AMY J. BARRY, Special to The Day
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.