At the diet and health level I see some vegetarians eat a lot of dairy products: yogurt, cheese and ice cream. They substitute dairy products for meat to try and keep their protein levels high. This culture has protein paranoia.
Rebecca: If the health benefits of high protein consumption aren’t backed up by medical research, as you state in your books, where did this philosophy come from?
John: The original protein experiments were done on rats and mice. Rats need a lot of protein. Rat mothers milk is 47% protein. Human mothers milk is 5% protein. A baby rat gains weight rapidly on a certain pattern of amino acid balance which is very close to the pattern found in eggs and is approximated in meats and dairy products.
When Francis Moore Lappe wrote Diet for a Small Planet, she was accepting those studies and held the egg pattern as the ideal. She pointed out that if you combine grains and beans and other vegetarian proteins, there’s a certain synergistic complementary that develops, and you get an overall package which approaches the egg. It was a landmark book because it showed, even if you accept the egg as the ideal pattern, you do quite well if you combine your proteins.
Since that time she has changed her viewpoint quite dramatically. In the subsequent additions to that book she says that her emphasis on protein-complementary was mistaken. Not that it isn’t accurate, but it isn’t needed because our protein needs are much lower than we thought. The epidemiological studies are very clear and the biochemistry of the body is much better understood than it was in 1971.
Rebecca: Do you think that the success of the idea that a lot of protein is good for you stems from the belief in many people’s minds that bigger is better?
John: Yes, without a doubt. The pediatrician comes in and says, “how’s the child doing? Is he gaining weight?” Who cares?! Maybe we’re not all supposed to be the same size! Some of us are supposed to be much bigger than the standard norm and some of us are supposed to be much smaller.
Rebecca: In Diet for a New America you quote numerous studies from all over the world which time and again point to meat consumption as a major health hazard, studies conducted by leading medical authorities and health institutions. How is it possible that this information has kept relatively underground. Why don’t more people know?
John: You have to understand how the medical establishment works. It’s as if there was a problem with people falling off cliffs. At the bottom we have stationed the most expensive and sophisticated system of ambulances in the world, but we do not erect fences on top of the cliff. As a matter of fact, the companies that manufacture the ambulances and the collection of people that drive the ambulances would like to see laws passed that forbid the erection of fences.
There is a built-in investment for illness in the medical establishment. Of course it’s not an individual conscious desire on the part of the doctor for his patient to get sick, but the pharmaceutical orientation has developed because it is profitable.
Witness today what the FDA is doing to restrict the availability of herbs and vitamin supplements. The pharmaceutical companies support and endow the medical schools so that the average MD in their four years of medical school gets two and a half hours coursework in nutrition – and even that information is wrong!
Rebecca: There are so many people like your father who are on medications that cause horrible side-effects. How come the medical establishment isn’t investing more in education and prevention of illness?
John: There are more prescriptions written for hypertension than for any other condition. They’re very often prescribed for older men and the interesting thing is that most of them are blood thinners. One of the consequences of blood thinners in older men is impotence. Then you have a whole spin off from the other drugs that are called into play as a result of this.
If you can invent a pill that will lower blood pressure, even if it has all these side-effects, you can make a great deal of money, but if you teach people how to eat so that their blood pressure will not be high in the first place, it’s an uphill battle to make a living from doing that.
So, it’s not that people aren’t good, it’s just that everyone has to support themselves and their families, and how many people are going to be able to live in the genuine service of others given the economics of the situation slides in the direction it does? In a healthy society medical people are paid when their patients are well and not when they’re ill.
Rebecca: What are the meat and dairy industries doing to counter the information that is getting through to the public?
John: Oh, a great deal!(laughter) We get transcripts from their internal meetings and one of the major topics at one of their conferences was, what are we going to do about John Robbins?
David: Have you received any threats from the meat and dairy industry?
John: Oh yes, they’re anonymous of course, but I know who they’re from. They’re scared of the truth, but it doesn’t matter what happens to me because I’m just one voice who has the microphone at the moment. The truth is the truth.
Rebecca: Are they stepping up their PR campaign?
John: Are they ever! It’s a very parallel situation to what happened with the tobacco industry ten to fifteen years ago. As the medical information was finally making its way to the public, the first thing they did was step up their PR and advertising campaigns.
They’re trying to confuse the issue. Also, there are people in the FDA who would like to have the power of approving everything that you do and position themselves as arbiter. They say they do it for benevolent purposes to protect the public, but God save us from such benevolence. It’s a power trip, and it’s just another way of dominating people.
Rebecca: I love the story told by Tolstoy’s daughter where her aunt came to dinner and demanded to eat meat so Tolstoy tied a chicken to her plate, gave her a knife and said, “go ahead.” The idea of slaughtering an animal is horrifying to most people and yet they have no problem in having others do the killing for them. How is it do you think that so many people are able to eat meat without even thinking about what they are doing, without making peace with the process?
John: How it is that people can be so unconscious? As a culture we don’t value consciousness or awareness, we value performance. In schools there is no attempt to educate and show where the meat comes from. Then the industry has an agenda to keep the veil in place and to keep the denial fixed.
So, McDonalds will tell children during Saturday morning commercials that hamburgers grow in hamburger patches. When I first saw that I thought it was an innocent fantasy, but there’s no innocence to it. It’s a deliberate and sophisticated marketing ploy, the purpose of which is to obscure the reality that hamburgers are ground up cows, because children are uniquely sensitive to the animal experience. Hamburgers, if they grew on hamburger plants, would be vegetables.(laughter)
We are very self-justifying creatures and if we want to do something we’re very good at finding rationalizations to make it seem valid. Everything is done to separate you from the animal experience – the wrappings in the supermarket, the generic looking cuts of meat, the names – pork, beef, lamb.
The experience of being in a slaughter house is so dramatic that it gets us out of our heads, and I’m sure that many people’s rationalizations would fall away if they were exposed to that reality. You don’t have to be an animal rights activist or a vegetarian, if you see it, to be outraged – to be so grieved and disappointed, because it’s so extreme. It’s really gone beyond what most of us could imagine in our worst fantasies.
Rebecca: When Native Americans killed a buffalo they conducted a ritual dance where they acknowledged and atoned for that act. Today, in many parts of the world where people hunt for food, there is still that respect for the animal as a sacred and conscious being that is part of the universe’s living framework. How do you think we lost that connection?
John: Western civilization.(laughter) Television is an extreme example of removal from feeling experience. All you’re doing is looking and hearing, you’re not smelling or tasting or feeling.
We’ve isolated ourselves from nature and our own natures. Until we have communities and families that cherish one another we will continue to play out this hostility.
Ronald Reagan ran on this traditional family values platform, and Nancy Reagan stood up there and encouraged children to turn their parents in! There was a young girl who took Nancy up on it because her mother was selling marijuana. Nancy Reagan flew from Washington to California to have a press conference with this little girl and tell her that this showed that she really loved her mother. The girl’s mother was sent to jail, and it turns out that she wasn’t even a smoker but was