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Some people are better at seeing the big picture than others. J. Morris ("Jim") Hicks is one of those people. The Stonington resident's new book, "Healthy Eating Healthy World: Unleashing the Power of Plant-Based Nutrition" (written with his son J. Stanfield Hicks) connects the dots between what we eat, escalating rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes, animal cruelty, world hunger, and the degradation of our ecosystem.
It also provides an incredibly hopeful and simple answer to a very complex problem over which we all have control: the food we choose to put in our mouths.
Hicks doesn't have a stake in the game-he's not a doctor, scientist, nutritionist, farmer or celebrity chef. He's a former management consultant and senior corporate executive with Ralph Lauren, New York, and is used to analyzing issues through a wide-angle lens.
Hicks talked about the book and his "4-Leaf Challenge" in a recent Daybreak interview.
Q. Scientist T. Colin Campbell, author of "The China Study," says in the book's foreword: "Too often we rely solely on people who've established themselves as the inside experts, yet sometimes the most interesting perspectives come from outside the field." Can you talk about your "outside view" and passion about this issue?
A. I was trained as an industrial engineer-to make things more efficient. I later got a master's degree in business. I streamlined operations, always looking for things that were inefficient that I could fix...maximizing profitability of the organization. I kind of stumbled on this topic by accident. I was interested in health. But I became obsessed with it, finding out things we're never told about optimal health for humans. I read 40 books (on the subject) in a very short time. I had a blinding flash of the obvious-it all clicked?the whole, interconnected big picture. Looking at a global feeding model of how we feed ourselves, I (realized) we're eating a very inefficient, wasteful, harmful, cruel and unsustainable diet. It became crystal clear that we're eating the wrong food, doing a number on the planet.
Q. What is unique about this book?
A. I've always tried to make complex things simple in business, so the least educated person in the room could understand it. Essentially I'm a reporter here. I'm reporting on what I consider the most important system in the world and offering the greatest process improvement opportunity, by improving our feed model.
Q. Your "4-Leaf Challenge" requires people to shoot for an 80 percent or better whole food, plant-based diet. Is that realistic?
A. We felt it was our responsibility to tell people what is optimum. As long as nobody knows the best way to eat, they'll eat anything, they'll eat food with salt, sugar, fat, whatever. There's so much confusion. The government favors confusion over clarity. It's real simple. The gorilla eats whole plants; it's really what we should eat. Also not make it all or nothing. We came up with the '4-Leaf' program-it's so simple, clear and positive. It's not focusing on what you should avoid, but what you're trying to get the most of. It's not a vegan diet. The focus is on what your mother told you: eat more fruits and vegetables. Doctors stress that eating a whole lot of whole-plant foods is more important than not ever eating meat.
Q. Can you talk about "the protein myth"?
A. There are three things calories come from: fat, protein, carbohydrates. All three are as important. Protein isn't more important. We're eating way too much protein, and animal protein is a killer. Cow's milk is one of the most powerful carcinogens ever. The strongest animals in world eat nothing but plants and get plenty of protein.
Q. What are most important things individuals can do to effect positive change?
A. Read the book, make a commitment, make a promise to yourself-for example, get the 4-Leaf Challenge going-get employees, businesses, restaurants, everyone on board. What you eat is a very personal choice, but people are making this choice with too little or no information. We say throughout the book that we're hoping we give you the information you need that no one has ever given you before. We've said as clearly as we possibly could why you should do this for your family, yourself, your future, the future of mankind and all the animals-we're about to run over a cliff here, it's really a sad situation. I'd like to see people inspired to say, "I'm going to do this."
Q. You're not a nutritionist or scientist or environmentalist-how do you see yourself?
A. By focusing on this bigger picture, I'm really an activist for change on planet earth-for something that's bigger than all of us-and I think it's worth all of my energy for the rest of my life.
"Healthy Eating Healthy World" by J. Morris Hicks with J. Stanfield Hicks (Benbella Books, Inc.) is $14.95, softcover. For more information, and "4-Leaf Challenge" tips and daily updates, visit ww.HealthyEatingHealthyWorld.com.
This is a quick, easy, healthy and delicious lunch (or dinner) featuring almost 100 percent of its calories from whole plants. From the time I walk into the kitchen, this cooked meal can be ready to eat just like this in roughly five or six minutes.
One of the staples of this meal is a mixture of grains and legumes that I prepare in advance on a weekly basis. With a one-serving portion of these calorie-dense starches always ready to go, I can easily whip up a complete meal within minutes. In addition to this key item, I also include generous portions of things like broccoli, spinach, eggplant, mushrooms, carrots, tomato, cucumber, olive and avocado.
This delicious meal contains between 400 and 500 calories and derives less than 20 percent of its calories from fat, and delivers 29 grams of fiber?more than many people get from whole plants in a week.
Pre-cook (up to five days) a mixture of legumes and grain. My favorite mixture is black beans, red beans, brown rice and wild rice. Cook both rices together at the same time in a rice cooker. Soak both beans overnight and cook them together on simmer for about 90 minutes.
Package the above in small plastic containers, each with enough for one serving.
Fill a large salad bowl with a mixture of raw spinach & kale; squeeze some lime juice on top. Cook in microwave for 30 seconds. Put a half pita (preferably Joseph's brand) on top and cook for another 30 seconds.
While spinach cooks, cut into bite-size pieces the broccoli, eggplant, and mushrooms and assemble on a dinner plate.
Sprinkle some low sodium seasonings on top and microwave for 2 minutes.
While that's cooking, spread a little hummus inside the half pita; then stuff it with the spinach, kale, olives and sliced avocado.
Add raw tomatoes, raw carrots and raw olives and other raw items to garnish the plate.
That's it; I then put my meal on a tray like the one pictured above and carry it to a place of beauty inside my cozy cottage or outside on the private brick garden behind my home. If someone is joining me, I just add one more plate and the whole process takes about 7 minutes; that's because I only have one microwave oven.