After so many years of working in the medical field, helping to educate both patients and doctors about plant-based nutrition, are you happy with the progress achieved?
Not when people continue to die unnecessarily. Hundreds of thousands of people continue to die from preventable reversible diseases. Until no one dies from a disease that can be reversed with simple lifestyle changes I won’t be happy.
What are you focusing on these days and what will be your focus next year? Any special plans, special projects?
I’m just buffering out enough videos to get eight months of videos queued up so I can take that time to write my next book “How Not To Diet” on weight loss. Then I will spend a year on the road getting the information in people’s hands, then buffer out more videos and write the next book, then go on the road and buffer out more videos, write the next book, go on the road for the next four books. That’s the next few years of my life.
Do you see yourself more as a vegan activist or as a doctor worrying about the public’s health? What is your main passion?
My passion is reducing suffering of everybody. I am a doctor first though and that’s the most important thing, and if eating healthy has other beneficial effect – global warming, animal suffering – then great, but that is just the icing on the cake. The important thing is to help people live long healthy lives.
Who would you say is your biggest inspiration nowadays? Any activist in the medical or animal rights fields you especially look up to?
I look up to tons of people. Dr. Kim A. Williams, Dr. Neal Barnard, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn. All these are titans of the field. It is important to recognize that I don’t actually do any research and I only kind of take the research of others and then bring it to the world and so the real credit goes to people who have dedicated their lives to doing this research, and it’s just such a tragic shame that for many of them their research never sees the light of day, it’s just kind of buried in some dusty stacks of the basement of some medical library and never gets out to the world where it can help people. That is where I come in, but one has to give props to the people that actually did the hard work of the research in the first place.
You’ve done so many things – published books, appeared in movies and so much more. what do you think had the biggest impact so far?
I think documentaries are really powerful, and books, I underestimated books. I didn’t want to write my “How Not To Die” book because I thought “who’s reading books anymore?”, It just seemed like a kind of a dying art form, but oh my god! I’m so glad I did! it’s been a tremendous success and reach so many people that would otherwise not been exposed to this information. I was thinking “it’s all free online, why would someone buy a book?”, but now people really like books. Same thing with documentaries, It is just a very powerful medium. There has been a lot of buzz about one of the latest documentaries – “What The Health”, getting lots of feedback from people of all the lives that has changed and so. “Forks Over Knives” and these are really kind of landmark events and I think there should just be lots more.
When you’re meeting people face-to-face, what strategy you see working best convincing people to switch to a plant-based diet? Is that something you talk about?
It depends on the person, you find out what they care about… So if it is a young person I’m not gonna talk about heart disease, I am going to talk about acne, and athletic performance and the stuff they care about.
If it’s an older person then I’m going to talk about some of the things they see that their friends and family are dying from. Or for people that don’t give a damn about health at all, I’ll talk about anything. We have tremendous power over health, destiny, longevity. The vast majority of premature death and disability is preventable with the plant-based on other healthy lifestyle behavior. So we should do it or at least we should be informed so we can make up our own choice.
What is the biggest obstacle you encounter when talking face to face with people about plant-based lifestyle?
I think it is difficult for human psychology to think long-term. That’s definitely one of the problems. The pepperoni pizza is in front of them right there and they are going to taste it the next minute or so. Heart disease, diabetes, blood pressure… those just seems so far off to them. The lung cancer is far in the future whereas the pleasure one gets from smoking a cigarette is right there.
It is important to be able to tell people that when they smoke a cigarette the negative effects actually happen within minutes, which is also why your health can improve within days of smoking cessation. Same thing with eating healthier. That’s why I try to bring it back to short-term benefits – people report feeling better or sleeping better, having less constipation and more energy, having less painful periods. Things that can help bridge that gap between these seemingly far-off dire consequences and the donut right in front of us.
What is your opinion on the current state of the plant-based nutrition movement? What are the biggest challenges it is still facing and what are you hoping to see in the future?
I am hoping this information gets out there. If people want to smoke cigarettes, let them smoke cigarettes. Your body your choice. You want to go skydiving? Bungee jumping? Do whatever you want. As a physician, all I can do is share with you the predictable consequences of your actions. If you smoke a pack a day of cigarettes then people in your situation are more likely to suffer from certain diseases. And if they choose to continue to smoke cigarettes, that’s totally up to them, but at least they have that knowledge and are doing it with some sense of informed consent.
The same thing with diet. Processed meat, for example, is a category one carcinogen. We are as sure that foods like bacon, ham, hot dogs, lunch meat and turkey slices cause cancer as tobacco smoke, asbestos and plutonium cause cancer. Yet people continue to give it to their kids and it is sold in school lunches. They should certainly be able to do whatever they want and damage their own health as long as they understand what the risks are. As far as I am concerned, as soon as everybody knows the truth I can retire and stop working so hard.
Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM is a physician, New York Times bestselling author and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, among countless other symposia and institutions; testified before Congress; has appeared on shows such as The Colbert Report and The Dr. Oz Show; and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous “meat defamation” trial.