This weekend I drank the Cool Aid. As many of you know my wife Renée is studying to be a nutritionist so we figured we’d attend a seminar on eating a plant based diet. Filming a documentary of the event gave us access to all the speakers. Yes, they are a smart and funny bunch of scientists but what really grabbed my attention was their effort to spearhead a game changing idea. The Forks Over Knives documentary was pretty powerful, but after two days with the Esslestyn’s, I quickly realized that they have positioned themselves at the epicenter of a nutritional movement. I learned more than just how to live a healthier life; I learned the fundamentals of staging a nationwide movement and the communications behind the strategic launch of this movement.
Now that I’ve had a few days to internalize the event, I realized that everything I learned was greater than just how to eat better to live longer. This group has realized that our society is on the fringe of a tipping point. This generation of Americans is for the first time at risk of having a shorter life-span than the generation before us; our health inputs are controlled by an antiquated USDA and our healthcare treatments by big pharma. We’re ready for a change and there are a few groups, including the Engine2 team who are leading the way; Clinton even gives them a shout out.
Understanding that they have the knoweldge and tools, they’ve set out to communicate their mission. They put together a 2 day conference that has the potential to influence a fundamental behavioral shift in our country! They assembled a team of experts to strategically disseminate this new approach to eating to live longer and cure disease. It consists of:
A. Break-through science – Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr. & M.D. & Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s years of scientific research, including the Cleveland clinic studies & The China Study,are hard evidence that eating a plant-based diet will not only increase health and length of life, but can reverse disease, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. In 80% of cases, diabetes and heart disease patients are able to go off their meds.
B. Practical implementation- Jeff Novak is changing our eating style from the inside out starting with convincing Wholefoods to rate and sell products that are healthy. He’s helped implement a nationwide system for making it easy for consumers to understand why and how they can eat healthy.
C. Common sense and creating an emotional connection- Rip Esslestyn – making the message digestible with his Engine 2 “Plant-Strong” diet – if you can convince the hard core carnivores of Austin’s firefighting department to give up meat, you can convince anyone! Rich Roll – someone who regularly competes in ultra-ironmans proves you can get ALL of your nutritional needs, including protein, from a plant-based diet.
D. The psychology of propagating a message and cultivating brand ambassadors – Doug Lisle – discusses how to inform others about your plant-based diet without sounding like you’re part of a vegan cult. The audience was one part industry professionals (dietitians, nutritionists and MD’s) and one part either unhealthy or overweight participants seeking a solution to getting healthy.
Here are the communications learnings derived from each of speakers who talked at this immersion event:
Rip Esselstyn – when staging a movement you must:
1. Connect with your audience using emotional and practical language. Rip was able to have a profound impact on Austin firefighters Engine 2 by speaking their language. He appealed to their competitive side by making it a competition to lose weight, cholesterol and get healthy; he appealed to their rational side by having everyone take blood tests to see and understand long-term improvement above and beyond the loss of belly fat. He took before and after photos to show there was a significant visible improvement. He made it fun to participate and told stories that were funny, heartfelt and life changing.
2. Massaging the Point to Tip – the time is right. Between culture, science, news and celebrities there is a perfect storm for momentum to swing in favor of eating healthy. There are challenges like battling the USDA, ADA, big pharma and the food industry; but I think there comes a time when society realizes they must course correct; it happened when we decided smoking was no longer “cool” and it happened again when we realized that we had to start solving for climate change; now the time has come to improve our antiquated ways of eating.
Doug Lisle – the psychology of a movement: building brand ambassadors to propagate your message
1. Make it simple and easy for your followers to first understand and second to explain the essence of your message.
2. Be humble. Don’t act like you know more than others, in fact, say things like “I don’t know,” when talking about the movement. This encourages 2 things: first, you’re less likely to sound like you’re preaching or pushing your ideas; second, it gives others an opportunity to learn it on their own. Understand that people protect their “status.” People are more receptive to a message when they feel like they are discovering new things, not being told things by others. If you pose an idea in a manner that gives others a chance to read a book or watch a documentary, then they’re learning about the movement instead of just following what others are telling them. This technique of empowerment through education makes it more likely for these brand ambassadors to convincingly spread the message.
Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr. & M.D. – Esselstyn, Jr. has been doing this research for 25 years now and he has the hard facts to back up all of the dietary benefits of eating a plant-based diet- eliminating diabetes, reducing heart disease, maintain your body’s natural ideal weight and living longer. His most powerful statement is that the medical profession should really be ashamed at how it approaches nutrition and how the drug industry has manipulated us into treating the symptom with pills instead of curing the problem at the source through a plant based diet.
Jeff Novick, MS & R.D. – Jeff has already started to change the system at the source by changing the labeling and products in WholeFoods. The idea is to understand what you’re eating and how it is effecting your health. The problem is that we haven’t been properly educated about the fundamentals of eating for nutrition. The fact is that our current idea of good nutrition is antiquated and quite frankly broken. Jeff debunks the myth of protein (that we need to eat meat to get it) and talks about calorie density to understand the importance of significantly reducing oils and fats from our diets. Despite the graphs, charts and hard science, Jeff makes you feel more like you’re at a stand-up comedy show than an immersion.
Rich Roll - Rich, ranked in the top 25 fittest people by Men’s Fitness, had several inspirational stories but the crux of his message was rooted in the hard fact that he could get top 10 finishes in ultra-ironmans while consuming a solely plant based diet.
A well put together movement comes from one part science and one part humor. Farms to Forks had a powerful presentation because they assembled a lineup of presenters that used just enough science to convince you that their idea is smart and just enough humor and anecdotes to keep it grounded, digestible, entertaining and relatable.
Look for the documentary we’re developing and will have out shortly.