August 30, 2022
219: Meryl Fury | A Nurse Who Found Her Calling in Plant-Based Nutrition

When the price of beef rises, 15-year-old Meryl Fury and her friend decide to stop eating meat to ease the financial burden on their families, not realizing the profound impact it will have on their own lives and the world ar...

When the price of beef rises, 15-year-old Meryl Fury and her friend decide to stop eating meat to ease the financial burden on their families, not realizing the profound impact it will have on their own lives and the world around them.  

In this episode, you will learn:  

  • Meryl Fury's experience transitioning to a plant-based diet at age 15 and her challenges along the way 
  • The importance of real, whole foods for optimal health and the lack of education around this topic in the medical field 
  • The impact of processed foods and animal products on the body

About Meryl Fury

Meryl A. Fury, MS, RN started her plant-based journey at the age of 15. After years of studying nursing, human health, meditation, and personal transformation, Meryl realized that eating only plants was the healthiest option for her. This awareness fires Meryl’s passion to make a difference for people and the planet through whole food plant-based (WFPB) eating.

A member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Meryl has her  Master’s degree in Nursing and holds certificates from the T. Colin  Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies in Plant-Based Nutrition, and from Rouxbe Online Culinary School, Fork Over Knives Plant-Based  Cuisine. She is on the Board of Directors of the T. Colin Campbell Center for  Nutrition Studies and is CEO of Plant-Based Nutrition Movement. She leads monthly plant-based sharing and support groups online. Meryl is also a Food For Life Instructor and Co-Host of the 6 Million Seeds Podcast. 

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[00:00:00] So, welcome back to another episode where we get to meet another member of the Pod Advisory Committee. I'm your host, Maya Acosta. And today, we have Meryl Fury. She is an RN who started her plant-based journey at the age of 15. And after years of studying nursing, human health, meditation, and personal transformation, Meryl realized that eating only plants was the healthiest option for her.

[00:00:26] And this awareness fires Meryl's passion to make a difference for people and the planet through whole food plant-based eating. A member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Meryl has her master's degree in nursing and hospital certificate from the T. Colin Campbell's Center for Nutrition Studies and Plant Based Nutrition and from Ruby online culinary school Forks over Knives plant-based cuisine.

[00:00:51] She is on the board of directors of the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies and is the CEO of Plant Based Nutrition Movement. She leads monthly plant-based sharing and support groups online. Meryl is also a Food for Life instructor and a co-host of 6 million Seats podcast. Welcome, Meryl.

[00:01:14] Well, hello, Ms. Maya. How are you? I'm great. So excited to have you here because you are a fellow podcaster as well, and so I'm excited to talk to you about everything, really.

[00:01:28] I'm excited to learn about how your foundation has been doing over the last couple of years. I want to know about your podcast, how you got started, and then hopefully also we can give some of our listeners, tips on how they can either find a local pod or maybe become a pod leader. Sure thing. So, in your introduction, we learned that you started at age 15 on this path towards plant-based nutrition or a plant-based lifestyle. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

[00:02:00] Sure. So, when I was 15, up until that point, I was eating your typical sorts of things that American kids ate in something. And on top of that, my mom was a very good cook, and she did prepare traditional soul food or African American traditional dishes. She came from the south, so a lot of that had to do with ham hawks and pork products, hog maws, chitlins, pig's feet, things like that, crack lands, bacon. So I grew up eating that sort of thing.

[00:02:44] And like I said, she was a good cook. She did a good job of it, and I ate it happily because that's how back in those days, I don't know about your house, but we didn't argue with what our mother put on the table. That's what was for dinner. Right. There was no arguing.

[00:02:59] That's right. So when I got to be 15, the price of beef and because beef sort of led the market, the price of beef went up, and everything else went up with it. Right. So chicken, pork, fish, all of it went up. And my mother was a gym teacher.

[00:03:20] She had her bachelor's degree in physical education and she had been well trained that you have to have three square meals a day, and a square meal was meat, dairy, vegetables, some kind of starch, and fruit was like a side thought. It was an afterthought. So when the price of meat went up, she got pretty nervous about being able to put appropriate meals, healthy meals, on the table for the family. So she would complain a lot. This is like 19, 74, 75.

[00:03:58] She complained a lot and out loud about how she didn't know how she was going to put three square meals on the table and what's going to happen with this. Okay, so my mother was the center of my world, and it was very distressing for me to hear her complaining like that. It was her job to manage the groceries and food budget. My father stayed out of that. He handled the other financials of the house, but she handled the food and groceries.

[00:04:28] And at one point, I was over a very good friend's house who had four kids in her family, and her mother was complaining the same way my mom was complaining. So this friend and I got together and we said, okay, this is what we're going to do to keep our mom's calm. We're going to stop eating meat. That way they can take our portion of something like 21 meals a week and give it to our brother or the father, or she can eat it herself or whatever. We just don't need to eat it.

[00:04:59] And that was our plan. I remember my mom came and picked me up from my friend's house that weekend, and I got in the car and I was like, well, guess what, Mom, I'm not going to eat meat anymore. And I swear she nearly drove off the road, right? Like, oh, my gosh. This means the world is coming to an end.

[00:05:18] You're going to have crickets. You're not going to grow up big and strong. You're going to be a 98-pound weakling, or whatever she was worried about. And I was already a rather thin child, so she was really super worried about it. But I was determined, and I'd already made a pact with my girlfriend, so there was no changing my mind at that point.

[00:05:42] My mother tried that night for dinner. She made her signature dish, which is a spaghetti and meatballs. She put the meatballs on my plate with the spaghetti, and I told her I wasn't eating that. And she said, sit down and eat your dinner, because we didn't argue. Right?

[00:06:00] Right. And I sat down at the table, and I rolled the meatballs off to the side and didn't need them. And she tried another several times that week to make things that had meat in them or something, and I just wouldn't need it. By the end of the week, she made spaghetti again, which was unusual to have the same meal twice in a week. Except she made it with meat sauce, with the meat ground up in the marinara.

[00:06:27] And I told her again, when she served it to me, it's like, I'm not eating that. And she just pretty much said, sit down and eat. And I was terrible. I'm going to warn you, this is not pretty. I sat down, I swirled the spaghetti up on my fork with the meat sauce, I put it in my mouth, and then proceeded to spit every piece of meat out onto my plate.

[00:06:54] That must have driven your mom crazy. Let me tell you how much fun that was. Nobody, nobody was thrilled with me at the table that night. Like, you're disgusting. But that stopped her from asking and pushing, and it just was from that time.

[00:07:14] I continued the journey from there. So, eventually stopped eating fish and seafood, stopped eating poultry. I developed or realized I had an allergy to dairy products. So, that took those out of the mix, and it took a while, but eventually landed on no animal products at all. Works really well for me.

[00:07:38] Just to clarify, I wonder if what you were saying is initially you wanted to stop eating animal products because of the costs. Was it a financial reason? It was, but it was in my mom's world, not in my you know, it wasn't really an issue. It wasn't an impact for me personally, but I could not tolerate hearing my mom so upset all the time about the budget, the food budget. So this is important for me to mention because as we move on through our conversation, we will talk about working with people that have been hardest hit by covet.

[00:08:13] And a lot of times one of the reasons why they don't eat as healthy is because of their own limitations financially. I mean, I can say, and I'm super grateful, my parents were able to provide very well for us, really. We lived a rather privileged life, to be honest. But to your point, eating whole food, plant-based or predominantly vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, and fruits is about the least expensive way to eat, in my opinion, for so many reasons. And we can go into it deeper than that.

[00:08:47] But I don't know how much cheaper you can get than black beans and rice. Right. That's good eating, but it's real and not even but it's super inexpensive. That's right. And so then what happened?

[00:09:02] Then you grow up. So you continue to stay this way, little by little, through your journey. You're eliminating animal products and byproducts what happened next? Well, you know, there was this dance back and forth for a little while. So, here's one of the best examples I would recommend anybody get to know their own body, pay attention to how your body functions on whatever fuel you're giving it.

[00:09:31] And generally speaking, it's best. Highly recommended, I'll say, to give it real food as opposed to processed products, colors, chemicals, additives, and fake stuff, right? Give it real food. Well, at one point, I stopped eating four-legged animals, at least for a long time, and I met a guy I thought I was in love. right? The guy was super cute.

[00:10:04] He was paying lots of attention, and he was pretty convinced that I needed to eat meat because I was cold a lot, and I was a skinny kid, skinny young adult. And because I thought I was in love and I thought, he must know more than I did, I decided I would follow his recommendations to eat meat. That was about one of the worst decisions for me physically, that I have ever made. It just shut my digestive system down. I got barely sick, a lot of stomach stuff, constipation, bloating.

[00:10:42] Not pretty at all. Not pretty at all. So at that point, I realized, okay, there are certain things my body will really accept, and there are certain things it's not my imagination that it won't. My body does not accept heavy beef, pork, all that stuff, roasts.

[00:11:01] It just does not work for my body. So, over time and I certainly did test, but over time, I just got to the point where I couldn't tolerate anymore. And then I'll tell you another thing. Hearing the news reports about the different recalls on different meats and E.coli, tainted ground turkey, and all of that, at some point, I realized that I was basically having to dissociate from my body to eat animal products.

[00:11:37] I would have to, like, think, oh, this tastes really good, and then not think about what happened once it passed here. Now, by that time, I was a nurse already, and I'd gone through a fair amount of nursing education, and it came to me that, okay, there are people in the world who seriously have psychological challenges where the challenge or the disorder is that they're dissociating from their body, right? So why would I intentionally eat things that caused me to do that? That doesn't make any sense, right? So that's when it really occurred to me, okay, you need to stop now.

[00:12:17] Just stop, because there's no sense in disconnecting from my body just because I'm eating something that I know I shouldn't eat anyway. Did you at that point have any so there's the disconnection, and I'm aware of what you're saying. Did you have any disordered eating as a result? No. Thank goodness.

[00:12:40] And during your nursing career, how much awareness did you have about that association between what we eat and the illnesses, diseases that we develop? A lot. But, you know, nursing is so well, I'll say the medical field in general, and nursing certainly as a subset in the medical field, we're not taught about the impact or the importance of appropriate food. The only time it comes in is if it's related to an illness. So, if you had, let's say, kidney problems, you'd be told, decrease your potassium intake.

[00:13:16] Maybe your proteins keep your proteins a little lower or if you have diabetes, you're told, watch your carbohydrates. Don't eat sugar fats. I worked here in Illinois. We have a very high Central American immigrant population, and the dietitians would say no more than two tortillas at a meal or something.

[00:13:45] Something like that. So, there's those kinds of limitations. But generally, nurses, we don't get trained in food as medicine or the benefits of eating an appropriate diet. So what I knew about diet and nutrition, I knew from either my own personal experience or because I read something about it somewhere else. So now, how did you learn about this way of living, this whole food plant-based lifestyle?

[00:14:13] Was it a book that you read, someone that introduced you to this, or perhaps a film? Well, there weren't any films when I started. That was not a thing. And it wasn't called whole food plant-based back then. Maya. It was called.

[00:14:31] Either you are Vegetarian or you're a Lacto-Ovo vegetarian. There were vegans, but we hardly heard of them.

[00:14:43] I remember when you say that. I remember back in the day looking for alternatives because I had stopped eating red meat and pork. And you're right, I would only see the title Vegetarian. And even then it included eggs and dairy. That's right.

[00:14:59] And that was the Lacto-Ovo vegetarian. Now, you could be a straight vegetarian and just not eat any animal products at all. At some point, they put in the Lacto-Ovo. I don't know. And if you weren't a vegetarian or a Lacto-Ovo vegetarian, you were just a health food nut or a health food freak if they really wanted to be unkind.

[00:15:24] Right? Yeah. So how did the transformation happen for you? So, like I said, there weren't any movies. There were just labels like that.

[00:15:34] There were a couple of maybe three books, four books that I can think of that I found and read. One was Frances Moore's Late Diet for a Small Planet, and she included a lot of wheat germ and maybe yogurt and things like that. It was not completely plant only kind of book. There was Dick Gregory's Natural Diet for Folks Who Eat, I cannot remember the name of the book.

[00:16:09] There was also a book called Survival into the 21st Century, which was by a guy named Viktoras Kulvinskas, who I think has been since totally ridden out on a rail and created as a charlatan. But he wrote a book, and it was all about, over time, whittling away the toxic parts of your diet until he was advocating being a breatharian, is the way I remember it. I did try to go that route, but yeah, I couldn't live on air and sunshine alone. That did not work. I tried.

[00:16:47] I gave it a valued effort, but it didn't work. So, it was those three books that had an impact on you? Yeah. And there was another one, a cookbook that came out. It was the first Moosewood cookbook.

[00:16:59] And that was just a beautiful book. It appeared to be all handwritten and hand-drawn pictures and also a lot of dairy products in that one. But a great book. It was the first recipe I had for hummus, and I was probably 17 years old. The Dick Gregory book is called Dick Gregory's Natural Diet for Folks Who Eat.

[00:17:26] Cooking with Mother Nature. That's what it is. I love that title, Cooking with Mother Nature, because that is what we mean when we say whole foods. We're really talking about the foods that are grown from the earth. That's right.

[00:17:39] From the ground or on a tree. That's right. Minimally processed as possible. Very nice. And so did that eventually, either of those books then eventually lead you to the world that we know today with some of the pioneers in plant-based nutrition and some of the current documentaries.

[00:17:59] None, none, none. Dr. T. Colin Campbell was not in my world. Caldwell B.

[00:18:08] Esselstyn. Never heard of them. Those names were not in my world at all until maybe five years ago. Honestly, never heard of them. I was a solitary practitioner of whole food, eating plants and fruits, vegetables, whole grains always dominated my diet.

[00:18:34] I've been eating brown rice so long since I was, I don't know, 18 or something.

[00:18:45] Yeah, those gentlemen were not in my world at all. So it's interesting that you should say you were a solitary practitioner is what you said. And I'm wondering how many people are like that that have sort of taken this way of living and continued not really being bothered by other people, not really having any conflict or problems with other people and the decisions that you made for your life. And yet some of the ones that are some of us who are newer to this way of living, I've been living this way for six years, some of us have felt that need to connect and to build a sense of community. But back then it didn't seem like that.

[00:19:28] But I am familiar with that lifestyle, the vegetarian lifestyle back in the day. But there always seemed to be this like the individuals were paired with a sense of spirituality. That's what it seemed like. You're a vegetarian and then maybe you practice Buddhism or something like that. Right.

[00:19:47] That was my mindset about it. I don't know my perception of it all. It's funny you say that. I am Buddhist. Oh, I see.

[00:19:55] Funny. But I was talking to a friend the other day about this is a whole different topic.

[00:20:03] There are religions that, or faith-based practices of some kind that lend themselves to eating more plants. Right. That's kind of the path. And it's certainly that way in Buddhism, at least the type that I practice. We're vegan.

[00:20:25] We don't eat meat or animal products of any kind based on the desire not to do any harm. Right. And then there are other religious mindsets or paths that don't appear to have that particular hesitation. Right. It's more of animals are here to serve us, or animals are here for us to dominate, or whatever that is.

[00:20:54] And that puts a different spin on it for a lot of people. You're right in terms of, like, either the practice, the spiritual practice that you have, or religion can kind of play a role in how you view food. Kabbalah was one that a particular celebrity used to practice. I got into kabbalah or kabbalah for a while in my life, and I remember that they viewed eating animals as enduring or taking on the suffering that animals endure as they're being slaughtered. So, that high level of adrenaline and probably stress.

[00:21:28] Yes, the stress is what we take in. And so that kind of convinced me, although I wasn't an ethical vegan either, that sort of convinced me to stop eating certain animals. Not as fast as you did, but I did, over time, begin to eliminate. So, what happened five years ago that brought you to this point where you're now a pod leader and now you have a foundation? That's a great question.

[00:21:51] So, I've been a nurse for something like 30 years. I don't really count exactly. Something around 30 years and watch. I'm also a public health nurse. That was the area I went into, the specialty I took on.

[00:22:10] So, working in public health, you see an awful lot of people who don't have access to healthcare. They're usually what we call the vulnerable populations. Right. They're at risk, and they don't necessarily nine times out of ten, they flat don't have the means to manage the illnesses that they're confronted with.

[00:22:36] Which leaves them going to the local public health clinic and getting very basic care for the illnesses that they're dealing with. Right. So, let's say because it's super common, they're dealing with diabetes and heart disease, and high blood pressure. Those three run in a pack. Right.

[00:22:56] They're always paired up as a trio. So, people would come into the clinic and they'd have these illnesses, and what they would be told is, this is your diagnosis. These are the medications you're going to take. Come back in three months, and this is going to be your life forever. You'll just be taking these medications.

[00:23:20] And the number of times that I was standing in a room when somebody received that diagnosis is just too many to count. Right. And the number of times I watched the patient like, it looks like they've been hit with it by a truck, just like and they would sort of psychologically leave the room. They check out for a while while the doctor talk about yes, and you get two tortillas and no fruit juice and only meet the size of a deck of cards, drink skin. They'll have this whole thing.

[00:23:58] And then somewhere along the line, the doctor would say, do you have any questions? And the patient would come back to the room and sort of say, no, I don't have any questions. And the doctor would say, okay, you're going to go see the dietitian. The number of times I watch that play out is just too many to count. And then to know that, okay, but there's food, they could change their diet.

[00:24:30] They could do something other than just cut back on the number of tortillas or this can't be right. This can't be right. You know, and at some point, there was just this internal shift where I couldn't I just couldn't tolerate I couldn't tolerate the mismatch between what I knew or what I sensed to be true and what I was involved in in the clinical setting. I just couldn't do it anymore. And at some point, women, at a certain age, we lose our filter and we start saying things because we have attained a certain level of maturity.

[00:25:14] So, yeah, I started speaking out and saying things I probably shouldn't have said to people I probably shouldn't have said it to. And at some point, it does seem to be prudent for me to step away from nursing and at least direct patient care type nursing and managing clinics, which is what I was doing. So I started looking around for an alternative and I wound up finding a meetup group that was a vegan, no oil meet-up group. And then in short order, I was invited to be on the board of directors of the nonprofit. And then a few months after that, the doctor that founded a nonprofit decided he would step down and I was elected to be president and CEO.

[00:26:03] And it happened almost just like that, simply, which is a blessing, a huge gift. Incredible, because now you're in a place of influence, of power when it comes to food.

[00:26:17] You're on the T. Colin Campbell's Board of Directors. When did that take place? I think it was about a year ago. A year ago?

[00:26:26] Yeah, it was either a year or two years. Right. That's wonderful. Congratulations. That's big.

[00:26:31] And that's important too. Huge. So, Meryl, I want to explore this idea from your experience in nursing and now with what you're doing with your foundation. So two things related to health that affect people, if you'd like to talk about this from your experience. Social determinants of health and racial disparities in health care.

[00:26:54] And those two have become in the last like if you Google them or look them up on YouTube, most recently since COVID, since this pandemic has started, these conversations are starting to become more and more common. And it's important for all of us who are in that space of wanting to offer support and to help people to understand. Just because you have health insurance doesn't mean you have health equity. And just because you visit your physician, it doesn't mean that the physician would order the test that you would like. So, I'm wondering if you have experience, you talk to us a little bit about some of the recommendations that were being made for patients in terms of limiting or watching some of the foods.

[00:27:37] But do you have experience with some of these topics that I just brought up? So, there's two different ways that I have seen it. There's me as a nurse standing in a room watching the interaction or supporting the interaction between a medical provider and the patient. And then there's me as a patient myself also being a nurse and knowing what I know. Yeah.

[00:28:00] So, there's a couple of different angles that I see that we know for sure and have data that shows that people of color and particular African Americans and I'm going to guess it's very similar for Latinx Hispanic populations. That certainly for African Americans. We tend to be hit very hard by whatever chronic disease or acute disease there is that's in the population. There has been some speculation for a long time that it was genetic. African Americans are just weak that way.

[00:28:41] Right. There's a weakness in the genetic makeup somehow. Right. We also know now that that's not necessarily true. There are certain aspects of let's say, for example, let's give a specific breast cancer, right?

[00:28:55] When an African American woman, by and large, when we are diagnosed with breast cancer, the cancer is further advanced and it may be more aggressive in its type of cancer. Right. It's going at a faster pace and more aggressively. They found that one thing is African American women may be entering the medical system either at a place in a system where they don't actively or assertively deal with the illness or the disease or depending on what type of insurance they have, maybe they don't have access to all the cures treatments based on the insurance or the quality of care. Let's say genetically there does appear to be a component where the breast cancer that a lot of African American women are dealing with is more aggressive.

[00:29:56] Right. So a woman maybe enters the system late for a diagnosis and then the disease itself is more aggressive. So if the woman has already got this disease that's running rampant and she chooses to delay entering the system and she's got poor quality care and the medical team or providers are not super willing or somehow there's like a wall and they're not really paying attention to what she says, her odds of survival are poor. Right. And that is actually a real thing.

[00:30:43] I have walked into doctor's offices. They don't know that I have my masters in nursing. They don't know anything. They know I look like I look and they maybe have looked at my history, but a lot of times they haven't even looked at my history. So there's a certain assumption based on how I look.

[00:31:04] There might be like a bias that either you're not as interested or for whatever reason. Not as involved in your own health and so forth or I'm not smart enough or I don't care or if they can't talk to me because I'm not going to speak the same language they speak or whatever that is.

[00:31:23] Or they're scared. Okay, Maya, I present I could be considered a little radical in the way I present, right? I'm just saying I could, but scary as some people. So there was a time during the pandemic that I had an injury, and I did the whole MRI. I went to a physical therapist, and so I have the nurse practitioner look at me.

[00:31:53] She says, I'm going to recommend our physical therapist who works here, right across the office. So I go in to consult with him, and I had to ask and things. And he says, it's your age. It's because you're over 50. That's all it is.

[00:32:07] That's what's happening to your bones and this and that. And so he really spoke down to me, and I don't want to say I'm used to it. I just want to take the time to show that I know what I'm talking about and that I should not be spoken down to that way. But by the time we got done, after weekly visits, he changed his whole perspective about how he related to me and said, you know, I don't think it's really age. I think you had a real injury.

[00:32:32] We avoided surgery. And I never once said, my husband is a vascular surgeon, and he knows how to, you know, and he's the one that's advising me. But it's sometimes it's so hard not to get angry when you know that you're being spoken down to. This is why I wanted you to sort of talk about that, because as a pod leader, you have the opportunity to work with your own community and to uplift. And really, when we talk, I know that you've said in the past that you don't like the term vulnerable populations.

[00:33:05] Right. Vulnerable populations are people that are under-resourced. But really what we're talking about is well, I guess two things, how people are treated by the health care system, the racism, and health care. But the other thing is that we're talking about a group of people that lack resources, so how can we give them the resources, that group of people that is sort of being ignored? Yeah.

[00:33:31] So, that's such a big question. Right. Because it's a systemic problem, and it's held in place by so many different factors, a lot of it being political, economic, educational. These are the things these are the social determinants of health we're talking about now. Right.

[00:33:49] And those things are firmly in place, and they are in place for a reason, and they keep a certain section of the population down while we keep another section of the population elevated. Right. So I think one of the most important. Things for me is to educate, tell people their options, remind them that they have more power in any situation than they really know. And power is not the same as being forceful.

[00:34:22] Right. Power is knowing what you know and being able to hold your ground, stand your ground, and advocate for yourself. That's certainly one definition of power. So I prefer to educate people. And on the topic of, I don't like calling underserved or poorly resourced populations vulnerable or at risk.

[00:34:54] That's one way to define it. But it puts them at this submissive passive, oh, my gosh, I can't help myself stand, which is not true. Like, I need to be saved, kind of thing. I need to be rescued, right? No, I prefer to call right now.

[00:35:12] What I call that is people who are suffering the worst effects of poor eating habits. That's what I call that right now because that's kind of how it lands for me. Now, they're also politically underrepresented and economically devastated, but education, I think, is a lot of it. And at the root of that, if we can get people to understand the importance of appropriate nutrition, and that doesn't mean chicken nuggets, that doesn't mean McDonald's and cheeseburgers, we could get people, for me, really well, nourished, it would make a big difference. So, speaking of that, can you speak about culturally appropriate foods when we're outreaching to community members that lack the resources, the information of how to eat a whole food plant-based diet?

[00:36:12] How can we encourage people to eat healthier if we're not making the food culturally appropriate? Well, you know, that is a challenge because the United States is made up of a patchwork of different cultures, right? So just recently, I had the pleasure and honor of working with the Food for Life group to launch a new set of recipes and new curriculum for an African American population. And they did an amazing job of creating recipes that aligned and didn't conflict with very commonly eaten African American dishes, traditional dishes. I think that's important if we're going to work with any particular population.

[00:37:13] If we can at least make the food connected culturally. For instance. And do as good a job as we can of cleaning it up so it doesn't have fat back in it. The way my mother would have put in baked beans or smoked turkey necks in the collard greens or whatever she would have had. I think it takes a certain amount of sensitivity, and it takes a little bit of dedication to make that happen so that the food is nourishing, it's satisfying.

[00:37:49] It tastes good. It's not insulting. God forbid that you create something that insults somebody's mother because you're taking the fat back out of it and saying that that wasn't good and that the person takes it as you're talking bad about their family. It's sensitive. It's a delicate thing.

[00:38:09] Food is so important to people culturally and psychologically, emotionally, it is important and. Part of the advantage that we have as part leaders. We're not talking about limitations right now. Let's get the pandemic. Let's move it a little bit to the side right now and not be limited by that.

[00:38:24] But one of the advantages that we have is that we can offer potlucks for community members. And in those potlucks, we can encourage, depending on who attends, to have more culturally appropriate, delicious meals that are appealing to the group of people that are showing up. And this makes it a lot easier. I often talk about my mother, and I try to encourage her to eat whole foods using other recipes, but she always gravitates towards kind of veganizing foods that are comforting to her that she knows as a Mexican woman. And so that's what we're talking about, making foods that we would normally eat, but we just clean them up, right?

[00:39:07] That's right. Yeah. That's awesome. Take the lard out. Yes, take the lard out.

[00:39:13] Oh, my gosh. Now that I read labels, I cannot believe how much-saturated fat can be found in tortillas, for example. Even they could be vegan, but they could have that saturated fat by adding coconut or something. Exactly. Yeah.

[00:39:27] So, can we talk more about you as a pod leader, your foundation? I know that you have a wonderful board of directors, and you have so much going on along with the podcast. So where should we start with that? Oh, my goodness. Well, let's talk about the nonprofit, and that probably leads into almost everything else.

[00:39:49] So our nonprofit is called Plant Based Nutrition Movement, started by a cardiologist to whom I am terrifically grateful that he went through all of the steps he had to go through to develop the nonprofit. His name is Dr. Steven Loam. Wonderful guy, cardiologist. I believe he is out in California now.

[00:40:11] After one year of being the lead and founder of the nonprofit, he chose to step away. Right? He had a lot going on. He has six children, and he's a cardiologist on top of it. And his wife is a doctor too.

[00:40:25] And I don't know how you can do all of that and run a nonprofit. So he chose to step away and that's how I wound up in the position I'm in as president, CEO. Like I said, hats off to Dr. Steven Lome.

[00:40:39] Love him to death. And thank you for allowing me to support the organization going forward. Within the organization, we do have a wonderful board of directors. There are ten of us on the board at this time. We are all 100% whole food plant-based, and they are super engaged and supportive and happy to do whatever they can do to keep the organization viable and relevant, keep it afloat.

[00:41:13] So, we take on projects during the year. We do anything from food drives for local food pantries or domestic violence shelters. And in those cases, we are only collecting whole food, plant-based items. And the way we've done it up till now is we create meal kits, which is an idea that we got from Sandy Lipsky out in Plant-based Pittsburgh. We make meal kits, and we put the stuff ingredients for a meal together in a bag, and we deliver however many bags we can pull together to whatever organization we're going to look into.

[00:41:51] So, it can be anything from that up to large online events where we interview well-known doctors or people in the world of whole food, plant-based eating. And we've done really well with that, especially during COVID when everyone was stuck inside and afraid to be around each other. That's been very rewarding and gratifying. Right now, we are working on a project called 6 Million Seeds, which is behind me, and that is a project large-scale and longer term for specifically looking at child nutrition. It occurs to us that children are the if we want to talk about a vulnerable population, children qualify.

[00:42:46] They are the most vulnerable population we have, right? They have no authority, no autonomy, no agency, and that is all by law. They are not allowed to make their own decisions or determine what's in their own best interests. And that's for a lot of very good reasons, right? However, that leaves them at the mercy of maybe adults who don't know any better than they do in a lot of cases.

[00:43:12] In some cases, puts them at risk for some pretty poor outcomes. So, we started this project, 6 Million Seeds to address the issues that we see in child nutrition, largely because most children in the United States are poorly fed, just terrifically poorly fed. Even in the most affluent of neighborhoods, children are still getting incredibly sugary cereals and milk, cow's milk or goat milk, or whatever form of animal milk they get. They're still getting chicken nuggets and French fries and cheeseburgers for lunch and something similar for dinner. They are still getting very few fruits and vegetables and whole grains, regardless of where they are, regardless of zip code or the level of education, the parents or the income, or does it matter?

[00:44:10] Their color, their brace, it doesn't matter. Children are just really friendly. If I could ask about that, you were probably going to go into detail, but what does that project entail? Are you offering recipes to the schools or specifically to the children, or is this like an after-school event? Things that they attend separately?

[00:44:27] So it's a really large and what I call leggy project. There are three aspects to it, three parts of the project, and I'd say the underlying crystal of it is to make a difference with climate and planetary health. So that's the underlying part. But part one of the project is working with children directly, either in schools, Boy Scouts, Girls Scouts, Boys and Girls Clubs, faith-based youth groups, home schools, and that is to give the children a direct experience of whole food, plant-based eating and teach them how to cook and get them involved in the world of real food. It also involves creating raised bed gardens so that they can learn how to grow food.

[00:45:18] Where does food come from? If you ask a lot of kids, Where does food come from? They'll say it comes from the grocery store. There's a couple of steps before that. So that's a part of it.

[00:45:30] And then the third part of that particular aspect of the project is to connect in schools, in particular, connect schools with local farmers so that there can be direct access for procurement of fresh fruit and vegetables and decrease the carbon footprint of transportation. I love that. I can imagine, like, children knowing the growers, the local growers, the farmers nearby that grow their foods and having that connection of these individuals. They specialize in working the land and growing the food that I'm eating. Yeah, that's part of understanding our resources and supporting local growers, like you said, right?

[00:46:15] Yeah. It's missing in our education right now. It's missing. Right. So that's part one of the project for 6 Million Seats.

[00:46:24] Part two is our podcast. And this I'm in right now is our podcast studio. So this is where we have conversations just like we're having right now. And we talk to other whole food plant-based, call them celebrities, people who are more well known in the field, researchers, medical providers, health coaches, artists, climate change activists, organic gardeners, regenerative, health, and planetary change folks. And that's who we talk to on the podcast with the goal of getting the message out.

[00:47:06] The same thing that we're teaching the kids to get that information to parents and health care providers and educators. So that's the second part of the project. Are you the main host or are there two of you? There are two of us, yes. Thank you for bringing that up.

[00:47:21] So, myself and my partner, her name is Carrie Bruno, and she is a pharmacist. And we're both members of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine. She is actually board-certified in lifestyle medicine. Very nice. Yeah.

[00:47:38] And it's the same name. 6 Million Seats is the name of the podcast. Like you said. That's your studio right there. Beautiful.

[00:47:44] I love the sign. Yes. Thank you. And then the third part of the project is we're actually in process of ramping it up now. It is the decade of child nutrition.

[00:47:56] So, starting in the coming year, 2023, that'll be we are declaring the next ten years a decade of child nutrition, where we are building a coalition of like-minded and like, mission entities and individuals to just keep that message in the forefront of everything that we do. So, even if, let's say I'm talking to Maya Acosta today on 6 Million Seeds, right? That we talk about child nutrition and the importance of it and okay, my idea of a recipe. What is your niece like to eat when she comes visit or whatever. Right.

[00:48:40] So, it's that type of thing. And 6 Million Seeds the decade of child nutrition part, I am happy to say, is very much a Guerrilla marketing. And Guerrilla I don't want to say warfare, but that's how people understand gorilla. Right. It's low-cost and high-impact way of going about getting a word out because we cannot compete with Coca-Cola, Pepsi Cola, McDonald's, or Burger King's budget for marketing.

[00:49:16] We can't. So, to try and play that game on TV and radio, we get nowhere. So what we're doing is going at it in a different way from Guerrilla marketing tactic. Yes. And also it's still working from a grassroots way because as you just stated, you have giants that you're sort of competing against.

[00:49:43] So, we get to the people through community work. And exactly. Your foundation is doing great things. How are you able to fund all this work? We have some people who donate, thankfully, but a lot of it, people are just willing to do pro bono for free because they believe in the mission.

[00:50:07] That's really where it is. That's how we fund it. Carrie and I for the podcast, a lot of it, we fund ourselves out of our own pocket. But we do have a couple of donors who have been fairly generous. And the rest of it, people just give because they believe in it.

[00:50:28] I think, Meryl, that you're very blessed to have taken on this foundation and to continue to work towards changing the community, starting with children because they are our future. So, you're already setting them up on a good path. Do you have a final message for any Pot leaders, any current Pot leaders that sort of may feel like, well, I'm not doing much. We're not able to get together because of the pandemic? What would you say to them?

[00:50:56] Call me.

[00:51:03] You can always do something. You can always do something. Create a newsletter. Send out messages that way.

[00:51:12] Send out recipes. Give people places to look for hope.

[00:51:20] So, one of the things that we talk about in 6 Million Seeds is the impact that the way we eat has on the planet. Make a difference with that. Start growing gardens. If you have a local here, we're in southeast Wisconsin. We have community gardens.

[00:51:39] I guess they have them a lot of places, I'm thinking, right, get involved in your community garden. It's outdoor activity. Grow food that way. There's just always something that you can do. Brainstorm with your toddler members.

[00:51:54] What can we do if we're afraid to get together and be face to face? What can we do instead? That's right. People are amazingly resourceful and have great ideas if you tap them. Yes.

[00:52:04] And every pod is different. It just really depends on who's running it. Who are the leaders behind the pod? Where are you located? It can differ.

[00:52:12] Some are more about having potlucks, some are about sharing recipes. In your case, you have a wonderful team of people that are very creative and are able to tackle all these different areas by having a podcast, by offering recipes and working with your local schools. There are many things that people can do. And I think the real motivator for me was watching the film Plan Pure Nation. Yeah.

[00:52:38] Yes. And you can still watch it on YouTube, free of cost. It's still available. It's the film that Nelson Campbell put together that really shows the politics behind creating change when it comes to nutrition and fighting that big monster. And so if you watch I feel like if you watch Plant Your Nation, you're motivated to get involved in any way that you can.

[00:53:01] So, either you can join a pod, or you can become a pod leader and just use the skills and talents that you already have to help create this change. Right. And network. You're not supposed to do it all by yourself. It's not a solitary activity to create change like this network.

[00:53:21] That's right. There are so many people who are so interested in moving this message forward, and a lot of healthcare practitioners like myself don't want to see it continue the way it's been for the last 200 years or however long. They want to make a difference. That's right. And so, Meryl, if people are interested in either learning more about your foundation, any of the programs that you have or just contacting you, what is the best way to reach you?

[00:53:49] If you go on our website, which is, there are different ways you can contact us on there. If you're interested in learning more about 6 Million Seeds, for example, go to the tab that says 6 Million Seeds. Click the drop-down. I think it says Contact us. And you can find a contact sheet there.

[00:54:17] There are a few different contact forms on there. Just put your name in and we'll definitely get back to you. You can also email us at And that comes directly to me and to carry my podcast partner. Wonderful on top of that.

[00:54:40] Yeah. It's been a pleasure speaking with you, Meryl Fury. Well, thank you. Maya. Acosta.

[00:54:46] The pleasure was all mine. Yes. And by the way, thank you for all the great work that you're doing. It's very encouraging. So, thank you again.

[00:54:54] You are welcome. You've been listening to the Healthy Lifestyle Solutions Podcast with your host, Maya Acosta. If you've enjoyed this podcast, do us a favor and share with one friend who can benefit from this episode. Feel free to leave an honest review as well at

[00:55:16] This helps us to spread our message. And as always, thank you for being a listener. Bye.