Nelson Campbell on the new upcoming plant-based documentary

Many factors have contributed to the rise of veganism over the past ten years. Key among them are documentaries that highlight aspects of health, the environment, and ethics, or a combination thereof. Documentaries are an unobtrusive form of activism that can be both informative and entertaining. They certainly helped me and my family adopt a plant-based diet.

I sat down with Nelson Campbell, writer and director of one such powerful film, PlantPure Nation, to discuss the upcoming sequel and the campaign around it.

vanilla bean: You're currently working on a sequel to your documentary PlantPure Nation called Healing America. Will it pick up where PlantPure Nation left off?

Nelson Campbell: Yes, it will. In PlantPure Nation, a dramatic story-driven documentary, we showed the political and economic forces that have suppressed the message of plant-based nutrition for decades. And we did that at the state level in Kentucky. But now what we're doing is we're building on the trajectory that we started with that first film to do something on a bigger scale. At the end of the first film, we had a call to action for people to form local support groups in their own communities. We call these groups “Pods” because the idea is we’re planting a lot of seeds, seeds for change. After the film came out, we started hundreds of these groups. Today, I think, conservatively, we probably have somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 people involved in these groups. And we've done a lot of other stuff to sort of build on that to try to organize and launch our grassroots movement around this idea. So the storyline for the second film will be that unfolding movement. We're going to try to capture that on film and also use this film as well to help drive that movement.

vanilla bean: These “PlantPure Pods”, are they all located in the U.S. or have some sprung up abroad as well?

Nelson Campbell: Some have sprung up abroad. We do have some in Europe and Asia and other places. By the way, that whole Pod network now has been moved over to our nonprofit, PlantPure Communities. People can go to plantpurecommunities.org and see where the Pods located.

vanilla bean: There appears to be more of an emphasis on the environment and the environmental benefits of a plant-based diet in the sequel. Do you think a holistic approach that doesn't just address health but also environmental issues is more effective in reaching people?

Nelson Campbell: You know, I think we'll find out. The reason that we're focusing more on the environment is that it needs focus. It's such an important issue. What we eat and the environment and climate change are very strongly connected. I do believe that if we can appeal to the environmental community and the health community and talk about ideas of political and economic performance and social justice – if we can make this a bigger idea, we should have an opportunity to join communities and people together who have not been joined together in the past. And that's really what we need; we need to figure out how to join these disparate groups into a more unified front for change.

The forces that have suppressed this are economic and political. It's really that collusion between the rich and powerful and our political leaders.

vanilla bean: Study after study demonstrates the benefits of a whole food, plant-based diet, not just for our health, but also for the environment. Unsurprisingly, one question that many people ask upon learning these facts is, “Why have I not heard this important message before?” What do you think is the reason?

Nelson Campbell: Well, I had a front-row seat to this for decades. My father is Dr. T. Colin Campbell. As you may know, many people around the world consider him to be sort of a ‘science father’ of this movement. I remember back in the seventies when he was making some really significant discoveries. In fact, I remember him coming home from work and sharing some of that at the dinner table and it was all very exciting. He got excited to go share what he was learning in Washington. And he spent a lot of time testifying in front of Congress, working with folks at NIH and FDA and other places. And he would come back and share stories of what he saw and he said many times he'd walk into a room and he could see each industry sitting at the table.

There were times when some of his fellow colleagues consulting with government admitted that, “Yes, Colin, the science does suggest this, but you know we can't share this with the public because of politics and economics.” And so he got tired and finally, he gave up trying to make a change that way. That's when he decided to write his book, The China Study. That book was born of frustration. He wanted to go directly to the public with this message. So the forces that have suppressed this are economic and political. It's really that collusion between the rich and powerful and our political leaders.

vanilla bean: The U.S. is currently living through a politically divisive era. With Healing America, you're aiming to unify people from both sides of the political aisle. Is that something you've already observed on your tour or in the local PlantPure Pods.

Nelson Campbell: That's a really good question. Thank you for asking that. That's near and dear to my heart and it's what really drives me and others working on this – the idea of discovering and articulating larger transformative truths that can bring people together. We live in a fractured society, fractured in so many ways economically, politically, socially, and yet we have a world that's in dire need of change. The only way that's gonna happen is if we can come together. The only way we can come together is if we can see more holistically and see these larger truths. That's what we're trying to articulate through this Healing America campaign. And yes, we have seen this upfront and close. When we make these arguments, I see people from both sides, with various political persuasions, come to me and say, “Hey, that makes sense, I could get behind this!” So I do see this.

One other point I should make is – and I'm very sensitive to this – the title of this campaign is Healing America, but I'm very motivated to take these ideas and share them as broadly as possible. I don't see this as a U.S.-centric effort. You know, we're starting here, I live here, this is my home and we are a society in need of some healing. But it's true all around the world. I know that a lot of folks around the world look to the U.S. and sometimes they look at us because of things that we shouldn't be proud of. And then other times they look to us for inspiration. What I'm hoping is that we can actually get some attention around the world and inspire people elsewhere to think about these very same ideas within their own countries. As we go forward and we get traction here, I want to internationalize this effort.

vanilla bean: You're aiming to make a whole food, plant-based diet more accessible in underserved, low-income, and food-desert communities. Can you please tell our readers more about this program?

Nelson Campbell: For many years (and I've been in this field for quite a while), I've heard consultants, investors and other business people say, “If you want to sell the idea of wellness, you have to go to a particular demographic, you have to go to the college town, the sort of Whole Foods demographic.” And I've never really bought into that. I think it's all a matter of how you communicate with people. So, we've been very committed to trying to bring this message to everyone. Some of these underserved neighborhoods, not only do they have severe healthcare prices, not only do they lack access oftentimes to affordable, healthy foods, but they're left behind in so many other ways and we don't want to do that here. We're very focused on meeting the needs of these underserved areas. We have a strategy for how we can utilize certain food products that we've developed and make those products available in some of these underserved areas with no profit markup. We are working with local partners to do this. Once we have figured out a formula that works, we want to be able to replicate it across the market.

vanilla bean: How can people get involved in their own communities?

Nelson Campbell: What we tell people here is to look into starting a Pod, but also to go to healingamericatogether.com and sign up so that so that you can stay abreast of what we're doing. The next phase of this campaign is we develop this web-based social networking platform that can be used to launch local initiatives of any kind. We're focused right now on health. We've got five or six different projects and initiatives that we're going to be launching on this platform. We're working with various cities around the U.S. to validate each of those projects. When we're done, we're going to put all those projects together into an integrated offering that any community could use anywhere to bring the message of plant-based nutrition to others in their community. What we hope is that once we have that platform fully validated, people who've been following along can reach out and grab it and bring it to their own community.

vanilla bean: At the end of PlantPure Nation, you say, “The future is bright.” Do you still believe that? And if so, what makes you optimistic?

Nelson Campbell: So, what I say is, “The future is bright. All we need to do is see it.” In the talk that I have been giving on the road, I make the argument that how we see matters. I talk about health, the environment, economics, and politics, and the notion of seeing more holistically to discover bigger truths that can help bring us together and provide a basis for social, environmental, and political change. We need to figure out how to come together in ways that will unleash the creativity of everyone to fix problems so that we're not just looking to some government that ends up being beholden to the rich and powerful. I think the future is bright because there isn't a problem that we have today that cannot be fixed. The problem is that there aren't enough of us working on those solutions.

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