Transformative M&M’S

This past week, while I was in Washington, D.C. attending the amazing “Food For Life Instructor training”, I got the chance to interview several of my fellow Food For Life classmates, including one of the instructors. Joseph is a registered dietician who works for PCRM (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine) and I was curious to learn more about his personal journey towards becoming a plant-based vegan. Please keep reading for more about the transformative M&M’s, plus Joseph’s personal dietitian journey from home to the Marshall Islands to Washington D.C.!

Tell me about the program you attended in California. The program was a school for dietetics and they offered a program at Chico State University that would make you eligible to take an internship to become a dietician. At Chico State I didn’t have that great a selection of professors so I went to a few lectures and decided that I needed to go to Bastyr University in Seattle because they had a more whole foods type approach. Who told you about Bastyr? The person who told me was Brenda Davis who is a really big whole foods plant-based advocate and she’s an excellent speaker, a very knowledgeable person. She does a lot of work with diabetes in the Marshall Islands, which is an island in the middle of nowhere, about 2000 miles south west of Hawaii where there’s a huge diabetes epidemic because of their diet…because of imported foods.

Bastyr University in Washington State

At Bastyr University, they really hone in on a whole body approach and a whole foods approach. So we not only have biology, anatomy & physiology and all of that but we have whole foods cooking classes. Learning about where the foods come from. Local Co-Ops and Farmers Markets will come in and show us cooking techniques, so I just fell in love with that! How long did you attend Bastyr? I was there for two years and did a nine month internship at Washington State, right there in Tacoma. Yes, I’m very familiar with the Seattle/Tacoma area. Bastyr, by the way, had a vegetarian cafeteria, which unfortunately recently switched. Were you a vegetarian when you started? Sure was! I had been a vegan for maybe 12 years. 

Tell me about what inspired you to become a vegan. About 13 years ago, I was working at a mountain resort in Utah and a friend of a friend who was a pastry chef at the mountain resort. He was getting out of work a little early and I was as well. We were waiting for our mutual friend and there’s this alpine slide, it’s called, so I said “Let’s go ride this!” So we were hanging out and I offered him some M&M’s (chocolate candy) and he declined it and I asked him, “Why don’t you want any candy?” and he said, “Oh, I don’t eat milk chocolate.” And so I asked the stupid question, “Why?” And it changed my life! So tell me what was his answer? His answer was…I can’t remember exactly, but something along the lines of “I don’t eat dairy because I don’t think it’s a very healthy thing to do. I really support the animals and I know how much suffering happens from dairy production.” And I laughed at him. Straight up, I laughed! And I said, “What are you talking about? I said, “That sounds insane, but do tell me more!” He went on about dairy production in a really nice way. He wasn’t trying to make enemies. I barely knew the guy.  I kept asking “Why?” and kept thinking in the back of my mind “How can I be wrong?” I was pretty young…sixteen or seventeen years old. He said exactly what I didn’t want to hear, so he drove me to test the diet out. He said, “Come and hang out! We’ll make food. I’ll teach you more about this stuff!

My new friend, Art, told me about Dr. Michael Klapper, about Dr. Greger…all these vegan doctors that I had no idea even existed and I started learning about this stuff. In addition, he was also a personal chef, as a side job, so he gave cooking instructions for families. Some families where the mother had fibromyalgia, some families where they were just trying to eat healthier. Art was also the director of a breast cancer retreat center, so he hired me to be his assistant chef, we became friends and I began cooking with him. I would go around with him from home to home and make some money as a high school student and I really started getting into it. What happened was I had some pretty severe allergies and one of the first things he told me was that if you give up dairy those will go away! Of course I didn’t believe him. I was kind of a punk kid and a bit rebellious, so I kind of wanted to prove him wrong, but when I went off dairy for a little while my allergies completely went away! How long did you go off dairy? For maybe a month or two, but after a couple of weeks I noticed an improvement. For example, when I was around tall grasses I didn’t have a reaction, so I thought, “Well, maybe there’s something here!”

[We pause in our conversation to eat something and return to his friend Art.] The man is a walking dictionary for vegan nutrition! Now I was cooking food with him, simple kinds of foods. I went to a few breast cancer retreat seminars with him and cooked food for these ladies with breast cancer, so that’s how I really became ingrained in vegan nutrition, because I saw what the diet was doing for women with breast cancer and it was helping them stay in remission and it opened my eyes. I didn’t really have a path until this moment, until I learned, “Hey, Wait a second. Diet can help change people’s lives forever! Diet can reverse heart disease!” I just didn’t know how and I said, “I should probably be a dietician!” I didn’t even know what a dietician was at the time. So I asked Art, “Should I go and become an expert in nutrition?” And he responded, “Yes, you should!” So I said, “Well, OK I’ll go do it!” A few years pass by, I graduate high school and decide to go into a career in dietetics. What did your parents say to that decision? They were happy that I was going to go do something! They were worried that I was going to be a failure. Happily now, I have two vegetarian parents. You do? Oh yea! That’s awesome! My parents really supported me! Took them a while to come into the diet themselves..but they did. 

That’s how I got into this stuff. I can name so many experts in the field and just to name a few: Brenda Davis & Reed Mangels. Reed Mangels wrote the physician paper on vegetarian nutrition for the American Dietetic Association, which is now called the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. I have now been the nominating chair for the dietetic nutrition group within the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. That’s awesome! 

This is the really interesting part though, Art and my father went into business together. As a vegan and a snowboarder, there wasn’t much that Art could eat on the mountain. It’s not good healthy food up there. In the ski resort it’s all about tourism, restaurants, and all of that, so Art decided that he would carry around a bar that he made himself with granola, nuts, brown rice syrup, peanut butter, and carob chips. Do you know carob? Yes, I do! He would mix it all together with the peanut & the rice syrup, bring it to the mountain and trade it for massage work. They would sell his bars at a local market. Once he started getting a little bigger and had hired me, as his assistant, to make these bars,  stuff them into muffin tins, wrap them in cellophane and sell them at this little tiny market. And then, he decided that he wanted to get bigger and expand. My Dad offered to go into business with him, so my Dad invested in the  company. The company was called Pro Bar. The company grew and grew. With my Dad so busy with his other job, he decided to sell the company, or at least his share. Right when my Dad sold the company someone with a little bit more money could invest in it and it took off, so now you go to any Whole Foods or Natural Health Store and you’ll find Pro Bar. That’s interesting, I’ve heard of that name! There’s also a line called “Fruition”, which I think was in your gift bags and also “Halo”. Have you heard of Halo? No, I don’t think so. Well, it’s all Pro Bar and it’s all based in Salt Lake City, Utah. Is your Dad still an owner? No, we’d be rich if we were. He sold the company. It was just a really interesting endeavor because we basically started a company together.

…and in the process Save Your Own Heart! 

Basically, I came at all of this from a health angle, but then you start to look at how the animals are raised and treated. You start to watch these videos that are just terrible, gruesome and cruel [about animals in Factory Farms] and you just really start to have a heart again. Let’s face it, the world is so disconnected with what’s going on! We don’t see where our food is coming from. We don’t see how animals are raised. We don’t live like human beings anymore. Would you mind if I quote you on that? No, it’s the truth! Yes, it is the truth!  

Tell me about how you got to here [Washington D.C.]. I love Brenda Davis! She’s a dietician and she is the most knowledgeable dietician that I know. She worked in the Marshall Islands to help set up clinics and put people on a vegan diet. This wholesome natural and healthful diet, helped  people with Type II diabetes eliminate their disease, or greatly manage it. I really feel it’s important to say that your mental attitude towards anything that you do is, in my opinion, more important than anything you put in your body. I firmly believe that! The power of the mind is so important! The placebo effect, meditation, setting goals…if you believe that you’re going to do it then you’re going to do it. You can’t just live on a vegan diet forever and expect never to get cancer. You have to have the right attitude! Plus there are lots of things that indirectly attribute to good health that are linked to a plant-based vegan diet because it helps you loose weight, reverses and prevents diabetes and heart disease, etc. But I firmly believe that having the right attitude is so important! Do some yoga. Have faith in something whether it is Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, or what have you. Just have faith in something and that you’re a human being who wants to do well in this world and have a positive impact on this world! The world is cruel and unfair, but small positive affirmations, along with positive food choices, can have a huge impact on overall health. 

Marshall Islanders & Diabetes

Back to how I got from Bastyr to here? Oh, it has to do with Brenda Davis! I went to the Marshall Islands and spent a few weeks there. I got to meet these wonderful, beautiful people, the Marshallese, and I got to counsel them on their dietary patterns and cook for them. I got to see blood sugars go from the 200’s or 300’s to the 150 mark within days. Really? Yes, I couldn’t believe it! Not everybody, but those who had sugars in the 4 or 500’s – literally within four days of our whole food, high fiber, plant-based diet they could loose 200 points of their blood sugar within four days! When I got my internship hours completed I got an internship with Washington State University and now here’s what I have to say about getting an internship in dietetics, it’s really hard! First, I applied to Cornell, Bastyr, and to Penrose College in Colorado. Why they turned me down, I don’t know. Maybe my grades weren’t all there or my applications weren’t all perfect, so I applied for a second round of internships which you normally always get and I did get it, so I really had a good interview with Washington State. They had me come on board. I did clinical and community nutrition, I worked at WIC (Women, Infants & Children Nutrition Program), and I worked in the school cafeteria. I called myself “The School Lunch Lady”. I was probably the best school lunch lady that ever existed and you can quote me on that! You know why? Because I was there for the students. I made integrated dishes that weren’t the norm, passing out surveys, getting the kids familiar with plant-based foods. You can’t make everyone go vegan but it was a good experience. Then I graduated and had to take the exam, the dietetic exam and passed! The point is that I became a dietitian. 


Marshallese Women Defeating Diabetes 

Ok, so you went to the islands. Tell me more about that! Yes, so I went to the islands and to the hospital, where I got to see  about five to ten people with amputated legs or arms. Because of diabetes? Yes, diabetes is a death sentence in the Marshall Islands. Here’s why! They don’t have the money to fly to Hawaii to get dialysis. There’s no dialysis on the island and if you don’t get to Hawaii you basically die. The Japanese used to own the Marshall Islands, okay. There was a battle of Kwajaleinwhich we won. It’s not the capital of the Marshall Islands, but it’s a really bigger city. Now the United States owns the Marshall Islands. Then in the 1950’s we start “Nuke” testing. Some of the largest “nukes” were tested off the island of Kwajalein. The Department of Defense would send out nuclear bombs just to see if they’d work and the radiation spread to the islands. That’s insane! Yes, isn’t this crazy! You can look it all up!

A marshallese believes they are destined to get diabetes and once they get it they’re going to die because of radiation. I’ve talked to many people. You learn the most you’ll ever learn at a bar talking to the locals. I talked to this one man at the bar and I asked him, “What’s the deal with diabetes? Why do you think you’re getting it?” And he said, “Because of the bombs…because of radiation!” And they are indirectly right because what happened, this is the quick story, the radiation spread to the islands and the people who were infected got moved. So what does the government do once they put people in harms way? They want to help them so they give them food. This is where their diet comes into play.

The Marshallese Diabetes Diet

The marshallese eat nothing but Spam, processed foods, processed meat, canned meat, white flour, white sugar, all of the commodities that the US is sending over to them to help them because we feel bad for what we did back when. Also they use the US currency. They have their way of life, which is a beautiful beautiful way of life. I just loved being there, but what they eat is crap! When the kids wake up in the morning, I kid you not, they’ll pour Kool Aid, sugar packets of Kool Aid, into ramen noodles…fried ramen noodles and they’ll eat them. They’ll drink Pepsi for breakfast. Eat popsicles for breakfast. There’s no school lunch program out there. The nutrition is terrible! You couldn’t design a better diet for diabetes than the one they have out there and are eating. This is where we come into play! We put them on a vegan diet and they do a lot better!

Moving from California to Washington, D.C.

This is how I got the hours for my dietetic training, so after I got the hours and learned about this, did the internship, took the test, and then I went to work for Head Start in California. Do you know about Head Start? Yes, of course! I love kids and I was in charge of 1,700 kids in nine counties in California. I got to work with health and got to make sure that all these underprivileged kids got care, got to see a doctor, got to see a dentist, schooling, and those who had special needs got to get what they needed in the schools. I worked with a big migrant population. A lot of hispanics and all kinds of ethnicities. I really loved it! How I got a job at PCRM was that after I had worked on the Marshall Islands with Brenda, I got in touch with Dr. Milton Mills and Susan. Dr. Milton Mills knew Susan…you know, Susan from the training?! Yes, of course. [Susan is an RD as well who works for PCRM] He asked her if I could intern at PCRM. He pulled some strings and she let me come, so I got to intern with PCRM for a week for a rheumatoid arthritis and lupus gig. I got to counsel people on how diet affects those, so I was here in 2009 and it was all through the Washington State College internship. It was called “the community dietetic rotation”. Susan liked me. I loved her and the staff, so I made a good impression. Not to get a job, but I loved PCRM and was a hard core vegan and believer in nutrition and the science, so  years go by and I get an email from Susan with the message there’s an opening for the Cancer Project. I wrote her back and said, “No, I can’t! I just got this job and I’m really happy. I live in California. I love California!” She said, “That’s OK just think about it!” I did some meditation and thought about it. I ended up saying to myself, “If you don’t apply you’re an idiot! You should apply.” I stuck with that mindset and applied. I had just gotten my new apartment and my kitty from the Farmer’s Market in Chico.

You bought your cat at a Farmer’s Market? There was this kid out there trying to sell, but I didn’t buy him. He needed shots and all of that. I would have bought him. No, you can’t buy a cat! I have to admit that one time I bought these three adorable kittens from this young girl, who was standing on a street corner, and then I delivered them to The Humane Society because I was concerned about where they might end up…and frankly, I was concerned about her as well! [Joseph proceeds to give me a hard time about that!] Well, that’s kind of the end of my story. I said, “Well, I’m moving to D.C.! Packed up my Penske truck and drove out here in three days, traveled with my cat and all my crap, which I should never have brought. I just had a lot of stuff. We don’t need all this “stuff”I agree! So I came out here. I should have just gotten a furnished home, but I brought a couch and all of this and that. How long have you been here now? Probably about three years. Well, it seems like a really great fit for you! Thanks again, Joseph, for taking the time to do this interview!

Joseph & I had had a long day of exciting training at PCRM, so this concluded our interview!  I hope you enjoyed what he had to share as much as I did!


About urbanveganchic

I'm an urban chic woman, who is passionate about educating others about the benefits of a whole foods, plant-based vegan diet, cancer prevention & survival, as well as art & life. I love adventures and travel. As an artist and a teacher, I care deeply about healthy living, being a conscious steward of our planet, and being kind & respectful towards animals. Learning about a vegan plant-based diet has been like discovering a new country and falling in love with it, so if I sound like I'm enamored you now know why! As a world traveler, I truly wish I had discovered this beautiful new country twenty years ago! Better late than never, as they say, cause there's no going back now! Born and raised in Scandinavia. Proud owner of a tripod cat & a foxy little pup. Speak four languages...some better than others. Working on the fifth one. We are all either part of the problem or the solution! Health & Happiness to you! ~UrbanVeganChic

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  1. Pingback: Two Years of Plant-based Interviews | urbanveganchic

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