Kathy Freston is author of Quantum Wellness, Expect a Miracle, and The One, and The Lean, but is perhaps best known for VEGANIST, which is not so much a cookbook as a motivational treatise on lifestyle medicine, and is recommended for anyone who is overweight or suffering from ill health due to diabetes and heart disease, as well as those whose diet is ushering them into becoming victims of the junk food industry. Narrated by Karen White, it provides the latest background research arguing the case for a plant based diet while inspiring listeners to gradually make the changeover. Dr. Oz and Dr. Dean Ornish have written introductions to her books, which have also been recommended by Dr. Andrew Weil, Dr. Neal Barnard and others. She has appeared on Oprah, Ellen, Dr. Oz, The View, Good Morning America, and The Early Show, and is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post. What follows is my recent interview with her.
Q) What are the benefits to eating a vegetarian diet, and how soon are those benefits noticed by those who make the switch?
A) The benefits are many! The ADA says that “Vegetarians have been reported to have lower body mass, lower rates of death from heart disease, lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, lower Type 2 diabetes, and prostate and colon cancer.” And for vegans, it’s even better. Within the first week of eating vegan, weight begins to drop off. Within 2 weeks blood pressure and blood sugar drop, and within 3 weeks, cholesterol drops significantly. Plus, you just feel lighter, cleaner!
Q) Health care costs are rising, with people unprepared for the expenses of retirement. Then there is the recent report linking sausage to pancreatic cancer. How urgent do you believe the need for slower, unprocessed foods is, and how can America wean itself off of animal protein, given nearly constant fast food advertising on TV?
A) The goal is progress, not perfection. It’s too hard to change everything overnight, and the confusion or frustration will just have us returning to our old ways. The best thing to do is map out what your favorite meals are for the week, and then veganize them. It’s actually quite easy: instead of having a chicken burrito, have a black bean one. Homemade pizza can be made with a whole grain crust and nondairy cheese, along with veggie sausage or mushrooms. Dairy milk is easily swapped out for almond, rice, hemp our soy… same for ice creams. Gradually, you find that it’s quite easy to enjoy the traditional meals you grew up loving, only healthier versions of them.
Q) The Food Network and The Cooking Channel, together with Man vs. Food and Diners, Driveins & Dives, plus Iron Chef and Top Chef. . .they all seem to feature meat as the main ingredient. On some shows, the object is to consume as much meat as possible. Anthony Bourdain has said critical things about vegetarians, saying they're not really living. Should the person concerned about moving to a healthier vegetarian diet stop watching all this food porn on TV? What shows are out there to help?
A) Dr. Oz has had some terrific shows about the benefits of eating vegan/plant-based. So has Ellen and Martha and even Charlie Rose had it as a topic. The more networks receive requests from viewers for different fare, the more likely you will see new and different content.
Q) What do you recommend that people do to start? I know an incredible vegan buffet restaurant here in Tucson called "Govindas," and I love what they do with sauces and meat substitutes. How easy is it, though, for non-cooks like myself to utilize your recipes and tips?
A) A good place to start is to do Meatless Mondays, and they have great recipes on their website. You can also go to HappyCow.net to find great food in whatever town you live in or are visiting; just enter the zipcode and they will clue you in. By the way, I’m not a big cook either. I keep things super simple: soups, chili, burritos, etc. I always make twice as much as I need and freeze the rest so that I can use it the following week without bothering to cook afresh. Really though, just ease yourself into it and you’ll find your way. There is no right or wrong, only progress.
Q) If someone can't do this cold turkey, so to speak, should they move from grain fed to grass fed beef as a start? It is healthier and more humane, right? And what kinds of fish?
A) Hard for me to comment on what meat to eat, because it all kind of breaks my heart! But in terms of ethics, if you opt for grass fed beef, that cow had a nicer life than a regular chicken to be sure. As well, one cow can feed many, many more people than one chicken, so there are less “units of suffering” in eating beef.
Q) What are your favorite vegetarian dishes, and why?
A) I love pasta because it’s easy to make or get in a restaurant, it’s comforting and filling, and… healthy (especially if it’s made from quinoa or brown rice.) Did you know that pasta gives you less of an insulin response than meat or fish? Most people would think the opposite, but it’s actually a low glycemic food. Primavera, veggie sausage, or cashew cream. Almost any kind is great! I always have a giant salad with it, too. I throw everything in my kitchen in the salad: lettuces, chickpeas, avocados, radishes, pears… you get the drift.
Q) What did you think of your narrator Karen White?
A) I think Karen did a great job!
Q) How do you see moving to a plant based diet changing the world, and what's next for you in spreading this message?
A) We can change the world by moving toward more plant based food: healthier people, lower health care costs, cleaner environment, food for the poor, and more than anything a kinder, gentler culture. I have a new book coming out in April about weight loss, and I imagine I will be doing more TV and radio to promote both that and The Veganist. In only the last 5 years, meat consumption has gone down by 12%, so things are changing. Hallelujah!