/switch/
Dear Mr Hicks,
We agree that existing communication methods, while a commendable start, will not get a healthy diet into the mouths of the masses. One good reason for this is the drastic change in the social landscape in our lifetime which has rendered over ninety percent of the public unable to cook for themselves. With the increase in two breadwinner families mothers do not have time to teach their daughters domestic skills their mothers taught them, to say nothing of their sons. What good is a healthy cookbook to the masses who cannot cook? You don’t have to answer that. I’ll answer it for you – no good. Besides, it is only the minority leisure class that has the time to cook even if they knew how. Therefore, if the public is going to eat healthy, their meals will have to be prepared for them.
To do that the primary prepared food outlets need to be converted to healthy menus. A great place to start is school meal programs which can coordinate with lifestyle classes that introduce healthy taste experiences which will carry over student eating habits at home and in public. All other public institutions should follow suit, like hospitals, rest homes, museums and sport stadiums. The government is partially responsible for distorting the existing food system. The government should accept responsibility for changing it as it has done with tobacco. By converting these public institutions to healthy food choices clear leadership will be initiated to change the nation’s eating habits.
Love your blogs! The whole food environment is so toxic, as I’m sure you or Dr. Esselstyn has said. I’m going to have a sign up list for those who are interested in coming to my house and viewing “Forks over Knives”. I’m a nurse, and sadly, nurses appear to be very unhealthy. Like physicians, we are taught virtually nothing in nursing school, beyond the ‘four food groups’ about nutrition.
I’m also quite curious to see what you come up with, as the people I know just typically don’t wish to see anything that “rocks their boat,” so to speak, including my husband. I mount some sneak attacks on him, like getting him to watch “Home” recently, after ordering it on dvd, but I would never have gotten him to deliberately sit down and watch it online. After showing him one of the gruesome videos last year about animal slaughter, he won’t do that again either! He doesn’t want to have the imagery in his head. I DO think that nudging him along has helped change his attitude some, but as far as him having that “Come to Jesus moment,” I gave up on that one.
Great post. I am very excited to hear more about HARMONY and learning how/if I can help with the project.
Your blogs are so inspiring to me but then I’ve been a believer for over thirty years. Your message is difficult to develop into a course of action that will have an impact on the “garbage eaters.”
As an example, my wife: We both attended the 10 day McDougall program in Santa Rosa, California. From NYC it was a long trip and expensive about $10,000. My wife was enthused about the McDougall concept for about three weeks. Last night we went food shopping and lo and behold in her shopping cart, guess what I found: ICE CREAM AND GRAHAM CRACKERS.
I was furious and disgusted that after this major effort to change her SAD, I failed. So how are we going to change the typical American who doesn’t attend the McDougall program or even bother to read any of the numerous books on plant based foods?
To quote from the Broadway song: The Impossible Dream. That is what all of us, the plant eaters of the world have to contend with. Ten, twenty years into the future…it will never happen. The world will still be slaughtering, butchering, and gorging on the flesh of the innocent creatures.