My Weekend at Plant-Stock, August 2014
In August of 2014, I attended the third annual Plant-Stock weekend retreat on site of the Esselstyn Family farm, in the bucolic setting of the foothills of the Catskill Mountains in upper New York State. What is Plant-Stock you say? It is a two-day long, immersion gathering featuring the ‘who’s who’ of the science of whole food, plant-based (WFPB) world, seminars, cooking demonstrations, question and answer session, fun music, and lots of wholesome food. Our hosts for this four hundred-person event were Caldwell Esselstyn (author of Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease) and his wife Ann. This idyllic farm has been in the Esselstyn family since 1675.
What caused me to go to this event? Last December I watched the documentary, Forks Over Knives, and was amazed to find out that if I switched to a WFPB diet that I could expect to: :
- lower my cholesterol numbers,
- lower my blood pressure,
- improve my cardiovascular health (which was becoming troubling, requiring three different medications),
- reduce my weight,
- drastically reduce my diabetes risk (which runs in both sides of my family)
- and substantially reduce my cancer risk.
I wasted no time with this decision. The next day after watching the documentary, I decided to make the change to this healthier way of eating, and I have not looked back. Over the next several months, I enthusiastically studied the science of WFPB, and in so doing, I encountered the lectures and studies of key figures in this field. Many of these same medical giants were going to be speaking at Plant-Stock 2014; so with the Catskills only 5 ½ hours from my home, I had no hesitation in signing up for this weekend event.
Plant-Stock got its name from another historic weekend gathering (which also happened in the Catskills 45 years earlier)… the famous Woodstock Music Festival, which featured the who’s who of the music world.
While I probably am not up for a gathering of 400,000 people as happened in Woodstock, a gathering of 400 people with healthy food, professional presentations, intelligent discussions and energetic music sounded perfect. I have to admit that just like a big music concert that I kind of felt like a groupie, because I was really looking forward to meeting three of my heroes in the medical world, Doctors Caldwell Esselstyn, T. Colin Campbell, and Neal Bernard. Every one of these men has an extremely impressive résumé, and each has contributed an immense amount to the science of nutrition, from which almost anyone could benefit. As it stands now, many people already owe their lives to these giants, and the science that they have brought to light. I am quite confident that future generations will look back at these three individuals as important founders of the WFPB movement currently taking place in North America.
Our host, Caldwell Esselstyn, was also a speaker at this event, giving two lectures on the connections between WFPB eating and cardiovascular health. Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn has performed groundbreaking clinical trials, which provided definitive clinical evidence of the cardiovascular benefits of a whole food, plant-based (WFPD) diet. At eighty years of age, Dr. Esselstyn is still going strong, and has just recently published a study that followed 200 patients with established cardiovascular disease who were put on a WFPB diet. This study, which was published in the July 2014 issue of The Journal of Family Practice, found that patients who were adherent to this diet had 1/100th the rate of cardiac events over a 3.7 year period, when compared with those who chose the standard American diet (SAD) over the WFPB diet. This means that if you have cardiovascular illness, that you are 100 times more likely to experience a cardiac event if you keep eating the standard American diet versus adopting this healthy manner of eating. The results of this study vindicate, on a much larger scale, the similar results from his 1995 ‘walking dead’ study, which determined that with a WFPB diet you can actually reverse heart disease, avoid surgery, and in most cases, avoid cholesterol-lowering drugs.
Dr. Esselstyn received his B.A. from Yale University and his M.D. from Western Reserve University. In 1956, pulling the No. 6 oar as a member of the victorious United States rowing team, he was awarded a gold medal at the Olympic Games. He was trained as a surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic and at St. George’s Hospital in London. In 1968, as an Army surgeon in Vietnam, he was awarded the Bronze Star. He has been associated with the Cleveland Clinic since 1968. During that time, he has served as President of the Staff and as a member of the Board of Governors. He has over 150 scientific publications. In 1995, he published his benchmark long-term nutritional research arresting and reversing coronary artery disease in severely ill patients. That same study was updated at 12 years and reviewed beyond twenty years in his book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, making it one of the longest longitudinal studies of its type. It is extremely compelling, because none of the compliant patients in this study has sustained CV disease progression. Today, 20 years compliant patients continue to thrive. The patients in this particular study had all been written off by the medical establishment, and were considered to be the ‘walking dead’. Every one of them had run out of surgical options due to their poor medical condition. In every one of these patients, their condition improved and symptoms reversed by a WFPB diet.
Another featured guest speaker of note, Dr. T. Colin Campbell PhD, is also an octogenarian. Dr. Campbell is the Jacob Gold Thurman Professor of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University. He was trained at Cornell and MIT in nutrition, biochemistry, and toxicology. He spent ten years on the faculty at Virginia Tech’s Department of Biochemistry and Nutrition before returning to the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell in 1975 where he presently holds his Endowed Chair. Dr. Campbell’s primary interest has been the effect the nutritional status on long-term health, particularly on the causation of cancer. He has conducted original research both in laboratory experiments and in large-scale human studies, has received over 60 great years of peer-reviewed research funding, has served on several grant review panels at multiple funding agencies, has lectured extensively and has authored over 300 research papers. He has served on many national and international expert committees with mandates to develop food and health policy positions including, Senior Science Advisor to the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), and Senior Science Advisor during the formative years of the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR). AICR awarded him the 1998 Lifetime Achievement Award in Cancer Research.
Colin Campbell is the author of ‘The China Study, the most comprehensive study of nutrition ever conducted. This book is based on the Cornell-Oxford-China Study (the “China Project”), the most comprehensive survey of the connection between diet and disease in world medical history. The New York Times hailed this investigation (directed from Cornell University) as the “Grand Prix of all epidemiological studies.” In his book, Campbell lays out a case for plant-based eating as a method of avoiding the most common diseases of developed countries. This includes:
- cardiovascular illness
- the most common cancers (breast, prostate, ovarian, colon)
His most recent book, ‘Whole’, delves further into the important health benefits accrued from a whole food, plant-based diet.
It was an absolute pleasure to converse and shake the hand of this giant in the field of nutrition, and to hear him speak. I was truly honoured to have met both Doctors Esselstyn and Campbell at this event. While the WFPB movement has encountered resistance from the meat-loving public, I am quite certain that both of these men will be treated very favourably by history when future generations look back at the beginnings of the WFPB movement. Both of these men have advanced the science of this subject immeasurably in their lifetimes, and are already saving lives with the body of evidence that they have created.
Another prominent figure that I was thrilled to meet was Dr. Neal Barnard, President of the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). Dr. Barnard is also an advocate of WFPB eating, and has provided nutritional advocacy at the U.S. federal level, and has performed original diabetes research, proving that diabetes is reversible with a WFPB diet. Dr. Barnard is the author of more than 50 published papers on nutrition and its impact on human health, and has co-authored more than 15 books.
His organization, PCRM successfully sued the U.S. federal government, charging that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2000 had been prepared largely in secret by a committee that included individuals with links to the meat, dairy, and egg industries. The court ruled in PCRM’s favor, and subsequent Guidelines have been prepared through a more transparent process by committees with fewer industry ties. This resulted in changes to the MyPlate guidelines, removing meat from the plate, and replacing it with the more generic term ‘protein’. You can still see dairy beside this plate, but it will eventually be forced off the MyPlate guideline for various reasons, with solid nutritional science being the primary one; but I will leave this argument for a future article.
PCRM has also done important advocacy work on behalf of animal rights in the area of scientific research as well. This along with his diabetes studies, makes him an extremely important figure in the WFPB field, and an absolute pleasure to meet.
What is also worth noting is that all three of these men were raised in rural America, on family farms that raised cattle for dairy or for meat. All three, for their own unique reasons, eventually realized that animal fat and animal proteins were keeping them, their patients, and their study participants from optimum health. Instead of yielding to the status quo, these men pushed governments, and advanced research in the direction of more sensible approaches to health through proper nutrition. This is not an easy road, because of the resistance from business, from multiple levels of government, and from a public that has become largely addicted to salt, sugar and fat. Therefore I applaud these men, and others in the WFPB movement that have to withstand the slings and arrows of their opponents. It takes strong moral character to stand up for what is right, when it would be easier to just go with the flow. This makes these men true heroes in my eyes.
Other speakers at this event included:
Rip Esselstyn- author of The Engine 2 Diet and My Beef with Meat. A former firefighter, Rip gained fame when he and his co-workers of Engine 2 Fire Hall all adopted a WFPB diet after discovering that one of his co-workers cholesterol numbers indicated that he was very close to a heart attack. This collective decision by Engine 2 Fire Hall gained local, then state, then national attention, which eventually brought the WFPB movement into the mainstream media. This become so popular that Rip eventually retired from firefighting and developed the Engine 2 company that provides complete support for WFPB eating. His company, Engine2 organized this event, and I have to say that I was extremely impressed with the execution of the activities and presentations from beginning to end. This was an extremely well organized event, and everything started and ended right on time as planned. Kudos to Rip and the whole Engine 2 team for pulling this event off without a hitch.
Doug Lisle, Ph.D.- Dr. Lisle is the Director of Research for TrueNorth Health Center and is the author of The Pleasure Trap. Previously he worked as a forensic psychologist for the criminal justice system in Dallas, Texas and as a consultant for the National Institute of Health Clinical Trial on Cognitive Therapy for Recurrent Depression at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Dr. Lisle lectures nationally to health professionals on topics including evolutionary psychology, cognitive therapy, lifestyle modification, relaxation and stress management, and weight loss. His substantial contribution to the weekend was explaining 1) why we become addicted to unhealthy food, 2) how to break this addiction, and finally 3) how a WFPB eater can survive and thrive socially in a world of omnivores hooked on salt, sugar and fat. Doug brings a unique style of dry humour to each and every one of his presentations, along with important useful information.
Ann and Jane Esselstyn provided very entertaining cooking demonstrations on WFPB cooking on both days of this event. This mother-daughter team are an absolute hoot to watch on stage. Having forty plus years of family history, with all of the tensions and love that develop from that history, they make a perfect comedy team onstage, without even trying. Their presentation was the real surprise for me of this weekend retreat. Ann and Jane really do need to make some cooking videos. I hope that someday, Engine 2 records their onstage antics, and puts out some videos with the two of them demonstrating how to cook easy, tasty, healthy, WFPB food.
James Wilks– Mixed martial arts champion. Wilks is producing a new documentary film, “The Game Changers”. In it, he chronicles the role of meat in the life of the American male, and examines the myths that permeate our culture surrounding the consumption of animal protein. In his presentation, James left little doubt that his martial arts abilities improved after adopting WFPB eating. In competitions as fierce as mixed martial arts, it is easy to quantify improvement, and of note here is that he became a champion after adopting a whole food plant-based way of eating. His up and coming film features many high level athletes who became faster, stronger, who developed more endurance after adopting WFPB diets, and they all have athletic records to document their improvement.
All in all it was an amazing weekend on so many levels. If you are considering moving toward, or adopting WFPB eating, you will find a retreat like this extremely inspiring.
As for my personal journey, I lost about 18 pounds in my first few months of plant-based eating after which my weight plateaued. I now have an acceptable BMI of 24, but I would still like to lose 10 pounds if possible. I have slowly seen my other health indicators improve, and I have been able to go off my statin drugs. I have reduced my blood pressure medication from three pills per day down to two, and I am hoping to eventually be down to one pill per day. I was actually hoping to reduce my medication by diet alone, but I have recently re-introduced exercise into the mix. Given my profession, one might have expected exercise to already be a part of my lifestyle; but to control for variables, I chose to focus on diet first, curious to see what diet alone could do. Now that I have added cardiovascular exercise, I am seeing additional improvement in my blood pressure as well. My cholesterol has moved steadily in the right direction, and I will find out after my next blood test what my latest numbers will be.
I hope that you find this story inspiring. To find out more about disease reversal through plant-based eating, click on any one of the many links in this article, or contact me about any questions that you might have. My contact information is on the home page of this website.
Yours in Health – Brian Fulton RMT