How to Be a Food Renegade with Kristen Michaelis
Jonathan: Hey everybody, Jonathon Bailor back with another bonus Smarter Science of Slim show. I had to do a little bit of stretching before today’s show because I know we’re going to get into it a little bit. We have an individual who is as passionate — if not more passionate — about some of the nutritional nonsense that is taking place in our country and around the world.
She’s telling it like it is, and that’s — people are dying. Not to get too dark, but this isn’t about a number on a scale. This isn’t even about dropping pant sizes. We have 40 million kids under the age of five who are overweight. We’re estimated to have 500 million people worldwide by 2020 suffering from the potentially fatal disease of diabetes, and this can all be stopped if we were no longer lied to about that which is best for us.
I have to tell you, there are very few people in the world who get as amped up and are as committed to this cause as today’s guest. I’m so delighted to share her with you. She’s known as the “Food Renegade,” and I just love the imagery and language on her website, which is Foodrenegade.com. Kristen Michaelis, welcome to the show.
Kristen: Hi. Thank you for having me on.
Jonathan: Well, thank you for being a food renegade. I love that. What is a food renegade, and how did you get started on such a renegade-like path?
Kristen: Well, food renegades are people like me who are not pleased with conventional nutritional wisdom. Basically, we love eating traditional, real food, basically — so, butter instead of margarine; grass-fed and wild meats; raw and fermented foods including raw dairy from grass-fed based farms; everything sourced sustainably, locally; organic, beyond organic when possible — trying to return to an ancestral way of eating. Pre-industrial foods is what it’s all about.
Food Renegade Kristen Michaelis
I began my journey when — oh goodness. It’s many years ago now; let me do the math — nine years ago. I had a friend who had this documentary on DVD and she said, “You will want to watch this. It will change your life.” I said, “Okay.” It was The Future of Food, and I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it, but it’s narrated by Jerry Garcia’s wife. It’s a fascinating documentary that looks at — most of what its concern is about genetically modified foods and their infiltration into our food system and what risks that poses to the nation’s health, to our environment, to our future, et cetera.
The image that struck me super profoundly — it’s emblazoned in my mind’s eye forever and ever.
Jonathan: Emblazoned. I love it.
Kristen: Yes. Oh, I’m a writer. The thing that stuck in my head that I can’t ever erase is this montage at the end that’s like this catchy music, and it’s very dramatic and building up. You have these guys in spacesuits. I mean, they’re literally covered head to toe in protective gear, and they’re walking down a row of strawberries in a field growing strawberries. They’re spraying chemical crap all over the strawberries.
Then the next shot instantly cuts to this little kid eating the strawberry and the juice dribbling down his chin. You just have this sinking, horrified feeling in your gut because you thought, oh my goodness, this kid — this man had to wear a spacesuit so that this poison didn’t kill him or give him cancer. This kid is just eating the strawberry like there’s nothing to it.
Strawberries, actually, are one of the — always in the top three of the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen when they test for pesticide residues because it has such a thin skin and it has these fine, little hair-like structures on the outside that it basically just captures all those pesticides and chemicals that the crops get ladened with. It doesn’t go away; it’s just there in the fruit. Even if you wash it off, you’re still eating pesticides.
I just thought, do I want to participate in this gigantic public health experiment that’s going on without my consent? The answer was no. So I started — at the time, I had a baby. He was my first baby; I now have three kids. At the time, he was just an infant, like maybe four or five months old. It just really profoundly impacted me and made me want to change my diet for his sake and help him grow up to not be exposed to all the toxins and chemicals and unnatural foods in our food supply.
Jonathan: Kristen, what motivated you though, because you’ve taken it — that’s all amazing, and I love that image you painted for us of people in spacesuits [indiscernible 06:17] something that then a child would eat and the dichotomy there. Your website is just brilliant. You have this post that says, “Wanted: more food renegades.” Then there’s a word in there, which I don’t actually even know what the word is, so you can tell you’re a writer. It’s like, “Our band of” — is it “miscreants?”
Jonathan: Miscreants — there we go — “dares to challenge politically correct nutrition. We love BUTTER, grass-fed and wild meats, raw and fermented foods (including RAW MILK),” which of course is illegal in some parts of the country, “and organic veggies. Our heroes are farmers, teachers, poets, and homemakers.” So you’ve taken it upon yourself to not just get angry. We all get angry and frustrated about certain things, but then you took action — compelling, international action. What made you take that step?
Kristen: Well, let’s see. Mostly it was because I love writing and I felt convinced that if I started a blog it would succeed, and I could reach a much wider audience with this information. I had been a writer for like the decade before I started Food Renegade. I started it like five years ago. So the decade before that, I was a writer, mostly working in marketing and copywriting for ads and whatnot. It was not particularly fulfilling. I got to set my own hours, but there was one incident where somebody — I agreed to write for a non-profit, or I thought it was a non-profit that was doing preventative, like, treatment for breast cancer or something.
When I went to interview these people to find out exactly what their product was so I could give them the marketing copy that they wanted, I found out that what they were doing was actually quite scary. They were doing genetic testing to see if you were genetically predisposed to having breast cancer. If you were, they were recommending courses of treatment for “preventative care” but some of them were as outrageous as preventative mastectomies, which is just ludicrous.
Basically, it made me fed up with writing for companies or products that I just couldn’t endorse, didn’t believe in and wasn’t passionate about. I thought, I can use all my writing savvy and skills and write about something I actually am passionate about and actually love.
So I started the Food Renegade blog about five years ago now and have been using it as a platform to reach many hundreds of thousands of people. Each month, I get at least half a million visitors to the site, and they’re all reading this information and they are all, hopefully, walking away having learned that the standard American diet and basically our industrial food supply is killing us through cancer, diabetes, heart disease, you name it. Its root cause, or one of the many root causes, is our poor state of nutrition because of our food supply.
Jonathan: Kristen, it’s always amazing to me and I’m always inspired when I talk to people like you because — you’re a writer. You’re a writer who then said I see suffering. I see injustice. I see what some could argue is the greatest healthcare issue we have globally now, and I’m going to take my unique skill set and I’m going to use it to, ideally, end suffering. I just think that’s so awesome, so, kudos to you.
Kristen: Thank you.
Jonathan: Kristen, you mentioned you have so many fans and the movement is quickly growing. What do you see people doing based upon this information? We hear a lot of — like, if you just watch the news. There are all these problems. Again, you are such a great example of taking action based upon that. So what are some of the actions you recommend that people take or that you see people taking when they become food renegades?
Kristen: Well, one of the first steps that I always recommend — it’s in the Newbie Tips section of my website — is to switch to healthy ancestral fats. To get away from these industrially processed fats like corn oil and soybean oil and even canola oil, and to move towards the ancient fats that humans have been eating for thousands of generations, like olive oil and coconut oil and even animal fats from wild, pasture-raised animals.
That’s the first and biggest step that I think helps make a big improvement — is for people to, 1) not be afraid of the fat and, 2) to make this switch so that they switch away from these unhealthy fats and from trans fats and move to, like I said, healthier, more ancestral, ancient fats.
Then the next step is to try to cut out processed foods and replace them with your homemade foods, or if you’re buying processed foods, to make them as minimally processed as possible.
Another step is to switch your animal products to this wild and/or pasture-based animal husbandry. So if you’re buying eggs, make sure they come from pasture-raised hens. It’s not enough to go to the grocery store and say, “Oh, this is organic and free range,” because those hens can have that label and still be raised inside for the course of their entire lifetimes and never see a day of sunshine. So yes, they were fed organic feed and yes, they were probably not given antibiotics and they weren’t raised in cages, but they were still raised in overcrowded conditions that don’t actually produce a healthier egg. Whereas a hen raised out in the sunshine, their eggs have a lot more wonderful vitamin A, vitamin D, et cetera.
Making that switch, going from conventionally raised beef to grass-fed and finished beef. Going from unsustainably farmed seafood to a sustainable, wild-caught seafood. All those sorts of things. So switching out the animal products to move into, basically, the way that we used to eat animal products before industrialization of our food supply happened and put all these animals — took them out of integrated farms and put them in confined animal-feeding operations — that sort of thing.
You’ll end up with much healthier animal fats that way and be able to eat those animals with a cleaner conscience. Those are the biggest changes I recommend.
Jonathan: Kristen, it seems so radically obvious — but our society continues to not do it — that to solve the problems we face today from a healthcare perspective, eating the way we did before we had those problems might be a good starting place. No?
Jonathan: Kristen, some of the feedback I know you have to receive — because you obviously have a massive audience, worldwide audience as well — is for example, someone living in southern California has much different access to much different types of foods than someone, say, who lives in Iowa. So what do you recommend for individuals who may be in more landlocked areas where certain foods — whole, natural, sustainably raised foods — may be harder to come by?
Kristen: Well, let’s see. Basically, I would try to prioritize what is in their local food shed. Some of these places are arguably in local food deserts, and if that’s the case, then I do recommend sourcing online, even though it’s not necessarily local to your area. You can find all these things online. You can find the grass-fed and pasture-based meats and dairy. You can find better fats and just buy these things in bulk — that sort of thing — and they’ll be shipped to you. It’s not as ideal as working out a relationship with your local farmer but it’s an option, and I like people to be equipped with options.
Jonathan: I think that’s a great suggestion, and I’ll second that. I was once a doubter of getting meat in the mail, but I have since tried it and it is surprisingly affordable. Yeah, it just comes packed with dry ice. When it arrives on my doorstep, it is like an ice cube. It is completely frozen and it’s from a — it’s a type of food which I would not have access to otherwise, so I love that recommendation.
Kristen: Yeah. For a long time, my family didn’t buy — you save money when you buy in bulk, especially meat. Like, buy half a cow at a time. So one of the cost prohibiting factors for me was freezer space. I just didn’t have a freezer. But you can even find those, like used, on Craig’s List and so you don’t have to walk out and spend $1,000 on a new freezer.
Even if you did — like, I buy in bulk directly from a local farmer and I buy, usually, a half a cow a year. It comes out to be about $3.69 a pound when everything’s said and done. That’s $3.69 a pound for what I actually get at my door and get to put in the freezer. That’s for every cut of meat. So yes, that’s ground beef, but that’s also my rib eye steaks and my chuck roasts and everything imaginable. So when you consider that if you were going to try to buy these cuts one-off at, say, a place like Whole Foods, that rib eye steak could be $12 a pound, but you’re only paying $3.69 a pound.
So you’re saving a considerable amount of money by buying this grass-fed beef in bulk, and that in itself will pay for your freezer in just a year or two. I recommend people — don’t be afraid of buying in bulk. You’ll save a ton of money.
You’d be surprised. I once lived in an apartment and I kept my freezer in my closet — where I kept all my meat, because I was like, “Well, there’s nowhere else for me to put it.” But I just put it in the back of my closet and kept all my meat in there, so you can make it work.
Jonathan: Kristen, I just want to really highlight this because people, I think, underestimate the amount of money you can save by buying in bulk. To your point, this isn’t a 10 percent or 15 percent; you’re saving like 400 percent. It’s like 300 to 400 percent less expensive. Of course there’s going to be some upfront cost, but think of it like an investment. You spend a little bit more money now, and the amount of money — you’re going to basically make a 400 percent return on that money because you’re not going to have to spend all of it and much, much more in the future.
Kristen: Exactly. Another tip that I give people if they’re very budget conscious and concerned about all the upfront cost is wait until tax return season. Use your tax return and buy a cow.
Jonathan: I love it. Kristen, what are your thoughts on — I know there’s a lot of passion around this area of ancestral eating and getting back to just what we did before we had all these problems — online. What is your perspective on — there’s a lot of, let’s call them maybe more minor things that people like to talk about a lot, nuance this versus that, fat ratios and bone broth. Not that those things are not good or important, but if I’m just getting started, how much of the total benefit can I get just by making the basic changes, like stop eating the processed garbage fats, switch them over, try to go sustainable, local and humanely raised as much as possible. Is that going to get me pretty far along, or is it really just a starting point and I need to refine beyond that?
Kristen: Oh, I think it’s going to do wonders. It’s going to do wonders. I got a letter in the mail just last month. One of the books I wrote was published by Victory Belt, and it’s called Beautiful Babies. It’s about nutrition for fertility and pregnancy and breast feeding and baby’s first foods. Anyhow, this lady wrote, and she and her husband had been trying to get pregnant for 11 years. They spent all of their life savings on fertility treatments that did not work. Eventually, she just completely gave up and was like, “I’m never going to have a baby.”
Then she got a hold of my book, read it, started implementing the major changes first. Like, she just started — switched out her fats, stopped being afraid of the fats and then switched over the animal product sources. Within two months, she was pregnant and she is now eight months along. She just wanted to send her thank you to me, and I thought, oh my goodness. There are people who — I mean, it made a profound impact.
One of the reasons fats are so important for women is because the building block of all your hormones is cholesterol. So if women aren’t getting enough of the good and right kinds of fats in the right balance, then they don’t produce the hormones in the right balance to actually get and stay pregnant. That’s just a simple change. That’s just switching out your fats, basically. Boom — she got pregnant after 11 years of trying.
That’s, I think, a huge testament to this idea that a little goes a long way. Don’t get discouraged. You can worry about these nuances later.
Jonathan: I’m so happy you shared that story and also gave us this incredibly positive message of just get started and these basic changes can have such a transformational effect.
I also think there’s a wonderful truth in what you said in that a lot of the confusion around meat and fat and animal products comes from when we hear headlines in the media. They often say, “Oh, when someone increases the amount of meat or fat in their diet,” or, “Let’s compare two civilizations.” The civilization that is eating the more meat and fat is eating it from these processed, garbage, modern sources. So it’s not the meat and the fat that might be causing the worse health outcomes; it’s because they’re eating the wrong kinds of meat and fat. So often, people just say, “Okay, well, I’ll avoid meat and fat altogether,” rather than in reality, they may have an optimal health outcome like the woman in your amazing story if they didn’t avoid meat and fat but simply chose the highest quality meat and fat. Does that resonate with you?
Kristen: Oh, absolutely. It’s all about sourcing when it comes to animal foods. If you source from a pasture-based operation, the balance of fats in that, the kinds of fats in that are all really great, healthy fats that the human body is — like, that is what we thrive on and our body is set up to need. Like, it knows what to do with that. You give it saturated fat from a grass-fed cow and it knows what to do with that and how to build everything in your body from your hormones to your cell membranes.
Jonathan: It’s brilliant, Kristen, and it just shows how far off what we’ve been told is. A calorie is a calorie, and fat has more calories per gram. It really doesn’t matter because it’s a calorie’s a calorie anyway. That’s why we have to be food renegades, because this makes no sense and the science is so commonsensical once we get the wool lifted off our eyes. So thank you so much for helping to show so many the truth.
Where can folks learn more about you, and what’s coming up next for the food renegades all around the world?
Kristen: Okay. If you go on my website, Foodrenegade.com, across the top menu bar there’s an item called Books & Classes. That is all the books and online classes that I teach to-date. So you can go on there and look for basically more reading and learning options for yourself and your family. I even have classes geared towards kids, so you can teach your kids this message if you want to. I have a whole little curriculum set up even for elementary-aged kids. So it’s the whole gamut of interesting options available there if you want to follow up or follow through with finding out more.
As for me, I am just taking — I spent the last year creating a Beautiful Babies class, which is available online so people can enroll and take it whenever they want. Then the year after that I spent writing the Beautiful Babies book which just came out in March of this year, like I said, through Victory Belt, and it’s doing really well. Ever since it was published, it’s been in the top ten books on infertility on Amazon. It vacillates back and forth usually somewhere between four and eight, so I’m like, “Yay.” It’s doing well, and it’s getting that message out there.
But after the book publication, I just decided to take this time and just work on improving the Food Renegade site, like putting up more articles and whatnot. So if people want to go there and subscribe, they’re going to get interesting articles about the politics of food, health and nutrition articles, recipes. I put up a recipe once a week if you’re wondering how do I eat this way? That sort of thing, and I also do things to just help people, like I let people know about coupons and free things happening online that are informative for them and everything like that.
I try to run the gamut. I’m trying to be really useful and get as much information out to as many people as possible.
Jonathan: I love that you just said, “I’m trying to be really useful,” because I can tell you, you are succeeding. A word to describe you aptly would be “useful.” You are very, very useful, and I so appreciate you empowering so many with so much passion.
Kristen Michaelis, thank you so much for joining us today. It’s been an absolute pleasure.
Kristen: Well, thank you, and you’re welcome.
Jonathan: Listeners, I hope you enjoyed this wonderful chat as much as I did. Again, our guest today is Kristen Michaelis. I mispronounced it last time I said it, so I’m going to say it twice correctly this time. It’s Kristen Michaelis, and she is the founder of Foodrenegade.com, the author of many successful books, as you heard, and I would encourage you to check out her lovely work. As an individual, she’s also just a cool example of writer turned food renegade activist. I love it. Learn from her example and remember, this week and every week after, eat smarter, exercise smarter, and live better. Chat with you soon.