long have you been a vegetarian and why?”
been a vegetarian for 32 years. I went vegetarian
when I was 16, and I'll turn 48 tomorrow. But my
diet has certainly evolved in that time. I started
out as a lacto-ovo vegetarian who was stuck in the cheese'n'eggs
rut for a long time. What prompted me to get interested
in vegetarian diets was a confluence of events of several
factors, but one of them was my interest in competitive
sports. I was a competitive swimmer and was particularly
good at the endurance events, and I read a book that
a relative brought over to the house one day. It
was called "Faith, Love, and Seaweed," by
Ian Rose (father
of the Olympic
Gold Medal Award-winning swimmer, Murray Rose). Murray attributed his athletic endurance
to his vegetarian diet. I grabbed that book and
read it, and somehow it resonated with me, and I was
keenly interested. So that registered in about
the same time that my mother went vegetarian, and that
probably had the most profound effect on me. I
was probably younger than sixteen at that point. We
always ate our family dinners together, and at six o'clock
sharp, she sat down and said "I have an announcement
was just like that. I can tell you where I was
sitting and I can even see her standing there talking. We
were having chili that night, and she used to make it
with ground beef and kidney beans. She sat down
and she had a toasted whole wheat cheddar cheese sandwich
with vegetables, and that became her dinner for years. Either
that or a cheese omelette. She said: "Everybody,
from now on I'm a vegetarian." She gave absolutely
no explanation at all as to why."
she ever tell you "why?"
years later. She admitted that it was for ethical
fascinating, as you came at it from a physical standpoint.”
was early to mid-70's..."
remember... going veg was radical."
was a hospital nurse, and I can remember for years she
wouldn't talk about it at work, and she just sort of
surreptitiously ate vegetarian in the hospital cafeteria. She
told us a few times that the people who worked in the
hospital perceived her as being a little odd. There
were friends of hers who knew her for years and who never
even noticed that she didn't eat meat."
part of the country was this?"
she sort of kept it under wraps for years. So that
the whole time I was living at home and she was working
as a nurse, and later as a nurse for the Oakland Public
Health Department, but she kept it under wraps. It
was definitely in the 70s perceived as being a little "out
there." But she was silent about it at home, too. She
never said a word about why she went vegetarian, and
for some reason, we kids weren't curious enough to ask.
And I think if we had, she probably wouldn't have talked
about it very much; she was just very private."
about your father?"
was a little bit of conflict with my Dad. I mean,
he was a 1950s meat'n'potatoes midwestern man, and I
can remember the tension building over the years... eventually,
each kid in the family went vegetarian. My younger
sister went first, then I went, and then my younger brother. My
older sister was out of the house at the point, she was
10 years older then me, so she was already in college,
but she eventually went vegetarian, too.
the years, while we were eating meals at home, I can
remember, one by one, each kid saying "you don't have
to cook meat for me, anymore. I'm a vegetarian
now," we just kind of fell, one by one, and she started
making more and more of her food, and less and less of
the cooked meats that she used to make for our dinners
to the point where, eventually, we'd be sitting down
to dinner and we'd be having these heaping salads and
cooked vegetables, and breads and vegetarian food, and
she'd heat up a couple of hot dogs for my Dad! It
was like, y'know, here's a little token I can make for
you, and he would register his displeasure at the end
of the meal by getting up from the table and going to
the refrigerator and grabbing a couple of frozen waffles
to pop into the toaster. That was sort of a signal
that this meal wasn't adequate."
was definitely some tension there for a couple of years,
and then eventually, my Dad caved... he's always been
a person who ate what my mother fixed, and he doesn't
cook on his own, and so today, they've been married for
60 years, he's a vegetarian, too."
remember as a kid, too, very early, I had a button
that I picked up at the Ann Arbor Art Fair that said "real
people wear fake furs." I wore that around and
I was just definitely very sensitive to animal issues
at an early age, as well, so I was definitely primed
to be a vegetarian."
it your diet that led you to your academic career, and
can you summarize it as well? You bring some great
qualifications and credentials to the game."
a registered dietician and I have a Master's Degree in
Human Nutrition and a Doctorate in Health Policy and
Administration. My personal interest in food and
nutrition led me to a career in dietetics, because I
wanted to know everything I could possibly know about
nutrition. My career has developed and evolved
over the years, but that was certainly the initial impetus
for my choice."
fascinating to me in talking to you right now, is that
you've managed to hit the mainstream press all over the
place. You've written for major magazines, major
newspapers, interviews all the time... I mean, you're all
over the map and you keep it relatively mainstream. I
would guess that your own views are probably a bit more "hard
care." Has this been difficult for you in academia,
that is, finding a middle ground that people can handle?"
not at all. I love the academic environment because,
generally, people here are very tolerant of new divergent
views, and I have found my colleagues to be totally supportive
and very much interested. Everybody accepts the
varying viewpoints and in fact, this kind of academic
environment thrives on different points of view."
you think that the nutritional establishment, in general,
is catching on then?"
think for certain, the ideas about plant-based
diets are becoming more accepted. I think twenty
years ago, most university nutrition departments would
have not been quite so accepting of vegetarianism ---
more skeptical about the nutritional adequacy of a vegetarian
diet then they are now."
was thinking that your column
in the newspaper reaches
some 400,000 people a week. That's fantastic."
there are a lot of folks here at the school who read
the column and I get lots of positive feedback. We
joke about the column a lot..."
stop by the office and make little remarks about what
they read this morning. We have a lot of fun with
ISSUE OF TRANS FAT
you've written 9 books, which is amazing in itself, I don't
know how you find time to do so much. And now, you've
just published your tenth book: "Get
the Trans Fat Out: 601 simple Ways to Cut the Trans
Fat Out of Any Diet." This begs the big question: what
are trans fats and why should we be worried about them?"
fats are primarily a man-made fat, created when vegetable
oil is bombarded with hydrogen, and the chemical nature
of the liquid oil is changed. Trans fats stimulate
the body to produce more cholesterol, and they are associated
with greater rates of coronary artery disease. A
recent report by the Institute
of Medicine (IOM) concluded
that there's no safe level of intake of trans fat, and
that people should minimize their exposure to trans fats."
your new book, you wrote that even an increase of just
1 teaspoon a day in the diet of women can cause a 62% increase
in heart attack risk?"
a substantial increase in heart attack risk."
was stunning to me, because I remember as a kid, Crisco...
you write about Crisco being the first of the really big
trans fat products... what, a hundred years ago?"
I remember that Crisco was used extensively in my grandparent's
kitchen. My grandfather died of a stroke at an early
age, and I remember the Crisco being used all the time...
I mean, to fry everything."
was cheaper than butter or lard, and it kept for long
time in the cupboard. It was very convenient."
also surprised me from your book about trans fats is that,
what, they're like a triple-whammy. They lower LDL
and HDL, as well as effect the liver."
and until recently, the big problem was, that we couldn't
easily see how much trans fat was in the food that we're
eating. Now that trans
fat is required to be listed on the Nutrition Fact Labels and
food product packages, now it's exposed. Now everyone
can see how much trans fat they could be eating."
your book also points out that, at last count, there are
some 40,000 products in the average grocery store that
contain trans fats, and here's the medical establishment
saying that even 1 teaspoon a day is unhealthy."
number is probably far-reduced by now, because food companies
have been removing trans fat from products willy-nilly. I
don't know that anybody has an estimate of how many foods
contain trans fat now. If it is changing radically,
it's because of the exposure that trans fat has gotten
on food labels."
you contrast trans fats with saturated and unsaturated
fats are a form of fat that's generally hard at room
temperature, and most saturated fats come from animal
sources. So, examples would be the fat you find
in dairy products, butterfat, lard, and bacon grease. Saturated
fat, like trans fat, stimulates the body to produce more
cholesterol. Just as the IOM report concluded that
there's no safe level of trans fat in the diet, likewise,
they also concluded that there's no safe level of saturated
fat in the diet. When people evaluate foods, they
should look at the both the trans fat and saturated fat
content of food --- combine those figures, and aim for
getting as little in your diet as possible."
then trans fat is significantly worse than saturated fat
in the diet?"
no, I'm not sure that's the case."
think it's almost splitting hairs to differentiate between
the two. I would lump them together, and for the
sake of simplicity, call them the "bad fats," and people
should just avoid both."
YORK CITY'S BAN ON TRANS FAT
New York recently, the New
Board voted for banning trans fat from
all restaurants. What
do you think of this decision?"
think it's a great idea, and I hope it spurs similar
actions across the country. People often scoff..."
the issue of "food police."
the issue: when you have a substance that is known
to harm health, it's ubiquitous in the food supply, you
don't have a real choice. In situations like this,
I think it's appropriate for a government to intervene,
and exercise the power to regulate that ingredient and
remove it from the food supply. I heard somebody
make an analogy to lead or arsenic... if we had arsenic
being added to foods, wouldn't people call for government
intervention to have that removed? There's always
this tension between individual rights and freedoms,
and what's best for the community as a whole. Our
society has generally made decisions to protect the masses
at the expense of some freedom for individuals, and individuals
also meaning corporations."
a difficult issue..."
it is a difficult issue... but in this case, I think
that it's in the interest of the public's health for
government to step in and regulate in the area of trans
let me be somewhat of a devil's advocate, as recently I
couldn't by my favorite vegan cheese at a store because
they said it had trans fat in them, and so they dropped
the line. My point when writing management of the
corporation was that if trans fat is listed on the label,
shouldn't it should be my option."
talked to managers in various Health Food stores, and
I know most set a standard that they sort of follow. Most
stores don't sell products containing partially-hydrogenated
fat to serve a standard of identify that they've adopted
for buying products to sell in that store.
tough call, as some of the other products they might carry,
fried foods or whey as examples aren't healthy. BUT,
on the positive side, because I couldn't get that product
any more, I began to explore making my own mock cheeses
which, admittedly, are much cheaper, healthier, and satisfying
to play Devil's Advocate a bit more, and I'm not going
to get extreme here, but: should saturated fats be
banned? Where do we draw the line?"
saturated fat is naturally occurring in foods, and there
are a lot more questions to be answered about saturated
fats. If you look at the government recommendations
on the Nutrition Fact Label there's no daily value given
for trans fats, because there is no safe level. But there
is a daily value given for saturated fat. Years
ago, a decision was made that a target level could be
given. In fact, there really is no safe target
level for saturated fat intake, and they really ought
to be treated the same way."
may be also that since saturated fats occur naturally in
a food product, the consumer should and can be aware of
think that's one way to look at it, but you're right
in that these decisions are not clean, but in the case
of saturated fat it's not something that's being added
to food, so I think that for certain that labeling the
saturated fat content of some foods is important, and
we already do that."