09 Aug #104 Saving Firefighters With Plant-Based Eating | Rip Esselstyn
Firefighters are heroes. We look up to them because they’re strong, they’re brave and they put themselves in danger to help others. But more firefighters die each year from heart attacks than in the line of duty. How can plant-based eating help? And what can their success with diet changes teach us all?
WELCOME TO THE DARIN OLIEN SHOW
Rip Esselstyn saved a firefighter’s health with plant-based eating. Now he wants us to save ourselves.
As one of the premier triathletes in the world, Rip Esselstyn joined the Austin Fire Department to begin a career as a first responder. He was surprised to learn that the firefighter culture was full of unhealthy eating habits. Determined to change that, Rip stepped in to help a brother firefighter transform his poor health with a diet overhaul. He then documented his approach and results in his best-selling book The Engine 2 Diet. Rip and his friend’s experience with plant-based eating was even featured in the popular documentary Forks Over Knives.
Now, as the founder of PLANTSTRONG, Rip develops and implements a range of programs and events all geared towards educating people across the globe on how to live a “plantstrong” life. He’s even launching a new line of plant-based foods like granola, popcorn, soups and stews that will be sold in grocery stores across the nation.
This incredibly dedicated man reminds me so much of myself, guys! I was so grateful to connect with him and get to share such a meaningful conversation. Rip shares my vision of spreading the plant-based message. And just like me, he just wants more people to eat more plants. We both were blessed with fathers that we adored and loved, and looked up to so much. Rip shared beautiful memories of his Dad that inspired his entire life’s mission and how he still uses his teachings every day. This bad-ass firefighter is such an inspiration, and I can’t wait for you to hear his story.
ALSO IN THIS EPISODE:
- [00:08:05] Rip’s memories of his dad
- [00:15:00] What a vegan triathlete eats
- [00:19:05] The transition to firefighter
- [00:26:50] The nitty-gritty of being a first responder
- [00:30:00] How Rip convinced his fellow firefighters to try plant-based eating
- [00:31:42] The plant-based firefighters
- [00:44:25] What’s next for Rip
Darin: You are listening to the Darin Olien Show. I’m Darin. I spent the last 20 years devoted to improving health, protecting the environment, and finding ways to live a more sustainable life. In this podcast, I have honest conversations with people that inspire me. I hope that through their knowledge and unique perspectives they’ll inspire you too. We talk about all kinds of topics, from camping up your diets to improving your well-being to the mind-blowing stories behind the human experience and the people that are striving to save us and our incredible planet. We even investigate some of life’s fatal conveniences, those things that we are told might be good for us but totally aren’t. So here’s to making better choices in the small tweaks in your life that amount to big changes for you and the people around you and the planet. Let’s do this. This is my show, the Darin Olien Show.
Darin: Hey, everybody, this is Darin Olien. This is the Darin Olien Show. Thanks for tuning in. I’m stoked to have you here. I have an amazing guest, Rip Esselstyn, who’s a stud, a brother from another mother without a doubt. He’s got an incredible story of how he got there as a stud, ironman triathlete, a firefighter, just overall strong, powerful, cool, heart-centered dude. And whenever I get to meet another strong brother like that, I love it because I relate on a blue-collar level. I like to work hard. I like to push myself as an athlete. And so Rip and I had a lot to discuss. But he’s got an incredible book, actually several books, certainly, The Engine 2 Diet is an amazing story about him going into the firefighting and being right in the middle of a heavy meat-eating group. And then one guy was on his way to having a major heart attack. And he goes through that whole story. And we talked a little bit about that, about a plant-based journey right in the middle of a firehouse. Rip’s been featured all over Forks Over Knives. He’s the founder of Plantstrong. He’s got these incredible new granolas, popcorn, soups, foods at plantstrongsfoods.com. So check that out. I’m so happy to support him in that. But we had an incredible conversation about everything plants, tenacity, moving forward as just people. This felt like a conversation, more just talking to a friend. And I hope that’s beneficial to you, but I really enjoyed it. I hope you do too. So really a warm welcome to my new great friend, Rip Esselstyn.
Darin: super stoked to have you and I can’t wait for the world listening to you for my end to get to know who you are and what you’re up to. So thanks for coming here, buddy.
Rip: Yeah, anytime.
Darin: So obviously, you had an influence growing up. So your dad, I don’t know how long when your dad made the switch, but it’s still an individual choice. So tell me what that was like for you when you decided and being the athlete that you were, when was that shift? And what journey personally did you have to go through? And then have that kind of moment where you’re like, listen, I don’t need meat in my life.
Rip: We grew up eating everything under the sun, pork chops, roast beef, you name it. But my dad always had this kind of insatiable curiosity around nutrition and diet. He was a surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic. His specialty was breast cancer, the thyroid, and the parathyroid. I have to let you know that maybe much like your father, I adored my father. And he’s just a special, special gentleman. I always looked up to him. And he won a gold medal in the Olympics in 1956 inrowing. And he’s just a beast. And then in 1967, ’68, he went to Vietnam. He was a surgeon and a MASH unit, and he won the Mr. Bronze. I’m totally spacing out on the medal that he won there. He was the Purple Heart or something like that. But anyway, did amazing things over there in Vietnam as well. He’s a man of impeccable integrity and always searching for the truth. And in 1984, he started his research at the Cleveland Clinic to try and show that you could actually not only prevent but also reverse heart disease just by doing something as simple as changing what we put in our mouths. And he asked the cardiology department at the Cleveland Clinic that, as I’m sure you know, world-renowned, he asked them to send them their Walking Dead. The patients that have been turned down for a second, third, fourth angioplasty, stent, open-heart surgery. And so over the course of about a year and a half, he was able to assemble about 22 of these Walking Dead patients that really had no alternative but to basically see this crazy Dr. Esselstyn who was gonna put them on a whole-food, plant-based diet of all the crazy things in the world. And my dad, he’s such a determined individual, especially when it gets his eyes on the prize. And he was not going to let these patients fail. And so he said, I want to see you every other week, not a nutritionist, not a dietitian, you’re going to come see me. And we’re going to sit down, you have to keep a food log of every morsel you put in your mouth, we’re going to go over that, we’re going to weigh you in, we’re going to do blood pressure, we’re going to do a complete lipid panel, so we can see exactly what’s going on. And he did that with all 22 patients for the first five years. And remember, these are the walking dead, many of them have what’s called end-stage heart disease, which means they have less than a year to live. They’ve basically been said here, go home, get your will in order because you’re not going to survive a year. And at the end of five years, they’re alive. At the end of 10 years, they’re alive. And between years 5 and 10, he actually eased up and he was seeing them once a month instead of every other week. And then they’re alive 15 years later, 20 years later, and now they’re starting to die but not of heart disease, not of cancer, or other things. So it’s just kind of crazy. And he’s been written up and over seven different, of the peer-reviewed, medical literature that’s out there. Like I said, this was kind of like a little side tangent that he did from 1984 to about 2003 when he retired from surgery. And then he went full time into doing what he’s doing now, which is basically showing that you can reverse heart disease doing this. He wrote his book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease in 2007. He’s counseled President Clinton and Samuel L. Jackson and the list is very, very extensive because it works. And the science is so insanely solid. But I give you that background, Darin, because my father, basically in 1984, when he was like, I’m going to ask these 22 patients to do this, he’s like, he looked at my mom and he said, if we’re going to ask these patients to do this, we have to do this ourselves. So I was at the University of Texas at Austin going to school on a swimming scholarship.
But when I would come home for Thanksgiving, for Christmas, for parts of the summer, I got exposed to this new lifestyle. No more meat, no more cheese, no more dairy, were plant-strong, and I loved it. For me, I wasn’t like having to wrestle with this new lifestyle. Again, because I had so much just love and admiration and respect for my father, and I’d seen this all growing up, just the way he would kind of go after something like a dog to a bone. And I would see him like he had this one blue chair in the kitchen that he would love sitting at on Monday evenings because he would call every one of his patients and let them know, hey, your cholesterol this week was 124, love it, you’re doing great, keep up the fantastic work or hey, you know what, I see that we are doing a little too many of the nuts and the seeds, we need to back off on that. And I just saw his tenacity and sense of purpose and all that. So I, being at the University of Texas at Austin, and I was eating at the athletic dining room table with the football players and the basketball players and the baseball players and the swimmers. It was atrocious. Looking back on it, I mean, you can feed 18, 19, and 20-year-olds just about anything. So it wasn’t until I graduated in 1987 and I decided to become a professional triathlete that I just dove into the plants. And it’s now been 33 years and I haven’t looked back but along the way, I have certainly refined and learned all kinds of things, but it’s been a spectacular journey.
Darin: Wow. I really love that. When you say it, you know, he has tenacity. Well, he won a frickin gold medal in rowing. And I don’t know if anyone has hammered a rowing machine, that thing is like a puke machine. Those things are hard. Those rowers, anyone who doesn’t understand the aerobic capacity and anaerobic threshold those guys go to. So when I think of your dad having tenacity, I’m like, yeah, absolutely. And so putting his focus on that plant-based world, my dad was a professor, but he started triathlons and then he started showing me different foods. And obviously, we love our fathers. And I definitely can relate to that. So when you jumped in the triathlon world, I mean, we’re not talking like a recreational side, you were taking your body to the utmost place, and then that flies in the face of how are you possibly going to recover if you don’t have any protein, buddy? So I can’t imagine back then. People must have looked at you like you were absolutely nuts at that part.
Rip: Well, remember, Dave Scott had been doing kind of a hardcore vegetarian diet for a long time. And actually, he was somebody I really looked up to, and also helped give me the validation back then that this is something that wasn’t only good for me for health reasons, but also for performance reasons. And I want you to know that my father grew up on a Black Angus dairy farm in upper state New York. His father had his first heart attack at 42. When I was at the University of Texas at Austin, we all got tested, I think it was my sophomore or junior year for our cholesterol levels. And at 19, I had a cholesterol that was like 220, which is really high. And now it’s, you know, 120-130. And that’s, of course, no medications. But yes, to your point, yeah, people certainly questioned it, but I didn’t get anywhere near the ridicule or the braiding like I did in the fire department. I think when you’re an athlete, and you’re schooling people in the pool, they’re trying to hang on to your wheel on the bike, you know, hang on to you on the run, they’re like, man, what are you doing that for? They’re like, can I have some of that?
Darin: It does speak volumes when that performance really hits the road. You don’t have to put words to that. So how long did you do triathlons for?
Rip: So I started in 1987. I started as an Age-group because you can’t just all of a sudden be a pro. And of course, you know, I had this swimming background, which is great as a triathlete to always be first out of the water. But in order to turn pro, you have to qualify top 10 overall in three different races. And so I did that. And my first race as a pro was the Chicago International Triathlon in 1987. It was late in the season, August, and I got my pro card. And I was like, all right, let’s do this. And I got 9th out of 4000 competitors, maybe 120 pros, but I got 9th overall. I got a check for $600. And I was like, I am there, I’ve arrived, I am a pro triathlete. And that was the start. But I did it for full time exclusively until 1997, ao for a decade. And that’s when I joined the Austin Fire Department but because of the schedule of firefighting and the beauty of it, 24 hours on and 48 off, I then continued to compete in not Road Triathlons but Xterra Triathlons for until 2006. They’re almost another 10 years, and that’s all I did, and I loved it. Frankly, I was kind of a little burned out on the Road Triathlons, and the Xterra Triathlons just offered a whole nother level of just athletic ability and training and a whole nother level of mentality. And the people that gravitate towards Xterra racing, they’re gritty mothers, man.
Darin: Yeah, for sure. Just giving a glimpse back then, little time capsule, what were you consuming while you were at the heat of certainly the Xterra world? What were you eating at the time?
Rip: So it’s funny, the one thing I wasn’t eating in copious amounts like I am now are the green leafy vegetables, the kale, and the bok choy and collard greens and mustard greens and spinach. Back then, I didn’t do nearly as much of that stuff but I was doing a lot of oatmeal with fruit on top in the morning. You know, that’s the one thing that has been the one constant throughout my 33 years of doing this now is, I call it The Rip’s Big Bowl, and it’s either oatmeal with literally four or five different types of fruit on top. I’ll throw in a frozen kind of banana. I’ll put in a peach, I’ll put in cherries, and then I put in chia seeds, hemp seeds, ground flaxseed meal, get all those omega 3s. Lunch was usually a big ass burrito, like as big as your head stuffed with barley or rice and black beans or white beans or refried beans, mushrooms, onions, bell peppers. And then my favorite thing in the world for dinner, and really almost still to this day is just brown rice and black beans extravaganza. So it’s a big heaping thing of brown rice. Then it’s maybe two or three cups of black beans. And then I’ll do sliced-up scallions or green onions, tomato, water, chestnuts. I usually do corn, just frozen corn, I’d throw it in the microwave, throw that on top, and then some avocado, and then some salsa and you’re off to the races. And then I would snack, I’m not exaggerating, Darin, during the day, I would probably have somewhere between 10 to 15 pieces of fruit. But the one thing that I never did, maybe occasionally when I was training for the Ironman, but I just never did any of the meal replacement drinks or the protein powders. I was just like, you know, I want to get it from whole foods.
Darin: Yeah, and that was the early days, too. So that was a lot of Myoplex and all of these other things, like crazy things, and mostly just who knows what the hell chemically they were anyway. Yeah, that’s amazing. Yeah, I was just home in Minnesota and kind of a standard because I was running around seeing my family, rice, beans, scallions, just simply easy dinners. I could just crank up, heat up and the way to go, so that fits my schedule for sure.
Rip: I’m still actually in shock that you did your first triathlon in 1983 and that your father was the one that organized and put it together. I mean, he was an early adapter. I mean, that was wow.
Darin: Yeah, it was wild. I actually cycled. So I was a BMX kid from 1980 to 1986. In the middle of all that, I jump on my road bike. I was 16. So it was 1986. And because it was 16 where I was kind of retiring for BMX, and I got into road cycling, and I just had this massive kind of lung capacity. I was the worst at swimming. So I’m always like, I wish I had a little more of that. But yeah, it was such a beautiful thing and bonding with my dad at the time. But yeah, what an amazing time especially and we watched, my dad and I watched with Dave Scott’s and then Mark Sisson. So you must have been battling Mark Sisson and stuff as well.
Rip: You know, I never competed against Mark. I think Mark was just a little before my time. And I know that Mark did some of the longer stuff. And my specialty was the international distance, which was the 1.5k swim, 40k bike, and 10k run, and that’s what I did. I did just because you had to do the Ironman Triathlon out in Hawaii. I did that twice. And both times, it was kind of a miserable flop. The first year I did it, I mean, literally, I didn’t have the mentality back then to do that kind of training that was required. But I was first out of the water in 1994. I led almost all the way to the halfway point. The first person to pass me was Dave Scott. And I remember thinking, man, this guy, he was 42, which at the time seemed ancient. And just seeing the back of his hamstrings. He just looked like an absolute stallion. Then it was Ken Glah and then it was Greg Welch, who ended up beating Dave Scott that year by just a couple of minutes. Dave got second at 42.
Darin: Yeah, amazing. So going into the fire department, what was that, you just love that career? Or what was the catalyst or pun intended, what was the spark for that one?
Rip: Yeah. What ignited that passion? So I was almost 34 years old. I’ve been doing triathlons for a good decade, 11 years. I’m a little ADD and the thought of a 9 to 5 desk job was a little more than excruciating. And I had some buddies that were Age-group triathletes. And they were like, oh, man, you should think about becoming a firefighter here in Austin. It’s fantastic. We work 24 hours on, they come in at noon, we get off at noon the next day. You’re off for 24 hours. While you’re there, it’s like a big slumber party. And every shift you go out and you do 10 to 15 good deeds where you’re helping people saving lives. You can sign up and you can do what’s called a ride out. And I did that at fire station one which is the Animal House of all the fire stations. There are probably close to 50 fire stations here in Austin now. And I wrote out, there’s like 18 guys at the station because you got two engines, a fire truck, and an EMS unit. And I was like, wow, this is exciting. It took me three years of applying before I was able to get on with the Austin Fire Department. It was so competitive. The first year I applied and it was 1995, there were 4,000 people applying for 12 spots.
Rip: It’s easy to get into Harvard. So I kept trying and fortunately, I was able to get in. If I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t be here talking to you. I wouldn’t have gone down the path that I have and everything and written the books. But I love the fact that we’re doing fantastic stuff. We’re helping people. You’re doing it as a team. And I was so done with just the individual stuff. I wanted to be part of a team, a group doing good stuff. And every shift is different. That tone goes off, and you have no idea what you’re going to run into, a burning building, somebody that’s had a heart attack, and now you have to start doing CPR. So on a day-to-day basis, Darin, the tragedy, the humanity, the wondrous nature of life, it is thrown at you in spades.
Darin: That’s amazing. And going from a very almost isolated sport and world, to be able to have that team and that connection. And then once you go through intensities like that, you have these immense bonds with these guys.
Rip: Yeah, you can’t help it. I mean, for example, there was one shift where this woman at 5 AM is knocking on the door. And one of the older guys says, rookie, because I was a rookie then, “Rookie, get the door.” So I went down the pole, got it, and this husband was there with his wife, and she’s going into labor. Like, she’s ready to give birth. So I ran upstairs, like guys, get down, we got to deliver a baby. And literally, five minutes later, in our arms is a little newborn baby. But after that, you’re talking about it and just the wonders of life. And then you make a motorcycle accident, where the boyfriend and the girlfriend, the boyfriend’s dead, the girlfriend has been– and I apologize for this, but basically, has been severed in half. And then how do you deal with that stuff, right, and come to grips with that? So that’s what I mean, you see the joy of life, the agonizing effects of pilot air on the part of humans. And that’s one of the reasons why firefighters will always have a job. There’s a lot of mistakes that people make out there.
Darin: Yeah, well, thank God, we have them, man. And especially in California, we’re like, oh, that’s a part of the deal. And everyone that’s listening pretty much already knows that I was in the face of that in my property. Thank God, I wasn’t here because I probably would be stupid enough to try to stick around for it and wiped out my entire property. I thought about for a second, volunteering and then I realized, oh, it actually required a lot more time for volunteering than I even thought. I couldn’t just kind of do it. You definitely had to go through a level of training.
Rip: And that’s the other thing, Darin, and I didn’t even mention that in my examples and then fighting a fire. I mean, that is the ultimate in teamwork and everybody doing their job. And that’s the training that we do so that when the shit is hitting the fan, you got your wits about you, and you hook up to that hydrant you pull off the pre-loaded lines, you got two in two out, people are breaking down windows to allow air ventilation. And these hoses, these one and three-quarter-inch hose lines when they get pumped full of water in a high PSI, I mean, you wouldn’t believe how difficult it is to move these things around. But sometimes you have to have two or three people helping you navigate into the house, go to the seat of the fire. It is truly the ultimate in teamwork putting out these fires. And we made some nasty ones.
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Darin: So you’re, you’re coming in, plant-strong dude and then you clash into this blue-collar, full-on, meat-eating group of guys. And not to mention, I’m sure you have incredible rookie stories on top of all of that. And then it leads you down this path of writing this book, meeting this guy, and taking this guy who’s basically high cholesterol, and then that leads you into this whole journey. It takes you from a firefighter into this supporting another brother. So talk to me about that, the path through all that and then the bridge of someone that if you didn’t change probably would have died.
Rip: So there’s a six-month-long Fire Academy that every firefighter has to go through in Austin. And four months of it is fire suppression. And then two months of it is where you get your basic emergency medical technician degree, EMT.
Before I answer your question completely, I want people to know out there that as firefighters, we love fighting fires, but actually, if you look at our call vine over the course of a year, what you’ll find is that 10% of our calls are 911 calls or actually fighting fires. 10% were alarm activations and car accidents and stuff like that. Almost 80%, we are responding as emergency first responders, EMTs, to heart attacks, diabetic emergencies, lifting assistance calls, people that have had a stroke, Alzheimer’s. So we see up close and personal, this devastation that’s caused by the fork, the spoon, and the knife. So after six months of this academy, I went to fire station one, which is where I did the ride out. I was just like, this is where I want to go. And I was there for a good four and a half years. And that’s where I met JR. He’s the guy that we ultimately helped. And so for four and a half years, JR and all the guys there, they witnessed me eating this way. And I can remember a bunch of these old KG veterans saying, you know, the last vegetarian that went through here didn’t last a week, you’re not gonna last much longer. And I’m like, yeah, probably right. Luckily, I was 34. So if I was 20, 21, 22, and super impressionable, I probably wouldn’t have lasted. But I knew in my heart of hearts that this is the way I want to feel myself, it’s the right way for a lot of reasons. And so these guys couldn’t talk me out of it. And at some point, they switch from, I mean, I still get teased, but they switch from mocking you incessantly to there’s a little bit of respect there now for standing your ground and doing what you believe. But what happened is in about 2001, JR, myself, and a couple of other guys from fire station one, we decided it’s time for us to go to another station. I mean, that tone, the alarm, Darin, goes off at 1 AM, 3 AM, 5 AM, 6 AM. You’re not sleeping. And so you literally need those 48 hours to recover from not sleeping. I was like, alright, I’ve kind of paid my dues at fire station one, I’m ready to go to a little bit of a slower station. So we all decided to go to fire station 2, and that’s where the magic happened. And that’s where we had this little bet to see who had the lowest cholesterol level. And the next day, we drove down to a laboratory in the fire engine and we all got pricked. And that’s when JR’s cholesterol, it came back and it was 344 milligrams per deciliter at the age of 33. And before that, because we have annual physicals, his cholesterol had been the highest you’d ever seen, it was 275. So 344 was like, I think an alarm bell went off inside of him. And then he told us for the first time, my great grandfather died at 48 from a heart attack. My grandfather died at 49. My father had a triple bypass at 50. And he was legitimately freaked out. And so I said JR, you’ve met my father. He’s come to the fire station. You know what his work is all about.
You’ve seen me on NBC at 42 coming out of the water first, at these Xterra World Championships on the island of Hawaii. You can do this job and eat this way and not be a shrinking violet. You can be at the top of your game. And so literally, I mean, it was a process. But an act of solidarity, all the five guys in fire station 2 on the C shift, were like, alright, let’s do this, to save JR’s health. And we started at lunch with lunches where we make these all-mighty burritos that I’ve talked about as big as your face. And then that lunch then turned into a dinner where we would rotate who would go to the store while the ingredients come back, and then we would all chip in and help make the meal. And we kept an account on the back of one of our food locker doors of every meal that we made from 2003 to 2009. And how much it cost because firefighters are so cheap, it is insane. And so the contest was to see who could make the most delicious meal or the least amount. So when it came time to throw in the amount that you owe, it was less than $3.50. So try and do a meal for 15 bucks for five guys, and the one rule in the firehouse is you never cook short, meaning you don’t run out of food, right? That’s a no-no, big no-no.
And then we were off to the races, we kind of got the ball rolling. And then at some point, I said JR, do me a favor. I want you to do this, not only at the Firehouse because by now we were doing it for lunch, for dinner, for breakfast, and then lunch before we left to go. I said do this at home as well. And then after 28 days, go to your doctor, get checked, and let’s see what it is. And it dropped in 28 days to 196, 148 plus points. And the only thing he changed was what he was putting in his mouth. And after that, we were off to the races. There was no stopping us whatsoever. And then we started getting a bunch of media attention. The New York Times did a big article on a bunch of Texas firefighters eating this way. And after that article, we became celebrities. I mean, the Jimmy John Subway Shop across the street named one of their sandwiches, The Engine 2. We got an award from PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, as the friendliest firehouse in the United States. And we put this award, it was a frog jumping, we put it up on the wall, and it was desecrated by the VA ships within days. But we had women that would honk their horns and say, oh, you guys, the plant-based firefighters and we’d say, that’s us. So anyway, we had a lot of fun with it.
Darin: It was a bittersweet thing when I’m listening to that, that it’s all under our control. When you’ve grown up in places like a lot of people and Midwest and just living their lives or whatever, you’re just drawing up in the pattern of that culture, and also the pattern of the great grandfather and the grandfather and their father. And then at the same time, you become the victim of that if you don’t choose something different, and so that’s bittersweet. It is all in our control, but we have to turn this ship that is so habitualized in our lives, and you were able to go in and change his life and save his life. Ironically, you’re a firefighter saving lives. And then this way, you’re able to exercise that through your generational understanding. And for me, that’s just phenomenal. And the bitter part of it is, it’s still the leading cause of death in America. And we still have your other brothers fighting against it and pushing against it, even though it’s healthy ribbing and all of that stuff. But the truth is, people don’t want to give that up.
Rip: No, they don’t. And to your point, it’s not only the number one killer of Americans, it’s also the number one killer of firefighters in the line of duty. So, yeah, more firefighters every year die from heart attacks than they do getting in an accident on the way to call or in a fire or whatever. And that to me is a real tragedy. But my hat goes off to JR who was open-minded enough to actually do this. And the cool thing is that since I wrote The Engine 2 Diet and Forks Over Knives came out in 2011, where they had a nice scene of us in the firehouse doing brown rice and black beans extravaganza, that’s what we were making that day. And then they also showed me going up the fire pole with my legs in an L saying real men eat plants. It’s amazing how many fire departments have reached out to me since then for me to come in and give them a talk because their fire department is so riddled with diabetes, with obesity, with all these standard Western diseases. And there’s an interesting article in Fire Engineering Magazine, Darin, it probably is a couple of years old now. But they did this study, and it showed that 82% of paid and volunteered firefighters across the United States of America are either overweight or obese. And that is a direct indication to me of the toxic food environment, and firehouses, really probably all over the world. And it’s just kind of that masculine mentality where I need meat to be masculine, I need meat for protein. And it’s a paradigm that needs to be shaken at the core, and just completely obliterated. And it’s happening. Luckily, the game changers came out as well. And I was working with literally the most iconic Fire Department in the world, the New York City Firefighters, and had these guys go plant-based for seven days, and the results were insane.
Darin: That’s amazing, the resiliency of the body when you allow it to. It’s just astonishing. And that begs to say, you wrote another book, My Beef With Meat, and that’s probably the greatest title ever. Come on. So that one, I haven’t had a chance to read it but obviously, I believe it and love it. What was your kind of ethos with that whole thing? You dispelling this idea that we don’t need flesh meat?
Rip: Exactly, exactly. I had 36 chapters in that book. And each chapter basically dispelled another myth that’s floating around out there about eating plant-based. And they were short, little pithy chapters, so you can read one a night before you go to bed, like, where will I get my protein? And plant-based proteins are complete. And what about iron and calcium deficiency? And you’re never too old to start eating this way. You’re never too young to start eating this way. Of course, I had to have one athletic performance and to have one on the underperforming penis when you’re eating meats and all that. And then at the end of that, the second half of that book is 150 recipes.
Darin: That’s a good one. So everyone, check that out because this one is something that sounds like it’s easy to grab. And it can kind of help you and probably inspirationally a little bit, too, because it’s not, they can just grab something every day, and learn and support the transition because that’s the thing, right? You want some knowledge as you’re transitioning because you’re going to get culturally and family and friends, you’re going to get some blowback, that’s just the way it is.
Rip: You’re gonna get major blowback. It’s amazing how a little bit of knowledge in this can really go a long way. And it can help you when you have that aunt or that uncle, or even a brother or sister that asks you, where in the world to get your protein? And typically, they’re not curious. They don’t want for any reason to think that they somehow have to change their diet. So they immediately go to the protein argument. But I’m trying to think where we were going from there.
Darin: Yeah, that’s the thing. I mean, it’s this cultural thing. And I mean, I know T. Colin Campbell came out recently where he just hammered it throughout the last 100 years of this false narrative, almost from a scientific standpoint, and almost a scientism standpoint where they knew the information was there, but they kept the narrative going. And unfortunately, those things happen by way of the money, the power, the pharmaceutical, the USDA, all of these things, also now are affecting even our science and our ability to get out that information and keep this kind of cultural weirdness going on. And I was involved, I think it was maybe a decade ago for three weeks, I created a program of transitioning people off of meat. And the men’s testosterone in three weeks went up by over 30%. To your point, cholesterol will plummet, testosterone will do the opposite, actually. So higher meat consumption actually, your performance of being a man is actually worse. So it’s so powerful how narrative can be pushed, and even false narrative can be pushed for so long when it actually has no basis in the reality of it. And there are other agendas. And so I love your story because I relate from an athlete and also from the kind of growing up where I grew up, you’re faced with that. And I think it now over time, I don’t know about you, I don’t even hear it anymore. I don’t remember the last time anyone’s given me shit. For anyone I work out with, I’m just as strong if not stronger, and it’s that whole thing of man, I’m so glad I’ve been doing this for a period of time because now I think it’s definitely got me. But I’m 17 years in, I think of the seat that we’re sitting in is our past choices. And now being able to accumulate the plants, the plant knowledge for our health, and for the health of our future, I’m really grateful. And if anyone’s listening here, man, I mean, I think that, like you said, we can start at any point at any time and we can do that right now. And the body, I just think of the power of nature, if a plant can explode through a piece of concrete, and sit there on its own with nothing around it and see that one weed that pushed its way through concrete and it’s sitting there, that’s the power of life. So if we allow ourselves to eat really good food, let go of the toxic food and all this meat consumption, if we could get rip, if we could tell them what we feel on a daily basis, if we give them that snippet, and get them over that hump into the habits of that, that would be hopefully more helpful.
Rip: And I think, Darin, you know I’ve been plugging away at this for a long time, and I’ve seen my father who was called an absolute quack and coocoo for doing the research that he was doing, even from colleagues at the Cleveland Clinic in Cardiologists. And I feel like we are in the midst of a cultural awakening, a true zeitgeist and I think maybe we talk about this when you were on my podcast not too long ago, but I think in 10 years, before that, we’re gonna reach a serious tipping point and if you’re eating meat and if you are doing dairy, I think people will kind of look at you much the same way they’re looking people now that are smoking cigarettes, like really? You not only want to do that to yourself and your body, but you also are like, you know what you’re doing, to trash the environment? And do you know what that says about you as a kind of kind, compassionate human being? I really hope that our whole awareness rises a few notches for us as compassionate, healthy, planet-caring human beings because to me, the writing is so on the wall right now, but we’re driving forward. And like you mentioned, you work out with different people but you’re either right there with them or crushing them but it’s the same way with me, it’s from practice. Like this morning, it made me think when you were saying that about working out with different people, so the fastest people at my program are in lanes 5, 6, and 7. And I’m always in lane 6, which is typically the fastest. And I’ve been swimming with some of these guys for 12 years. And guess what, when I started out, I was the only guy that ate this way. And now between lanes 5, 6, and lane 7 of the 15 guys and gals that are swimming there, I’d say 7 are plant-strong now. That to me speaks volumes and that’s pretty darn cool.
Darin: That’s amazing, man. That’s so good to hear. I have an ex-NFL guy, big dude, played in the ’90s, lineman, fully plant-based. And he goes, I would fall asleep eating a pizza on my chest every night. So it’s cool to see that happen, especially when people take that on and you see the benefits that it’s then having in their lives as they continue to grow into that space. So for you going off your– best name ever, Rip, what are you ripping now? What’s your focus right now, Rip, as you’re moving forward? What do you want to see changing? And what are you doing now to kind of help continue to push forward?
Rip: Well, so like you, I got a podcast. I started The Plantstrong Podcast to try and get the good news about plants out to as many people as possible. For 10 years, I was a healthy eating ambassador crusader for whole food market stores using kind of whole foods as a bully pulpit to get this message out. And I was, for 10 years, I visited almost 450 stores and spoke to literally probably hundreds of thousands of people, and hopefully team members. But now, with the podcast, I literally have the opportunity now to reach millions of people. I mean, not at all the scale that you’ve done with Down to Earth with Zac which was wooh baby, love it. But that’s something I’m putting some time and energy into and really enjoying watching that grow. And also, learning how to become a good interviewer, which is a whole nother skill set. We do live events that are coming back online this year to help people that really are compromised as far as their health and want to come to learn exactly from soup to nuts, how to live this lifestyle. I’ve also, like you, I’m very passionate about food and went out live at whole foods. I had a food line called Engine 2. And now, I’m doing a spinoff, and it’s called Plantstrong. And these are some products that I truly believe if you have the intersection between what is healthy and what is tasty that these food products are pretty much gonna be unmatched because they can have stuff that’s super healthy but it tastes like crap. And you can have stuff that are super tasty, it’s got everything under the sun that you don’t want putting into your body. I was talking to a physician the other day, who was telling me that she has patients who are vegan and coming to her with the same issues they had when they were on before eating meat and it’s because so many of these fake meat products, cheeses, and whatnot just have the same amount of fat and the same amount of oil, almost the same amount of saturated fat. I mean, it’s probably not as bad obviously, but they’re just not health-promoting, especially for people that have an inclination to heart disease, cancer, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and all that stuff. So I’m really passionate about that food line. I’m doing my best to pick up that torch that my dad has carried for so long and doing what I can to help anyone who’s willing to listen.
Darin: Well, you’re doing a phenomenal job. And where can people get that Plantstrong food right now?
Rip: Yeah, online at plantstrongfoods.com, and then also we’ll be rolling out some of our products, the broths, the chillis, and the stews and the whole foods starting August 4th, that will be nationally in our whole food stores. And then starting November, we’ll be going out to other retailers as well.
Darin: Great. We’ll put that in the show notes. Anyone can go on there and order direct online. Come on, who doesn’t want to buy some plant strong foods, come on.
Rip: Come on, man.
Darin: This is so great, dude. And I’m so glad we got connected. I’m a big fan, and any way that I can help you, I’m there to make plant stronger in the world because they deserve their place. And again, I’m just grateful that you and I have been able to catch up here and we’ll keep ripping.
Rip: Well, Darin, thanks for having me on The Darin Olien Show. I am so glad that our paths have finally crossed and we’re getting to know each other. You know I was doing my pickups for the episode that you were on with me, and I said, you know this guy is a brother from another mother, he really is. So I hope to meet you in person soon.
Darin: Oh, we got to do that. We got to make that happen.
Darin: What a fantastic episode. So tell me, what is one thing you got out of today’s conversation? If this episode struck a chord with you and you want to dive a little deeper into my other conversations with incredible guests, you can head over to my website, darinolien.com for more episodes and in-depth articles. Keep diving my friends. Keep diving.