Interview with Dr. T. Colin Campbell

T. Colin Campbell, PhD has been dedicated to the science of human health for more than 60 years. His primary focus is on the association between diet and disease, particularly cancer. Although largely known for the China Study–one of the most comprehensive studies of health and nutrition ever conducted, and recognized by The New York Times as the “Grand Prix of epidemiology”–Dr. Campbell’s profound impact also includes extensive involvement in education, public policy, and laboratory research.

WHES: Sometimes it feels like the problem of hunger is huge; what gives you hope and keeps you in the struggle against hunger?

If I can equate good nutrition with Hunger, one thing I’ve learned is the enormous capacity of good nutrition to heal;  and at the same time that works for everybody… Nutrition can be used as a treatment of heart disease, treatment of diabetes, it has been shown to reverse heart disease, reverse diabetes.  Good nutrition is very very powerful.

But nutrition is not understood. What I mean is that nutrition is the biological expression of food, we eat food, we have a diet.  We eat and the food is metabolized.. I’ve come to learn the remarkable ability of our bodies (I call it nature) to take this infinitely complicated mixture of food components and metabolize it in such a way that everything is coordinated.  It is the default position of nature.. What kind of food does that… Well it turns out it is food from the Plant Kingdom.

There is no real need for protein from animals; we have lived with the idea for many years that animal protein is a higher quality protein.  That is false… that idea was started in 1924.. and it was said that the animal protein was the highest amount of protein which is retained by the body, it turns out that the most proteins that are retained in our bodies are animal proteins. So the thinking is that, we are animals, and if we eat animal protein, it is more efficiently used and retained.  It made it sound good.  However, what happens when we retain more protein? We synthesize more blood cholesterol..that leads to heart disease. We synthesize more growth hormone, which is associated with cancer growth; and many other negative things…that all work simultaneously, instantly with each other.

So the concept of eating a plant based diet is referred to as wholism, which I find very exciting.  Which keeps me going, I am enamored with this concept. If this is how our cells work, it is a fundamental characteristic of Nature.  So therefore, it can relate to a whole host of outcomes which we don’t like; diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and other maladies. This is the basis for explaining how this concept (Whole Food Plant Based) of eating a plant-based diet, this concept has enormous reach – actually treating disease – by using food to reverse disease, treat disease, now a lot of people have done that.  Many people in the medical profession have done that, turned disease around.  I want to promote that on the policy level.

WHES You were integral in the documentary film  “Forks Over Knives” . 

The film, Forks Over Knives,  was created by three people.  The producer, John Cory; the Director and Spokesperson, Lee Folkerson; and Producer Brian Wendell, who found the money for the film.. They read the book, The China Study, that I wrote and was pivotal in findings about plant based diets, so they came to hear a lecture I gave in Santa Rosa, California.  Afterwards, they then spoke to me about helping develop the film, Forks Over Knives.  I became a featured person in the film.

In addition, my son wanted to make a film called Plantpure Nation.  The question I kept getting was “Why haven’t I heard this before?”.  So the film Plantpure Nation is about that question, ‘why haven’t I heard this before’. I was invited to speak on the Whole Food Plant Based  (WFPB) diet to the Kentucky State Senate along with an academic colleague. That led to a proposition that they would make a statement for the Kentucky Senate to support plant based agriculture for the State.  However, it was voted down… which showed the power of corporations and the food industry in our country.

Let’s face it, corporations own our government.  And the government behaves according to what the corporations want.  We have two huge industries;  Agriculture –  they feed us food that shouldn’t be eaten and make money on it;  and Medicine, who are responsible for making all the drugs that fix us up when we get sick.  One arm of the government (USDA) provides food that we shouldn’t consume and the other arm of the government (HHS) says don’t worry about it,  we have drugs that will fix the problems.

WHES; Can you tell us of the critical junctures in your life and career.

My father was an immigrant, and I grew up on a dairy farm outside of Leesburg, Virginia.  I went to Penn State University and then did my Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University. My dissertation was on advancing the uptake of more animal proteins in one’s diet. Afterwards I worked at Virginia Tech University where I was a coordinator of a project funded by United States Agency for International Development (USAID).  The object of that project was to develop a model for feeding malnourished children to address Hunger.  One of the theories behind severe acute malnutrition is the lack of protein in the diet.

When I was looking at studies in India, I saw something that was very odd; that the few children who got the most protein seemed to be at a higher risk for liver cancer.  During the same time there were studies also in India which showed that as you give more animal protein, you see higher levels of liver cancer. So that posed a dilemma for me, as the goal of my program was to see that children get more protein, animal protein, specifically.

Subsequently I received a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that lasted for 27 years in which I sought an answer to the question – “Does animal protein cause cancer?”  and the answer was YES, it was very dramatic. I then had the question; what kind of food shall we be eating?  The concept of hunger needs to be addressed, and I see it as an infrastructure question with political, social and economic ramifications.   The question that is not faced is the kind of food that we eat. That is a capital intensive problem.

At Cornell University the research which I thought we should pursue was the kind of foods that we consume, and this line of reasoning was challenging to some of my colleagues, and got me into some trouble with the administration in Cornell, as they did not like the line of research I was pursuing.  However, I ended up having the largest research project in the department and worked with many students.  I was challenging the agricultural industry – which is a top down industry. They produce the food that we eat and promote the products.  It really became a question of being equitable.

WHES  That influence goes on into Food Aid.  In the United States, Food Aid was traditionally based on providing American products to those in need in other countries including using Dried Milk Powder to provide therapeutic food products. This is based on the precept that animal protein-based products were a better and higher quality food product.

Yes, This was the major thought. That this was the opposite from what I thought. I did my thesis on looking for ways to promote use of animal protein, but the data I saw was showing the opposite, that it contained risks.  I had a choice to make and I was warned by colleagues,  “don’t go down that path, you are going to get into trouble”.  But I had to stay with this question  because my Dad, an immigrant farmer in rural Virginia, who went to great lengths to get me an education, told me  “Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”.   I didn’t get into my career to make money. Being a scientist this was important to me, that is the thesis of science, being a skeptic and following the evidence.

WHES What was the name of that course you taught at Cornell, that was so popular?

I gave the course the name Vegetarian Nutrition as I was getting into the idea of a plant based diet.  Promoting vegetarianism was not my motivation – nevertheless that is one of the most challenging questions in Nutrition, because vegetarianism for a long time was perceived by the academic community as being “not-science”.  In 1978-1979 I was on a  NIH Committee to develop research priorities for cancer research, my colleagues on the committee were medical doctors; Pathologists and Oncologists. They had asked me to explain more about nutrition as they had been receiving grant applications on nutrition.  So in place of vegetarianism, I used the term “Plant-Based Diet” . I wanted to reframe the perceptions about “vegetarianism” that many at that time might have had.  A couple of years later when dealing with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), questioning the emergence of the vitamin supplement industry , I added the phrase “Whole Food”  – that was during  the 1980s and so the phrase, Whole Food Plant Based was created.

WHES  When did the Center for Nutritional Studies ( come into being? 

It originally was a foundation to help fund graduate students in Nutrition.  In 1994 there was a Ph.D. graduate in Physics at Cornell, who liked what I was doing. He recorded some of the things I was doing.  He approached me and said, you know, I have about $100,000 dollars in profit from the stock market and I would like to give it to you to go out and use to promote your ideas.  That was in 2007.  So that was the birth of the Center for Nutritional Studies (CNS).

WHES;  In the big picture, Considering Wholism,  have things improved for hungry people…are things getting better or worse when it come to diet and food?

I think that if anything, things are getting worse.  I hate to say this, as I want to be a hopeful person.  I was involved in policy, at the National Academy of Science (NAS) expert panels and speaking before Congressional Committees so I got a feel for what was going on, and who controlled what in the government.  When I was at Virginia Tech, I received tenure, and realized how important Academic Freedom is.  When Cornell made me an offer of full professorship but wanted me to go through the review for academic freedom,  I turned it down without the tenure – until then they offered me academic freedom (Which they did).  In a separate study the the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) on Academic Freedom from 1980s to 2010  (30 years); it is amazing –  In 1980, 70% of University Professors had Academic Freedom;  and in 2010 the percentage who had that tenure dropped to 30%.  The amount of money coming in from industries  to universities to support research increased in that same time period.  Now my younger colleagues in Academia, especially in areas of Nutrition and Food can’t speak out. Academic Freedom is one of the greatest treasures we have.  

WHES  Young Professionals issues: There is a hesitancy to speak out even in this specialized environment. What kind of message would you have for people who are starting out in the Nutrition and Hunger areas, to pursue that chance, what avenues should we take?

Hopefully we can get Academic Freedom  restored. Stick with it. Let the world know we have suffered a loss.  Keep the faith.  We all need to be Activists.

ADDENDUM WHES: In a later followup after this interview, Dr. Campbell expanded his concerns about academic freedom in nutrition research. They will be in hyperlink T.C. Campbell on Academic Freedom (1)


U.S White House Conference – $8 Billion toward a National Strategy for Hunger, Nutrition, and Health

On September 28, the White House held the U.S.’s second Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health.  The main goal of this conference was “ending hunger, improving nutrition and physical activity, and reducing diet-related diseases and disparities” by 2030.

As a product of the conference, the White House released a National Strategy outlining federal policy initiatives to address these challenges: the Biden-Harris Administration National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health is a comprehensive federal plan to end hunger in America by 2030.

This strategy articlates the priorities of the National Nutrition Policy – Healthy People 2020. It also reflects input from stakeholders across the country—including state, local and tribal governments; non-profit organizations; philanthropic foundations; private businesses; academia; nutrition professionals; consumers and advocates—who have been involved in hunger relief efforts.

Additionally, the White House released an associated fact sheet outlining the More Than $8 Billion in New Commitments as Part of Call to Action for White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health

The Executive Summary on the National Strategy, published by the White House in tandem with the report, summarizes the five main pillars of the national strategy:

1. Improve Food Access and Affordability

End hunger by making it easier for everyone—including individuals in urban, suburban, rural, and Tribal communities, and territories—to access and afford food.

2. Integrate Nutrition and Health

Prioritize the role of nutrition and food security in overall health—including disease prevention and management—and ensure that our health care system addresses the nutrition needs of all people.

3. Empower All Consumers to Make and Have Access to Healthy Choices

Foster environments that enable all people to easily make informed, healthy choices, increase access to healthy food, encourage healthy workplace and school policies, and invest in public education campaigns that are culturally appropriate and resonate with specific communities.

4. Support Physical Activity for All

Make it easier for people to be more physically active—in part by ensuring that everyone has access to safe places to be active—increase awareness of the benefits of physical activity, and conduct research on and measure physical activity.

5. Enhance Nutrition and Food Security Research

Improve nutrition metrics, data collection, and research to inform nutrition and food security policy, particularly on issues of equity, access, and disparities.


USDA to Provide $2b in Food Aid to Combat Growing Food Insecurity Across US

The U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to provide $2 billion in food aid to food banks and school districts to help feed children and families who may be struggling to afford enough nutritious food.  This comes amid fast-rising food prices, especially for fresh fruits and vegetables, and increases in food insecurity across the country.

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, usage of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) increased by over 4 million recipients – all participants were allotted maximum benefits. Emergency funds for food aid will likely end within the next few months of 2022, which would lead to substantial decreases in monthly assistance. The Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) estimates that “41 million SNAP recipients will lose an average of $82 in food benefits per month and some households will see benefits drop by as much as $200 per month.”

The USDA said that the funds are part of its “emergency food assistance” program, which provides money to government agencies and nonprofits to help low-income people buy groceries. The funds will come from the Commodity Credit Corporation, a government agency that provides loans to farmers.

These funds will go toward supporting school meal programs as well as providing assistance for food banks that have seen demand skyrocket since the pandemic started. The agency said it would also increase funding for community projects focused on nutrition education and healthy eating habits by $10 million over last year’s budget, bringing total funding up to $30 million nationwide.

Task Force Informs White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health

On September 28th, 2022, the Biden administration will hold the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. This will be the second conference of its kind in the United States, with the last being held in 1969. The main goal of this conference is “ending hunger, improving nutrition and physical activity, and reducing diet-related diseases and disparities” by 2030.

Millions of U.S. citizens are afflicted by food insecurity and diet-related diseases, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. This leads to high rates of morbidity associated with modifiable lifestyle factors. Hunger and diet-related diseases impact underserved populations at a disproportionately higher rate and are associated with a lack of access to safe, affordable, and healthy food and housing.

A recent report, entitled Informing the White House Conference: Ambitious, Actionable Recommendations to End Hunger, Advance Nutrition, and Improve Health in the United States, details specific ways in which the U.S. government can act and change to reach the 2030 goal. This report was created by an independent task force comprised of experts across fields including nutrition, medicine, food policy, business, agriculture, and health advocacy.

The policy and health information in the above report is distilled in this NPR article. It explains the following 7 ideas to help shift the normal American diet toward a healthier and more sustainable future:

  1. Treat food as medicine
  2. Focus on quality of calories, not just quantity
  3. Expand access to dietary and lifestyle counseling
  4. Support food entrepreneurs
  5. Increase the number of new farmers growing healthy foods using regenerative farming techniques
  6. Make school meals free for all students
  7. Establish a federal ‘food czar’


For background, details, and quotes from the task force, read the full NPR article: The U.S. diet is deadly. Here are 7 ideas to get Americans eating healthier.


Pope Francis’ vision of an inclusive global economy

Repeated statements on the economy, at times with stinging words, mark the teaching of Pope Francis from the beginning of his pontificate. In His first Apostolic Exhortation Evagelii Gaudium in 2013 He sharply condemns  “an economy of exclusion and inequality.” He writes: “Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of  exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.”


Twenty years of editing Hunger Notes

December 22, 2016

By Lane Vanderslice

I have edited Hunger Notes for 20 years.   I started with editing one issue in 1995, and then, when the founder of the World Hunger Education Service (WHES), Pat Kutzner retired in 1996,  became editor.

It has been very gratifying to bring information about people who are  hungry and poor to interested readers, so that we may better understand their situation and take steps to help them.

Some highlights:

—Articles that we ran  on the role that conflict plays in creating hunger, why governments have done relatively little about hunger,  the human right to food, and on sustaining commitment to acting against world hunger, are just a few of our articles that have raised important questions and been widely read.

—Our fact sheet on world hunger, begun in 2002 and updated every year since, has become our most popular page.  We now have fact sheets on  hunger in the United States, hunger in Africa, and other topics.

—Our hunger quizzes help our readers, especially students, understand more about hunger.  In response, we make a small contribution to an anti-hunger organization for each quiz taken, which adds up, as many people take a quiz each month.

—Hunger Notes has been published continuously since 1974.   It started as a a mimeographed monthly newsletter to keep the newly formed Episcopal Hunger Network updated on relevant resources and events.  It evolved to a print publication sent out to many.  In the late 1990s we began publishing it both in print and on-line and then began web-only publication in 2001.  Its readership has increased to over one million people per year since 2011.

WHES is now in transition to a new generation of leadership (as well as supporters and readers).   We just had a farewell lunch for Board member Linda Worthington, who has been associated with WHES for over 30 years.  We are working to make this transition successful.

My great thanks to those who have read Hunger Notes  and tried to understand the complicated but very important question of why people are hungry, and who take action against hunger based in part at least on that knowledge. It is certainly what has made my effort worthwhile.




December Hunger Notes: Food insecurity and conflict, shifting the focus from feeding people to nourishing them, and more

December 16, 2016

By Lane Vanderslice

Listen to Kimberly Flowers, Director of the Global Food Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, speak with Vatican Radio’s Linda Bordoni about food insecurity and how it is both a cause and consequence of conflict, often sparking violence and civil unrest.

Lawrence Haddad, Corinna Hawkes, and colleagues propose ten ways to shift the focus from feeding people to nourishing them in A new global research agenda for food.

Oxfam has published an important new study Unearthed: Land, power, and inequality in Latin America.

A few key conclusions from the report:

—The concentration of Latin American land in the hands of a few is even worse now than in the 1960s, when the problem was so bad many governments pushed major reforms.

—One percent of “super farms” in Latin America now control more productive land than the other 99 percent.

—Women hold less land than men; from as little as 8% in Guatemala, and up to 30% in Peru.

Well, we ran two articles on Gambia where we thought an election would change things. This was soon contradicted by a later development, which appears in this third article: Gambians face uncertainty, after president rejects his defeat, by  Jaime Yaya Barry and Dionne Searcey of the New York Times.

Our first article was Gambia’s president, in power 22 years, loses election,  by Jaime Yaya Barry and Dionne Searcey of the New York Times.   This was important news for several reasons.  First, most presidents who want to stay in office, find a way to stay in office one way or another, whether by rewriting the constitution, by acting against opposition parties in disruptive ways,  or assuming “emergency” powers.  So it was big news that the people of Gambia were allowed to vote, their vote was counted correctly, and the president apparently abided by the decision.  It is hard to make headway against hunger and poverty when the principal focus of the government is staying in power.

The second article, The challenge of building “New Gambia”  by Louise Hunt of IRIN, emphasized that change would not be easy: “the list of problems is long: a prostrate and undiversified economy, a high rate of outmigration, heavily politicized state institutions – including a military and a criminal justice system used to operating by fear.”  Serious reductions in hunger and poverty require governments who operate on behalf of the people, and it is an unfinished struggle in most countries to achieve this, including Gambia.

They are slaughtering us like animals by Daniel Berehulak of the New York Times examines the war against drugs in the Philippines. Since Duterte assumed office June 30, there have been 2,000 killings by police and 3,500 unsolved murders by others. In Berehulak’s words, there are “police officers’ summarily shooting anyone suspected of dealing or even using drugs, vigilantes’ taking seriously Mr. Duterte’s call to “slaughter them all.”  This article documents 57 of these victims, enabling us to see for ourselves.   Government controlled and sanctioned death squads have played an evil role in history.  They have operated to suppress people. They are often directed against poor people.  They create fractures in society which impede progress and take a long time to heal, as the recent history of many countries in Latin America shows.  Of the many excellent news stories we have published this year, this is the best.

(An article which we did not run, but which illustrates points made above, is Stanley Rother, U.S. priest killed in ’81 in Guatemala, declared a martyr by Dan Bilefsky of the New York Times.)

The elimination of violence against women

Globally, 47 per cent of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner or family member, compared to less than 6 per cent of murders of men. Women represent 55 per cent of victims of forced labour and 98 per cent of the victims of sexual exploitation. Globally, an estimated 200 million women and girls have undergone FGM/C in 30 countries and 700 million were married as children.

The genocidal logic of South Sudan’s “gun class”

South Sudan’s civil war began in December 2013 with ethnic cleansing in the capital, Juba, committed by a government put in power by external brokering aimed at paving the way for the world’s newest nation. This South Sudan political experiment lasted two and a half years. Its bloody collapse continues, a slow-motion calamity on a par with any crisis in the world.

November Hunger Notes: It’s time for U.S. to lead in combating global malnutrition, avocados imperil Monarch butterflies, and more

November 19, 2016

By Lane Vanderslice

Bill Frist, the former Republican Senate majority leader, says It’s time for the U.S. to lead in combating global malnutrition in a well-reasoned, powerful opinion in The Hill.

How beautiful Monarch butterflies are.  How inspiring the migration from their small winter home in Mexico to vast areas in North America.  Their migration is threatened by loss of habitat, including large areas of farmland that provide no food for butterflies.  Almost none showed up in my backyard in Washington, DC this summer, in spite of the yard being filled with milkweed, Monarchs’ food, and where they lay their eggs.  Avocados imperil Monarch butterflies’ winter home in Mexico  by Victoria Burnett in the New York Times describes how global demand is spurring local farmers to clear land vital to the Monarchs to plant avocados.

The massive food crisis you haven’t heard about is an excellent 4 1/2 minute video about the food crisis in the 10-country Southern Africa region caused by El Nino. Published by the Center for International Strategic Studies.  And Food Tank lists 26 Films Every Food Activist Must Watch .

The genocidal logic of South Sudan’s “gun class” by Alan Boswell in IRIN describes how failures in the political process led to a descent into war, which is decimating the country.

South Sudan’s ethnopolitical war is rooted in the flaws of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which installed a non-representative and ethnically fractured party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, in charge of a future country it never won over.  Once war starts, groups must take sides, and conflict, destruction and death escalate.

Conflict, and the struggle for control of government that usually lies behind it, are essential things for a student of poverty and hunger to understand.

Life on the Pine Ridge Native American reservation  by Patrick Strickland in Al Jazeera paints a portrait of  poverty in America in a place where life expectancy is the second-lowest in the western hemisphere (after Haiti), and 80 percent of people are unemployed.

Land grab update: Mozambique, Africa still in crosshairs by Timothy J. Wise on Food Tank describes how more than 1,000 large-scale foreign land deals are now under contract for agriculture covering more than 26 million hectares of land, according to the new report, Land Matrix Analytical Report II: International Land Deals for Agriculture. That area represents a remarkable two percent of arable land in the world.

We have run three articles this month that don’t appear to have very much to do with hunger:

The elimination of violence against women by Lakshimi Puri in IRIN discusses progress, and the lack of it, in this area.  Violence against women is a major rights violation, often ascending to the level of a crime, and mainly going unpunished.  It is also used as a tool to keep women down.

Bribes and bureaucracy: Myanmar’s chaotic citizenship system by Julia Wallace in IRIN describes the various ways in which Muslims, even though born in Myanmar, are restricted from citizenship and the rights that go with it due to prejudice.

Tanzania suspends U.S.-funded AIDS programs in a new crackdown on gays by Kevin Seiff in the Washington Post describes how Tanzania is suspending U.S.-funded AIDS prevention programs because of strong government discrimination against gays.  This will now prevent many gays from getting antiretrovirals, for example, a restriction that threatens their lives and that does not apply to others in Tanzania.

Violence, denial of citizenship,  denying access to HIV programs, all do lead to hunger.  Women, Muslims in Burma, and people with AIDS are all groups with elevated levels of hunger.  This consequence just doesn’t appear in these stories.  See, for example,  Breaking the cycle of HIV, hunger, and poverty  by the World Food Program, an article HN ran in 2012.  It is precisely because of the vast increase in the use of retrovirals that hunger is less of an issue with those that have HIV.

We have run two articles on India calling in its largest banknotes and issuing new ones, one of them being  Indians rush frantically to launder their black money by Geeta Anand of the New York Times. India runs to a great extent on actual cash, rather than checks or credit cards.  A important reason for this is the avoidance of taxes. Cash can be kept off the books.  By calling in the big notes and issuing new ones, the Indian government is hoping to locate large stashes of cash, which it will then investigate to see if the owners have paid the proper taxes.  We wanted to flag this topic because avoidance of taxes, and the conclusions to be drawn from it, are an important issue in developing countries.  If a government is efficiently delivering effective programs, the hoped-for boost in tax revenue will be helpful, especially if the main people avoiding taxes are the rich.  If, on the other hand, the programs are not effective or the tax rates are very high (they often are set high, with the implicit understanding that taxes will be avoided) the “underground economy” is probably a good thing.   It is an issue where one’s judgement does depend on the actual circumstances.   This issue is important for hunger policy in India.  The FAO estimates that 15 percent of India’s population is undernourished–a high percentage. There are Indian government programs to reduce hunger that could increase their benefit by increasing both efficiency and funding.  See  a past article from the Guardian that we have run India’s battle against hunger beset by problems of delivery and corruption. Malnutrition is on the rise, despite nutrition rehabilitation centers and ration shops .