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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