Q&A With James Cameron


JamesCameronOnline.com had a chance to chat with the one and only James Cameron about the vegan diet. Why go that route? Don't we need meat protein to stay healthy? Read on and decide for yourself:

JAMESCAMERONONLINE.COM: According to Rober Cheeke of Eco-Vegan Gal, who interviewed you on Earth Day in 2010, you weren't vegan yet at the time, but you already had a healthy, organic diet and your own garden and ranch which supplied it. You mentioned it's thanks to your wife who was, let me quote, an "organic food nazi". When did you become conscious about your diet?

I had a growing awareness of the negative impacts of animal agriculture as I studied climate change and sustainability, as early as 6-7 years ago. But despite the dire warnings in books such as Lester Brown's Plan B 2.0 and other seminal books on sustainability, I was unwilling to connect my diet choices to personal action. Though we were early adopters of solar power -- including having the largest home PV system west of the Mississippi in 2000 -- I was unwilling to remove animals completely from my diet.
As late as 2012, like many partially informed health conscious people, Suzy and I still believed we needed "healthy protein", meaning chicken, fish and dairy, in our diets. We even kept goats and made our own goat milk yogurt and chevre, which we considered the epitome of healthy living, and I'm sure there are tens of thousands of health-conscious people out there right now that would have considered that exemplary.
Then... we watched "Forks Over Knives." This short but punchy documentary explodes the myth of animal protein completely. Being the geek that I am, I immediately followed up by reading The China Study, by T. Collin Campbell, which is central to the documentary. It's a weighty tome full of graphs and charts, so of course I loved it. It cites not only his 75 separate peer reviewed research papers done over 45 years, but hundreds of other studies and meta-analyses.
The conclusions are absolutely irrefutable -- meat and dairy are not only un-necessary, they are the major contributors to the diseases of affluence plaguing developed nations -- obesity, heart disease, stroke, high cholesterol, several major cancers, type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, erectile dysfunction and others too numerous to list. And when I say meat, I'm talking about ALL ANIMAL MUSCLE TISSUE -- fish, shrimp, chicken, turkey, pork, lamb -- not just beef.
And dairy is just liquid meat -- its proteins are just as dangerous if not more so than those of muscle tissue, and not just because of the hormones and antibiotics etc plaguing the modern dairy industry. Even whole milk right from organic cows has casein proteins that promote cancer and fats that clog arteries. It is a fundamentally flawed food, even in its purest form, unless you're a calf. If you're not a calf, stop suckin' that teat.
I want to make clear that I did not go fully plant-based primarily because of the health issues. I did it as a citizen concerned about global warming and other civilization-threatening sustainability issues, who suddenly realized that I had ZERO EXCUSE for not going plant-based. My fears that I would not get enough protein evaporated.

Once that happened -- once the scales fell from my eyes -- I now HAD to become plant-based, to be true to my environmental conscience.
The animal protein myth had been holding me back. And Suzy as well, because she's a workout fiend. Once we realized it was a complete myth, and a dangerous one, we switched to a whole-food plant-based diet THAT DAY. Seriously. We just took all the animal-foods out of the fridge and pantry, and got on with it. And never looked back. That was May 7, 2012.
And now, four years later ... I'm fitter than I was in my twenties. I can run farther. Kick-box longer. Do more push-ups. My rest heart-rate is lower. My lipid panel (cholesterol and triglycerides) is ridiculously low. My energy is higher than the twenty/thirty somethings I work with. I can burn them down.
My immune system is rock-solid -- I have had ZERO ILLNESS in four years. Not even a sniffle. I used to get a couple of colds a year, maybe one flu, a couple of stomach bugs. Now -- nothing. I can feel myself starting to get sick, with weakness and joint pain and general malaise, so I lie down, and in two hours I'm completely over it. So it's not that I'm not exposed. I'm getting exposed -- with 3 young kids in the house, you're exposed to everything -- but I fight it off. My weight has been stable at my target set point of 185 lbs, which is a good body mass index for my 6'2" height, and where I feel healthiest.
I feel, and the data supports, that I've added five years to my life. That could be an extra movie or two.
Think about how much I could have added if I'd gone plant-based when I was twenty?

JCO: You were also already tying the organic diet to saving environment - you mentioned that growing your own food would cut out all the mileage from the delivery trucks which otherwise have to transport the food from, usually, quite far away

 Here's another common sense trap. It makes sense that shipping lettuce from 2000 miles away has a higher carbon footprint than local lettuce. It turns out not to be true, according to a peer reviewed study published in Scientific American two years ago. That distant lettuce may be coming from a highly efficient massive operation that specializes in one thing only -- growing lettuce. Whereas your local source may be a boutique farm that's growing 30 types of produce, none of them very efficiently. So in strictly carbon terms, the food-miles thing is not that important.
That's not to say I support massive mono-crop operations, I don't. But it's for other reasons, not because of food miles.
What is important is supporting local growers so you can look them in the eye and hear about how your food is grown. Is it grown in an eco-friendly sustainable way. How organic is it, really? What are their hygiene safeguards? What organic approved sprays, if any, are they using? Are they using compost vs. chemical fertilizers? Etc.
It's important to support local small growers. 5 corporations own 80% of the farms in America. The small farmer is an endangered species. May become extinct.
In 1900, 30% of Americans were farmers. In 2016 it's about 1.5%. Don't quote me precisely on this, it's from memory. But I'm not far off.
The point is the massive corporate owned monocrop industrial farming model has totally taken over. It's bad for health, it's bad for the environment, for climate, for topsoil, for everything we should be caring about.
And worse yet, the farmers are aging out. The AVERAGE age of a farmer in America is 57. Kids aren't going into this. It's not sexy enough, and the barriers to entry are too high.
So what happens when real farmers are gone?
We need to do everything we can to support our local growers. So shopping at farmers markets is important. Talking to them is important. Joining a CSA is important.
And having our own personal organic gardens is also important.

JCO: What would you say about the self proclaimed organic products sold in stores?

Organic certification is a very complex subject. As an organic farmer in New Zealand and Canada (we have four farms) I'm learning just how complex.

In general, eat organic if you can. Yes, organic has been co-opted by Big Food, and has become a watered down process. But it's still your best bet for healthy food, and for eco-friendly growing practices.
If you can, get into a CSA (community supported agriculture) arrangement with local growers. You can do this through farmer's markets. Then you know where you're food is coming from, and how it's grown. You can talk to somebody. Obviously, by eating plants, you're eating what comes right out of the ground -- no middleman, no processing.
Also, animals bio-concentrate toxins, such as pesticides, PCBs, heavy metals, etc and plants don't. So it's a vastly more pure source of food to eat plants -- I don't care how many claims there are about grass-fed organic beef.

Note that I would rather see you eating non-organic plants than the most premium organic grass-fed free range meat or chicken.

JCO:  There's a common conception amongst people who don't really research or dig into this subject, that we need animal proteins to stay healthy and have a good protein balance, but it seems like it's actually the other way around? Is eating meat and dairy actually bad for us?

Paleoanthropologists now know, from fossil evidence, that the ancient human diet consisted mostly of plants. Of course meat was also eaten, but it wasn't required -- unless you were migrating across northern Europe and there was six feet of snow on the ground. We're not by nature carnivores. We're omnivores. In extremes, we can live entirely on meat -- such as Inuit traditionally did, or entirely on plants -- many traditional examples, such as the Hindus and Jainists, but also the majority of east Asia until recently.
But we're much healthier on plants. The other flaw in the Paleo diet argument is that the average life expectancy in pre-industrial times was 33 years. This is skewed very low by high infant mortality. But if you adjust by excluding mortality in the first year, the average was in the low forties. So people simply weren't living long enough to be killed off by meat and dairy in their diets. Now we regularly expect to live into our 70's and 80's, but that's only possible on the standard American diet (SAD) with massive and expensive medical intervention -- many meds per day, stents, bypasses, etc. Health care costs in the trillions annually -- all so we can hold onto this image of ourselves as strong carnivores, gathering around the grille to be manly men.
You think beef is real food for real people? Then you better live real close to a real good hospital.
Also, in Paleolithic times, we were running for miles, sometimes for days, to make a kill. So it was an inherently healthier lifestyle. And the meat was completely different than modern meat -- much leaner and without hormones, GMO feeds, antibiotics.
The Paleo diet, like the Atkins diet may make you feel stronger and healthier in the short run -- mostly because it tells you what you want to hear so you're more likely to be rigorous on it, and actually follow it, and maybe even lose some weight that way -- but in the long run it's killing you. Atkins already died of a heart attack at a young age, and the Paleo guys will have made their millions long before the piper is paid by all their gullible followers.
My wife and I are executive producing a documentary called "Gamechangers: Men, Meat and the Most Dangerous Myth", which will dismantle the protein myth systematically, by featuring vegan athletes. It's being directed by Louie Psihoyos, who did "The Cove", and "Racing Extinction."
Should be out next year.

JCO: Becoming a vegan can also have a major contribution to saving our planet?

This is not about cow burps and farts, people. It's about gigatons of animal waste dumped untreated into rivers. It's about more than half of the arable land on a planet running desperately short of land, soil, water, and nutrients being used to grow feed for animals -- a use of land that is 10X LESS EFFICIENT than just growing plants and eating them ourselves. It's about 80% of Amazon deforestation being done to create pasture for cattle or fields for soy used for cattle feed. It's about a Chinese middle class the size of the population of America that has quadrupled its meat consumption in the last two decades and will double that again in the next decade.
I go so far as to say -- you can't call yourself an environmentalist and still eat meat and dairy. You have to walk the walk. It's like saying you're green but driving a gas guzzler and tossing all your plastic trash in the ocean.
I challenge environmentalists, and environmental NGO's on this all the time. And they're shocked. Wait a minute, we're the good guys! They're not used to getting called out by other environmentalists.
If you're a climate activist you're fine when you're storming the walls of big corporations like Exxon Mobil, you feel very self-righteous. then you go out with your environmentalist buddies to a steak house to celebrate. It's the ultimate in hypocrisy.
When you're throwing bricks at big oil or big coal, or the utilities, you feel like a white hat. And you don't have to really change how you live. But if you have to change how you eat -- a lot of so-called environmentalists draw the line. They prefer to go on living in denial, not seeing the truth. Because to see it, and admit it, requires them to change personally.
Which is why this information has been suppressed so long. It's not just the corporations keeping the spotlight off animal ag. It's the NGO's not wanting to engage on it, because it forces them to change as individual people.
But that's changing. Sierra Club is going very active on promoting this message of the connection between our food choices and the environment, specifically global warming. And others are waking up.

JCO: Tell us about Food Choice Taskforce and My Plate, My Planet

 Food Choice Taskforce has become Plant Power Taskforce, which was my original name for it, and now we all agree it's better. It's an organization co-funded by my NGO, the Avatar Alliance Foundation, and Craig McCaw. The purpose is to aggregate research on the effects of animal agriculture on climate and the environment, to do demographic research on how to communicate the issue and on global eating patterns and their effects, and to communicate via all forms of media the connection between diet and climate, and the positive impacts of plant-based diets on personal health and environmental health. Plant Power Taskforce is run by Suzy Amis Cameron (coincidentally my wife), which makes it particularly easy for me to work closely with them.
My Plate My Planet was a specific initiative driven by Plant Power Taskforce to focus media attention on the new recommendations from the DGAC (Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee) -- a group of scientists and nutritionists convened and paid by the US gov't to make recommendations, every five years, for healthy eating for US citizens, which will then be utilized by the USDA and Health and Human Services.
In 2015, not only did the DGAC strongly advise that Americans reduce meat and eat more plants, they also included the negative impacts of animal agriculture on climate and the environment. Naturally the meat and dairy lobbies went apeshit, and the USDA and HSS chose to ignore its own science advisors, in the classic tradition of government paralyzed by special interests refusing to act for the common good.
But My Plate My Planet significantly raised awareness of the issues, and for the first time created a coalition of health/nutrition activists and environmentalists, who had never previously worked together. This will be the key going forward.
Only by combining the health factors and the climate/environment factors in the minds of an increasingly informed public can we move the needle toward plant-based diets and the reduction of meat and dairy.

JCO: Average person thinks by having any sort of self imposed diet they have to give up something as a negative connotation, but it seems it's actually a win-win situation for both the environment and the person who chooses to go vegan. Some are afraid that they won't be able to go through with it simply because they will miss the meat too much. Do you? Do you have any occasional "Ah! I would kill for a steak!" moments?

I enjoy my meals. I look forward to them. I take more interest in food than I ever did before, because living on a plant-based diet puts more emphasis on creative preparation. I was never a foody, and never thought I would be, but I've become one.
When I tell people I don't eat meat, poultry, eggs, fish, or dairy they say "So what's left?" I point out that animal foods come (with the exception of wild fish and game) from 7 or 8 domesticated animals -- cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, turkeys, goats. If you live in the mid-east, throw in camels. Some people eat ostrich. And a handful of farmed fish. Call it a dozen species total. But if you're plant based, you're eating from among thousands of species of plants and herbs.
Pre-vegan anxiety causes people to visualize a lifetime of staring at iceberg lettuce and a plate of carrots and brussel sprouts. When in fact you need to think of it in terms of your favorite dishes. We eat pad thai noodles, pizza, spaghetti, lo mein, shepherd's pie, chile, "chicken" parmegiano, cheesecake, hamburgers and on and on, with clever substitutes of pea protein products and other stand-ins for the cheeses, creams and meats.
I actually don't miss meat at all any more, in fact I find it revolting. To me meat literally tastes like a dead animal. Fish tastes like a dead fish. That fishy taste that I always overlooked, or drowned in butter, is horrible to me now. I think the body re-wires the brain. Literally. I think when your gut biome -- the three pound pseudo-organ in your intestines consisting of 10,000 species of bacteria and fungi that are critical to our health and digestion -- changes to accommodate plant-based diet, it sends out subtle signals to your brain that modify your desires. Just as pregnant women have weird cravings based on what the body needs.
So I don't crave the perfect meat substitute. They have new beef burger meat on the horizon, coming soon, that is literally indistinguishable in taste, color, texture and cooking characteristics from ground beef. And there are plenty of good veggie burgers, veggie chicken, vegan cheeses etc on the market right now. I think these are important for people transitioning.

And, I still have positive sense memories of certain dishes, like chile, in which good meat substitutes play a part. But it's not the meat I want. It's the dish.
I think that's the key to being a happy plant based eater. Don't crave the meat. But definitely satisfy your desire for the comfort foods you grew up with -- just using plant-based proteins.
I also love the fact that our family literally grows most of the food we eat. We have a large organic vegetable garden, including two small greenhouses -- the whole setup is about a quarter of an acre -- and it provides about 80% of what we eat. The rest we buy at organic markets. But the point here is that we have control over where our food comes from. We know what's gone into it, and what hasn't -- like pesticides, herbicides, hormones, antibiotics etc. So we no longer have those anxieties about what we're eating and feeding to our kids.
Note that I always say plant-based, not vegan. I'm not vegan, in the sense that I'm not doing this for philosophical reasons having to do with animal cruelty, primarily. To me veganism is an ethical value system that happens to include eating plant-based. It is a value system that in theory is uncoupled from concerns about health or the environment. So you can be an unhealthy and unsustainable vegan, living on mountain dew and cheetos -- full of fat and sugar, and the products of GMO commodity monocrop industrial agriculture -- but that don't contain any animal products.
But my diet is an organic whole-food plant-based diet. Organic means it has less negative impact on soils, on water, on bees etc, and is more sustainably grown. Also healthier, because less toxic. Whole-food means as little in the way of processed foods as possible -- again to maximize health and sustainability.
That said, I do think that once you start to eat plant-based, for whatever reason, you don't need to live in denial any more about the insane massive cruelty on a grand scale that is being perpetrated all over the world to animals. You can look through the slaughterhouse door.
I call CAFO's -- concentrated animal feeding operations -- Cowschwitz. It's an animal holocaust on an almost inconceivable scale, and possibly the clearest example of human denial and self-delusion.
But that's a topic for another day.

JCO: Lastly, a movie question which tortures me forever, that I just have to throw in there - any hints what your sequel to T2 would've been?

I never really developed a sequel to T2. I didn't own the rights to the franchise, and I just got on with my life. As a friend of Arnold, I was supportive of his continuation of the franchise, but never directly involved. A few ideas have gone through my head from time to time, but I never developed them, as there was no need.


June 2016

Interviewed by Adrian Czarny