Have you played outside today?
A recent survey of 12,000 adults and children in the U.S. shows that many of us have lost our close connection with nature.
Today, I have the very special privilege of introducing one of my very best friends from all time. Mr. Trevor Lowell.
Trev and I go so far back that he literally taught me how to ride a bike without training wheels and blow bubbles in bubble gum. I’m not making that up.
These days, Trevor Lowell is the Farm to Institution Program Manager for the State of Vermont’s Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, where he works as an educator and administrator. He’s also a man of many talents, a great writer, an avid outdoorsman, and he knows how to play when he has to.
Trevor has his M.A. in Food Studies from New York University, and has worked in a wide variety of capacities across the food system: from a goat milker on an organic dairy in Montana, to a food policy researcher in New York City.
And today he’s talking with us about food policies, sustainable diets, and how to find peace and happiness by getting outdoors.
On this show with Trevor Lowell, you’re about to learn:
- Why soda is the #1 commodity purchased through the SNAP food program
- Surprising background into how our food system is actually governed
- How to better vote with our forks
- Why protecting and preserving wild landscapes is critical to our happiness
- And tons more…
Let’s hang out with Trevor.
Trevor Lowell: Better Food for Less Money
Abel: Alright folks, Mr. Trevor Lowell is the Farm to Institution Program Manager for the State of Vermont’s Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets.
His work is centered on creating a more just food system that supports shared values around societal, environmental and human health.
Trevor grew up in central New Hampshire and now lives with his lovely wife in Vermont, where the vast tracts of public land support his love for the outdoors.
He’s a dear old friend who goes so far back that Trev literally taught me how to ride a bike without training wheels, play Ninja Gaiden on original Nintendo and blow bubbles in bubble gum.
Trevor, thank you so much for being here.
Hey AJ. It’s great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Abel: Yeah man. So, it was really fun to read what you sent over as topics that we could talk about, because obviously we’ve been friends for a long time, but you as a professional have been doing some really cool work.
And one particular sentence that really stuck out to me was:
“Our food system is a direct reflection of the interests of those who hold the most power in our democracy.”
Let’s just start right there. What does that mean to you?
I think when you look at the multitude of issues in our food system, whether through a nutrition lens, an environmental impact lens, a social justice lens, and you walk all of those issues back and try to find really where the root cause of that problem is, you get back to this issue of the fact that we don’t have a food system that reflects the needs of our communities.
We have a food system that reflects the needs of the people who have the most influence over Congress, and those people are lobbyists in industries and corporations with a lot of money to throw around.
So, you look at how those policies are developed, and they usually start with good intent. And then they sort of go through that really bureaucratic and arduous filter of lobbying, discussions and committees.
And by the time they come out, they’ve been altered from best case, best intent, to how can we design this to benefit the people with the most influence?
I think about that classic example of how they argued that pizza was a vegetable when they were doing the school lunch regulations, because it had tomato sauce on it.
That allowed them to qualify, what is generally fairly unhealthy into the category of “vegetable,” so that they could meet the quota for the school lunch program.
No dietitian, no nutritionist, no public health professional in their right mind would argue that’s sound policy.
But when you filter it through that process, and you have all those people influencing that process, that’s the outcome that happens.
Abel: It seems to happen to almost every system, from all sides.
Is there any hope? How do we correct that?
Yeah, I think it’s a great point not to be despondent. It’s easy to get sucked into that.
But the really cool thing about food is that it is one of those things, it’s the universal common denominator. That’s what’s so interesting to me about it.
We all eat. It’s such a personal thing—it’s tied to memory, it’s nostalgia, and family and community.
And it’s something that you have to engage with on a daily basis, as a consumer, as an eater.
So if you think about the amount of times you get a decision and an influence over that system, however small that is, it’s a couple of times a day, several times a week, a hundred, thousands of times a year.
And us as consumers and as citizens, we have an ability, even if it’s just a decision you make at the grocery store, the effort you put in to understand the transparency of your own community food system, you have so many opportunities to do that.
And I think that’s probably one of things that’s most engaging about the food movement.
It’s because this critical mass of people has been growing that as these issues get more light and come out of the shadows. People start to care more about it.
And I think you’ve seen a lot of changes, and a lot of things pushing back against that system isn’t reflective of really what a great values-based food system would be.
Abel: Right. We see a lot of top-down instead of bottom-up action, such that we’re subsidizing junk food, whether we voted for that or not. It’s like our tax dollars are going to that.
Before this call we were talking about buying a house and all of that. And I’m pretty open about this, most years we about break even, in terms of finances.
But we had one good year when I was on that TV show, and I paid more in taxes that year than I paid for my first house.
Abel: And we still don’t own a house, and that’s one of the reasons we don’t, because we paid so much in taxes that year.
And I know those taxes are going to buying missiles, and they’re going to a food industry or an agricultural industry that’s fueled by pesticides, and chemical companies and GMO’s, and they’re putting that into schools.
One thing that we haven’t really gotten into too much, especially on this show, is the SNAP program, for example. What you sent over about the amount of money that’s spent and the types of food that it’s spent on.
Can you just fill people in about how that’s working right now, or not working as the case maybe?
Who Really Benefits from SNAP Dollars?
Yeah, the SNAP program is the vast majority of the Farm Bill funding.
So, if you look at what we spend annually right now on SNAP, on food alone it’s a little over $60 billion a year.
That’s a huge amount of food. It’s a huge amount of consumer purchases.
There are 43 million people that are participating in this program, and I think the most egregious thing about this, is that we don’t know where that money goes.
That information is out there, but we have legally been prohibited from looking at where those SNAP dollars are being spent.
So, which stores are benefiting from this? What type of items are being purchased using SNAP dollars?
That’s really valuable data, right? If we’re spending $60 billion a year of taxpayer money, it’d be great to know where that money is going, and who’s benefiting from that.
But the frustrating thing is that Walmart has this information. Albertsons has this information. Safeway has his information.
It’s even aggregated higher up at the companies, like JP Morgan Chase who does a lot of the contracts for EBT cards, so that’s just the credit card transfers there.
That information exists. And there has been a lot of fights in the court system to try to get a hold of that.
And actually, the Supreme Court is going to hear a case in April, about a newspaper that’s been fighting for years, through Freedom of Information Act, to try to get a hold of that.
But if you start thinking about that amount of money and then how that translates to purchases, and then the impact that that has on consumer health.
There’s a lot of salient arguments about maybe we should be limiting what can be purchased with SNAP, right?
So you can’t buy tobacco. You can’t buy alcohol. And you can’t buy hot prepared foods. That seems reasonable, right?
Why would we allow people to buy tobacco and make themselves more sick?
Well, now, a lot of the research is coming out and really fortifying around the impact of sugar sweetened beverages, you can make the same argument for soda.
Why? There’s been some research where they’ve done some studies. And the research is suggesting that soda is the number one commodity purchase with SNAP dollars.
We’re paying $60 billion a year to help people get access to crap food.
Abel: It’s like the tax money is coming from both sides.
It’s amazing. It’s brilliant, the way that it’s set up, if it’s supposed to be set up that way.
But in a true democracy, no, that’s not how it should work.
Right. And I think it’s important to keep in mind that there’s more elements to that issue.
A lot of it is access. Like SNAP, especially, gets a lot of flack for just being a social welfare program, and unfortunately a lot of that flack comes down on the users.
People think that it’s abused and that it’s just perpetuating this cycle of people who don’t take initiative for themselves.
And the reality is that the abuse of the system is very low. They study it every year, they report on it every year. It’s a really complex issue.
But I think, at a minimum, we should see where that money’s going.
You get to this argument, you look at Walmart, and you start to think about how many of Walmart’s employees are on SNAP dollars themselves. Because Walmart doesn’t pay a living wage in a lot of places.
They’ve actually been accused of actively trying to keep people at a certain amount of income so that they don’t have to do these things.
And they are largely considered to be the biggest financial beneficiary of SNAP dollars.
Abel: Right. Subsidizing Walmart.
Yeah, through two different channels. We’re allowing them to keep their wages low, and we’re subsidizing their employees because they can’t make a living there.
And then they get all the profits from the SNAP dollars.
Abel: Right. Well, I read recently that Amazon just pays no taxes; they get out of paying billions and billions and billions of dollars.
Like half of Americans right now are using Amazon in their Prime program giving them over $100 every year. And they just pay no taxes.
So things like this, obviously they’re not talked about that much publicly, but they should be, right? This is our opportunity to say, “No. Let’s make a better system than this.”
How Our Food System Is Actually Governed
Right. Yeah. And I think it does come back to, “Who holds the power?”
And a lot of the reasons these changes haven’t happened is because there are a lot of people in Congress who get a lot of money from Walmart and their lobbyists.
A lot of money from Amazon and their lobbyists.
I don’t know about you, but I haven’t found the money to buy my own lobbyists yet.
Maybe we could start a pool?
Abel: Yeah, with our tax dollars.
Abel: It does seem very backwards.
What are some of the other things though, because you’re working for good in a system that isn’t necessarily set up for that.
So to use some examples of your professional work in Montana with food sustainability and all of that. What are some of the more promising things that we can focus on?
There’s a lot of great people who are working hard on this issue.
So, I sit on the board of a non-profit called, The Community Food and Agriculture Coalition. And we have a program called Double SNAP dollars.
It’s a program that’s been set up in a lot of different states around the country.
And what it does, say you go to the farmers market and you’re a SNAP recipient. We set up a booth at the market, so you can take $20 of your monthly SNAP allotment out to then shop at the market.
So, you might want to turn that into tokens or whatever that is.
And so, we will double whatever money you take out, and then give you tokens to use those, that money, on fruits and vegetables from farmers at the farmers’ market.
So it has this great dual purpose. We’re getting people who are helping SNAP recipients double their money; double their purchases.
But we’re also directing that money towards very nutritious food, fresh fruits and vegetables that are showing up weekly at the farmers market.
And then the third benefit of this is that the farmers and people who go there to sell their goods are benefiting economically from the SNAP recipients who are getting extra money.
And so, we’ve done a lot of great surveying of that program and looking at the impact it’s had on diets, and we’re finding that it’s really meaningful for people in the Missoula community and the other communities were trying to pilot this.
And the farmers love it, too. It helps change and erode some of that stigma, I would think, around SNAP users.
Because instead of this idea that, “Oh, you’re just…” Whatever that negative connotation may be.
They are coming to their booths, and they’re buying loads of their fresh produce, and they’re having these conversations about how great the vegetables are and how excited they are to use them.
And so, there are some really interesting programs like that.
There’s a hospital in town that’s starting to look at prescription tools.
So instead of getting a script for diabetes or hypertension or stuff like that, if you’re the right type of candidate, they’ll write you a voucher to go to the market and buy fruits and vegetables and eat healthy.
Abel: Wow. Yeah.
Which is a heck of a lot cheaper than taking hypertension medication or anything like that.
It fits into that preventative health mode, but I think ideas like that, that are really creative in finding ways to not only support nutrition, but support local economies, too.
If we want a better food system, we need to pay for that. We need to have people willing, and the functioning economy, to support that.
Abel: Right. And when you do good, things happen for that very community.
When we were growing up, we went to public elementary school together. And my family didn’t have much money during that time, we went through some rough times financially.
And I remember we were considering doing the free lunch program, and the reason that we didn’t, even though we kind of needed to money-wise, it was because—you remember those foods.
It was sloppy Joes. It was like the worst pizza you’ve ever had. It was French fries. It was those little—I don’t even know what they were—Toast sticks?
The bags of milk that you just sort of stab with a straw.
Abel: That was the worst idea ever. But anyway, it’s a matter of access, as well.
You don’t want to be shipping all of these fake foods from across the world, or even across the country, that are subsidized. And it’s just terrible, coming from cans and all of this.
Especially when there are vegetables, literally, right there.
Like for example, my wife Alyson, her folks are in Arizona and live on a small grapefruit orchard.
And if you go into, even the Sprouts Farmers Market right there, or the Whole Foods or whatever, their grapefruit are not from anywhere close to down the street.
We were driving from a grapefruit orchard to Whole Foods to buy grapefruit from thousands of miles away, and it’s insane.
But from the bottom up, there are a lot of things that local communities can do to make this so much better.
I remember in collage, Dartmouth had its own organic farm, and a lot of my friends would work there.
And not all of the veggies, obviously, but some of the veggies came from that farm to that school.
There are these programs, at least at a small level, that can be set up to bring community back into food, because that’s really one of the things that’s been ripped out of it, I think you can agree, in the past few decades.
But I remember growing up at your house, having family meals was always so incredible. Your mom Carrie was a caterer, and made just these outrageously wonderful meals.
I know I probably wouldn’t be doing this show if it weren’t for dinners like that, not just at my parents’ house, but at a lot of people’s different houses, right?
Abel: So building that back in is so important. I think that the work you’re doing is really helping.
Yeah. What I see often times too, is that we think about creating a better food system and we think of the two poles of that supply chain or that system.
We think about the consumer end and we think about the producer end. But really what a lot of the barriers are, are those steps in between.
So, you go to the supermarket and buy grapefruit from thousands of miles away. That’s probably because they have distribution models that fit with the supermarket’s requirements.
They have insurance and liability that fits with the supermarket requirements.
And they have asset plans and food safety, and they have met all of those often onerous things, which are there for some good reasons.
That system is really designed for an industrial food system, because you’re creating so much product, so quickly.
I was just reading how there are a couple of poultry processing plants that have filed for waivers to increase their speed lines—so, how many birds they can process per minute.
And currently they’re allowed to process like 176 birds per minute.
And you think about when you have a system like that, if something goes wrong, you’ve now poisoned hundreds of thousands of people.
So you’re taking these regulations that are built for this really large industrial system, and then you’re blanket applying them across all these smaller systems, and you’re cutting people out, you’re blocking them out.
One of the things that’s been really cool about Missoula, we have a growers’ cooperative here. So, they play this middle man role.
It’s owned by the farmers, and they all have voting rights. They’re members of this organization, but it’s a for-profit business.
And what they do, they play the role of distribution and marketing for all these farmers.
At the university, we buy a lot of our produce from them whenever we can, and they carry all the necessary liability insurance and health requirements that we need as a state institution.
But they also make it feasible for us to procure food from local farmers, because instead of me calling 25 different farmers and saying,”Okay, I need 10 pounds of tomatoes from you.”
And “I’ll only need 20 pounds of tomatoes from you.”
And they’re all harvested at different times, and they’re all dropped off at different times.
Instead, I can call the growers co-op, and they’ve aggregated all of that food, and they have a purchase list.
I can go online and I can say, “Hey Dave, can I get 150 pounds of tomatoes on Thursday?”
And he can say, “Sure, I’ll send the refrigerated delivery truck to your loading dock.”
Those are some of the things we think about a lot around creating a better system. How are we going to fill in the middle?
Abel: Yeah. And for you, just the logistical part of feeding that many people at the university, I can’t imagine.
Could you walk us through a little bit about how all that works?
Yeah, it’s really exciting. I had a graduate school professor who was really famous for saying, “If we want a better food system, we have to vote with our fork.” Right?
And I think what’s so cool at the institutional level, is we have big forks.
We can go out and really have a big impact on our local food economies and local producers.
At the university right now we’ve got a little under 10,000 undergrad, and then you add on a few thousand graduates and doctorate students, and then faculty and staff that also eat with us.
We’re serving thousands of meals a day.
So, we are constantly trying to walk this line. We’re a customer service business at the end of the day.
People buy our product. They buy our meal plans. They come and patron our retail environments.
And so, we have to provide what they need, but we’re also constantly trying to nudge them in ways to make better decisions, whether they know it or not.
We have a great program with some local ranches that do grass-finished beef.
Montana does a lot of beef, but most of its cow-calf, and that stuff leaves the state and then goes to feed lots, gets fattened into commodity beef and then hits that market.
But we work with a number of ranchers; Yellowstone Grass-fed Beef. We work with a family called the Mannix Family Ranch up in Helmville.
And these guys are really trying to do it differently, and they’re trying to find sustainable markets for their products. So we buy a lot of this grass-finished beef.
If you walk into our cafeteria, we serve pasture-raised, grass-finished beef all day long, every day.
A lot of students don’t even realize it. They order a cheeseburger or whatever, and we grill it up for them. And that’s top-shelf amazing beef.
But it definitely costs us more, right? So then it’s like, how do you do that? How do you make that work?
We’re a state institution. We’re not your Stanfords, Yales or Harvards that may have the money to really put towards this.
So one of the cool things we’ve done, is we started mixing the grass-finished beef with one third mushrooms.
So, we’ll mix about an ounce of mushrooms into the ground grass-fed beef. Most people don’t even really taste the difference.
That’s what we call, stealth health.
Because we’re reducing how much red meat they’re eating. And I think overall that’s a good thing.
Americans eat three times the global average of meat per capita.
So we’re helping cut down on that a little bit. We’re helping cut down on the cost, too.
So it makes that program a little more feasible, because we save an ounce of red meat every burger that goes out the door.
Abel: That’s such a great example of how to do it, too, because if you were really on the capitalist side, if you were McDonalds, you’d be filling it up with some really cheap garbage filler, literally, sawdust or flour of the worst kind, or something else like that.
But there is a way to do it in a healthy way, and almost invisibly.
You just have to know a little bit about what you’re doing. It’s got to be mushrooms. It can’t be avocado or something. You have to work that part out.
Yeah. And I think what’s really cool, especially if you think about our public institutions. These aren’t for-profit businesses.
My job isn’t to maximize profit for anybody.
My job is to help educate our students and community members about issues that are happening in our food system. Get people to think about eating healthier, get people to think about their impact on the environment.
But if I was McDonalds, I wouldn’t have a job. Because they would be looking at like, “Well, what’s your ROI? How are you adding value to this operation?”
I think if we look at our public institutions, they’re spending billions of dollars across the country a year on food. So that money also is, to a large extent, taxpayer funded.
And if we think about, if the only measure of success is how much money you’re saving or making, with all your expenses and your revenues and looking at your food cost, we’re missing so many opportunities to really impact things for better, and to make changes.
So that’s a huge part of what we do at UM Dining, we buy $3.5 million worth of food every year.
So, if I can go out and direct a lot of that, as much of that as possible, to farmers and ranchers who are using better practices, who are treating their animals better, who are paying living wages for their employers, who are treating the land better, who are adding value to our community, why wouldn’t you do that? Right?
The immediate rebuttal is the financial one.
It’s like, “Well, we can’t do that. There’s no way we can source grass-finished beef. There’s no way we can source local fruits and veggies. It’s just not possible.”
And I would challenge anybody to rethink that.
Because we started the Farm to College Program at UM Dining in 2003, and our food costs have gone down as our local purchases have gone up.
Oftentimes we pay more for grass-finished beef. We pay more for local produce, but there are lots of creative ways to make it work.
And I think that the example that we’ve set, and some other institutions is that, it can be done and it should be done.
We’re talking about huge potential impact.
How to Better Vote with Our Forks
Abel: If people are listening right now, and they’re just like, “Well geez, it kind of seems like a mess, but I must be able to do something.”
What can they do to say, “This system isn’t working for me.” Or to vote for the right system?
I think it takes a little bit of legwork. It takes people caring. If you’ve gotten to that point, you’re already halfway there.
If you give a crap about it, good. Now, the question of what do you do?
I think a lot of it is transparency and seeking out what’s actually going on behind the scenes, and who’s actually benefiting from these things.
The really exciting thing about this day and age is that there are tons of organizations and people that really care about this stuff.
And so, I would venture to bet that there are people in your community, organizations and non-profits, that are finding ways to impact their local food systems, and thinking about ways to make that better.
So seek them out and get the story from them. Who’s doing what? What’s working? How can I help?
And I think that the more that you can do that. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, because again, there are other folks who are out there with that knowledge, so seek that knowledge out.
And then, if you can make those better decisions, once you figured out that you’ve gotten some level of transparency, and some understanding about your own food system, make decisions that positively affect that.
It’s crazy to me that we celebrate this idea that we spend less of our disposable income on food than at any point in American history.
Maybe in the world, if you could somehow quantify that, ad it’s a really good thing, if you think about that from a standpoint of hunger and access and stuff like that.
But at the same time, we’ve devalued it. We complain if we go to the store and a dozen eggs is like three bucks, it’s like, “Oh my god.”
Or a loaf of bread is more than a $1.50. And we’ve all been fooled into thinking that that’s the actual cost of this food.
I was talking to somebody and they sheepishly admitted that they were in a hurry and they ran through the McDonald’s drive-through the other day.
And they were like, “Just needed some food, and I was right there.”
And I was like, “It’s ok, you know. I’m not getting at you.”
But they got a McChicken sandwich, and they came up through the drive-through and it was $1.50.
It’s like, how can you kill a chicken, mash it up with sawdust and other things, fry it, get some bread, add some mayonnaise, some iceberg lettuce, and then pay somebody to do that, and the whole supply chain that’s involved in that.
And you’re making money. You’re a hugely profitable business. And it’s a $1.50 for a chicken sandwich.
Abel: Right. Well, I think that’s a good example of food is not a commodity, as much as we want to commoditize it.
A chicken sandwich is not a chicken sandwich if it’s got sawdust in it, and if it’s got all this glutamine, and all these chemicals that we haven’t studied, we don’t even know are in there, they’re not disclosed, and all this other stuff in it.
And it’s like, it’s called a chicken sandwich, but your body doesn’t see it that way.
Abel: Once it goes down the gullet, there’s a different thing going on if someone gets a chicken sandwich in your cafe compared to McDonald’s.
It’s important that we recognize that.
The $2 eggs are not the same as the pasture-raised eggs that you’d get from your farmer.
They’re not eggs. It’s like, you crack them open, they don’t look the same. One’s all mucousy and pale and the other one is vibrant and sticks together, and it’s not the same thing.
Yeah. And I think one of the nice things about these problems, too, is that there’s so much overlap.
A lot of what you’ve done around nutrition education and helping people think more critically about that overlaps with these goals of building local agri-economies.
So if you want food that’s better for you, do the transparency research.
And the good thing about that is that food that’s better for you is probably better for your community, too. And it’s better for your local economy.
You’re supporting these people who aren’t just giving you more nutritious food, but are giving you a stronger economy and a stronger community.
Abel: Yeah. Now, let’s shift gears a little bit, because we actually are coming up on time, I can’t believe it.
I can’t think of a better person to talk about a love of the outdoors and the importance of that, because actually, when I think about our friendship, I would definitely wager that the vast majority of it was outside if you log the hours.
Why Protecting & Preserving Wild Landscapes Is Critical To Our Happiness
Abel: We grew up outside. We played outside.
I mean, we played Nintendo, too. And we ate inside or whatever, but it was so ingrained in us growing up, whether we liked it or not, that it’s a part of who we are to this day.
So, why don’t you just go to bat for Mother Nature for a second? Like, why should we even care?
Man, I was talking to a friend about this years ago, and I didn’t realize that I’m a fairly secular person.
I would call myself spiritual in certain ways, but I shy away from any sort of organized religion.
I talk about nature, I think, in a way that Christians talk about Jesus.
To me, I imagine that it might fulfills them in the way that being in the woods fulfills me.
Being outside, being reminded of how you fit into the whole picture of things.
We live out here in Montana and there are grizzly bears. And you walk out into the mountains, and you have to be fairly vigilant.
Because to be out in the world and then realize, you’re not the top of the food chain, is a really refreshing idea.
Abel: It is.
Like me, our culture and our society does a lot of work to make us feel like special snowflakes, like we’re really important.
And then you walk out in the woods, and you spend time in that solitude, and among that system, and you see how everything’s connected and how predators eat prey, and then all these different cycles of life exist.
And you realize that like, “Oh, I’m a part of this?”
Like, “I’m not this separate entity from the natural world.”
And yeah, I make it a point every year to try to escape for four or five days for a solo backpacking trip.
I’m very fortunate to live here in Missoula and have access to public land. I’ll take the dog and some food and a fishing pole, then just walk off into the wilderness.
And it is the most cathartic thing I do all year long.
I come back from that having hit this incredible reset button, and I realize…
I even you think about how our attention span is being fractured by a phone in our pocket all the time, and the internet just giving us 30 seconds of entertainment until we’re ready to skip to the next meme, or whatever it is.
You go out in the woods for four or five days, and there’s nothing to do except just walk or fish or sit down and listen to what’s going on.
All of a sudden your attention span starts to swell again.
And you feel this, “Wow, I can pay attention to stuff. I could maybe read a book out here.”
What a novel experience.
Abel: It is. When you come back from the woods, what changes in you or what do you notice that maybe you didn’t notice before?
I think primarily it helps me put my ego where it needs to be.
I think that that’s the biggest benefit. I was going to try to sum that up. I don’t think ego is across the board a bad thing.
I think we do a lot of good things in our own self-interest, but it’s really important to pay attention to, and to figure out, why are you doing what you do?
And when I come back from the woods, even if it’s little stuff.
I’m driving around town and somebody cuts me off.
It’s like, “Man, it’s no big deal.”
First it’s like, if I had had that experience pre going out in the woods, I probably would have been like, “Oh, this jerk.”
And then you internalize that and that causes stress and anxiety, and this sort of cascade of negative effects.
And when I come back, I’ve shed a lot of that.
I realize that the world is big and it’s broad and you’re just this little piece in it. And that’s actually really comforting to think about sometimes.
We don’t have to take on this, like, “Oh, I need to be out in the world and I need to be noticed and I need to have people like me” and all these things.
You can just go out there and be like, “Oh, I can be the quiet part of this system.”
Abel: It helps you realize how much of an illusion our culture really is. You don’t even have to use English or words when you’re out in nature.
You’re just a part of it. You’re there. It happens.
For me, I know it’s one of those things, and we don’t have grizzlies here in Colorado, but we do have a lot of mountain lions.
And to your point, which one is the real world? Where someone’s calling you names online and making you feel sad, or the one where a mountain lion could pounce on you because they can jump 30 feet.
It really helps put things into perspective.
Yeah, absolutely. And I think that it’s just humbling. And we all need to be humbled every once in a while.
Abel: We do. But also integrated into something.
We have a bunch of bird feeders here, so we see dozens and dozens of different species of birds and rodents and other animals and whatever that come by.
And one thing that really strikes me as a way the natural world is different, is that aside from the predator-prey relationship, which really is much more rare than people realize, nature is so cooperative.
These animals aren’t bickering and calling each other’s names and trying to punch each other, or fighting for sports teams.
It’s like, they’re all hanging out and eating a peanut and letting the other birds or deer or whatever eat some peanuts, too. And they seem cool with that.
And just the amount of cooperation in the natural system, I think, is such a great example of how this all should work.
There shouldn’t be all these companies fighting against each other. Or institutions fighting for tax money or whatever.
In the natural sense, this can all work quite well.
Yeah, to think about it, something else like zero sum game. My success is dependent on somebody else’s failure in a way.
And I think, for sure the natural world can be brutal like people, things eat things, and they hunt them down and they kill them for food.
But I think about that a lot. You go out in the woods and you watch, like a squirrel can go up to a deer and the deer doesn’t care.
But you can’t walk up to a deer.
Because that deer knows, he knows that you’re part of this other world and, “I don’t quite trust you.”
I think that that’s sort of indicative of that.
Abel: It is. And humbling in its own way. It’s heartbreaking, right?
Abel: “I’m not going to eat you. I promise.” Right?
But animals, they all seem to know that humans are the most dangerous animal on Earth. And it doesn’t have to be that way.
It didn’t used to be that way. The natives supposedly were living in North America for 4,000 to 14,000 to four million years, depending on who you ask.
Not perfectly, I’m sure, but maybe a little bit more in touch with the natural world.
So, if there is one thing that we can be optimistic about, is that we do have some models of ways that things can work.
And I think most of us can agree that the systems that supposedly are serving us right now are not serving us, but we can help correct them.
We just have to put our foot down and start to do some ground-up work, like you Trev.
Yeah. Well, I think it takes all of us really to care first, and I think it’s cool to see more and more people really caring about these impacts.
And it’s really inspiring to be living in this day and age, where you can share this information so readily, and you can build these communities, be it online, be it tangible people in your own town, who are really passionate about this stuff.
That is so much more rewarding for me to go and talk to a rancher and be like, “Hey, I want to buy your beef.”
Or, like, “Hey, can we get some of your pigs?”
And make these connections and see them be like, “Oh, you’re going to go serve this to your students?”
And then they’re going to like, “You’re going to teach them how it came from down the road and how we have heritage breed hogs that we raise on our farm, and they’re not in crates rolling over on their young and killing them and getting pumped full of chemicals to stay alive?”
They’re so excited to just be part of that connection, and that community.
And so, not just supporting them, but also getting people to think about that, right?
The system’s done such a good job of divorcing us from all the things that happen before that piece of meat gets shrink-wrapped onto a piece of styrofoam.
And that’s very intentional, there’s a reason for that.
Abel: Yeah, for sure.
Well, we’re just about out of time, Trevor, but before we go if you could just tell folks, if they’re interested in the type of work that you’re doing, what they can do themselves, where they can find you and whatever else you might want to mention.
Yeah, I think if you’re interested in what UM Dining is up to, you can check out the webpage at justeatsmt.com.
There’s a lot of different program areas and ways that we’re plugging in with food and sustainability.
I would encourage anybody, whatever community you’re in, to seek out people.
I think for me here in Missoula, the Community Food and Agriculture Coalition is really doing this great job of looking holistically at the Missoula and the western Montana food system, finding where the problems are and trying to close those gaps.
And then also, man, public lands are wonderful, but they are under attack.
There’s Zinke, the Secretary of the Interior from Montana, this pseudo-cowboy, he’s been trying to sell off the BLM lands and shrink national monuments, and stuff like that.
We take it for granted, I do, because I live out here where there’s so much access to it. But those are your lands. Fight for them.
Go out and enjoy them, recreate in them, but don’t let people sell them off to oil and gas interests.
If you want to find some organizations that are doing really good work around that, I’m on the board of a non-profit called Cottonwood Environmental Law Clinic.
It’s really one maniacal attorney who’s been heroically fighting the big powers that be in preserving tens of thousands of acres of public land, and doing some really good work.
There are a lot of them out there. But don’t take that stuff for granted, because there’s value in that. And there’s people nipping at the corners and trying to eat into that.
Abel: Yeah. Well Trevor, I couldn’t be more proud of you and the work that you’re doing.
Please, to anyone who’s reading or listening or watching, go check out Trev’s work.
I can’t wait to go on our next hike. It’s been way too long. Thanks so much for coming on the show, man.
It’s great to talk to you man, and I hope to see you soon.
Before You Go…
Here’s a review that came in from BigChuck78. He says:
I’ve been listening to Abel since he started in 2013! I’ve bought multiple copies of The Wild Diet for family and friends. I was drinking Abel’s fatty butter coffee before I’d ever heard of bulletproof coffee!
Long story short; I was almost 400 pounds and I was diagnosed with diabetes in early 2018 and in 6 weeks I put my diabetes in remission using information I learned from Abel’s show with Jimmy Moore!
Since then, I lost over 125 pounds in 2018 and I’ve got my life back! Abel’s podcast has given me the resources and the knowledge for me to get back to my Army Basic training weight from 22 years ago! I have 60 pounds left to hit my goal. This is now my 2019 New Years resolution!
Thank You Abel! I look forward to using your new products to accomplish all of my health and wellness goals!
– Charles W., PhD Technology Management
Man, Charles, you said so many things in there that, especially the first time I read it, really affected me.
When I hear someone losing over 125 pounds, it’s such a life-changing amount, and it could be spiritually expansive, especially when you go from being in a position that’s extremely challenging, like the rock bottom of your health.
When you go from that and really start seeing some progress, I can’t help but really feel it with you.
So, rock on, Charles. Thank you so much for sharing your story.
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