Why are you doing what you do? Why is it not depressing?


Two questions I was asked recently by one of my readers

Industrial Engineering, always looking for "the biggest bang for the buck."

Industrial Engineering, always looking for “the biggest bang for the buck.”

The short answer to the first one is that I have chosen to focus my efforts where I think I can make the most difference. When I was a corporate executive with junior managers reporting to me, I always coached them to devote most of their time to tasks that ONLY they could do. To do what others could do would only be a waste of their special talents.

There are millions of people involved in trying to promote the widespread adoption of the whole food, plant-based diet for humans, but only a very small handful have a background that enables them to grasp the “big picture” problem, develop a workable solution and organize a global process for change. I am grateful for my special background and would only be depressed if I chose not to leverage it to the fullest extent.

So what am I trying to do? I am trying to garner the support of a handful of super-wealthy individuals who “catch the vision” and are willing to bankroll a MASSIVE global awareness campaign to facilitate an urgent shift in the direction of a whole food, plant-based diet for humans.

Why am I doing that? Because I have concluded that it’s the only viable pathway to the longterm sustainability of the human species. Whether my ultimate fate is success or failure, I will die with the satisfaction of knowing that I gave it my best shot.

A little background. I graduated from Auburn University in 1968 with a degree in Industrial Engineering, where I learned that ANY process can be improved. But, the real trick is to focus on the processes that deliver the biggest bang for the buck. We want to dedicate our brightest minds and our heaviest financial investment to improving our most important processes.

The late, great quality guru, Dr. W. Edwards Deming, was famous for this simple philosophy during the final years of his life—and he wrote it on my paper (that I still have) following one of his lectures that I attended at George Washington University over twenty years ago.

Keep on learning, study optimization of a system.

The great man made a big impact on my learning during those days, but sadly, he went to his grave without learning about the greatest process improvement opportunity in the history of the world—the global feeding model for the human species. Were he alive today, he’d be one of my strongest allies in URGENTLY improving that feeding model.

Dr. Deming taught me all about the importance of "optimizing" the most important systems.

Dr. Deming taught me all about the importance of “optimizing” the most important systems.

This blog is my story of process improvement and the role it has played in my life. Now, after a lengthy career as a corporate executive AND after studying all aspects of that global feeding model, I now seek to leverage my entire background to “optimizing” that system that will ultimately determine whether Mother Nature has a place for the human species in her future.

Process Improvement 101, a simple example. After graduation from college, my first process improvement project in the real world was reducing the time and cost of taking the monthly inventory at U.S. Coast Guard Base retail store in Honolulu in 1969. I noticed right away that the process seemed very cumbersome. First they would count each item and write the count next to its SKU number. Then, they would look up the purchasing record to find the cost of the item. Then they would multiply the cost per unit by the number of units to get the inventory value (at cost).

My three years in the Coast Guard were spent at USCG Base Honolulu in the shadows of Aloha Tower.

My three years in the Coast Guard were spent at USCG Base Honolulu in the shadows of Aloha Tower.

As the 24-year old “boot ensign” in charge of our retail operations in Hawaii, I noticed that the most time-consuming element of the entire inventory-taking process was looking up the cost of each item.

Then, while thinking of ways to “improve the process,” I suddenly realized that everything in the store had the same mark-up (cost + 15%). Hence, if I knew the retail price per unit, I could easily compute the cost of the item by multiplying by 0.8696 (1.0/1.15).

So, I simply had them completely eliminate the task of looking up the cost. We began taking the inventory at the “marked retail selling price” and then multiplying that total number by 0.8696. That simple “process improvement” ended up reducing the labor cost of taking inventory by over 50 percent, and also generated more sales because we didn’t have to close the store anymore to take inventory.

My career since the Coast Guard store. During the 45 years since that first process improvement example, I have spent a career “looking at the big picture” and improving processes in a wide variety of industries and situations. A few examples:

  1. The worldwide quality inspection process at Holiday Inns.
  2. The national sales force of Jockey International (underwear and sportswear)
  3. Customer returns reduction program at Sears in Chicago.
  4. Teaching “process improvement” at the ITT Night Vision Group in Virginia.
  5. Improving the off-price sales margins at Polo Ralph Lauren in New York.

Our client in Roanoke in 1994, where I taught the Deming Method of TQM (total quality management) or continuous process improvement.

In every one of these five examples listed above, the savings were in the millions of dollars per year. When you’re dealing with huge numbers in the tens or hundreds of millions, simple improvements can lead to saving millions of dollars.

What about projects saving billions or trillions of dollars? I have never had the opportunity to work on a project with potential savings of more than one billion dollars — much less one trillion dollars — until NOW.

I am talking about the improvement of the “human feeding model” in the Western world. For starters, by cycling our grain through livestock, we’re wasting 90% of the protein, 96% of the calories, 100% of the carbohydrates and 100% of the fiber. After adding up all of the staggering facts, I realized that I had stumbled upon the…

Largest improvement opportunity ever. After studying the way we eat since 2002, there is no doubt in my mind that the “human feeding model” of the Western world represents, by a huge margin, the greatest process improvement opportunity in the history of our planet. Here are my top six categories of savings:

There's not a lot of money to be made by everyone getting healthy.

Potential global healthcare savings somewhere north of five trillion dollars and billions of lives.

1. Cost of health care. With up to 80% of our health care dollars driven by our food choices, the potential savings are two trillion dollars a year….just in the United States. Throw in Europe, Australia and the rest of the West and you’re looking at over $5 trillion. This is backed up by many decades of scientific and clinical proof.

2. Fossil Fuel. Food production accounts for one-third of our total energy consumption in the USA. Plant-based calories can be produced with 90% less energy than animal-based foods; yielding an overall 30 percent reduction of the total fossil fuel consumption in the USA. Not sure of the total dollar savings here on a global basis, but I am confident that the number is well into the trillions and would probably dwarf that $5 trillion potential dollar savings for health care.

3. Water. When you’re talking about water, you’re not talking as much about saving money as you are talking about saving lives and the ecosystem. Once again, our Western diet is grossly inefficient; requiring over ten times more water per calorie of animal foods compared to plant-based foods.

4. World Hunger. Our Western diet requires over ten times as much arable land per person than does a plant-based diet. A shift to plant-based eating makes it possible to feed an ever-growing population while returning millions of acres to Nature.

It all boils down to harmony---all of the compelling reasons for plant-based eating.

It all boils down to harmony—all of the compelling reasons for plant-based eating.

5. Fragile ecosystem. Comprised of water, land, trees, plants, air and millions of species of creatures—in our ecosystem, everything is connected. Nature had a plan for everything to live in harmony with the rest of nature. In the past few hundred years, we humans have strayed far from the harmony that nature requires.

As we rapidly destroy the lungs and arteries of the planet—rainforest and oceans, we’re rapidly destroying nature’s ability to sustain us. It’s not about saving the planet, she is going to be just fine. It’s really about preserving her ability to sustain us as a species.

6. Climate Change. Without a doubt, the raising of livestock is the number one human-generated contributor to the greenhouse effect. Recent studies from scientists at the World Bank indicate that livestock account for over 51% of GHG produced by human activity—more than ALL other causes COMBINED. Unlike the task of trying to reduce the use of automobiles and trucks, the #1 cause of global warming could be totally eliminated with a widespread move to plant-based eating. In this category, it’s not about saving money—it’s about saving the ecosystem, our civilization and ultimately, the human species.

A Return to Harmony…the net effect of all of the above. In just the past fifty years, humankind has inflicted more damage on the fragile harmony of nature than ALL previous generations of humans combined — for the past 200,000 years. Plant-based eating won’t solve this problem overnight, but it is the single most powerful opportunity that we have to get things moving in the right direction quickly.

Promoting health, hope and harmony on planet Earth

Promoting health, hope & harmony on planet Earth

Total savings? Obviously the savings go way beyond dollars that can be quantified. When we’re talking about world hunger, water, climate change and biodiversity, we’re talking about the future livelihood of all of the millions of species that call this planet home. We’re talking about our long-term survival on this planet.

So why is there no concentrated, globally-orchestrated effort underway to get this crucial project moving? Four reasons:

  1. Lack of knowledge. At least 90% of the people (including the smartest and best-educated) in the Western world truly believe that we “need” to eat animal protein to be healthy. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.
  2. Resistance to change. People grew up eating a certain way and simply do not want to change. They like what they eat and it’s very important to them. With more knowledge about the consequences of those traditional food choices, many people will begin to change quickly.
  3. Money. Too many special interests riding on the status-quo. For if our global feeding model began to move quickly away from animal-based foods, many individuals and businesses in the health care, pharmaceutical, livestock, fishing, restaurant and food processing industries would lose a great deal of money.
  4. Lack of leadership. Among the less than 5% who know the complete truth about the power of a plant-based diet; no one has emerged as a leader on the global stage.
That leader could be Ted Turner, a man of great integrity who has not yet caught the vision for what I'm talking about.

That leader could be Ted Turner, a man of great integrity who has not yet caught the vision for what I’m talking about.

When that leader emerges, and the requisite funding is acquired, I sincerely believe that the “lack of knowledge” problem can be addressed with a MASSIVE global awareness campaign aimed at the most affluent two billion people.

What about the funding? To get things moving quickly enough to avoid the upcoming climate change tipping points, we will likely need to spend hundreds of billions of dollars over the next few years. Where is that money going to come from? From billionaires who know, care and are ready to apply a sizable portion of their personal wealth to this campaign. A seven-word sentence describes their mission in a nutshell:

Billionaires gather, plan, pull together, planet saved. — Paul Peacock

The Bottom Line. By simply shifting to a whole food, plant-based diet—we can all take charge of our health while averting climate change, easing the water crisis & soil erosion, ending world hunger, and buying us enough time to work on the big three remaining sustainability issues that future generations must address:

  • Solving our overpopulation dilemma.
  • Switching our global energy system from fossil fuels to renewables.
  • Creating a new economic model that enables us to live in harmony with nature.

Perseverance over depression. Armed with my “big picture” understanding of what we must do, I persevere in doing my best to attract the attention of enough of those caring billionaires to get it done. And even though my efforts may not prove successful, it is not depressing. It would be only be depressing if I wasn’t giving it my best shot.

Blog inspired by Dr. Nivien Saleh, Thunderbird School of Global Management

A few of my earlier blogs on this topic:

The following five books and one DVD can be purchased on Amazon for a grand total of less than $60—and will enable you to understand the overwhelming challenges we face—along with the single most-powerful solution of all.

Six-Pack from Hicks—for health, hope & harmony on planet Earth

  1. Healthy Eating, Healthy WorldThe “big picture” about food (our book)
  2. A life changer for millions, including James Cameron. Forks Over Knives DVD 
  3. An essential scientific resource: The China Study by Dr. T. Colin Campbell; the primary book that influenced Bill Clinton to adopt a whole food, plant-based diet.
  4. What have we done to our planet? Full Planet, Empty Plates by Lester Brown
  5. A horrifying wake-up call for leaders. TEN BILLION by Dr. Stephen Emmott
  6. Food choices are the primary cause of our environmental problems, yet our world leaders, scientists & experts are Comfortably Unawareby Richard Oppenlander.

Why should we be eating mostly plants? The “big picture” in 4 minutes.

Want to find out how healthy your family is eating? Take our free 4Leaf Survey. It takes 2 or 3 minutes and you can score it yourself. After taking the survey, please give me your feedback as it will be helpful in the development of our future 4Leaf app for smartphones. Send feedback to jmorrishicks@me.com

International. We’re now reaching people in over 100 countries. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter or get daily blog notices by “following” us in the top of the right-hand column. For occasional updates, join our periodic mailing list.

J. Morris Hicks, working daily to promote health, hope and harmony on planet Earth.

To order more of my favorite books—visit our online BookStore now For help in your own quest to take charge of your health, visit our 4Leaf page and also enjoy some great recipes from Lisa’s 4Leaf Kitchen. Got a question? Let me hear from you at jmorrishicks@me.com. Or give me a call on my cell at 917-399-9700.

—J. Morris Hicks, board member since 2012; click banner for more info:

Nutrition Certificate

About J. Morris Hicks

A former strategic management consultant and senior corporate executive with Ralph Lauren in New York, J. Morris Hicks has always focused on the "big picture" when analyzing any issue. In 2002, after becoming curious about our "optimal diet," he began a study of what we eat from a global perspective ---- discovering many startling issues and opportunities along the way. In addition to an MBA and a BS in Industrial Engineering, he holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, where he has also been a member of the board of directors since 2012. Having concluded that our food choices hold the key to the sustainability of our civilization, he has made this his #1 priority---exploring all avenues for influencing humans everywhere to move back to the natural plant-based diet for our species.
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6 Responses to Why are you doing what you do? Why is it not depressing?

  1. CJ says:

    Hi Jim, a very well written and informative post as usual… really enjoy your perspectives on this one on why you do what you do and with such unrelenting energy and enthusiasm. Being here in Southern California, we’ve seen once again how quickly things can and are unraveling. It’s only May and we’ve had a terrible run of wildfires, see http://projects.scpr.org/firetracker/. The state’s hot, dry surface leads to a hot, dry, atmosphere, which creates an environment for wildfires to spread with windy conditions, etc.

    Not to mention the terrible drought, which no one seems to be talking about, as people continue with business as usual like nothing is happening. This good summary article gives one a quick understanding of what we’re facing: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/16/california-drought_n_5340596.html
    The comments below the article were interesting, and I was happy to see at least one comment on animal agriculture as a misuse of our dwindling water supplies, and how it is contributing to climate change. Much more steady and powerful awareness is needed on the situation in Cali this year.

    I wanted to also call out the recent Whitehouse report on Climate Change. I went through the report fairly quickly. Sadly, but as expected, I could only find one reference to animal agriculture’s impact on climate change. This, even though it has been stated by the UN and others as you know that it’s vastly more significant than the transportation sector, etc. (watch “Meat the Truth” for more info https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2uTJsZrX2wI).

    From the report:
    “Patterns of change related to improving health can also have co-benefits in terms of reducing carbon pollution and mitigating climate change. Current U.S. dietary guidelines and many health professionals have recommended diets higher in fruits and vegetables and lower in red meat as a means of helping
    to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers. These changes in food consumption, and related changes to food production, could have co-benefits in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

    While the greenhouse gas footprint of the production of other foods, compared to sources such as livestock, is highly dependent on a number of factors, production of livestock currently accounts for about 30% of the U.S. total emissions of methane.This amount of methane can be reduced somewhat by recovery methods such as the use of biogas digesters, but future changes in dietary practices, including those motivated by considerations other than climate change mitigation, could also have an effect on
    the amount of methane emitted to the atmosphere.”

    Biogas digesters? Seriously? Well, hopefully the upcoming Cowspiracy documentary will wake more people up.

    Jim, as always, thanks for all you do. Hope to see you speak in San Diego later this year. We can only hope there won’t be any nearby fires when you’re here. It really is a beautiful state, although Dr. Emmott might say a thing or two about how fast it’s growing. If everyone can wake up, get beyond the protein myth, and make the switch to plant-based in the next few years, we might all still have a chance.

  2. I’m back! Mary Guay is HOT! I live in FL and our Senator, Marco (I hope to be president) Rubio does not believe the scientists who claim man is a huge contributor to climate change! This statement was days after the National Assessment on Climate Change was released saying, we are in trouble, we caused it and we must take action. This presidential hopeful spouts the old, “There has always been cycles” dodge.
    I’M NOT JUST HOT-OUT RAGE IS IN ORDER!!!
    Marco, Marco, Marco, man has altered a few of the basics of this “cycle”. Two hundred years ago the planet had not reached a population of 1 billion. Today it is over 7 billion, with 3 billion meat eaters and 3 billion want-to-be meat eaters. Planet Earth can support 2 billion meat eaters or 14 billion plant-based eaters. That live stock we consume each year is one of the major contributors to the “green house gas-overcoat” that is holding the heat in on our rapidly warming planet. Why is this such a big deal for this “cycle”? Our climate had been stable, with CO2 levels at 280 part per million (ppm) from 1000 to 1800. The Earth, as we know it, adapted/evolved and man thrived within that specific and fragile atmospheric balance. Plants germinate, pollinate and produce at certain temperatures. Most of our food grows best at 68 to 93 degrees. Each degree over that provides a lower yield and requires more water (10% more for each degree above 93). Many crops (corn, rice…) don’t even pollinate over 104 degrees. As the ppm of CO2 increases, more heat is captured to warm the planet. Earth’s plants and animals adapted to the stable climate created with the 280 ppm of CO2. By 2100 Fargo, North Dakota will have the climate Phoenix has today, if we continue on our current ways.
    HAS THE CO2 LEVEL CHANGED?
    It slowly started increasing as the population and the associated stresses of man increased. In 1958 scientist started measuring the CO2 daily. It had reached 315 ppm by then. The ppm had NEVER gone over 300 ppm in the last 650,000 years. As the CO2 rises, the temperature of our Earth rises. The 30 ppm rise between 1800 and 1958 years was cause for alarm. The 120+ ppm rise between 1800 and 2014 is a death sentence for billions, if we continue business as usual.
    There is much more danger lurking. “Food Bubbles” are about to burst, simultaneously, in many parts of the world. This leads the “Failing States” and a world where man is at war for food, land and water. Is that what we want to leave for our children? That is discussed in more detail in my book.
    The ONE most beneficial action every human could do immediately is eat a plant based diet. That does not solve the problem, but it might buy us the time to work to correct the other problems.
    OR WE COULD:
    *GIVE UP
    *SAY IT’S NOT A PROBLEM
    *CALL CHANGE INCONVENIENT OR NOT GOOD FOR THE ECONOMY
    *INSIST YOU MOST EAT MEAT TO BE HEALTHY (refuse to learn you’re killing yourself)
    *KEEP DESTROYING THE PLANET
    *IF THAT’S YOUR CHOICE, ELECT MARCO RUBIO (and many others like him)
    AND GET THE DESTRUCTION OVER WITH AS QUICK AS WE CAN!!!
    Then claim, “Sorry kids, I didn’t know.

    Mary Guay, MSW and Environmental Speaker
    Author of CLIMATE CHANGE: OUR CHILDREN ARE IN DANGER
    MaryGuay.org mwguay@aol.com

  3. My purpose for the rest of my life is to do what I can to leave my grandchildren a planet they can live on. What could be more important? Eating a WFPB diet is the best way, of the many ways, I have changed my life to live sustainably. I feel as if Jim is my partner. He works to get a huge movement going with a few billionaires’ help. I wrote a book, CLIMATE CHANGE: OUR CHILDREN ARE IN DANGER, It explains climate change, its dangers, and what we can do. I researched over 100 books and changed to a more sustainable way of living, The research agrees with everything Jim is stating about the food crisis looming in the near future for the planet, and “YES,” our children in the USA. We are bankrupting our children’s future and setting them up with the SAD (Standard American Diet—or as I call it “The Suicidal American Diet”). Then they live a disease ridden life with the SAD (Standard American Diseases). I watch friends and relatives battle chronic and terminal diseases. I look at the way they eat, at the diseases that are robbing them of their productive or retirement years, and the equation is like 2 and 2 equals four. They ate the SAD, it destroyed their heart, it fed the cancers, it weakened their ability to produce good insulin, it piles 10s even 100+ pounds on their frame, it made their bodies acidic to host inflammatory diseases and that equals lives that are diminished starting at an early age.
    Jim’s efforts focus on the few big leaders to start a life and climate changing movement. My efforts starts with the everyday American who may be saying too late, “If I had only known.” I hope people will read my book. It is well researched, but I made sure the book is easy to understand, clearly explains climate change, is enjoyable and inspiring. Time is short. An uninformed American public may allow our Congress to be bought by the highest bidders in November. Agribusinesses, pharmaceutical companies, food processors, fossil fuel…..can bombard the airways, get the vote, and call the shots for years to come. It’s time we all do our homework. What are we waiting for?
    Mary Guay, MSW and Environmental Speaker
    Author of CLIMATE CHANGE: OUR CHILDREN ARE IN DANGER (on Amazon & Kindle)
    MaryGuay.org. mwguay@aol.com

  4. Joanne Irwin says:

    Absolutely brilliant. I have a dream that you could present your power-point presentation to our do nothing, contentious driven Congress. What would move the concrete to action? How many would clean their pockets of Big Agra Business? Maybe just one! Jonas Salk commented that every failure at finding the vaccine was not perceived as failure, but one step closer to success. Keep writing, reaching out, sending letters, knocking on doors. Each attempt leads to that one individual who will say YES, and commit his/her life to saving this planet for future generations. So many of us appreciate what you’re doing!!

    • Hi Joanne, Our FL senator has me shaking my head in disbelief. We don’t have climate change—we’re in another “cycle”, according to Marco Rubio. That man is a danger to himself and others. Mary at NLYH

  5. Leo S. says:

    W. Edwards Deming tried to get the American Auto Industry to produce better cars through quality control. Normal useful life of cars was considered 40,000 miles and about 8 years before people considered trading for newer models. GM was not interested so he went to Japan and they accepted his suggestions and built cars that were more durable and people chose the better product. When Toyota and GM partnered to build cars at the NUMMI factory in California (now Tesla) GM stated they wanted to build 100 cars a day. Toyota suggested they build as many quality cars as they could, but not to set a certain number as a goal. We should do the same in food choices. We should not see how much we can eat but should make the effort to eat nutritious food which will provide the cells the nutrients they need to build a better state of health.

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