The NCVA’s Dee Campbell-Giura posed some penetrating questions to Jack Norris R.D., one of Veg Fest 2012’s guest speakers. Don’t miss his presentation on April 29!
Norris is the co-founder of Vegan Outreach, and co-authour of Vegan for Life. Here are those questions, and his responses.
Dee: For those of us just learning about Jack Norris RD, please tell us a little bit about each of your websites.
Jack Norris R.D.: VeganOutreach.org is the website for the organization I co-founded with Matt Ball. In terms of person-to-person outreach, I thin it’s safe to say that we are the largest organization in the world promoting a vegan diet (though we have help from many other organizations), handing out millions of our booklets every year. We have information about how and why to go vegan, and resources for people who want to help spread veganism in their community. I highly recommend signing up for our weekly e-newsletter to keep on top of what is going on in the vegan advocacy world.
VeganHealth.org is a website that provides in-depth analyses of veg diets. It’s basically a review of the scientific literature.
JackNorrisRD.com is a companion site in which I blog about any updates made to VeganHealth.org. I also add more commentary and blog about some topics that never make it to VeganHealth.org.
Dee: Do you remember the moment you decided to eat a plant-based diet? Tell us your “Aha!” moment.
Jack: I gradually transitioned to a vegan diet over the course of a year as I learned more about modern farming. But my final moment was when my chiropractor told me that I could get calcium from leafy green vegetables.
I had been confused about calcium because, in 1989 when I became vegan, there was very little available information on the subject and I had a teacher in high school who said you could not get calcium from plant foods
Dee: What has your career path looked like? How you got to where you are now?
Jack: I think it was in December of 1996 that it looked like Vegan Outreach had run out of money. I figured we were pretty much done. While we were not necessarily going to end the organization, I resigned myself to the idea that we had done what we could but that I needed to look for something else to do with most of my time.
The next day, I got a call from Matt saying we had received a $6,000 grant, which was huge, and we were back in on track! I started planning the next semester’s tour and the rest is history.
After traveling the country handing out Vegan Outreach’s booklets on college campuses during the mid-1990s, I met many people who had tried to be veg and went back due to health concerns. I decided that if my life’s work was going to be trying to spread a veg diet, then I needed to learn a lot more about nutrition in order to figure out if I could help such people.
Dee: As someone who dispels vegan nutritional myths, what are a few common ones that many vegans have about their diets?
Currently, the most important one is that vegans get enough calcium. Most vegans do *not* get enough calcium and it’s important that they take steps to do so in order to prevent osteoporosis. It’s not hard to do, but if you aren’t paying attention, you might not be getting enough.
Dee: For those who haven’t handed out leaflets for a cause, the idea of doing so might be nerve-wracking. Any tips from a pro?
Jack: The first leaflet is, by far, the hardest. Hundreds of our leafleters will back me up when I say that if you just get yourself to hand out the first one, it becomes easy as pie and afterwards you will be very glad you leafleted. It is quite satisfying to turn our anger and sadness about how animals are treated into action, and most leafleting sessions will allow you to meet at least one person who is thrilled to get the information. There are potential vegetarians out there right now just waiting for you to reach them!
Dee: It’s easy to find conflicting vegan nutritional information out there. Can you tell us who to read, trust and follow? In addition to veganhealth.org and jacknorrisRD.com, of course.
Jack: My co-author, Ginny Messina, [book: Vegan for Life] has an excellent blog at TheVeganRd.com. NutritionFacts.org, run by Dr. Michael Greger, is also great. I’d also recommend the Vegetarian Resource Group‘s blog, though it is not exclusively about nutrition.
Dee: Your vegan wedding in Toronto, catered by KFC, is an interesting story. Why KFC?
Jack: The Canadian KFCs had agreed to make some changes to how their suppliers were raising animals and also introduced a vegan option at most of their stores. My wife, Alex Bury, worked for PETA at the time, and we thought a PETA wedding in front of the KFC would get a lot of positive attention – and it did. We got very nice articles in all the major papers and it was a lot of fun.
Dee: If you could convince just two people to change their diet to a vegan one, who would they be?
Jack: I think Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert going vegan could probably do the most good of any current celebrities.
Dee: What can we look forward to hearing about at your talk in Ottawa?
Jack: I do not approach nutrition research as a lawyer approaches the law. Lawyers try to create the best argument possible to represent their client. Rather than trying to create arguments, I look at the research and try to figure out what the truth is.
My talk will review the scientific literature on vegan diets without cherry-picking the data to fit what I want to be true. That said, there is a lot of positive, impressive research on vegans and I will be covering it at the talk in addition to any nutrition concerns.