Last weekend I met up with Jennifer at Plum Bistro in Seattle. This was my first time at this restaurant, as well as our first time meeting. I was really excited about meeting Jennifer because I knew from a friend that we had a lot in common around our interest in diet and health, as well as our love for classical music and good plant-based vegan food. A few weeks before, Jennifer had sent me their link and I had looked over the menu. It all looked amazing! Everything on their menu is local, vegan and organic. The place has an industrial feel with a warm & modern atmosphere. The music that was playing was a varied mixture of folk music. Here’s my interview with Jennifer:
What is it that you do again? I’m a symphony musician. What instrument do you play? Bass. How long have you been doing that for? I guess, 21 years. Started professionally 20 years ago. That’s right, I also went “veg” 21 years ago. What was it you mentioned about the BP Oil spill? (before recording) I’m from Clearwater, which is on the coast where that was all affected. Where I’m from there are all these amazing animal sanctuaries with dolphins, sea turtles, manatees and sea birds, so I got in touch with them. I’m not trained in animal rehab, so I just had to start at the bottom and offer my services. I took a month off work and just did that. What were you doing at the time? Working here, but being from there and very attached to that area – I grew up, not on the beach, but I’d go to the beach a lot and I just felt very attached to the water and to the animals.
Our food arrives, the waiter asks us if we need anything else. We tell him, “No, Thanks!” Then we both laugh at the sight of our huge portions and how delicious it all looks…mouthwatering! Jennifer says,
This is definitely not Forks Over Knives approved. Nooo! (I agree and we laugh). It’s enormous! I wasn’t quite expecting that. Would you like to take a piece [of mine]? Yes, and you can have part of mine. [We exchange food]. So did you go vegan 20 years ago? No, I wasn’t vegan, I was vegetarian. What inspired that? I was actually taking a Swiss High School program called an “international baccalaureate” and they focus much more on understanding and why rather than on memorization, like most American programs. In the first year we had a class in inquiry skills, similar to a philosophy class, and the teacher gave us a PETA magazine. It was the first time I saw a picture of a slaughterhouse and I looked at it and was so shocked. I had no idea that this is where the animals, what I called “food”, that that’s where it came from. I looked at it and just thought, “I don’t need this and I don’t want any part of this…of this torture!”
Going Meat & Dairy Free
Did you really know at the time that you didn’t need it? All I knew was two things: I’m totally OK without this and I just knew that I would be fine without it! I went home and told my mom, “I’m not eating meat!” She asked, “What are you going to eat?” I said, “Don’t worry I’m fine.” She didn’t get upset with you? No, they just all left me alone. I’m really grateful for that because if they’d given me a hard time that would have been really awful! I think they knew that I had made up my mind and there was no changing it. I think that when we’d go out to eat my mom would always be curious. She always wants to try what I’m eating. She’s not vegan but she wants to be. I was always allergic to dairy and eggs…even though I didn’t know about the dairy industry at the time I was hardly eating any at all. I learned about the dairy twelve years ago and that was when I mentally made the decision that I’m not going to do that again. I think you asked about the health benefits? Yes. [I’d sent Jennifer a list of questions before we met for her to think about]. I noticed right away that I felt better, because it takes meat so much longer to digest, so I felt better after meals. I felt like I could just keep going! Yes, without feeling lethargic! Right! Then when I stopped dairy, I used to run up the stairs at Discovery Park or try to, but I’d have to stop half way because I’d get tired and out of breath. But when I stopped dairy…I hadn’t put it all together. I was hardly eating any. Perhaps three times a year, but when I totally stopped I was able to run all the way to the top without getting out of breath. That was the only thing that changed. I wasn’t working out differently. I’ve noticed that myself because I used to love cheese. I did too. And when I’d walk the dog, there are a large set of stairs we’d run up and I’d always be out of breath at the top, but since being on this diet I haven’t had any of that. I feel stronger than I was before!
We continue eating and talk about how often we each go “home” to visit. Jennifer tells me that this year she’s been going to Los Angeles more often after getting into the circus arts.
So you have been doing trapeze arts? Flying trapeze. How long have you been doing that for? Since February. Only since February? I‘m impressed. In your photos you look so skilled at it! I know a little bit. I’m definitely in the beginner end. I just started that because if not now, then when? I’m terrified of heights but it’s been really interesting. I thought, I’ll just try it once, but then I had friends who asked me to go back and I realized this fear kind of is fading. It’s totally fading and I’m getting really strong. I do all these pull-ups and all kinds of stuff that I never thought I’d ever be able to do. I’m now more physically fit than ever. I think I’ve gained six pounds of muscle earlier this year from doing this. Earlier I started doing the fabric, like you see in Cirque du Solei. In the symphony, all you use are these tiny muscles and you’re sitting the whole time. You’re not using your whole body, only part of it.
Promoting “Forks Over Knives”
Tell me about your work with the producers of Forks Over Knives. Was this a paid job? I started out as a volunteer and then it became paid, but then I donated all the money to Mercy for Animals. I felt kind of weird about taking all the money. I was working at least 60 hours a week. I discovered it through the e-Cornell Course on plant based nutrition. A movie called “Forks Over Knives” featuring Dr. Campbell, right. I read his book, The China Study first, and then I looked into it and discovered there was a class. Then I saw the movie and that’s how I met Brian [the executive producer] when they screened up here. He had also read the book, The China Study, and he said more people need to know about this and that’s when he started talking to Dr. Campbell and Dr. Esselstyn and said this needs to be made into a movie! Robert Cheeke had just been up here for Veg Fest and he had been hired by Forks Over Knives and I told him that I’ve been trying to volunteer for them forever. He said, “Great, you’re on! Let’s get going!” So I was putting up posters and handing out flyers everywhere. I’d try to find businesses that would cross reference and I’d tell them about it. I got every single vegan restaurant, health food store, yoga studio…any place I could think of that would benefit. Actually yoga studios were a great place to promote it at. They were the most perceptive in some ways, especially the New Age community. More so, even than the activists. Some of the activists said, “We don’t really want a health regimen. We want the cruelty argument!” But I don’t think that they realize that the cruelty argument is in the movie too. Personally, I went into this for health reasons, but then I kept meeting up with my vegan friends, who were also into animal rights, and as a result that turned me on to the activism side of things! It wasn’t that I didn’t know. I just wasn’t as fully aware of the extent of how horrible things really are. I don’t think that you can watch this film and change your diet this radically without at some point having to face this side of things. I think that activists are missing a point here if they don’t get that this film can, and I believe has, actually turned a lot people into animal right activists!
Seattle ended up being the third longest running city [for Forks Over Knives] and they asked, “Would you be willing to do this promotion for the whole country?” Basically coordinate and find people like me, who would do promotion in the city. They asked me if I’d do the same thing I had done in Seattle, prior to the opening, and do that for every single city, so I did 13 cities per week in North America trying to find a head volunteer that I could just train to do what I did and just get them out there. Whole Foods was amazing! There was a certain job description and if you could find that person, they would just instantly say, “Yes” to whatever you asked them to do. They would give away free food at the opening. Whole Foods was really into cross-promotion. Most of the health food stores were really into it. I was just blown away about how easy it was. Had they already seen it? No, most of them hadn’t even seen it. They just said yes. What would you tell them? I would tell them that this is a film based on the largest study of humans and their diet. And the gist of it is that you can eat your way to health through your diet. The only thing people usually would ask, “Is it religious?” They liked that the movie wasn’t like, “If you don’t eat vegan you’ll die!” It’s just saying that if you eat this you’ll have a greater rate at health. Some people really like that, it’s not extreme in their minds. I didn’t really have to say that much. Usually people just said, “Yes, we’ll take that!” At the most they’d ask to see the trailer. I think that movie is resulting in the most change. It is so powerful! I tell at least one person per day, a total stranger, about that film. Yesterday, for example, I was at Trader Joe’s and I told this couple about the film, plus the guy who checked me out. So, if I could make commission off that film… That’s awesome! Forks Over Knives is the first film to come out in mainstream media that’s powerful enough to convince people that you can actually be healthier eating this way.
“The one who laughs last laughs best”
I couldn’t think of any funny vegan stories, but I’ve thought of one. This ties into the circus performances, so we’re playing one – it’s called “Cirque de la Symphonie” and they have circus performances on the front of the stage with us and I’ve always been a huge fan of this. There was this girl climbing the fabric and I’ve always been a huge Cirque du Solei fan. I’m looking at her and thinking, that’s better than anything I’ve ever seen in my life. There’s something different! She comes into the musicians lounge and is getting something to drink, so I told her, “That was amazing!” One of the guys I work with he comes over and heard me say this to her. He then says, “You know she can only do this because she eats meat.” Then Christine turns to him and says, “Actually, I’m a vegetarian! I’ve been a vegetarian for 23 years.” [We laugh out loud!] And he completely just shut up! Normally he’s really loud and obnoxious. Well, that’s how I got started on taking the trapeze lessons. Christine’s got the most amazing physique! At first I was terrified of heights, but if I was going to try it, I’d try it with people I know and trust. I just spent August with her and flying trapeze. Are you performing for a crowd? No, no I’m just a student! It’s really hard, but you get so strong. I’m at the point where they’ll do it without safety lines. They are very good with that. It’s very safe! It’s sort of like rock climbing where you have a line. That was a really great story, by the way! Yes, after years of getting those sorts of comments and I don’t really like to argue with people, but here was one of the world’s strongest women, in my book. Well, you look very strong as well! [Jennifer flexes her muscles at me with a big smile on her face!]
For my last birthday, I told people that if they really wanted to do something for me, they should go watch Forks Over Knives and actually some people went that I didn’t know were going to go. And they came back and said, “Oh Wauw!” They didn’t go vegan, but they cut way back [on meat & dairy]. Yes, if I knew I was getting together with people for Christmas who hadn’t seen this film, that would be my gift to them! I wouldn’t come with any other gift…I would say “This is IT! Now go home and watch it.” I can’t think of a better gift to give someone than that film! That’s awesome! It’s a powerful film! My aunt & uncle in Salt Lake City just ordered it. I’ve been a huge promoter of this film! That’s what so nice about it. You can promote it to anybody and not be worried that they’ll be offended or shocked by anything in the movie in a harsh way. They’ll enjoy it and have fun! It has funny parts to it. So many food documentaries are depressing and kind of leave you without a solution. But I do think that Forks Over Knives, what I’ve heard from other people, does leave some with a lot of questions as to, “How do you do it?” Now I just set out and ordered a bunch of books and I already knew about being on a vegetarian diet, so the switch wasn’t as extreme for me as I imagine it being for others. That’s why they made that companion book right after. Right, and I got that one too, plus their latest cookbook and every book they’ve recommended, including the latest, “Bravo!” cookbook by Ramses Bravo. I haven’t gotten that one yet. I even got the little green book by Dr. Lederman, the doctor in Forks Over Knives. His lecture, when I took the E-Cornell course, was one of my favorite on supplements.
Thank you so much, Jennifer! You ROCK! You’re such an inspiration. I look forward to seeing you again!