Regenerative Farming

Diana Rodgers
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Juliet: [2:27] Welcome to The Ready State Podcast, Diana. We are really delighted to have you today.

Diana: [2:32] Thanks for having me.

Juliet: [2:34] So I’m just going to get started with sort of a large question. And what I guess I’m wondering is we obviously just introduced you, and you’re a real food nutritionist, you work and live on an organic farm, you’ve written a few books, you’re working on a book. You have helped produce a short film. So I guess what I’m wondering is if you could give us a little Reader’s Digest version of how you became passionate about this subject and what your background is.

Diana: [3:04] Sure. I have always loved being outside. And actually my summer job when I was in high school and college was working on a farm on Eastern Long Island where I grew up. And I met my husband in college. And I was a fine arts major, he was an English major. But he always had this very strong environmental side. And after a couple years in like the “real workforce,” he realized he wanted to be an organic farmer. And so we moved — we were living in Portland, Oregon. We moved back to Massachusetts where he’s from. And he started working. He got a master’s in soil science and then started working on a real farm to learn all the practical things you can’t learn in grad school like how to drive a tractor and all those practical things. And so it’s been a little over 18 years at this point where he’s been a farm manager. 

I was at one point doing more of the front of the house stuff, running our CSA program and weddings and lots of events and things like that. And then I decided to go back to school for nutrition because in my mid-20s I was diagnosed with celiac disease. I went gluten free but still had all these blood sugar issues. And so I kind of in addition to loving being around farming was really struggling myself with what is that ideal diet that will help me with my blood sugar. I ended up finding Weston A Price and then Paleo. And really fixed me. And so I wrote a couple of cookbooks. 

And I’ve been friends with Robb Wolf ever since I kind of got into this scene. And I’ve always wanted to write a book on just focusing on meat and what is the most sustainable diet for the planet and how do animals play into that. And I think there’s a lot of people out there that are concerned about their impact on the planet, rightly so, and very concerned about longevity and optimal human health. And when those two worlds merge, it ends up looking a lot like a vegetarian type or vegan diet. And I think that that’s incredibly misguided. And there aren’t a lot of people talking about how animals, especially ruminant animals like cows are actually one of our best tools of mitigating climate change, provide one of the most nutrient dense foods that humans can possibly eat. What are the ethical implications of this? How would we feed the world this way? And what is the most ideal diet for looking at a more ancestral evolutionary biology perspective? 

And I think this community of folks that are into real food and ancestral ways, the idea of regenerative agriculture and sort of mimicking nature in our food production, it makes a lot of sense because we’re already on board from the nutrition end of it. And so that’s the book that comes out July 14. And I also have a — it’s actually a feature documentary film that will be coming out in the fall. So the book is a very science-based text. And then the film is really intended to reach all those people that probably won’t pick up the book. There’s a lot of young people out there that are looking to digest their information in a quicker way and video is really the way they can do that. And there’s just been so many plant-based propaganda films coming out, being shown in schools, and really powerfully swaying people, that I felt that a film that really gave people the big picture of why farming, mirroring nature is so critical would be also really useful. So we’ve got the book and the film coming out. And in both of these, it was really more like a four-year process, putting all this stuff together. So it’s been a long time.

Kelly: [7:29] And you still have time to feed cows and holy moly, you guys are amazing.

Juliet: [7:33] Well, that was amazing. First of all, thank you. That was like the greatest Reader’s Digest version we’ve ever gotten. But there’s a lot to unpack there. But I want to just start telling you a quick story because I’m wondering if you relate to it. We have a dear friend, Molly, who also was not diagnosed as a celiac until her late 20s. In fact, it was Kelly who suggested to her that she might be a celiac and should sort of go down that path. And she also was an artist, by the way. She studied — she had an MFA as well. And she had — she told us this funny story which I’m wondering if you relate to. 

After she cleaned up her diet and just like you started following a pretty strict Paleo diet and literally described almost having like this mental awakening and feeling like she’d been in a fog for her entire childhood. And she said, you know what, if I had learned as a child that I was a celiac, I think I would be an accountant. She said I actually find artists to be really annoying. But it made sense to me because I was eating two bowls of cereal before school and I was in a mental fog. So I just, I wanted to share that with you as another person who discovered —

Diana: [8:43] Yeah. I mean I definitely had some learning disability stuff that kind of went away after I cleaned up my diet. Reading was really hard for me. Words would jump, swirl all over the page. And I think that’s — I would actually — I never read an entire book until like my second year in college. And I was so good at art that I would just sort of read the CliffsNotes or the jacket of the book and then make a really amazing poster, diorama of what I thought the book was about. And I was so good at it that I actually was able to skate through the whole system as a faker basically. And it wasn’t until I was in college and basically in grad school when I was able to get straight A’s and zoom through books. And yeah, diet has a huge impact on your intellect, I think. Yeah.

Kelly: [9:39] You know, one of the things I heard that is really amazing is that so many of our friends who’ve become interested, become experts, and clearly you guys have taken it as far as you can, living what you’re talking about. I mean if Juliet told me we were becoming organic farmers, I would definitely pause for a second. But you know, you found that food really was a way of healing yourself. I know Robb had a similar experience, Robb Wolf, you know, that really he realized that food was the way in for his sanity and for his health and how he felt and —

Juliet: [10:15] Our assistant too.

Kelly: [10:16] Yep. So many of our friends have ended up this way. One of the things that you said, which is really interesting because a lot of people are so tolerant, they can eat whatever they want, or they think they can, and they don’t realize how much better they can feel. But this sort of move towards the propaganda where people say, hey, I want to do something about the planet or about climate, do you think it’s just that we have guilt because we’re so far removed from industrial, factory farming and that seems like an easy thing to do? Or is it that’s just the lowest piece of fruit to say, well, look, I’m doing my part because I’m not going to eat a hamburger or I’m not going to eat an organic egg? Do you know what I mean? Is that a component to this, you think?

Diana: [11:00] There are so many forces at play here. I mean I think first of all, there’s a lot of money to be made in making ultra processed vegan foods. And so these companies are largely profiting off this grassroots network of evangelical plant-based followers that I think we’re removed from food production. We’ve allowed animal farming to become industrialized, which is not the way that these biological creatures are supposed to be living. And it seems really horrific. And we’re really afraid of death. We don’t like the idea of death. Most Americans don’t have a will. So there’s just so many layers to this. And red meat is bloody. It represents power and wealth and death, again. 

And so what we’ve done is scapegoated meat for really what processed food has done to our health. And we’re scapegoating the animal, the cow, for really what fossil fuels are doing to our environment. And so like right now, we’re seeing cities having clearer skies, pollution’s going down. There’s still the same amount of beef cattle in the world. And also, when we look at what people are buying at grocery stores, what are people panic buying? It’s not Beyond Burger. It’s real food, right? It’s real meat. And so people are not going to stop eating meat. Death is not going to stop happening. And so our only solution is to do it in a better way.

Kelly: [12:54] You know, because I’ve known Robb for 15 years or longer, I’m highly aware of the people that he talks about and what goes on. And I’ve sort of stalked you quietly on Instagram. And really, one of the reasons we wanted to talk with you is I feel like you’ve really done a beautiful job of illuminating some of the social justice aspects of sort of the migration towards sort of a veganism or plant-based diet as a solution. And you point out regularly all the time — maybe you could talk about some of the posts that you made or talk about the fact that maybe that, across the planet, across developing nations and people who are food insecure, that is definitely, the patriarchy, it is not the same thing. So could you talk about that for a second because I’m trying not to step on this. Because I think when you wrote that, for me, I was like oh, okay, I really need to think even larger about my food and the implications of the food choices I make.

Juliet: [14:03] Well, if I could just sort of tack on to that part of Kelly’s question, I mean first of all, just for me, thank you for thinking about and caring about that. I mean there are so many equity issues involved with diet and food and farming and how we are able to access food, that I just want to say thank you for sort of bringing up the conversation. 

Diana: [14:26] Yeah. I mean a few years ago, maybe more than a few years ago actually, I went to a conference at Harvard called Just Food. And it was talking about social justice in the food industry. And I sat through a presentation by a Latino woman who was talking about farmers markets in the South and how the last thing they want are skinny white girls telling them to eat more salad. And I was like, you know, what’s your profile of a dietician. That’s who I envision when I think of who a dietician is and these celebrity chefs going to farmers markets and the idea that all we have to do is just tell people to eat more fruits and vegetables. 

And there’s this idea of food sovereignty and people should be eating their culturally appropriate foods. And this push away from animal-based foods into this plant-based space really sort of violates every first nation people, every traditional culture. I mean I just — I’ve got a big problem with that. And there’s people in America who are really food insecure. And one of the things I point out in the book and in the film, I mean we’re still editing it and this piece is in the film as of right now, but we’re highly critical of Meatless Mondays. And that’s because in New York City, the biggest school system in the U.S., they’re following Meatless Mondays. And 70 percent of the kids who attend the public schools in New York are low income or homeless. And so to take meat away from them and to put in propaganda all over the school talking about how unhealthy it is to eat meat and how they’re doing such good things for the planet by eating beans instead of a burger, it gives them the message that meat is bad, meat is bad for the planet, it’s unhealthy to eat. And for a lot of kids, that is the most nutrient dense or the only meal they get all day. 

Kelly: [16:26] And that’s across the planet, right? Will you talk just a little, expand on that a little more because I think one of the pieces of research you mentioned was that in developing countries, emerging countries where kids have access to meat, there’s a difference in their growth and in their brain development.

Diana: [16:44] Right. So there is only one study that’s a randomized control trial that’s looked at meat versus less meat or no meat in kids. And what they did was they went to a population of kids who were food insecure in Kenya. One group got a meat supplement on top of their normal diet. Another group got extra calories. And another group got milk. And the meat group by far outperformed academically and physically and behaviorally compared to the other groups. And interestingly, the next group that did well wasn’t the milk group. It was the over calories group. So when we look at what does milk do, it inhibits iron absorption. And what do growing kids really need and what is the largest nutrient deficiency worldwide? It’s iron. And so the idea that milk is a suitable substitute for animal protein in the form of meat is not fair to all of these kids. 

And in the film, we actually highlight a scientist who actually works in developing countries and talks about how in the countries where he works, there might not be a doctor for hundreds of miles, let alone a CVS or a Walgreens where you can get a B12 supplement and your iron tablets. And so these people have to rely on animal-based foods. And in many cases, animal-based foods are the only things that thrive in the environment because you can’t just crop everywhere. You can’t just grow soybeans and corn and rice in all places. The amount of land we have available for cropping versus the amount of land we have available for pasture, for grazing, is much, much smaller. So in a lot of very dry, arid places, you can graze goats or cattle or camels or lots of other animals. But you can’t crop. And cropping is very risky. You have to own land, which many women can’t own land. But they can own livestock. And you have to buy the seeds. It’s highly risky because if any storm comes, it could wipe out your entire crop. You have to be able to store it and process it. 

For example, in the Congo you can only — most of the land can only grow cassava. But cassava doesn’t store very well and so you need to process it into flour. And they just don’t have the infrastructure to be able to do that very well. So there’s just so many reasons why the idea that the whole world should be eating less meat is quite harmful to nutrition and to the environment.

Kelly: [19:19] Thank you so much. I really — couple points that I just — sometimes are completely lost in this conversation. 

Juliet: [19:26] Yeah. And I do — there’s a couple words you said when describing sort of all of the vegan movies and sort of push towards a plant-based diet. And I love that you actually are calling them what they are, which is propaganda. And you also used the word evangelical. I think that’s — those two words really hit home for me when you’re talking about those things. I know in Sacred Cow, and I’m sure in your documentary, you are challenging many of the assumptions around meat consumption, social justice being one of them. But I know you also talk about sort of the environmental concerns. I know there’s a lot of concerns that people who eat a lot of meat are at a higher risk of getting cancer. So could you sort of address some of those other things beyond social justice? 

Diana: [20:10] Sure. Well, I think that you can’t have an argument about eating meat without first recognizing the nutritional importance of it. And so that’s where we start in the film and in the book. And so once we’re all on the same page that meat is a nutrient dense food, that humans are omnivores and we require the nutrients in meat, then we can move forward and talk about how to raise it in a more environmental way and ethical way. 

And so the studies against meat are largely based on observational studies which cannot prove cause. They look at two different populations and they’ll try to extrapolate one food group and pin all of the dietary blame on that one food group when there’s so many other factors that often are not taken into consideration. So when you look at a typical meat eater in the U.S. versus a typical vegetarian, there’s a lot of lifestyle differences. So your typical vegetarian is more likely to do yoga and meditate and take supplements and less likely to smoke and drink as much as a typical meat eating American. There are studies that have looked at people who shop at health food stores, so therefore adjusting for that lifestyle shift.

And they’ve found no difference at all between longevity between omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans. We also see that vegetarians and vegans are much more likely to suffer from nutrient deficiencies which can lead to a whole host of problems, and that the nutrients in meat are best absorbed from meat and not from a supplement. And so my case for meat is very, very strong in the book, that it’s required for optimal health.

Kelly: [21:56] And when you say meat, you don’t just mean — we’re not just saying cows. I think that’s what people think, right?

Diana: [22:00] MmHmm.

Kelly: [22:01] I mean sometimes my critique of our friends who are using carnivore or only eating meat as primary their source, and again, caveat emptor. Let people solve their problems as long as they can show me the proof through their bloodwork and their health. But sometimes, I’m like hey, there are lots of different kinds of meat, including fish, including — one of the things that Juliet and I personally try to do, and I recognize our food privilege here in Marin, is we try to eat lots of different kinds of vegetables and fruits and as many different varieties. And we actually try to think about that in our protein sources as well, and especially our animal protein sources, instead of just exclusively eating a single animal protein source.

Diana: [22:49] Totally. Yes. I mean I live on an organic vegetable farm primarily. That’s what we do here. And so we’re eating all kinds of weird radishes and Asian greens, all kinds of funky stuff that most people don’t have access to. And I think that eating a mixture of plants and animals is really important. I do see the benefits in a carnivore diet for some people who have like a totally trashed gut or whatever. So I don’t totally push that aside.

Kelly: [23:16] Oh no, for sure.

Diana: [23:16] But I think for the majority of healthy people, as a dietician, my professional recommendation is to eat a wide variety of both plants and animals as whole as possible, right?

Kelly: [23:30] Juliet and I tell people, yes, we’re plant based. That means we eat as many plants as we can with the best animal proteins we can afford. And then we’re like, oh yes, we’re meat based. We eat the best meat we can afford with as many leafy greens as we can shove down our throats.

Diana: [23:43] Yeah. I mean honestly my favorite animal protein source is fish. And fish is incredibly nutrient dense. And I think even vegetarians, if you get enough fermented dairy and egg in your diet, you can probably be pretty healthy. It’s the complete absence of all animal products that I have a concern about. And especially for children, babies and children.

Juliet: [24:08] You know, I know that you sort of alluded to it a little bit, but I obviously know that you are not necessarily advocating for our current industrial meat system as it is. And I know you offer something you call regenerative agriculture as a solution. Can you talk a little bit about what that is and what that means?

Kelly: [24:27] Does it scale?

Juliet: [24:28] Yeah.

Diana: [24:30] So the idea with regenerative agriculture is basically farming with nature and mimicking the movement of, when it comes to animals anyway, mimicking the movement of like if you picture the Serengeti with these massive herds of wildebeest moving around, they’re not in one place because they constantly have to be on the move. There’s predators on the edge of the woods stalking them. They’re going to eat up all the grass in one area. So they have to keep on moving for new water sources and to stay away from predators. And when they move off the land that they just grazed, it actually allows that land to rest and regenerate. And that’s when the carbon sequestration can happen. 

And so we can actually mimic that as farmers and ranchers with electric fencing. And so there’s really two ways to do grass-fed meat, right? One way would be continuous grazing where let’s imagine a 10-acre field and 10 cows and they’re just all season in that same 10 acres. They have access to the whole thing. And what ends up happening is they’re going to browse and overgraze their favorite grasses because a pasture isn’t just one type of grass. There’s multiple different species in there. And some taste a little bit better to cattle than others. And so they’ll overgraze and kill the grasses that they prefer. And they’ll not graze the grasses that they don’t like as much. Any animal that has a parasite load will then give it to all the other animals. And so you end up with less healthy land, more bare spots, and less healthy animals. 

In contrast, if you took that same 10 cows and broke the pasture into 10 one-acre plots and moved the cows to each different pasture, giving the one they were just on a break until they’ve circulated through all 10 pastures, what you’re doing is forcing the cattle to eat the entire one acre all at once as quickly as they can because they’re going to be moving. And so when you move them to the next one, that grass actually gets a nice long rest period where it can regenerate, the birds can swoop down and eat any of the parasites, and it’s just a much healthier system, and you have healthier land and healthier animals.

Kelly: [27:03] You know, we have these goats in our — you know, we have rural fires here in northern California. And cleverly, in order to manage the hills around here, have several herds of goats that just destroy and knock down in very short order a ton of grass. It’s pretty remarkable when we see what happens. Then they move them on with an electric fence. And Juliet and I are blown away at the rebound and the health of the systems once those goats have moved on and that grass has come back, those areas have come back. It’s pretty remarkable to have seen how with no fire control previously, then putting in the goats into our ecosystem, how the ecosystem changed to become even better.

Diana: [27:49] Yeah. In fact, I actually talked to the park warden or ranger head guy in Marin County about that and almost featured that in the film.

Kelly: [27:58] Oh, I love it. So it makes sense. We really try to have everyone have a local CSA, knowing where their meat comes from. We have a lot of choices around here. I think one of the criticisms or an easy criticism to lob is that we can’t feed everyone with sustainable, ungulate meat practices. Is that a truism or not a truism? Does it scale or not?

Juliet: [28:24] Yeah, and does regenerative agriculture scale and sort of connecting that back to the social justice issues we talked about before.

Diana: [28:32] Right. Yeah, I’m forgetting that you asked me that before and I didn’t answer that. So let me answer it now. So in the film, we actually feature a rancher that’s in Chihuahua, Mexico who is working with a collective of ranchers that are regenerating 1 million acres in the state of Chihuahua. 

Kelly: [28:48] Oh.

Juliet: [28:50] Just 1 million.

Diana: [28:52] Just a million. So the fact is this is the only solution that we have moving forward and it can work. There’s a lot of underutilized and unutilized grazing options in the United States. And if we go through the math, Robb and I go through the math in the book, and if we were to stop growing so much corn for cattle, if we were to start using CRP land, which is currently not being grazed, if we were to switch to regenerative grazing, that actually increases productivity. They call it the carrying capacity of the land. It increases the carrying capacity of the land. So if we were to do all of those things, we would have more than enough land to finish all the cattle that we have right now for beef on grass. 

One thing that I should mention is that all cattle actually everywhere start out on grass. So they don’t spend their entire lives on a feedlot. And that’s very different from conventional chicken or pork, which do spend their entire lives in a factory farm eating only grain. Cattle are very different because they’re ruminants. And they wouldn’t survive in a feedlot their whole lives. And so all the calf, cow operations, all the mama cows, are all out on grass right now. And then they only go to a feedlot in their last phase. And so they’re either finished on grass or finished in a feedlot. So it’s really just finishing the cattle on grass, and yes, we do have the land to finish all the cattle in the United States on grass.

Kelly: [30:33] Let me tie a couple questions together. I think a lot of people don’t appreciate potentially some of the negative impacts of removing animal products — animal sources of protein and vitamins and minerals, and so they think, hey, I’m going to do this thing because it’s for the environment. If we were going to redirect those people and say, hey, you can actually do something for the environment, where would you have young people or people who are interested in making a social change put their money in order to make, sort of begin this gigantic sort of cultural shift about how we’re thinking about our relationships to food farming?

Diana: [31:11] Well, actually now is a fantastic time to get involved in food production. A lot of people are out of work or underemployed right now. And in Europe, in France, and in many other countries, the government is actually encouraging out of work people to go work on farms because they don’t have the labor. Because the borders are closed and everything, they don’t have the labor to harvest everything that they need right now. We’re going to see that in the US as well. We have less transient people across the borders but we still have a ton of people that are harvesting our food or working on ranches that are coming across borders that are not going to be able to get in here, and we’re going to need help. We’re going to have some major food shortages coming up. And so people can go volunteer or work part time on a farm. That would be a great way to get involved. 

Or just instead of buying your meat from a typical industrial source, seeking out a more local or regenerative source. And one of the ways they can do that is or I also have a blog post on where we have a list of all the places that I love that either ship or are local and listed by state. So folks can just go directly. That’s the best way. That’s how we work on our farm. We sell direct to the public. And that cuts out the middleman. 

And I think what this pandemic is showing us is that there’s a huge interest from people in reassessing everything, in growing their own food. Home gardening is off the charts right now. It’s what I’ve been focusing on with all my social media lately, is just helping people learn how to have their home gardens and then how to support their local pasture raised meat suppliers.

Kelly: [33:14] That victory garden is a great concept, isn’t it?

Diana: [33:18] Yeah. And it’s interesting because seed companies have — a lot of them have closed to the public because they’re getting so much interest that they can’t — like Johnny’s Seeds for example is one of our main suppliers here at our farm. And they’ve closed to the public because they were not able to service their regular farmers because they had so much need from the public. And so we’ll be selling at our farm stand seedlings and seeds for folks. Not getting into debt. Don’t be a burden on society. Keep yourself healthy. These are all other things that we say are really important to do if we want a regenerative food system and more sustainable life for everybody. 

Kelly: [34:07] One of the — I think two points I want to make. One is that you have rightfully pointed out in one of the posts that really stuck with me, which is we’ve actually been plant based for the last like 40 years. And how is it working? Could you expand on sort of that idea because I don’t think people have thought kind of critically that, wow, we have been plant based because we’ve had all these industrialized seeds and these industrial crops have just really gone into these highly processed foods.

Diana: [34:37] Yeah. I think there’s this perception that we all need to eat less meat. Clearly Americans eat too much meat. And I think people are envisioning a 72-ounce steak that everyone’s sitting down to at dinner. And that’s just actually not reality. We’re eating about two ounces of beef per person per day. A little under that. And so that’s clearly not too much. Especially in the book I go into why I think protein needs to be optimized for everybody kind of no matter what your situation is, right? Weight gain, weight loss, recovering from an autoimmune condition, growth, maintaining muscle mass. I mean there’s kind of no one that would not benefit from optimizing their protein intake. 

When we look at what people are spending money on at grocery stores and what our overall food intake is, about 70 percent of that is ultra processed junk that is pretty nutrient poor. And most of that is from plants, but it’s from these ultra processed grains with these hyperpalatable flavor combinations that spark us to overeat and that’s a form of food waste too. Overconsumption is a form of food waste. So we talk about food waste and everyone’s picturing, oh, all these farmers that are plowing in their tomatoes instead of giving them to the homeless people. But actually, I think that overeating is actually a huge problem that we need to be addressing as well. 

Kelly: [36:01] Yeah. It’s what makes me think when you mention this is that if we had to give ourselves a grade, right now for example in the COVID crisis, we’re seeing that disproportionately people of color and people of lower socioeconomic means are being much more stricken because of the comorbidities of being overweight or obese or having cardiometabolic disease or being insulin insensitive. Almost feels like there’s some kind of overlap in between what we’ve been doing and how we are not very healthy. 

I mean Juliet and I point out that when we went to high school, chances of us being diabetic as kids was 1 in 4,000. Now it’s 1 in 4, doesn’t matter how much your parents make. And if you’re a Latino or an African-American woman, the chance of you being diabetic are two out of three. And so sometimes we have to say, well, is what we’re doing currently working, and then let’s even start from that hypothesis. And what’s interesting now is I think you’ve talked about that there are potentially some cracks in our current system. Are we seeing sort of this shut down and any implications on the way we were farming, sort of these big industrial crops? Are we seeing any breakdowns in that system?

Diana: [37:20] Well, right before we got on the podcast, I did mention to you how — so Smithfield just closed one of their meatpacking plants because many of the workers were sick. There’s also, there’s a lot of chatter that many others are going to be closing. And as we have a more industrialized centralized food system, that makes us extremely vulnerable from a food security perspective. And so there’s just never been a better time to look at more regional and regenerative solutions that use real food as working with nature as the basis of that.

Kelly: [38:05] I told you we needed chickens, Juliet. Told you. I’ve been fighting for chickens and bees for a long time.

Juliet: [38:09] Well, it’s interesting, I mean in this COVID crisis, and sort of following up on what Kelly said in terms of people who are having higher morbidity and mortality, and many of that is really connected to this very poor and standard American diet that’s highly processed. And what I find so interesting about what we’re seeing now is I think thanks to modern medicine, I think we –many people in our society can be overweight or obese but just function because they can take blood pressure medication or control their diabetes with some kind of pharmaceutical. And there’s not really an obvious impact to their life otherwise. And man, this pandemic has really brought that to light, that you are definitely at higher risk for a lot of things if your diet is not sort of in order.

Diana: [39:00] Right. I mean all we have is our health. That’s all we have. That’s all we have, is our health. But unfortunately, I did work in Dorchester, which is a section of Boston that’s pretty low income, and I think that there’s a lot of things that are broken and it’s not just a matter of people not eating better.

Kelly: [39:25] That’s right. That’s right. It’s complicated.

Juliet: [39:27] It’s so complicated.

Diana: [39:27] It’s really complex. And it’s actually not even a matter of food deserts. I was working at this little like health food store in this neighborhood. And we were wondering why people weren’t coming in. And when you’ve had a really crappy day, the last thing you want is like a healthy steamed chicken and broccoli with brown rice meal, right? Like processed food tastes good. It’s an inexpensive luxury and for a lot of people, the only luxury that they get. You know your kids aren’t going to fight you for it.

Juliet: [40:01] That’s big.

Diana: [40:01] And when you’re worried about paying rent tomorrow or your car starting the next day, or not getting shot or something, longevity is also a privilege that a lot of people just don’t have the ability to care about. And so I think that of course as I take care of my car, I bring it to the shop to get oil changes, I don’t expect insurance to cover that. I also take care of my body. But as you mentioned before, there’s a privilege in that. And so it’s just, it’s crazy complicated. And there’s just so many levels of brokenness to the system. 

Kelly: [40:45] We do feel like though if you start people practicing early — you know secretly sometimes Juliet and I, we’re like wow, we’ve failed a generation of people. We’re going to lose a generation because changing behavior is so difficult. And some of these things are so addictive and so wired into our — fast food is highly addictive. And porn is highly addictive. And sugar is highly addictive. And these things tap into sort of our sociobiological ancestral selves. And we think the only way sometimes to break this pattern is to start much, much earlier to get kids thinking about this differently. And I really do appreciate your statement here that it’s just not as easy as go down to your CSA and cook yourself dinner. I mean we battle with our kids about eating more vegetables and eating better things and not accessing the junk that’s available to them. And we have that learned tradition.

Juliet: [41:43] And I mean I just want to say major props for just pointing out the obvious, which is that even just the ability to discuss longevity is already a privilege. So thank you.

Diana: [41:53] Yeah. But we’ve got problems where so in Massachusetts, you can use your EBT at farmers markets, right? But they also then decided that they were going to start this other program called HIP. H-I-P or H-I-I-P, I forget what exactly. Healthy Incentive Program. Where they got an extra $40 to $80 they could spend at farmers markets. But it could only be on fruits and vegetables. 

And the irony here is if we’re looking at people who need better nutrition, should we be incentivizing them for a $6 pint of organic raspberries or should we — in Massachusetts, which our growing season is really short here, but we have local meat year-round. Or should we be giving them a $6 pound of ground local meat? But yet it’s the fruits and vegetables that everyone’s focusing on. And so that’s where I just try to focus my energy and kind of stick up for the local meat producers here and remind people that if we are looking to solve food insecurity, meat is one of the best ways we can do that. And guess what? It’s available year-round. Massachusetts and New England overall is really good at growing grass. And so is Marin County. I know lots of producers out there. And so meat has a place at the table. And we can’t just be talking about fruits and vegetables. 

Kelly: [43:31] We — you had a post that really resonated with us, which was right after the Oscars there was some talk about these meatless burgers. And you put up a really interesting post, which was grass-fed hamburger patties from animals that were taken care of and raised humanely at Walmart were this much, and a processed meat patty, plant patty, a non meat Frankenburger patty, was way more expensive. And I think that that sometimes highlights this notion that we can’t do it cheaply. You know, underlying that is this sort of I think inherent, interesting conversation, is meat eating bad, comma, so am I healthier if I eat meat or am I healthier if I eat no meat. And really, is this industrial meat unhealthy, and by extension, am I unhealthy because I eat industrial meat.

Diana: [44:39] Yeah. There were a lot of questions in that.

Kelly: [44:40] Sorry. I started talking, I’m like oh my gosh, here we go.

Diana: [44:46] Yeah. So I went to I looked up Beyond Burger. And interestingly, they sell it in 8-ounce packages. So it looks like it’s about the same price as —

Kelly: [44:56] Beyond Burger is a plant-based Frankenburger product.

Diana: [44:58] MmHmm. Made from not even organic, monocrop vegetables grown in a pretty extractive destructive way. And then I looked at — at Walmart you can get organic, grass-fed beef. But they sell it in one-pound packages. So it looks like the package of the Beyond Burger is really large. There’s a lot of extra packaging there relative to how puny their product is. But it’s all just a smokescreen because when you look at the price per pound, and I used to work for Whole Foods, so I know how the grocery industry works. You can always compare prices of different products by just looking at the price per pound, which is always to the left of whatever the retail price is. The price per pound of Beyond Burger was twice as much as organic, grass-fed beef. 

So we definitely have some problems in our food system with the government subsidizing crop production and not rewarding farmers who are actually using organic practices, and not penalizing farmers who are destroying the environment. And those are some of the reasons why organic and grass-fed products are more expensive. But I mean even with all that taken into consideration, Beyond Burgers are ridiculously expensive and not more nutrient dense. 

Your second question, if someone, maybe they’re living in an inner city, they don’t have access to buying meat from — they can’t make it to the farmers market to buy their local meat. I still recommend that they feed their kids beef as opposed to rice and beans, as opposed to even chicken or pork. Beef is more nutrient dense than chicken. Even when the cows end up on a feedlot, a lot of what they’re eating is crop residue that would emit greenhouse gases if we didn’t feed it to a cow anyway. So it’s really complex. It’s not black and white. I do think that grass-fed, grass-finished, regenerative beef is something we need to be striving for. But I also think that telling someone that if they can’t get organic, grass-fed, unicorn beef to be feeding their kids beans and rice, which is four times the calories and all those carbs compared to the red meat, they should go for the red meat. There’s more nutrients in that and less calories and it’s just going to give their kids a better chance in life.

Kelly: [47:51] Amazing. Thank you.

Juliet: [47:51] So I went through this exercise with my kids when I would take them shopping when they were really little. If they wanted to buy something, I would require them to be able to read all the ingredients and if it had more than –it was already a straight up no if it was more than like three to five ingredients. And then if there were ingredients in the product they couldn’t actually read, you know, those long words you see in a lot of processed foods, that was also a solid no. And they would try. They would give an honest effort in the grocery store to try to read all these ingredients. Not to mention they’re always in 2-point font, so that’s also hard. 

But I noticed that actually we tried a Beyond Burger, whatever brand it was, and just looked at the ingredients. And there’s like 45 or 50 ingredients in those. So for me, that sort of violated this first principle that if I’m just trying to eat actual food, and if I define things that are actual food as things that are not 27 million ingredients, that sort of solidly for me fell in the “this is not food” category. 

Diana: [48:58] Yeah. And I think when you guys get my book and take a look at it, you’ll see. Robb and I went through, we pretty much did a systematic review of all the research on typical beef versus grass-fed beef as far as nutrition goes. And we looked at glyphosate, we looked at antibiotic resistance, we looked at nutrients, we looked at the fatty acids, everything. And it’s really hard to make a case that grass-fed beef is substantially more nutrient dense than typical meat. 

So from a nutrition perspective, as a practitioner, first off, I think that it would be irresponsible for me to tell somebody to only eat organic broccoli or don’t eat broccoli, right? Or only eat organic vegetables or don’t eat vegetables at all, right? Like no one would ever say that. And the same thing with meat. I think that you should eat the best meat that you can afford, but if you only have access to industrial meat, it’s still a better choice than plant-based alternatives which are also highly industrialized or four times the calories. So for personal nutrition, that’s my position. But then of course, there are very good environmental and ethical reasons why I think better meat is preferable.

Juliet: [50:19] So we’re running out of time. And this has been so awesome. But before I let you go, I know you have a lot going on with this book and documentary, and you obviously work on a farm. Are you still counseling clients one on one on nutrition? Is that still a part of your practice?

Diana: [50:36] I did take a break for a little bit. But I’m going to open it up. Right now, I’m sort of doing one off consults where people can just kind of have like an individual session. I have another dietician that’s been working with me that’s been taking more of the long-term clients that are seeing people sort of on a recurring basis. So it’s really like right now things are a little bit quiet because I just haven’t been traveling as much because all my conferences have been canceled.

Juliet: [51:03] Same here.

Diana: [51:05] And so I have a little extra time. So I’m opening up just for a handful of people that really want to see me instead of Rachel, my other RD, who’s amazing. And as things pick up more with the book, she’ll be taking on more of my course load. Sorry, my client load. Yeah. So I am — I still have my foot in the door as a clinician. 

Kelly: [51:30] Do you feel like — this is a follow up because I want to keep reframing this, that you’re sort of at both ends. You can sort of — you’ve walked around the entire cow, for lack of a better phrase, where you’re seeing people come to you looking for nutrition as a registered dietician, same registered dietician I’d find in a hospital, and you guys are still working a farm and have a farmers market. Do you feel like that gives you unique insight into some of the points you’re making and the conversations you’re having?

Diana: [52:03] Well, I should mention I’m not working on the farm right now, so I wouldn’t call myself technically a farmer at this time. Although I have in the past called myself a farmer and I was working on the farm more in the past. Once I decided to be more full time in the nutrition and writing space, I sort of, I just enjoyed the farm and it’s actually been better for my relationship with my husband anyway, that I don’t work with him.

Kelly: [52:33] Let me clarify. Your family has a farm.

Diana: [52:35] Yeah. Yes. So our son, who’s 16, is our best tractor driver, works on the farm a lot. My daughter works in the market and loves the customer service end of it. She’s 14. And I have in the past run our farmers market program and all of that. But at the moment, I’m more of a clinician and author and speaker and everything. But I think that my experience over the last 18 years with such a close tie to real food, agriculture, gives me a very unique perspective on how to eat and kind of just what a different food system could look like. 

Kelly: [53:23] Well and, you know, we can’t wait to watch your documentary because we know we’ve sat down and watched Super Size Me with our kids. One of our daughters even did her science experiment on McDonald’s burgers. So it really has been a really powerful tool to educate. And one of our favorite movies last year, of course you know, is Biggest Little Farm. And it was such — our kids came home so inspired and actually wanted to go to the farm. We talked about it a ton, and about the food choices and the ethics, and the animals and plant diversity, and all the complex conversations. Thank you so much for taking on what feel like really colored and difficult conversations, and almost politically charged conversations, on behalf of us who have day jobs. I really just want to thank you for continuing to really highlight the nuances and the complexity in some of the conversations, and then also being the voice for those who sometimes don’t — we aren’t considering in this conversation of is this healthy or is this unhealthy. 

Diana: [54:30] Thank you so much. I really appreciate your interest in my work and for having me on. Thank you so much.

Juliet: [54:36] So just a couple logistics. Can you tell us when people can look for your book and is it available now for preorder? And also, when should we keep our eyes out for the documentary, and where?

Diana: [54:47] Yes. So the book is available for preorder at or at their favorite online book seller. And we are offering — Robb and I have a couple little gifts for folks who preorder. So we’ve got a cookbook and a couple other things that we’re offering. So they can do that at They can sign up for my newsletter list and know when — so the book comes out July 14 and the film will likely come out in the fall. We’re talking to distributors right now. And we’re almost done with the fine cut of the film. So we’re very close.

Kelly: [55:27] Oh, congratulations.

Diana: [55:27] I’m talking to the animators now, with the composers. It’s really cool to see what the composer is coming up with for different scenes for the film. And he’s talking to me about “I think there needs to be cello here”. I’ve just never thought about things like that.

Juliet: [55:42] Yeah. That’s so interesting.

Diana: [55:42] So it’s really, really fun. And it’s really coming together. And we’ve got very strong interest from some pretty major streaming services. So it will go probably straight to streaming and it’s likely going to be with one of the major streaming companies. And we also have, and I’m still waiting for the signature on the contract, but we do have a verbal commitment and we’re moving forward with a pretty big celebrity as the narrator. So I will let everyone know as soon as I’m able to talk about that.

Juliet: [56:21] That’s so exciting.

Kelly: [56:21] Well, the new Dune movie is what I’m living for and your movie. I can’t wait. It’s just fantastic. Will you just hit us with your handle on social media because you’re such a prolific writer? And I love for people to be able to deep dive. We have time to maybe ponder some of these conversations right now. I’m doing all the shopping for Juliet’s parents. If there ever was a time to kind of be thinking or have a moment to be thinking about these complex issues instead of worrying about getting my kids to water polo practice, now is the time. Where do we find you?

Diana: [56:56] Yeah. So I have two websites. I have, which is where I write about recipes and nutrition. And then is specifically about all the things we were talking about here. And they can find information about the film and book and more meat centric blog posts. And I’m most active on Instagram, and that’s @sustainabledish. I’m sometimes on Twitter @sustainabledish. I don’t love Twitter that much. And Facebook is kind of dead these days. I actually post more on my personal Facebook than on my business Facebook. But it’s also Sustainable Dish there as well. 

Juliet: [57:36] Well, we will put all of that in the show notes. So nobody needs to remember that. And Diana, I just want to echo what Kelly said. It’s so great to talk to you. Thank you for being sort of a different and alternative voice to what we’re seeing out there in the internet and streaming services sphere. And we’re just really grateful for having you on today. Thank you so much.

Kelly: [57:54] Thank you so much. 

Diana: [57:55] Thank you. Have a great day. 

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