PBNHC: Part 1 Reflections

It’s been an amazing, inspiring, and exhausting first two days volunteering at the International Plant-based Nutrition Healthcare Conference 2017. It’s hard for me to process how lucky I feel to be here. I often feel lucky, and grateful, for the knowledge I’ve gained through both luck and circumstance, and extensive research. But being here among those open to the power of plant-based nutrition, from all around the world…. hearing and speaking to those that I am hearing and speaking to… I am just so privileged. I really am. It is uplifting and affirming and it feels good. 

I remember when I looked outside my film major and took COMM 443: Communicating Health & Medical Issues. I loved the class, but it didn’t feel good. I cried as the class asked me to start to think more deeply about the many systems in place that prohibit, prevent, and limit us from getting top notch and preventative HEALTH care. I went down a rabbit hole; I was seeing, hearing, reading, researching, reading both the lines and the space between them, and investigating anything I could get my hands on. I remember leaving class after learning about Dollars for Docs- a website that allows you to look up doctors and see how much, on top of their salary, they were being paid (usually by pharmaceutical companies)- and I was distraught. I was energy drained, my head hurt, and upset. I laid down on the grass between the music school and Norris Theatre, my favorite spot on campus, and called a friend of mine. I told her how absolutely frozen and powerless I felt. How I realized how deep “it really it is”. How I knew it was even deeper than I realized at the moment I realized it was deeper than I had realized (ha- imagine my overwhelming confusion!). It wasn’t an issue with one doctor or one hospital or one drug or one company. It was decades of social norms and behaviors and expectations and society and industries and media and profit and insurance and so much more I would never even claim to understand, that was keeping those of us sick trapped inside a system of sick care. She listened to me and then stopped me; I remember her saying, “Jessie, why are you so upset? You’re free.* You figured it out. You know how to take care of yourself. You’re not trapped in this system anymore.” I think she assumed I was upset thinking about my past experiences- how long it had taken for me to get diagnosed, the way I had been treated, etc.

*I can largely categorize my life as a complex search for freedom in everything I do. This is positive and negative- or maybe it’s just neutral. I haven’t decided. I do know, whatever it may be, it is a huge part of who I am.

But it wasn’t about me. I knew she was right about most of what she said; I did know. I was not as trapped in the system as I once had been anymore. But she didn’t get everything right. I was not free. Because you cannot be free when others aren’t.

This wasn’t about me. This was about everyone else. I had the knowledge but so many people didn’t. So many of my friends with Crohn’s Disease; so many people with preventable and reversible conditions; so many people and communities with conditions that could be largely helped by lifestyle change; they didn’t know. So many people I knew who looked for the answers in the wrong places and it wasn’t their fault: it’s what they were taught. Just like it’s not one doctor’s fault, as in one doctor is not evil for not telling their patient about nutrition, it is also not one patient’s fault. Though many of these diseases are caused by lifestyle, it is not an individual’s fault they don’t know the best way to take care of themselves when they are being fed deliberately confusing messages by industries everywhere (I personally think WALL*E offers the best interpretation of this that I’ve seen to date; check it out if you haven’t seen it, it is Pixar MAGIC!).

I have a serious chronic disease and to live the quality of life I am determined to live, I don’t have the ability to have off days in caring for my health. This is why I’m so serious about taking care of myself, and so grateful to be here. But although I am grateful, it’s not enough. It doesn’t stop here. It starts here. I am here because other people need to know. I am here because this information needs to be out there. I can’t be content with knowing and hearing these experts present their clinical research. I can’t be happy with the science knowing I’m doing the right things to preserve my entire well being. Now I need to make sure others know.

I am here witnessing the cutting edge of medicine. I am here seeing and hearing stories of living healthier and better using plant-based nutrition. I am here as a story myself. Medication may preserve life, but it won’t always keep the quality of it.

I am here learning that Alzheimers and heart medication is not a normal part of aging. I am here learning that aging can be vibrant. I want this information out there, and I want people, like my dad, like my grandma, to open their eyes to it.

Even though I’ve heard a lot of these people speak before and am very familiar with almost all of their practices and their work, I am just as excited to be here as I was last year. One of the conference organizers was apologizing for how chaotic the first day was and how great of a job we did; I told her she didn’t need to talk me up or encourage me- I’m ME- I’m literally exploding with excitement and joy to be here. Every time I meet someone new and connect with them about their passion and what they are doing, it’s like a shot of adrenaline. Sitting at lunch, I heard two people talking about how they were so amazed at one doctor’s story about a patient who got off their medication. They were saying how they wanted to spread the message to Austin, Texas. How they couldn’t believe people don’t know about this. It made me remember when I found out how amazing and life-saving plant-based nutrition can be. How cool it is to see other people have their own a-ha moments. And it’s kind of funny, I feel as if I’m in Jonestown and we’re in a cult or something. But honestly, healthy food is our best kept secret. It has been since Hippocrates said “Let food be thy medicine” a zillion years ago. It makes me smile to see people have these revelations- because for as many doctors are here that are well versed in plant-based nutrition, there are fresh doctors being introduced to a component to their practice that will change theirs and their patients’ lives forever.

This is not an understatement. Although Alzheimers cannot be reversed with plant-based nutrition, and of course there are certain late-stage illnesses that also cannot as well, it can be prevented. And there are so many chronic diseases that can be prevented, reversed, and stopped. Medicine and biotechnology may have hit the nail on the head for stopping infectious diseases, but American medicine should not be proud of the way they manage those sick with chronic diseases. People in America are not dying from infectious diseases anymore, they are dying while living with chronic diseases. Lifestyle medicine is the way to care for people with chronic diseases and prevent them before they even happen.

There are so many opportunities for me to grasp here. There are so many more people to talk to; I am in the process of trying to brainstorm how to find out who the LA doctors are, and who the gastroenterologists are. I have exchanged so many cards. So many people have agreed to let me interview them, some have even asked to interview me. There are so many people I want to support and learn from, and there are others my age who I hope to have on my side as my future colleagues.

My roommate is an ENT surgeon who practices in Detroit. I didn’t meet her the first day, but I finally did today. She is AMAZING. She is so sweet; she is so smart; she is so kind. I think we were best friends in another life. I could sit in the room and talk to her all day. We had dinner together tonight and talked the entire time. She is awesome. We were strategizing together about how to get plant-based nutrition higher up in hospitals- something we both need to think about right now (her being a doctor who is passionate about this and me trying to figure out what degree to go back to school for and how to chart the path that will allow me to make this happen). I truly hope to stay in touch with her.

Dr. Scott Stoll, who heads up the Plantrician Project, spoke last night about behavior change in people. He said for behavior change to happen, “Prospect Loss” cannot be overlooked. People view gains and losses differently. The gain has to be twice as much as the loss for people to consider even making that change. People ask, how much of myself do I have to leave in the past? Some people need info; but most people need more than information. We need to help them overcome the uncertainty that prevents them from making the change. And when you want to help or guide people towards behavior change, you have to remember they bring with them who they are. Each person is their genetics and epigenetic, their habits, the food they eat, their belief systems about what is possible, their belief systems about the past and the future. Each person is the sum total of their relationships. The pressures they feel from life. Everyone is the totality of their past. This is interesting in many aspects of my life.

We are the totality of our past but we also need to let people see that we can be the totality of our future too. That those of us can have a future beyond what is currently giving us stress and troubles right in front of us.

I’ve been able to spend time with some of the volunteers I became close with last year. They are amazing. There are new volunteers who are also incredible. We are a girl squad of super fierce ladies who are keeping things running smoothly. I’m proud to be working with them.

There are so many opportunities here for collaboration and growth and spreading a message of compassion and health. I haven’t stopped going- you know that feeling when you keep going and going and going and going and you feel like you’re fine and you won’t have to stop but then you realize it’s just adrenaline and all of a sudden your eyes are glazed over and you start to feel sick? That was me today. I totally wiped myself out. I’ve been so excited and haven’t stopped listening, learning, taking notes, meeting people, and giving all of myself to everyone that I meet, that I didn’t even realize how exhausted I was. I realized when I meet people I don’t guard myself or put up boundaries: I give them all of my energy and enthusiasm. It’s awesome and allows me to connect well with people but I end up exhausted. Most of the time it’s too little to notice- you meet a new person once every few days if that. But at a conference with 900 people passionate about what I care about, it happens a lot (not enough though- I am freaking out that I can’t meet all of these amazing people here). I ended up going up to my room and napping and feeling a lot better when I woke up. I’m going to take it easy for the next few days because I need to be at my best!

I’ve heard some amazing presentations, and had even better conversations with people. I’m so inspired by everyone here. Seriously- I could write 10 page essays about each person here and it truly would not be enough. The work that each person is doing to contribute to their own community, is inspirational at the very least (And I will talk more in depth about each of them when I write up some interviews!!). But one person whose impact has really stuck with me for the past few days is T. Colin Campbell, PhD. It’s funny- he is such a celebrity. He is 83 years old and he can’t walk anywhere without being stopped by people. You know where he is in a sea of 900+ people because he has a following! Last year, I didn’t get it. Yes the guy is amazing- he has done amazing things for plant-based nutrition. He wrote The China Study. He dedicated his life to this message. But look at all these other doctors! Look at what everyone is doing. It only took a few minutes of filming an interview for one of the other volunteers with him and listening to him speak for it to click: it was the choice of this one person that is the reason we are all here today. And not just the reason that we are all sitting in this room, but the reason that I am here. The reason that I have a quality of life that I want to live. I still remember being sick and saying to my sister “This is not a life.” He is the reason that a lot of these people themselves are alive today, a lot of their patients, a lot of their family members. Almost every single person here has at least one personal story. It was his choice to go against the crowd, to go against what he believed to be true. A lot of times in research they talk about the bias of reputation. If you’ve spent your whole life investigating caramel candles as the best kind of candles for relaxation, your research will likely be skewed towards continuing to find caramel candles as the best scent for relaxation even if lavender is truly better. And it could be less because caramel is paying you- it’s reputation that often gets in the way. But Campbell defied this- he grew up on a farm. He wanted to do a study that would prove that meat and dairy were necessary and beneficial for people. But that’s not what he found. And he told the truth. He made a choice to dedicate his life to this. He was ridiculed and disregarded. He was slandered. He made a choice. He made a choice and he changed everything. I’m not sure if I am making clear how amazing this was for me. I was sitting in front of the man who was responsible for a change I truly believe in. And just as importantly,  it made me realize how immeasurably powerful we all are. We all have the power to stand up for the truth- to investigate it and call people on it till the day we die.

I know what I choose.

Excited for the last two days of the conference.

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PBNHC 2016: A Year Later, Reflections in Pictures

Getting to be in a room with 800 medical professionals from around the world all dedicated to learning from the experts about the power of plant-based nutrition in their practices was beyond inspiring. This year, I’ll be volunteering, instead of doing photography. I’m so excited to learn from this year’s amazing presenters and for all of the amazing people I’m going to get to meet.



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Morning Blues & Tragedy Thoughts

While the extrovert in me loves night to have conversations with people, mornings are my favorite time of the day to be alone. There is something magical about being by yourself in the morning. I could seek peace all day, but nothing will compare to the peace that is so readily available if you wake up early enough to find it. When I lived in New Jersey, I used to wake up early and watch the sun come up from my porch. The view was just trees, but the trees made the air fresh and the birds chirped and I basked in my loneliness. I don’t know if I was happy or sad. I think I was content. Maybe the best way to describe it is “beautiful cool morning blues that give me a warm feeling”. I know, I know, I have such a way with words. But the coolness outside made me feel warm, though I think I mistook the warmness for feeling cold.

Before each first day of high school, my friend Anka and I would go to the high school bleachers and watch the sun come up over the football field. I loved watching the sky go from dark black or blue as it got lighter and lighter. I always wished the transition took longer, though, that time slowed down. Each year different people came- a boyfriend of mine, my twin sister, or sometimes it was just us. We watched the sun come up on a new year. I desperately wanted those sunrises to provide me with peace, but if I’m honest, they usually just made me nostalgic and upset about time passing. Not only did the change from darkness to light happen so fast, but if I was there, it meant it was already September, the start of my favorite 3 month run of the year that would be over before I realize it had begun. September, October, November: I loved going back to school, having a new schedule, meeting new people. I loved Mahwah Day, football and soccer games, homecoming, my birthday, Halloween, Thanksgiving, crisp cool fall air, and the many concerts that branded those months concert season. Everything was pumpkin spice and the weather made me feel alive. I often wonder how, despite loving living in LA, I can live in a place that doesn’t have a traditional fall season. The fall was never just a backdrop for memories or moments, the fall was the star of it all.

I love CA mornings because they remind me of fall, no matter what time of the year it is. The cool air and the birds wake me up. This is different than a traditional fall feeling from New Jersey, since my room in Mahwah never had a door leading to outside. This is my second room to have a plaster door I can leave wide open at night, with the gated screen door locked. I’m both lucky and grateful for this. So I leave the door and my windows open every night, because going to sleep and waking up in the mornings with the cool air gives me that Fall feeling, and that feeling moves the blood in my veins. It gives me life.

My mornings still mean everything to me. I can feel the city asleep around me. Even for a few hours, time is mine. There is an illusion that time slows down in the morning for me, but it moves just as fast. Before I know it, it’s time to think about getting on my mat, making tea, and setting an intention. It’s not that I don’t love my morning routine, I do, I just wish it didn’t go so quickly every morning. I don’t think I can get up much earlier than 5:15 AM. I just enjoy this feeling when peace is mine and I’m alone. I think one day I might like experiencing this feeling with another person. I can see it happening.

The mornings are peaceful because the air is. Maybe it’s a false sense of security though, a false sense of peace, a false sense of life. I imagine the morning of 9/11 felt just the same. The morning of the earthquake in Mexico or the hurricane in Puerto Rico also must have felt serene and calm and quiet, ‘before the storm’, at least at some moment.

Mornings clearly have long-winded associations for me. They make me think of time passing, of fall, of memories, of peace, of loneliness. There is comfort in mornings. They make me think of peace. But I can’t stop thinking about what’s going on in the world, and how quickly, and violently, that peace can be ripped away. Once tragedies, disasters like the ones that have recently occurred, happen, I can only imagine how near impossible, really how long it takes, to find peace again.

We must be part of the collective that helps those in Mexico, in Puerto Rico, in the Caribbean, in Florida, find peace. My heart feels the smallest and uncomparable twinge of pain for those and those who love them in the affected cities today. Donate. Research. Find out what you can do. How you can help.  Show your shared humanity. Act on your compassion. Take steps to un-numb yourself. We’ve been so desensitized to tragedy around us. And it hurts to feel the pain of the world. But become aware. Feel hurt. It’s okay. You will survive.

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Rosh Hashana Thoughts

“The Jewish New year has some partying to it, but, really, this time of newness is about hard, internal, personal work. We spend most of Tishrei seeking perspective on our past actions, touching in with morality, and promising to be the best possible versions of ourselves, moving forward. We perform Teshuvah, a hard word to explain, but which means something like “returning to self, letting go, forgiving, owning past actions.”

To do Tishrei right means entering this month from a place of compassion—for self and for all those in our communities. It means keeping in mind and in heart the ultimate Divine Oneness of the world. During this month, we also set ourselves the task of leaving behind old patterns. Tishrei is here to teach us that we can change. Spoiler alert: it’s not easy, this business of change; we humans are fallible beings. We make mistakes. This is why Jews start the New Year with purification and forgiveness that flows into letting go. From this spiritually “clean” place, we move on.”

This life is unreal.

Never before have I felt that I am so blessed (let alone used the word blessed). I am so blessed. I am so blessed.

How many times can I say it till I believe this is really the reality I’m living in?

I’ve met and deepened friendships with some of the most amazing people in the world this year (I have chills just thinking about them). In the past year, I lived with two beautiful people who became close friends of mine. I have gotten closer with people who amaze me and who matter to me, friendships who bring so much warmth and joy into my life, friendships that make me a better person. This summer, I had the opportunity to solidify my foundational and important relationships with those closest to me in New Jersey. This past year, my life got exponentially more meaningful with the meeting of a handful of people. I can’t even fathom that I could live my life not knowing them, now that I know them. Their friendships would be enough to fill me up forever.

I am surrounding myself with positive people who care about me, want the best for me, and support me. I have beautiful friends who I want to rekindle friendships with who are living closer to me. Others who have reached out to me; or come into my life by chance; these connections are all so important to me. The many people I met at the Hostel and in Israel who left a lasting imprint on me. And of course those who I have met throughout my journeys over the past several years who continue to impact me years later. And with all of this comes balance. I have moved away from some people who were in my life, people who may have been fun on the surface but were doing damage to my spirit.

I don’t think this is a coincidence. Attracting good-energy friendships is intentional. I have long sought to have quality people in my life. I believe I must be becoming a better person to bring these kinds of people into my world.

This year, I started doing Shabbat Yoga. I let myself dive into my spirituality in a deep and meaningful way that combined the things that most allow me to connect to my spirituality: yoga, music and story/wisdom/philosophy from eastern & Jewish culture. I continue to explore what this means in my life. I spent time in Poland. I spent time in Israel. I spent time on both the east and the west coast. I met some of the most amazing people and had some of the best conversations. A conversation till 5 AM in Poland has turned into consistent cross-country FaceTimes. Walking on Christmas Day in Krakow, turned into sitting on Delray Beach with our feet in the sand over Spring Break. A friend from another continent changed the way I view people with too many conversations to count. Hour long phone conversations and hanging out with a friend in LA feeling like I have a real good friend who cares about me. A conversation on a rooftop in Israel. A friend who cared for and celebrated and loved me unconditionally, boarding over at a moment’s notice. A friend who I want to travel the world with now. I have found myself surrounded with people in my life who love me for who I am. I am accepting this love. I will no longer question this love.

I am living my truth. I am not faking it and trying to convince myself that I need to do film or be in Hollywood. I was scared and I denied my truth for a long time, but I am now trying to live authentically. I’m working on a blog to help people be their best selves, to reclaim their innate compassion that desensitization from big business has tried to numb them from. I’m trying to move forward in the direction of my dreams. I am going to therapy, and I am trying to not be so hard on myself. I am trying to trust the process. I will trust the process. I am trusting the process. I am trying to be kind and gentle with myself while still desiring to be better and get better. I am practicing yoga, I am trying to keep myself open, soft, vulnerable, and loving and not just for show. I am trying to not be what I think others want me to be. I am trying to be who I want to be. I am reflecting on my therapy sessions. I am trying to learn. I am working hard to be the person I need to and want to be so I can live fully, accept and give love, and move in the direction of my dreams and my purpose.

I graduated from college. I did what I didn’t think I could do for a long time. I spent time with family in New Jersey, family who means more to me than I could put into words. Family who has proven time and time again that they are the ones who matter. Their love is unconditional. Their support gives me strength. I supported my mom in her transition to the west coast. I forgave my dad. I forgave my dad. I am working on forgiveness, acceptance, and peace.

I don’t blame everything on my past anymore. I don’t blame others for any of my situations. I accept where I am. I don’t feel like a victim. I learn from my mistakes. I am learning from everything that happened in Israel. I am grateful for the opportunities to learn and the opportunities to try to be better.

I no longer view other people’s relationships as untouchable dynamics that I could never experience or that seem too perfect and leave me speechless. I see myself having a good relationship. I visualize myself accepting love. I visualize myself having love for someone.

I no longer say I’m not a good friend. I no longer put myself down because that is not the energy I want to put out into the world. I will continue to show up for my friends and I will keep learning and trying to be a good friend. I am a good friend. I have deep compassion and care for those who matter to me.

I have so much work to do. I have so many areas I can improve on and in. But I finally see that I don’t need to fix myself in order to be loved. I finally see I am deserving of love and good things the way I am. I accept myself. I don’t love everything about me, but I accept myself.

I accept the blessings that God has in store for me this year. I accept the challenges and the hard work that must be done to get to where I need to go. I accept the confusion and the nervousness and the anxiety as I try to figure out how best to move forward.

I am excited to help more people. I am excited to work on being vulnerable and staying soft. I am excited to work on learning more. I am excited to go deeper.

I will work on being unapologetically who I am. I will work on not acting and performing who I am, but just being me. The right people will love me. The right people will accept me. I don’t need to pretend to not think as much as I do. I don’t need to act cool. I don’t need to present myself in a certain way to impress people. I just need to be me.

I have been hurt deeply in the past year by friends and family, and I know that I have hurt friends and family deeply. I have acted quickly and without too much thought. I have taken things personally; though I know that nothing in this world can be taken personally. I have not fought for friendships. I have experienced the pain of seeing friendships I didn’t fight for dissipate. I have not given myself enough time to meditate, to do yoga. I have not given myself enough time to take care of myself. I have wasted time. I have not communicated when I should have. I have not honored my truth and my agency when I should have and spoken my mind. I have held resentment for those who do not deserve it. I have struggled with letting go. I have spoken badly to myself and I have torn myself down. I have diminished my self-confidence. Too many times, I have counted myself out before I even tried. It is not easy to do so, but I accept this. I accept this is as a part of me because I can’t acknowledge my ‘light’ side without acknowledging my ‘shadow’ side. Both sides make me who I am. I am okay. I’m a work in progress. It’s just life. I can try to be better but I don’t need to take it so seriously. I let go of this. I forgive myself. I will try to be better at these things. It won’t be easy but I will try.

I am finally starting to implement what I learned in yoga teacher training. I am still reflecting on that experience. I am still reflecting on Poland. I haven’t even begun to reflect on Israel. I can’t even process college yet. I recognize my mistakes and my selfish ways in trying to experience things without going all in. I acknowledge my walls, my masks, and my armor. I take them off. I am ready to live easier. It is easier, it is a relief, to just be. It’s all I know how to be. I’m done pretending.

“What will you start today to make this New Year meaningful? Pick something, commit to it, and start working! What if we all did?”

“This month of Tishrei reminds us we can change. Be honest, live authentically, let go.”

I will work on visualizing at night and meditating in the morning. Visualizing what I want, what I desire. Meditating on breath, meditating on peace.

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