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VegFest/Health Conference Speaker Spotlights: Dr Esselstyn, Dr Mills, and George Wuerthner

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September 4, 2012

By Trista Cornelius, Contributing Writer

Between Portland VegFest on September 22 & 23 and our Enhancing Health with Plant-Based Nutrition health conference on September 21, Northwest VEG is giving you an opportunity to meet, listen and be inspired by more than 20+ speakers and chefs. Get a head start by meeting three of our fascinating speakers below. Click here to see the full VegFest speaker schedule.

Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., will be presenting his talk: “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease,” distilled from his life’s research and 2008 book Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease: The Revolutionary, Scientifically Proven, Nutrition-Based Cure. What’s interesting about Dr. Esselstyn is not just his Yale degree, his Olympic gold medal, or his Bronze Star for service as a surgeon in the Army. What’s interesting is the battle he’s fought since the 1970s, trying to convince the medical world and his patients that eating a fat-free, vegan diet is not radical, too severe, or impossible.

Dr. Esselstyn asked, in an interview with Mark Sutton at Howard Lyman’s website, which is more radical, open-heart surgery or a plant-based diet: “The one that has you get sawed in half and have your veins taken out of your legs and stuffed onto your heart? Is that not radical? And tell me how often that is done in the United States every year... three or four hundred thousand times? That's radical. And ‘radical’ is a cardiology budget that really takes up, oh, $250 billion, a quarter of a trillion dollars a year."

Changing one’s diet is not easy, and surgery and expensive drugs with side effects seem like a quicker and maybe simpler fix than a lifestyle change. However, Dr. Esselstyn argues in his talk with Howard Lyman that the Western diet has grave consequences, and that the medical field needs to accept the idea “that someone's own metabolism is much wiser, much more brilliant, safer, and less expensive in resolving this epidemic than we with our tools and our drugs. The truth of the matter is that nothing is as strong and as capable as the anatomy and metabolism of the patient's ability to restore themselves...” Be ready for an engaging talk from a leader in plant-based nutrition who believes people can heal themselves--even when genetics seem against them--by simply changing how and what they eat.

Dr. Milton Mills is a graduate of Stanford University School of Medicine, the Associate Director of Preventive Medicine for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and an expert in health care needs of minorities and HIV+ and AIDS patients. His research, some of which he will share in his Health Conference talk, “Plant-Based Diets and Cancer Prevention,” and VegFest talks, "Flowers & the Human Intellect” and "Meat Eating & the Biology of Disgust," has deeply personal and spiritual roots.

As a teenager, Dr. Mills learned about a plant-based diet and lifestyle through the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Even though he was convinced that a vegetarian diet was healthiest, he did not want to give up meat, until one day when he realized he wanted to cultivate a deeper spirituality. To do that, he decided he needed a clear mind, and that would require giving up unhealthy and unclean foods, “namely animal flesh, processed foods, high fat foods and so on.” Dr. Mills has now followed a plant-based diet for 38 years.

Eliminating animal products and comfort foods can seem daunting, but Dr. Mills points out that we were all born without preferences; everything we believe we like to eat, we had to learn to like. Therefore, if we’ve developed a desire for foods that are unhealthy, we can break this addiction and supplant it with something nutritious. We can learn to like things that are good for us, for the planet, and for its other inhabitants. “We don’t have to find pleasure in things that are self destructive or that are destructive to the planet or that are hurtful to other animals.”

When you attend Dr. Mills’s talk, you may be meeting the man behind future ground-breaking research. While working with HIV+ and AIDS patients, Dr. Mills has observed that those who follow a plant-based diet have increased energy and higher T-cell counts. Dr. Mills would like to find out just how much a plant-based diet helps the immune system function, especially for HIV patients.

George Wuerthner is an ecologist and prolific author of numerous visitor’s guides to places like Yosemite and Oregon’s wilderness areas as well as investigations into the environmental impact of motorized vehicle recreation and forest policy. He will be speaking about the hidden costs of meat in his talk, “Ecological Impact of Livestock Production on the Earth.”

For example, Wuerthner worries that the majority of farmland in the US is devoted to livestock, as much as 60-70% with “all kinds of consequences” that harm “both the Earth and humans.” Some of the “unaccounted costs” include killing of wolves to keep cattle and sheep safe, dewatering of rivers for irrigated pasture and hay production, increased soil erosion due to overgrazing, and global warming from methane production.

The land devoted to growing corn and soybeans to feed to cows, pigs, and chickens suffers from pesticides, dwindling native plants, and pollution from excess fertilizer. These concerns combined with mounting evidence that the over-consumption of animal products is at the root of many of America’s health concerns and medical costs has Wuerthner convinced that if we truly considered these costs to society, we would at least make all meat and dairy products carry a warning label similar to cigarettes, warning about the health risks of consumption. Learn more at George Wuerthner’s talk about how the food on our plates not only impacts our bodies but our quality of life and the health of the environment. Also, George will have free copies of Welfare Ranching: The Subsidized Destruction of the American West for attendees of his talk. This is an amazing book of pictures and text that fully documents the highly damaging effects that cattle grazing has had on public lands in the West.

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