From Zoe: It's Our Nature
Dr. Michael Klaper interviewed by Michael Mountain, November 2011
M.M.: Do you find yourself running into opposition from parents who feel you’re preaching a personal agenda to their kids?
M.K.: When people come to see me all clogged up and on eight different pills, and they’ve got chest pain when they walk half a block, they usually don’t need a whole lot of convincing. That’s why they came to me. They know they are going to hear a message about a plant-based diet and healthier eating. But when I go to schools and I talk about what a meat-based diet is doing to our planet and to our health, and then the kids go home and say, “I don’t want to eat my meat tonight,” you bet we get some angry calls from parents.
“It’s easier to talk to people about a sex change operation than it is about changing our diets!”
It’s easier to talk to people about a sex change operation than it is about changing our diets! The comfort foods we were given as children put some powerful imprinting on our nervous system, but there’s another factor. It means that mother or dad were wrong when they gave us meat every night just out of love. They didn’t know it, but it means that it was a mistake, and that the American Dietetic Association is wrong, the family doctor’s been wrong, the commercials on TV are wrong, and it’s such a dramatic blow to one’s reality orientation. People wonder: If I’ve been deceived about that, what else am I being deceived about?
M.M.: What do you say to them?
M.K.: It needs to be done in a sensitive manner in an appropriate venue. The Internet is making it easier because the information is out there and the kids are talking about it with each other online. So the kids know about it, but modern society is such a juggernaut. The fast food restaurants are everywhere, the advertising is everywhere, your peers are say, “Let’s go get a hamburger or pizza.” It’s hard to say “No, I don’t want to do that.”
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and others have put out a lot of information, and when I speak at the Vegetarian Association, there are always a lot of kids there. And although parents sometimes get upset at first, when you really talk to them say, “Well, yes, my husband has just been diagnosed with high blood pressure,” and “Yes, I just found this lump in my breast last month.”
M.M.: I was talking to someone the other day who was saying, “Yes, I’m really concerned and I’m looking closer at cutting out meat and dairy foods but it’s difficult to talk to my husband and even my 7-year old son about it, especially since his dad may feel that I’m influencing him in the wrong direction.”
M.K.: What I tell them is don’t say anything to your kids or your spouse or whomever. Just do it yourself. Just say, “Guys, you can eat what you want, but this shelf in the refrigerator is mine, and I’m going to put my veggie dogs and my tofu sandwich here, and I’m going to do this because I have to do this.” That’s all. Don’t say anything else. Just start making your vegetable soups and your steamed greens, have your granola and soy milk in the morning, and you just do it yourself and don’t make them feel defensive.
Gandhi said, “Example is not the best way to teach; example is the only way to teach.” You’ll get a little ridicule and resistance at the beginning, but after a while it will stop once the novelty wears off, and you’ll be surprised after a few weeks when they start saying “Hey, that vegetable soup looks pretty good, can I have some of that?”
When I speak at company immersions where the company brings employees in for a week and feeds them vegan food and gives them lectures and all this stuff, I tell them not to march into the kitchen and announce that we’re going to start eating healthy now. That’s exactly how you’re going to engender a lot of resistance. Just buy your food and start eating it yourself and watch what happens. The good results will speak for themselves.
M.M.: Another thing that happens is when you go out to dinner with other people, or you’re visiting their homes, and they get defensive about your way of eating. You find yourself apologizing and saying things like, “It’s just something my doctor told me to do.”
M.K.: Yes, I’ve been doing it for 30 years now and I’m at the point where I don’t care when everyone orders steak and I order spaghetti. It’s not 1950 anymore. People know about vegetarians, there are vegan items on the menu, and they even use the word now on the menus. Burger King sells bean burgers now. So I just smile and if they stop being a friend because I don’t eat meat, then it’s not a friendship that I’m going to mourn losing. I just make it very clear it’s not a commentary. I love them all anyway. I’m just eating what I’ve got to eat.
M.M.: What about the health profession? Do you run into much flak or opposition from the more traditional medical field?
M.K.: The National Institutes of Health is composed of 27 different institutes, like the National Eye Institute, the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. And not one of the 27 institutes has the word “nutrition” in its title. Western medicine does not believe that food has anything to do with disease, and certainly not the Western diet. The entrenched interests are so powerful, the multi-national companies that make food and drugs sponsor the medical schools and the researchers, and nobody is going to stand up and say a vegan diet is the answer to high blood pressure. It’s much easier just to take a pill.
And there are the standard put-downs, like in the TV commercials that say, “When diet and exercise don’t work …” They’re telling us that diet and exercise is not going to work. But that’s because nobody’s doing the real diet.
Cutting down to three cheeseburgers instead of four is not a diet that’s going to work.
M.M.: But the word is still getting out there.
M.K.: Yes, you’ve seen everyone from Dr. Oz to Oprah talking about plant-based cooking, and there are movies like Forks Over Knives. And it’s also starting to percolate up through the medical leaders. If you go to Medline or the official medical libraries of NIH and type in the word “vegan”, you’ll get lots of studies…Vegan Diet and Arthritis, Vegan Diet and Diabetes, Vegan Diet and High Blood Pressure. It’s starting to show up in the medical studies.
And finally, you run into individual doctors. We’ve got a rheumatoid arthritis doctor who knows that his arthritis patients do better on a vegetarian diet. So it’s chinks in the armor. The wall of resistance is starting to crumble.
When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, it happened very quickly. I think that’s what may happen. It may happen with breathtaking speed how quickly a change to a plant-based diet gets official approval on a lot of levels. If they stop subsidizing the meat industry, the economics is going to dictate it, the public health is going to dictate it, the animal fairness, the Internet, all these things are forces that we may be astounded at how quickly the turn happens.