How To Save Your Life & the Planet by Shopping Smarter with Dr. Pedram Shojai


Jonathan: Hey, everybody, Jonathan Bailor, back, with another SANE show. Very excited about today because we have a great friend of the show, and a great personal friend, who is here with some really, really exciting and unique news. Dr. Pedram Shojai, welcome back to the show, brother.

Pedram: Hey, good to see you. It’s great to be here.

Jonathan: Pedram, it is always a pleasure to have you on the show, and I have to say, this is the first show we have ever had to celebrate and to talk about the launch of a feature length film. That’s crazy, man. Let’s back up here. You are a doctor, you are into wellness, and you are releasing movies. Are you like Steven Spielberg, M.D., here? What’s going on?

Pedram: I think he has had a little bit more experience in making movies. This is my second one, but man, are they getting more and more fun to do. I spent six weeks tracking lions in Africa as just a small part of what we filmed in this movie. It was four years in the making, so, yes, selfishly, it is kind of fun, kind of dangerous, kind of awesome.

Jonathan: Back up here. How are you a doctor and a film-maker? You have about as confusing a background as I do. How did this all happen?

Pedram: Totally. I just stopped printing business cards because it is hard to say what I am on any day. Actually, my first movie, Vitality, I made because I ran a large medical group and I was getting really frustrated, but I only got paid when people were sick. There was no money in keeping people well, and the whole model was upside down, so I decided, “You know what? I am taking this to the people and teaching them how to not need me.” We went out there and we did it. We threw down that gauntlet, Vitality did extremely well, and then all of a sudden I was a film-maker. Following that arc, it was saying, “Okay, what do you need to know to figure out how we got into this mess and what would our next logical steps would be?”

So, we went to the first caves that our ancestors stumbled out of in Africa after the last ice age. What did food look like? What did stress look like? What did the environment look like? And how did we grow to master technology, with the proverbial use of fire, and now, where has that technology gotten us, and at what point have we overdone it, and what can we do to find balance between nature and technology? Because let’s face it, I like my iPhone. I am standing not in the same room as you recording this, and so tech is pretty cool. But, how much of it is damaging our health? How much of it is choking our planet?

And how do we walk hand in hand with tech in a way that doesn’t kill us? We got really good at understanding science because of our drive toward survival, and then we got so good we forgot about survival, and now survival is full circle, where infertility is up, we are all getting sick, things are getting really creepy and nasty because there are these companies that poison us, and we are all suffering from things that are really unnecessary. And so we throw a gauntlet, we really do it in this movie. We go after what it is that is making people sick and what it is that we should probably just never buy again.

Jonathan: There is an unfortunate irony with the term technology because if you look way back, technology has become a definition for things like computers and cell phones, but technology, at its core, is really just a better way of doing things. The printing press was technology. Using a butter churn to create butter, back in the day, versus however they did it before they had a butter churn; that was technology. So really, technology just means a more efficient and effective way of doing things, and there is an unfortunate irony when the more efficient and effective way of doing things is not actually taking us forward. In some ways it is taking us forward in maybe some superficial dimensions, like now we can watch a monkey abuse a frog on our phone, anywhere, at any time, but we die of heart disease instead of dying of natural causes. What is going on there?
Pedram: The original technology was fire. We started using flints. We started being able to create tools to chisel with, and things that really helped us not have to work so hard to get through the day, and that’s pretty cool. But once you start getting a little further, and getting into technology that nowadays factor out externalities… this is a big thing in economics. The cost of delivering coal to the American household, if you will, which is, “Hey, we are going to get this stuff out of the ground, we are going to burn it, we are going to make electricity, they are going to be able sit with their iPads and look at Facebook. Perfect.”

Part of that cost is the transportation, the mining, and all of that stuff. But they don’t factor in the cost of the air pollution, or the mercury removal, or the sickness that it is causing throughout the planet. We get cheap energy, but if you factor in these externalities, which are part of the equation, all of a sudden it is not that cheap at all. It sucks. It is making us sick, it is poisoning the planet, it is killing the fish, and it is choking out life itself. But we think, well, it’s cheap energy. And so these types of games that industries have played to dupe us into thinking that it is all okay, that’s what we are going after.

I have a six-month-old kid. I am doing this for him. So, it is just not fair to look at technology with externalities factored out, because let’s face it, anything we do here is going to reflect around the planet. Like we say, “Oh, it’s so smoggy.” There is a famous line in the movie, India and China are having so many smog issues, and thank God it is over there, but NASA has been tracking this brown cloud, where every week or so all this nasty coal-fired cancerous gunk rises up, comes over and dumps on the western seaboard of the United States, pretty close to where you are sitting right now. So we are getting exponential rise in mercury in our lakes, the air quality is getting all tweaked, and we think, “Oh, well, that’s China.” It’s not. It’s raining right down on the western seaboard of the U.S. and then crossing over North America and polluting everything, but we don’t think about it because it is over there. It’s nonsense.

Jonathan: That externality point is so critical, Pedram, because it permeates everything. Let’s look at one other example that hits near and dear to me, and I know it hits near and dear to you, and that is, expounding on the food we eat. We talk about the cost of food, and when we think of the cost of food, we have to think of externalities, so let’s look at the data first of all. First and foremost, if you look a couple of generations ago, the average American spent about 20% of their income on food. Today we spend less than 10% of our income of food, so objectively, we are spending way less on food. But when you look at the cost of cheap food, holy moly, the petroleum needed to create all these packages and the waste that is being created. Tell me a little bit about the industrial food complex, and the externalities, and the real cost of that on our culture.

Pedram: That’s the big one, man. These guys have proven time and time again that they don’t care and if you raise a fuss they are just going to hire lobbyists and smear campaigns and shut you up because they are making a bunch a money at the cost of our children. So, you look at this trillion-dollar health industry, and 90% of the money we are spending is due to chronic illnesses. So, you look at all these things, the calorie myth, which you know, and why are people not losing weight, and why people are still getting sick, and why, despite the fact that everyone has gym memberships and is trying to do the right thing and count calories, it is not working. You have to look at all this other stuff. It is like, holy crap! Why is this in my food?

Abel and Alsimer were here just a little while ago and my wife had bought some cheesecake from Costco, and I wasn’t even paying attention and she said, “This is for some party at work.” Abel was reading the ingredients: “Propylene glycol.” Mmm… Yes, if you had a bottle of propylene glycol on the table, would you just drink it? But it is okay somehow because it is in the cheesecake and some moron decided it was a good idea, and so we are eating propylene glycol, or whatever else we are eating that is not necessarily a food ingredient that the body would recognize as food, so the body has this antibody reaction. It freaks out, saying, “Hey, what the hell is this?” And we say, “I don’t understand why my body is tripping out and why I’m tired. I should probably drink some more coffee.”

And so the whole thing is just this complete sinkhole of a joke. Food comes from the earth, and if you eat food that comes from the earth, chances are you will feel better, and chances are it will happen relatively quickly. We have Mark Hyman, Mark Sisson, Abel James, Sara Gottfried, J.J. Virgin, a lot of really heavy-hitting health and wellness people telling it like it is in this movie. But it is not just about health. It is really about where our health and the planet’s health come together. What it really boils down to is our purchasing decisions every day.

Here in the United States we vote for a new president every 4 years. You vote for the companies that stay in power 10-15 times a day, every time you swipe your credit card at the store. So, who are you giving your money to, and are they practicing the right things, or are they factoring out your health, your children’s health and the planet’s health because of these externalities? It’s like, “Oh, well, I need to save money and be able to afford my cable TV, or these containers full of garbage that is coming over from China that my children think they need,” instead of eating better and feeling better and not going to the hospital, getting sick, and not having purpose in life because your body is not functioning so your brain can’t function.

So, we are really hitting a reset. I am not a Luddite. I am not saying, “Go throw on your loin cloth and grab your spear and let’s run out the door,” but I am saying there is some real powerful wisdom that we gathered from those days that can march us into a better way of living with nature in the future, and so we are really into green tech. We are really into solar. We are really into all of these other things that are making the world a better place, and are using our innovation and technology and all the things that are important to make sure that we can enjoy this planet for generations to come instead of choke it out because someone wants to make money.

Jonathan: Pedram, I love your point about voting without dollars. I think, intuitively, we all want to be healthier, we want to feel good, but sometimes we have conflicting wants and desires, so we want cheap food. And when I say cheap, I don’t mean good value, I mean cheap food. I mean, I want to order a piece of beef and for it to cost 99 cents. You’ve got to kind of wonder, if a piece of beef costs 99 cents, maybe you don’t want a 99-cent piece of beef because of what is in it. What do we do? We have a lot of these wants. How do we prioritize those wants, and how do we get the motivation and the tools we need to prioritize the wants that really enable us, against the wants that maybe marketing or messaging has made us think we need, but we don’t actually need?

Pedram: Yes, great question. Marketing is predicated on the leveraging of people desires, on their weaknesses. I would say anything that doesn’t serve you, that is poisoning you, that is poisoning the planet, just take it out. Start there. Don’t poison yourself. It’s probably a bad idea. And then, we start looking at what is actually moving the needle. Organic was just a cute thing 15 years ago. It was just hippies and co-ops, and it was just this thing that was kind of blossoming that no one could afford. As more and more people decided that it was important to them, important for their families, and starting buying organic, look what has happened. The prices have dropped considerably, and so we are creating a new economy based on our desires as the consumer.

As you put your money where your mouth is, as you put your money where your desire is, you start shifting more and more toward organic, shifting more and more toward fair trade, shifting toward the things that you do value. If you spend your money in alignment with your values, then what happens is the economy of scale changes things, and those things become cheaper; they become more affordable.

And there are lot of these things happening right now. Annie’s was just bought by General Mills for 800 million dollars. The question is, is General Mills going to greenwash them, and take out all the principles? “Oh, great, we bought this organic company. Now let’s just go ahead and put propylene glycol back in.” Or, are they going to follow up and say, “Okay, we get it. You guys want organic. We are going to stay clean,” and this is just a profitable business? And if they do play it correctly, I am happy to be a customer of General Mills.

But if they blow it…Tom’s Toothpaste got bought by some big conglomerate and the main ingredient, I think laureth sulfate, that Tom, himself, said he would never put in his toothpaste because it was poison, as soon as he sold the company these guys put it right back in. So, okay, don’t buy Tom’s. Don’t let them do that. For us, that is the important thing, to understand that they assume you are dumb, and if you wake up and start spending your money wisely, the gig is up, and we just collectively don’t let them poison us, because we are just not going to buy it. “Fine. You’re going to put poison in there? I’m not buying it.” So who is?

Jonathan: That is so empowering, Pedram, because at the end of the day, you are right. Even I, sometimes, am a little guilty of thinking that these food executives are these schemer Mr. Burns type, Simpsons, when all they want to do is what their job is, which is to make money. If the product they sell isn’t bought by anybody, they will sell something different. So, at the end of the day, the power lies in our hands, and it lies in our hands to change the minds and hearts of those around us, too, because each of us is just one person, but all great change came from one person, and then permeated to others. And I know a lot of change is coming from you because you are creating these movies, you are creating a bunch of great stuff, and you are creating a bunch of ripples in this movement. So, where can we learn more about this movie, specifically, and everything else around it so that we can get involved?

Pedram: Thanks for asking. It is well.org/origins and we are going to have all the information there, we have a trailer there. I am going to give you a link to share with your audience, as well, but well.org/origins is where it is going to be housed. We are doing a very untraditional launch of this movie. I spent four years and a lot of money making this movie. And guess what I am doing? I am doing a ten-day free screening of the movie that I just spent four years making, to anyone who wants to see it, because it is that important to share the message. And then we are going to have a bunch of experts from the movie in a free summit afterward that will expound on that, and we are putting together success kits and everything, just to help people understand how to take the next steps. And then, a really important piece of this is going to come out right before Thanksgiving, when we are taking back Black Friday and doing a Green Friday initiative where we are putting companies that are doing the right thing in front of people and asking, “Why do you spend your hard-earned money on garbage, poisoned, plastic junk that comes over in containers from China in the name of baby Jesus for the holidays?

Do the right thing this holiday season and buy products that do the right thing. Support the people in your life that help wellness and green and things that will help enhance their life, instead of getting them trinkets that mean nothing and poison the planet.” And so, we are really just knocking on people’s foreheads a little bit, saying, “Hey, come on. Come on, wake up.” This is all of us. This is about what we can all do in that little 20-dollar purchase you were going to make for Betsy down at the office that could be something that helps Betsy and helps the planet, and immediately pulls you out of that downward spiral and puts you into the virtuous one that makes you a part of the solution and not the problem.

Jonathan: I love it. Well, give us that URL one more time, Pedram.

Pedram: It is well.org/origins.

Jonathan: Well, this is beautiful, Pedram. I personally have had a chance to take an early look at the film, and it is very inspirational. I think it can hit both viewers’ heads and hearts, which is really, really important, so I would encourage everyone who is watching and listening to this to check out well.org/origins. And Pedram, it is always a pleasure to have you on the show, man, and I so salute what you are doing. You are changing lives and you are changing the world, and I know you have put your heart and your wallet behind this, so I appreciate it very much.

Pedram: Thanks very much. It is a lot work. We have a six-month-old baby. It took nine months to incubate and bring him out. It took four years to bring this baby out. It is a lot of blood, sweat and tears, but it is only worth doing if it is worth doing right, so I am very proud of this movie. It is beautiful, and it will change people’s lives, so I really encourage people to jump on and see it while we are offering it in a free screening.

Jonathan: I love it. Pedram, thank you. As always, it is a pleasure, brother.

Pedram: Always a pleasure. Thanks for having me, man.

Jonathan: Well, viewers and listeners, I hope you enjoyed this chat as much as I did. Again, today’s guest, a friend of the show, a personal friend, Dr. Pedram Shojai, movie producer, and doctor extraordinaire. Be sure to check out the free screening, which is just crazy, at well.org/origins, and I will also include a link with some bonuses in the email newsletter, so if you are not subscribed, make sure you subscribe.