Vegetarians in Paradise takes great pride in presenting its 24 Carrot Award to Michael Greger, M.D. and acknowledging his accomplishments as a physician, author, and speaker on public health issues. He is a general practitioner specializing in clinical nutrition and was a founding member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine. Dr. Greger is currently serving as Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture of the Humane Society of the United States. He holds degrees from the Cornell University School of Agriculture and the Tufts University School of Medicine.
Dr. Greger's most recent book is Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching. His other books include Heart Failure: Diary of a Third Year Medical Student and Carbophobia: The Scary Truth Behind America's Low Carb Craze. DVDs by Dr. Greger include Latest in Clinical Nutrition; Flue Factories: Tracing the Origins of the Swine Flu Pandemic; and Pandemic Prevention: Bird Flu and Emerging Infectious Diseases. They can be found at http://www.drgreger.org/DVDs.
All proceeds from his books, CDs, and DVDs are donated to charity.
What follows are the questions asked by Vegetarians in Paradise (VIP) and the answers by Michael Greger (MG).
MG: When I was still a teen I saw a National Geographic issue with a picture of a dog market in Asia. Puppies looking out from between bars awaiting slaughter. I was horrified, but always the critical thinker I challenged myself to reconcile my reaction to the burger I had just had for lunch. How could I oppose unnecessary suffering knowing that meat wasn't necessary? So I just couldn't look at myself in the mirror anymore (or my companion animals) with a sense of integrity, until I better aligned my actions with my values. Then a trip to Farm Sanctuary dispelled my ignorance as to the cruelties inherent in the dairy and egg industries and have been happily vegan ever since (for about the last 20 years).
VIP: What circumstances in your medical career led you to focus on diet and nutrition as a means for combating disease?
MG: There's a saying: learning medicine in a hospital is like learning forestry in a lumber yard. Indeed the majority of folks I saw in the hospital were suffering from entirely preventable conditions, and so instead of just treating symptoms (and then treating the side-effects of the drugs used to treat the symptoms), I decided that by helping to teach entire families to eat better I could prevent the kinds of devastating disease I was seeing every day on the wards.
VIP: We notice you have degrees from both schools of agriculture and medicine? What inspired you to earn a degree in both these fields? Did you consider becoming a veterinarian at one point in your career?
MG: I am a veterinarian, but a very limited one--I only know one species. Seriously, though, it was out of a realization that what we eat and how we live and die are inextricably linked.
VIP: You have been actively involved in the Humane Society of the United States. What are some of the highlights of your experiences with that organization?
MG: I pinch myself every morning that I have the opportunity to work with such a dream team of talented and caring folks. My personal highlight was probably being able to testify before a congressional committee about our investigation that led to the largest meat recall in human history!
VIP: Your current title at the Humane Society is Director, Public Health and Animal Agriculture. What specific concerns have you focused on in this job?
MG: I've done a lot of work on emerging infectious disease, such as mad cow, bird flu, and swine flu. Seventy percent of emerging human diseases come from the animal kingdom, and so how we treat animals can have global public health implications. Only recently have I become more involved in exploring the community health effects of factory farms in terms of increased infant mortality, childhood asthma rates, worker deaths in these massive manure pits, etc.
VIP: Each year you have been instrumental in producing a DVD for the Humane Society on health issues. Can you give our readers an insight into your role in its creation? How much time do you devote to research and production of the DVD?
MG: It takes all year to do the research to put together my annual Latest in Clinical Nutrition DVD. I review every issue of every English-language nutrition journal in the world and receive PubMed alerts on 200 or so topics so that I don't miss any relevant research in other medical journals (the National Library of Medicine has a service at PubMed where you can have them email you any time a new article is published on a topic of your choice). Then it takes weeks to actually put the presentation together every year.
VIP: You are one of the founding members of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine. Can you tell about the organization and its goals?
MG: It supports and celebrates a new medical specialty: lifestyle medicine, which concentrates on preventing disease in the first place instead of just just trying--often in futility--to patch up people afterwards.
VIP: You have had a longstanding battle with Dr. Atkins and his disciples over their high-fat, low-carb diet. What actions have you taken to counter their claims?
MG: I wrote a book on the subject, and despite threats from their lawyers, placed the entire book online at atkinsexposed.org
VIP: You seem to have an extensive speaking schedule. What topics important to you have been the subjects of these addresses? What success have you had in influencing non-vegetarian audiences?
MG: Currently I'm mostly speaking about swine flu and my latest nutrition talk, the latter of which is surprisingly successful at convincing people to eat healthier.
VIP: Your book Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching examined the causes of avian flu. What potential major health catastrophes do you believe are linked to this type of animal agriculture?
MG: In terms of emerging infectious diseases there's been bird flu, swine flu, mad cow disease, virulent strains of Strep suis, the Nipah virus, and multi-drug-resistant bacteria. If we continue to force animals to live in stressful overcrowded squalor, we risk the continued emergence of disease that may be able to jump species into human beings.
VIP: What do you perceive as the greatest dangers to our society posed by intensive factory farm animal agriculture?
MG: The most serious theoretical risk is the facilitation of the emergence of a flu pandemic with a virulent strain such as H5N1 that could kill hundreds of millions of people.
VIP: The meat and dairy industries have much power and influence in our society. How have these groups affected you personally and in your career?
MG: I have been honored to be attacked by them in their trade publications. The criticisms are rarely substantive, though, as the science in unassailable.
VIP: What repercussions did you face when you testified on behalf of Howard Lyman and Oprah Winfrey in the Texas Cattlemen vs. Oprah Winfrey/Howard Lyman lawsuit?
MG: I was called to testify but suffered no repercussions. I was honored to play a tiny role in the acquittal of Oprah from all charges.
VIP: Of all of your personal accomplishments, which ones give you the most pride and satisfaction?
MG: My article in Critical Reviews in Microbiology is probably my greatest accomplishment to date, but hopefully will pale to my accomplishments in the near future!
VIP: How do your friends and relatives react to your emphasis on a plant-based diet?
MG: Some by joining me in eating healthier, and the remainder by respecting my choices to live a life aligned with my values of justice and compassion. I am lucky to be surrounded by such a wonderful social support system.
VIP: What personal goals have you set for yourself in the coming years?
MG: In the short term to publish an article on the origins of the swine flu pandemic in a prestigious peer-reviewed medical journal and in the long term to facilitate the passage of European style federal laws in the United States to help relieve the suffering of billions of animals raised for food.
VIP: What leisure activities and hobbies do you enjoy?
MG: I couldn't imagine a life without music (metal), novels (science fiction), or spending time with the love of my life (my beloved Andrea).
VIP: Can you give our readers the main features of your personal diet and exercise regimen?
MG: My favorite breakfast is a green smoothie, made from frozen berries, unsweetened soy milk, ground flax seeds, and dark green leafy vegetables; lunch at the office is typically either an enormous salad with beans and a nut-based dressing or a big bowl of vegetable soup, and then supper I enjoy cooking to unwind, specializing in spicy global cuisines, like Mexican, Chinese, Korean, Mexican, and Thai. And for dessert, Vitamixed frozen fruit "ice cream." And I exercise every day, either exerstriding or stationary bicycling.
VIP: What person or persons have had the most influence on your life?
MG: My top three: my mother, Gandhi, and Noam Chomsky
VIP: We may have omitted areas that are important to you. Please feel free to add anything you would like to share with our readers.
MG: I think that's everything--thank you again for this great honor!!!