Dr. Greg Schwartz: Fighting climate change with your diet
Transcript of the No-Bullshit Vegan podcast, episode 76
Environmental science prof Dr. Greg Schwartz on fighting climate change with your diet
Karina Inkster: You're listening to The No-Bullshit Vegan podcast, episode 76. Vegan environmental science professor Dr. Greg Schwartz is on the show today, discussing how and why the best way to fight climate change is to change your diet.
Welcome to the show. I'm Karina, your go to no-BS, vegan fitness and nutrition coach. Thank you so much for joining me today for an episode all about diet and the environment, and particularly, climate change. Hope you've been doing well all things considered, during this very bizarre time of much less social contact, shut downs, working from home, and for a lot of people, anxiety and stress. I have to tell you about something that I'm getting into lately, and that is Airbnb online experiences. If you haven't checked these out yet, you totally should. I actually have to thank my awesome client, Rhonda, for telling me about this. Airbnb normally has experiences that you can sign up for, offered by local hosts. It's things like historical tours or sightseeing trips or wine tasting, but now in the time of COVID, they're changing their platform, to offer online experiences because of course the in-person stuff is not happening right now.
A few weeks ago, my friend and also my training buddy, Vanessa, and I took a class with a lady in Kenya, learning how to make some Kenyan foods like Ugali and curry and chapatti (which is actually Indian, but there's a lot of influence there.) And then just recently, my husband Murray and I took a class with a gentleman in India, whose family owns a restaurant in Delhi, and he taught us how to make two different types of pakora as well as masala chai. This coming weekend, my friend Vanessa and I are doing another class: this time, Moroccan cooking and baking. This is all via Zoom from the comfort of your own home or kitchen. I just found it's such a great way to connect with people all over the world. If you haven't checked out Airbnb online experiences, you should.
I did do a little bit of extra research, just FYI, just to make sure that I would be able to make vegan dishes for these classes. Most of the time, it's pretty easy to tell. It's pretty obvious that it's going to be a vegan friendly, or even a completely vegan menu. So check it out; there are a lot of things to learn. I've obviously only delved into the cooking classes, but there's a lot more to check out.
Alright: allow me to introduce our awesome guest for today, Dr. Greg Schwartz. He’s a vegan environmental science professor, former professional football player, and author of the new book, Bright Green Future. He's on Instagram as @theplanetdoctor, and can be seen in the Netflix original series Last Chance You season five, which I believe actually comes out today when this episode is airing, which is July 28th. Greg's favorite vegan meal is Thai green Curry. Hope you enjoy our discussion.
Hi Greg. Thank you so much for joining me on the show today.
Dr. Greg Schwartz: Karina, yes hello!
Karina Inkster: I'm really happy you're here. I feel like we're going to touch on some subjects that haven't really been looked at in depth on this show before. So I'm very excited to have you here. I think it's fantastic; you've got a lot of things happening. There's a book coming out. We’re going to talk about that for sure, but what I want to start with is something that I always start with when my guest is vegan. Of course that's the case here. Also, I'm learning about you along with our listeners, so this is all going to be kind of a “ get to know you" origin story. So: what’s your plant based trajectory, origin story, whatever you want to call it. How did you come to veganism?
Dr. Greg Schwartz: Those are always the best, because that's what it's all about, right? How do we get people to shift? You know, my parents are both Nebraska farmers, and we still own a cattle ranch in Nebraska. We are meat and potatoes folks. I played college football and I ate a lot of meat. I mean a lot of meat, like a half pound to a pound a day. I just slowly started feeling heavier, and I started noticing; starting learning how to cook and into my late twenties and early thirties, I just noticed that I ate less and less meat. It wasn't even intentional. I just felt better. And I stopped buying it. It did feel a little bit weird to buy it and to slice it up. It started to feel a little bit weird.
Anyway, I just was almost fully vegan in my thirties. I'm 48 now. And someone said, "Oh, you're almost vegan." And I said, "what's that?" And they said, "Oh, it's when you don't need animal products." I would kind of eat an egg once in a while. Anyway, that got compounded. So, at first it was just to feel good physically. Then it got compounded because I study, and research, and teach about the planet. I went back to get my doctorate in all of this political ecology, later in life. I started at age 40. That really hammered it home: I cannot eat this. I was still dabbling in animal products sometimes. I said, "I can't eat this stuff. I can't, I have to practice what I preach”, and that really brought it home. All along the way, I had definitely a soft spot for animals. Once you watch, as you know, once you watch a few of those videos, you can't un-watch them. The whole triumvirate just hit me: I feel better. I’m healthier. It's much better for the planet, and it's just absurd what we do, and allow to billions of animals. So: all three.
Karina Inkster: Amazing. So it started with a physical, probably athletic performance, health kind of perspective.
Dr. Greg Schwartz: Yes, exactly. I was looking the best, and feeling the best. This is right around when I was 30, 31. I was actually even in a Nike commercial, I was really, really fit. I was 5% body fat, and I thought: okay, I'm onto something here. I mean, I feel great. It was purely because I felt better in the beginning, physically, and performance.
Karina Inkster: You mentioned football. I also know that there's track and field though. Is that more of a current thing or a recent thing?
Dr. Greg Schwartz: A current thing, yes. I played football and baseball in college and then I played one year of pro football in Europe. I was a lot bigger than: I was about 210 ish and I'm 5’11, so now I’m 170. Later on, maybe 10 years ago, I just sort of realized, well, I want to keep competing, but I can't go play football. I was always like one of the fast layers. And so I said, well, I'll run track. I always was drawn to it. I run what's called Masters Track. It's for age groups every five years above 30. I'm in the 45 to 49. You compete against people your age, and you run whatever event you want. I do sprints. You get better results when you compete anyway. I just love it so much. It just brings me in contact with amazing people, who look so much younger than they should. There's more and more vegan athletes. I've been working out somewhat often with Tianna Bartoletta, who's moving into plant based direction. She's the reigning Olympic champion in the long jump. She's moving in that direction. It’s it's my new thrust and I love it so much.
Karina Inkster: Awesome. How long has it been for you being totally plant-based?
Dr. Greg Schwartz: Only about five and a half years.
Karina Inkster: Well that’s a decent amount of time!
Dr. Greg Schwartz: I know, it's settled in! I was first purely vegetarian, maybe 10, 12 years ago and then it kind of evolved. Like I said, in my early thirties, I was pretty much like 95%. So, about five and a half years, totally vegan.
Karina Inkster: Awesome. Did you start competitive track and field post-going completely vegan, or was there an overlap there?
Dr. Greg Schwartz: I started being vegan before I really earnestly competed, so I've been a vegan competitor as a Masters Track athlete. I ran a couple of meets when I was really young, but basically in this modern adult iteration, I'm a vegan track guy. As a vegan, I'm top five in the US in the 100 metres and 200 metres last time I went to Nationals. Not too shabby for a plant-based guy.
Karina Inkster: Not too shabby for a guy in general. That's awesome.
Dr. Greg Schwartz: I know. Well, it's almost like the opposite. I look at them and I'm like: "not bad for eating meat!” They’re lumbering around the track, you know?
Karina Inkster: That should be the real the real saying here: "not bad for an omnivore!"
Dr. Greg Schwartz: I know, I shouldn’t have even flipped it. That’s exactly right.
Karina Inkster: That's hilarious. That's awesome. What are you doing these days? There's teaching, there's environmental activism... what keeps you busy?
Dr. Greg Schwartz: I teach, and I have taught at a lot of schools. I used to teach at Cal State Northridge, but now I teach at a college here in the Bay area called Laney College. I teach Geography/ Environmental Science. Now it's all online. Hopefully it comes through that I like to talk, I'm lively, and I love to teach in person, so I'm really missing that. I'm doing more podcasts like this, and I have a book coming out in a few months. It just turns out that I'm on a Netflix original that's coming out next month. They profiled our college, and I was one of the teachers that they followed, and followed my lectures. It used to only be sort of personal profiles. I teach a lot about veganism, and how it affects the planet. They said it's the first time that they want to include the content of the lecture, not just my personal profile.
It really made me happy because they said they were sitting there, just the whole crew, was just sitting there watching, and and they asked me questions afterwards. They never do that. It's one of those zeitgeist topics that just sneaks in, and people just realize it's important; on the back end sometimes. That's going to be on that show, and that's one of the top ranked shows on Netflix. That's a big audience.
Karina Inkster: Well, that's a huge audience. That's super impressive. That's fantastic. Clearly the way that you are presenting these messages are getting to people.
Dr. Greg Schwartz: Thank you so much. I hope so. That's always my focus, and I want to bring good messages, and I want to be the message: hey, I’m living the life!
Karina Inkster: Honestly, we need more of that in academia. I feel like it's a very important, underrated skill to be able to take the academic world, and the studies, and the research, and then disseminate it in a way that a lot of people are going to connect with emotionally ( not just like “ oh, that's neat”, and then move on, you know?)
Dr. Greg Schwartz: That's been my goal from the beginning. I think that's one of the main problems with the academic world, is that lack of transferability. It’s really high level, obfuscated stuff. It goes into these journals that are convoluted and not that many people read. Then all that knowledge is wasted, or it’s just bounced around in echo chambers. It's always been my goal to bring this to the masses. It's an emotional connection, and it's a different kind of a connection, it's visceral, it's personal. I try to do that, and that's even looked down on in academia. It’s called ‘ activist scholarship’, and they look down on it. That is absurd to me. That's a bit of a generalization, but it's generally true. I love the academic world and I love what it is, but it needs to evolve like everything else.
Karina Inkster: Absolutely. Of course, we’re trying to connect with people in an emotional way to get them to act, hence the whole term activist, I guess. Is that what your goal is with the new book that you have coming out?
Dr. Greg Schwartz: My last book was more about educating people about (and I have my students read it, just give it to them); it's about educating people like, “ hey: we have climate change, here it is, and here's what you can do.” With this new book, we're pretty much realized we have climate change now, and it's pretty much accepted. That's not a huge hurdle anymore for most people. Now we want to let people know what people in institutions are moving the world forward: good stories from the field. Don't lose hope; look at all of the good that's happening. We want to change the narrative from a kind of doomsday to an empowering and a positive message. It's not fake. I, 100% from my knowledge base, my psychological base, and my spiritual base, know that we can turn this around very quickly.
There are some big changes that are happening to the planet, and some of them are unrecoverable, but some of them can be better than they were before. We have so much power to do that, and it's not as hard as we think, but a lot of us have to take action and consistent action; not even that large scale of an action, except by numbers. It's an encouraging book, it's a lot of profiles. It's very readable. It's sort of a journalistic style, it's certainly not dull. It’s incredibly informative, and it lets you know what's going on and moving us in the right direction, and food, and energy, and cities, and an industry.
Karina Inkster: That is excellent, and I cannot wait to get my hands on it. I think his episode is actually going to come out close to when it's published, but we're going to have a link too, if it's available for preorder, or order at the time that we publish this; we'll have that in our show notes. I'm very excited about that. So: what should we do? You mentioned this needs to happen on a large scale, but on an individual level, it might not actually be a ton that each person needs to do. What's the best thing that we can do to fight climate change?
Dr. Greg Schwartz: Well, as your viewers might already know. Sometimes it's surprising that the best way to fight climate change, without a doubt, and the most immediate (and the most personal) is to change your diet. Going vegan is the most massive impact, but there are other ways too. I mean, I don't want to be a purist, even though I am a vegan, but just moving in that direction makes a huge change. Just shifting off of beef to other meats makes a big change, and just keep moving in that direction. I think that people will feel better as they move in that direction. Also, it's a more attractive option than going all the way. "Hey, just take away all of it!” Some people will do that, and a lot of people do, but just moving in that direction is fantastic.
Going vegan and getting ourselves off of animal products is the number one way to save the planet. The main reasons are: it's the number one reason for deforestation. It's the number one consumer of water. It has, arguably, the largest carbon footprint, but you could go back and forth on that. Those are the main reasons, and those are sort of accepted. What's not really talked about is this term concentration of calories. My students asked me a lot about this. I know I'm biased, I'm vegan; I'm super into all of that. You try to remove yourself from the bias when you're in an academic setting and say, "let's just look at the numbers.”
If you have a million calories of corn, and you feed that to people, they get a million calories of nutrition. If you feed that food to a middleman, or a woman, like a cow, then that cow will burn about 90 of that energy; then you get 10% of those calories in flesh and meat. You've wasted 90% of the calories that a human could survive on, or an animal. So you’re just wasting it. That's why the water footprint is so high. That's why the carbon footprint is so high because you're feeding, and you're watering all these plants; you're using all these machinery and petroleum products to grow these plants, and then you only get 10% of those calories. It's a concentration of everything: water footprint, carbon footprint, calories. That's why it's so wasteful: you have this middleman. If you just eat the plants, then you cut out that wasteful step, you know? And frankly, it's true with everything: wine or beer, there’s a middle man there too. Just eat the grapes!
You know, obviously wine is okay, but it does have a higher water and carbon footprint, than just eating grapes or great juice. It’s nothing compared to meat and animal products. We can think of that: eating food in its natural form or original form, really cuts down on those impacts.
Going vegan or moving in that direction, if you just do that, you can (and this is dangerous to say), but you can pretty much just rest and say, "I'm doing my part to save the planet." Now, obviously there are other things to do. Don't use as much plastic and change your mode of transportation, but sometimes it gets overwhelming and we think there are so many things to do. Should I throw away this wrapper or recycle it? Those are important, but if you want to get the most bang for your buck, change your diet, move in the plant based direction. Try that for a few years, and then tackle some other things if you want. Those other things are important, but that's the easiest way to go.
Karina Inkster: I think a lot of vegans (and we do have a lot of listeners who are already in the plant based world, whether they're veg-curious or vegan, they're kind of in that world already.) A lot of us kind of know on a very baseline level that what we're doing is helping to fight climate change, but we're not really sure why exactly. What you're saying about the calorie concept is very interesting. I've never really thought about it that way before. We always hear stats like, “ it takes nine or ten pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat." We know on some level that there's waste happening here, but I've never really looked at it in the calorie sense. That's pretty interesting.
Dr. Greg Schwartz : Just looking at resource use, there's a cultural ecology and political ecology:we just look at flows of information, and resources and how they're most efficient and least efficient. Try to remove morality and look at it in that way. Sometimes people like to just look at it in a scientific way and not have the big moral plea, but the big moral plea is 100% my approach as well, because you cannot remove yourself; but some people like to look at it like that. In other words, even without the moral plea, it makes a lot of sense. There's other little details. If I'm speaking to an informed audience, I would say details like: when you eat fast food meat, especially fast food beef, there's a geographical component. It tends to come, more likely, from tropical areas: beef raised in tropical areas. If you eat a steak, it tends to come more from, say a temperate area, like Argentina, or the US, or somewhere else.
That's very important, because the soils in those areas are very different. If you get it from the Amazon, that's probably deforestation, and the soils in the tropics (even though they look very lush) above them, they're very poor. What you do is create desertification very quickly. You're ruining that soil in the temperate zones. There's still all the concentration of galleries and water and whatever, but you're not ruining that soil. The reason the soil is so important is that it sequesters more carbon than the atmosphere, and all the trees on earth combined. We have to treat our soil right. And there's many layers to that.
Karina Inkster: I'd love to get into that. Soil is not something we talk about a lot when we; what I mean by we is reasonably well-informed vegans who have not done a deep dive into the environmental impacts of our diets. We just kind of know on a baseline level what's going on. I'd love to hear more about this: the importance of soil, how, and why it sequesters more carbon than (you said) all the forests in the world, essentially?
Dr. Greg Schwartz: Yes. All forests and plants on earth, and the entire atmosphere.
Karina Inkster: ….and the atmosphere?! That’s craziness. Tell us more about this.
Dr. Greg Schwartz: Soil is the answer. It was the solution if you want to be alliterative. Unbroken soil and soil that has plants that are perennials, where the roots go very deep, it sequesters carbon deep in the soil. Plants are undergoing photosynthesis, and they shoot sugar down into the soil where little microbiota and funghi eat it. It becomes a part of their body. Even when they die, it becomes a part of the soil, and the soil forms better aggregates, so it's clumped. Basically, it holds the carbon longer from the air, because plants pull it out with photosynthesis.
When we uncover that soil; when we plow that soil (and we of course plow more and more and more in order to feed more and more animals, because we need more space to grow more crops because the concentration of calories, yada, yada, yada); when we expose that, the underground soil gets exposed to oxygen and you lose a lot of that carbon as carbon dioxide. It gets released and as microbial activity, they metabolize it. You don't want to plow soil if you don't have to.
The second reason is much more specific, and this points to eating organic. We can eat vegan, but not organic (not to put too many sorts of onerous challenges on us). If we have pesticides, we we spray them on the soil, or fungicides or chemical fertilizers, they kill the microbiota underneath the soil. Those bacteria and fungi no longer store that carbon as well; they don't metabolize it. They don't give the nutrients to the plant, and it gives back the sugar. That exchange sort of shuts down. The soil is not as fertile, and there's not as much of a production and storage of carbon. When they kill that life force with those chemicals, it's not storing as much carbon. Eating organic, and eating vegan so that we just don't plow more field, are the best two ways to keep our soil healthy. There's a term called regenerative agriculture, where it's basically called the “no-plow.” You can even not plow active fields, and it keeps the soil more carbon rich.
Karina Inkster: Interesting. I think a lot of people have a concept of organic as using no pesticides at all, which I think is a myth. There are still some pesticides that are used, but are they generally better for the environment? Are they tested? What's the deal?
Dr. Greg Schwartz: All agriculture uses pesticides, but we're talking about the difference between artificial chemical pesticides and natural pesticides. For instance, a duck that eats bugs is a pesticide because it kills. Anything that kills bugs is a pesticide. I spent a lot of time in Asia; every rice field has ducks, because they eat the insects, that eat the rice. Those ducks are technically pesticides. You can get ladybugs, and those eat aphids. Those are pesticides, but I know what you're saying. There are some chemical pesticides that are acceptable, and that's true. Sometimes it's a little bit blurry, but there's not much gray area. There are some that are deemed biologically degradable, and they're okay. You can absolutely trust the moniker of organic, and they're not harming the environment at all.
Karina Inkster: Well it's very highly regulated as well. I mean, not everyone could just slap an organic label on their product.
Dr. Greg Schwartz. True. The last time I checked the prices, which was actually several years ago, it was about $3000. It's probably doubled by now to get the organic label. You have to get a certification. I actually think it's one of the ways that the federal government is putting a hurdle in front of organic farmers, so they don't compete with conventional; because conventional has so many lobbyists. I used to bring my students and give free labor to our organic farms every year. We would give them hundreds of hours of free labor to help offset; well it would approximately offset the cost of that certification every year. Labor is really the biggest cost.
You can trust the label. It's hard to get; it's sort of self-regulated internally (kind of like blockchain). People kind of look at each other, and make sure no one's faking it. Organic isn't flawless; for instance, you can have organic chicken, and the animals are treated not so well, and this and that, but it's still a step in the right direction. When you’re talking about plants, organic is usually good. It's usually smaller scale, and it's usually more local. Not always, there are bigger and bigger organic production facilities now, but it's definitely good. Sometimes they don't even buy the label, because it's expensive, but you can ask farmers at a farmers' market and ask if they sprayed any pesticides, and they’ll say no. Ask if they use chemical fertilizers. And they say no. So, it's organic, and they just probably can’t afford the label. So you should ask really ask. Even some meats will say ’no this, no that, no that and again,’ (just getting into fighting words with vegans to say certain meats are better than others and just don't eat any), but it's important to really ask.
Karina Inkster: That's a great point. What about within the plant world then? I assume within veganism, it's pretty clear that eating a plant based diet overall is going to be way better for the environment, but are there areas within the vegan diet that we should avoid, or eat more of? I mean, organic of course is one area, but I'm sure that there are foods in the vegan world, that might use more resources, or cause more deforestation, or soil erosion, et cetera; maybe more than some animal products. I'm just kind of making that up, but there has to be something that we need to think about here, I assume.
Dr. Greg Schwartz: It's really important. I like your approach. It's very important to stay open minded like that and say, 'Hey, it's not just being vegan. It doesn't mean everything is perfect, right?’ I can say I ate vegan for a week, but I feel terrible. They say, well, what'd you eat? Well, I ate Oreos and vodka. I mean, those are vegan, but that doesn't necessarily ( you know like they say 'French Fry vegans’.) It’s the same thing for our body. For the planet and for your body, generally if you're eating vegan, you're doing much, much, much better, but there are some things.
For instance, the big one that we know about is palm oil. Of course palm oil is something I could talk about forever. I've spent so much time in palm oil plantations and factories, because they were near my research site in Costa Rica. Basically, it's a very efficient way to grow oil per acre, but they usually cut down tropical rainforest to produce it. It’s a red liquid oil, and it's generally used in Asia, and the developing world as a cooking oil. We're just trying to meet this massive demand on the planet, and we're trying to come up with ways to do it, but there are some sustainably sourced palm oils. There are, but most of them are not. You want to avoid palm oil. Again, we’re not really the main problem in the West with that, but we do eat a lot of it. It's in packaged foods: hot cocoa mix, cookies, crackers, and this and that: processed stuff. It’s definitely in vegan stuff, too. In the developing world, everything is made with it. Everything! Chips are fried in it; everything. It's also a very efficient biofuel, but it's tropical deforestation, so it's good to stay away from that if you can.
I'm trying to think; this is a great question. You’ve got me thinking and I will be thinking about this after we hang up. Of course, you have your general things like nuts, which have a very high water footprint.
Karina Inkster: Good point actually, I was thinking about almond milk. I don't know if it's myth or not, but there have been some ideas around water usage and how they compare to dairy milk. What do you think there?
Dr. Greg Schwartz: It’s not far off. Some might even argue that almond milk uses more water than dairy. But overall of course, almond milk is better than dairy, for many reasons. ( I've got to look that up too!) Nuts have a pretty big ecological impact, and the main one is water. The other thing is back to organic. I try to stay away from almonds because they have a big water footprint, but I do drink almond milk: organic almond milk sometimes. Oat milk is a much better option, as far as ecological footprint. I try not to parse too much because people may say “ dang, I mean, I’m already vegan!”
But you’re right. We have to look at it. If you're going to drink almond milk, drink organic. I did a video about this one time. Anytime you have a monocrop, people say, 'we're killing the bees with pesticides’ (and we are) but we're also killing them with monocrops. If you have a big crop of corn for 10,000 acres or almonds (if you drive up and down through California, it’s all almonds). It's amazing how many almonds there are. The bees will feast on all of that: all of that pollen and nectar for months. When they're dormant, then all the bees die, because there's nothing else in that ecosystem that's flowering at that time.
It's a seasonal thing, and that’s why bees are plummeting in North America. In the last 40 years; they've been around 50 million years, and they've cut in half in like the last several decades. We have to think about that. Short answer is: nuts have a very high water footprint, but they're a huge part of my diet. I try to just eat a lot of peanuts, peanut butter, but some people are allergic. Walnuts are often better. Even if you're eating almonds, try to go organic if you can, and you'll generally avoid hiccups. I'll think about that in the back of my head while we're talking, because I like that question question a lot.
Karina Inkster: This kind of ties into another one of the points we were going to get into, which is what's good for our bodies is also good for the planet. We know (and by we, what I mean is our listeners and people who are already vegan) that there are health benefits to being vegan, and being 100% percent plant based. Can you tie that together for us, what’s good for our bodies is good for the planet?
Dr. Greg Schwartz: If we think about our body as a tiny little ecosystem, like a contained system, and the planet as a contained system, you have some inputs that are toxic and they’re not good for that system. Anything we put into our bodies will eventually come out in many ways (such as excrement), and be processed by the planet. Anything we put into the planet, through waterways or airways, it will pass into our bodies. We think that magically, when we spray pesticides, they just go away, but they don't. Or, we think that magically, when we take all of these pharmaceutical drugs, many of which are very helpful (but I think we take too many), we think that magically, we put them in our body and then we urinate them out, and it just goes into the toilet and vanishes.
It’s doesn’t. It’s in our water supply then. It's the same thing with growth hormones that we put into the animals; they’re making young girls have menstrual cycles earlier. It's the same thing with fertilizers. We put too much nitrogen in our fields. They run off into waterways. I'm sure your listeners have heard of dead zones, that nitrogen still fertilizes. We put too much on, it fertilizes the water, algae blooms grow, and when they biodegrade, they suck up all the oxygen, and then all the fish die. These things run through our bodies, and run through the planet in these long cycles, and whatever we put into one or the other affects us. Toxins especially are what we have to look out for.
Pesticides: we know that they kill. I would say they kill on three levels. They kill humans. Eventually, if you eat enough of them, they're carcinogenic. Then they kill smaller animals: toads, bees, pollinators, moths. Then on the smallest level, they kill microbiota and soil. They really do kill; “ cide” means kill, of course. That’s just how I like to think about it, is that everything we put into us, or the soil or the ecosystem, doesn't just vanish. It's good for both.
In another way, you can look at that energetically. If these animals are raised in fear and torture, that energy doesn't just vanish. It's housed in their flesh when we eat it. We put that fear into them, we eat that, and ingest it. For most vegans, that is very much in our discourse. That becomes part of us. I always say, if you go out into nature and you're standing next to an elephant, you don't really feel any danger unless steps on you. The elephant is a vegetarian; it’s more mellow. If you're standing next to a lion, it will probably eat you because it's a carnivore. They're a little bit more aggressive, and so are people sometimes. That’s a pretty big generalization, because we can say vegans are pretty aggressive. Energetically, we have to look at that too: what's good for the planet is good for our bodies, and what’s good for our bodies is good for the planet.
I think that we have to remember that empirically, we look out (and I know technically I’m a social scientist and environmental scientist), and we say 'well, well, we can observe…..well, the resources are used, and this much number and that much number…. and yes, it looks better to be vegan, and this and that...' but we don't always empirically include are the things that we cannot observe, or that our instruments cannot register These are feelings, many levels of vibrations, visual, auditory, other sensory that we can not record, but that it exists. It's very limiting to only use the scientific method and only be empirical about this. Those feelings, those emotions, those vibrations that we espouse, have a huge effect on the planet. I think vegans would be nodding their heads right now. That's a long answer to that.
Karina Inkster: No, it's all good. I've heard from a lot of people that they noticed mental, psychological changes in themselves when they went vegan. Sometimes it's really hard to describe for people. I think this is kind of what you're getting at: even if it's not measurable. Honestly, I think science is the best method we have, but it's not necessarily the be-all end-all. It's just currently the best method we have to test ideas out.
Dr. Greg Schwartz: It absolutely is, and I’m certainly not saying that to throw it out; it’s just not the whole story. We have to add in other parts. When you talk to people that go vegan, it's interesting to me because they talk about physical and biological changes, but I always ask them: how have your thoughts changed? They immediately erupt and they say very commonly: I think more clearly.
Karina Inkster: That is pretty common.
Dr. Greg Schwartz: They do. It lowers the storms of energy inside of you. My first book a long, long time ago was just psychological and emotional; how to let go of beliefs that create storms of energy inside of you. There are many levels to that. I always say, not to use an unsavoury term, but it’s sort of the chicken or the egg. Did you go vegan because you changed how you think and feel about the world, or did you change how you think and feel about the world, and then you went vegan? It doesn't matter. You move in that direction, and things will shift. It’s similar to how eating healthy makes you want to work out, and working out makes you want to eat healthy.
There is definitely an emotional and psychological, and if you want, the spiritual aspect, of veganism.
I really think that it's a part of the evolution of the planet. We can't discount that. When people will say, "well, I eat what my ancestors ate and that's meat", or "I eat what a lion eats”; vegans never like to hear that." I say, well: let's just say your ancestors, you're proud of them. At that time they were probably cutting edge. They were the most ecologically aware and on the forefront. If they lived now, maybe they would be vegans, because now we're in a different world, and they would adapt to it differently. It’s the same thing with “ I eat what lions eat” or whatever, which is a specious argument on many levels. I won't even get into it, but there's nothing else that we do like lions, you know what I mean? We don't sniff each other in the butt, we don't sometimes kill our young, we just don’t. We’re not lions. And so we evolve. We evolve and I do believe that to survive, we need to shift to mostly plant-based. I believe that it's spiritually part of our evolution, as well. That's my personal bias.
Karina Inkster: I think you're onto something here. What kind of research would you like to see? You know, this is a waving a magic wand kind of situation. If science could measure everything what, what kind of research would you want to see? That's, you know, peer reviewed, and published, and very academic, but might touch on some of these topics.
Dr. Greg Schwartz: Wow. That's weird. It's like oil and water, because I'm thinking of that peer review process, and it's unbelievable how much they denounce these kinds of investigations.It’s too bad. I can't imagine that, but again, I love your question. I think that one of the big things that I would like to be somehow measured, and it almost sounds difficult, very difficult to do this, but what keeps me up at night sometimes (and I think people need to wake up to)- that's a strange phrase- but is the amount of suffering that exists in the animal kingdom. Specifically, in these food animals that we're raising: 50 to 70 billion a year, it's just catastrophic. If there was some kind of a Geiger counter that could just measure suffering, it would overwhelm us. We would realize that there's a sickness in us, that we can exist amidst that amount of suffering, and just ignore it.
There is a sickness, and that's a little bit negative, but it just surprises me. Somehow to measure that and then say "wow, look at all this suffering, we got to decrease that”. It's like the water footprint and similar; those hard numbers helped to push us, but we don't quantify the suffering. That would be good. That would kind of wake us up. If you see stats on how many kids are abused or how many people are starving, it really hits us. We quantify it, you know? That would be important. Then, I guess just some sort of overall feelings of wellbeing that people have as vegan; it’s tougher to quantify it. You can get at it by certain lines of questioning. You can put a scale on it. I did this in some of my doctoral research. It's very common. You put a scale, say from one to 10 and ask: how do you feel now, based on how you felt the month ago before you went vegan? You know, there are ways to quantify it. That's definitely possible.
Karina Inkster: That's a really interesting question. I know it's kind of a random, or really interesting idea. I know it's a random question. I think with quantifying things, you're onto something, because when people see those numbers and see hard evidence, it's more likely to affect them emotionally, I think, at least a certain percentage of the population, probably. If we could quantify this suffering that you mentioned in animals in the food industry, that would be a kick in the ass for a lot of people to go vegan.
Dr. Greg Schwartz:…just to avoid that suffering, you know?! We’re just a little bit too casual about it; a little bit too casual about eating meat, and not thinking about the ramifications. We’re too casual about a lot of things, and we're too serious about somethings. Quantifying it is good. I was talking to a friend the other day. She is fairly conservative, and she was kind of one of those semi- denying that racism is that bad. I was trying to quantify it for her in some way, and she said "show me the evidence. You know, it's just people saying they feel this and that." Well, that's valid anyway. I said red lining in real estate, and Jim Crow laws, and voting, and all of these things... it kind of did start sinking in. This is systematic, this is institutional. These are ways that we can help; giving some sort of quantifiable thing can help.
We've really gotten better at that in so many documentaries, and so many sites I've seen these. These pro-vegan approaches are getting so much better. We all kind of borrow this content from each other, and of course give each other credit, but it's getting better. Another main theme of mine is: try to be an example, so that people like the idea of going vegan. We need our brow-beating militant vegans because we need them; because we need to hammer home the point. Yet also, I lean toward the other side of just saying: "Hey, I have a lot of information. I am living this life. I love it.” Not everyone asks are you vegan, but give it a try, move in that direction, and see how you feel. Any step in this direction is good, because it's kind of like this concept: you can't see there, all the way to the end, from here. Just take a few steps, and then you see different things.
The scenery changes, your mind changes,and your body changes. Then you can see; and then from the halfway point, maybe you'd say: " Oh, I definitely want to go vegan, but maybe not from where you are." Taking a few steps can really help. Frankly, if the whole world just went vegetarian, it would completely transform climate change. Then of course, from there we can move more towards veganism, but just some changes in that direction. Of course it's happening fast, but there is a lot of intransigence as well. Like I say, I want to be an example. I want to make it attractive to be vegan.
Karina Inkster: Well, I think that's what you're doing and you're doing it well.
Dr. Greg Schwartz: Likewise, likewise. Thank you.
Karina Inkster: Awesome. Well, Greg, thank you so much. It's been great speaking with you. We're going to have show notes, where people can get their hands on your book, and connect with you. Is there anything that you want to leave our listeners with before I let you go today?
Dr. Greg Schwartz: Oh gosh, nothing except I'm so happy for each and every one of you that are listening now, because as I was saying to Karina before this, we're all part of a tribe. I'm honored to be part of this vegan tribe.
Karina Inkster: Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.
Dr. Greg Schwartz: Yes, thank you so much!
Karina Inkster: Greg, thanks again for joining me today. I really enjoyed speaking with you and congratulations on your new book. Head to our show notes at nobullshitvegan.com/076 to connect with Greg, and to get your hands on his book when it's released. Thanks so much for listening, and I'll see you soon!