Dr. Jeff Bland:
Well, welcome once again! Here we are at that extraordinary opportunity for me to talk with a person of great significance around my most, I guess, important and interesting topic for me, which is immunity. For a second, before I introduce our extraordinary luminary for this podcast, Walter Robb, I think about immunity from the broad context that we’re all interconnected through this immunological system, from the planet, to the plants, to the microbes, to the animals, to us. There’s common immunity that we share, and that then determines the outcome of how we are resilient. And so, I ask myself the question quite frequently: Do the people that we meet and the relationships that we have in the course of our life, do they then influence somehow our immune system individually?
My answer, as I’ve traveled down this path the last 75 years, is an unequivocal, unambiguous YES! The relationships that we have the fortune to share, the types of bonds we make with other people, the way we think about ideas and beliefs and attitudes, and share our concepts, and get feedback, and refine ourselves as we go forward, translates through our receptor system into our immune system.
With that as an introduction, I want to acknowledge my great fortune, and probably more than I even deserve, to have met people in my travels of living like Walter Robb, because Walter Robb has had a direct positive impact on my immune system, if this metaphor that I’m describing is correct. Why? Let me give a quick little thumbnail bio of Walter Robb. I’m not going to go through his childhood—he might want to talk about that himself—but I’ll start at college.
Being educated on the East Coast, he went to Stanford. Graduated in 1976, Phi Beta Kappa, and was a history major, but had a broad interest in ecology—he recalled Earth Day in 1970. He had a lot of interest in food, nutrition, health, and the environment. That ultimately led him down the road to go back to Atlanta, Georgia to teach high school in inner-city, Atlanta.
From that to come back to California and be involved with agriculture, ultimately to start in Weaverville, California (Northern California) a health food store. Remembering what the early dawn of health food stores were: the fruit, nuts, and berries of the world, where a lot of this whole groundswell that we now see in the organic food movement and food for health was really born out of these early health food stores. Walter then brought his wisdom, his experience, his background, his perspective, also his passion, his dedication, his authenticity, and his—I would say—focus into his small health food store, which ultimately then got acquired by the Whole Foods chain. He ultimately became then the manager of the Pacific Northwest division of the Whole Foods chain, moving it from two stores to seven stores over a short period of time.
Away he went with his colleague, John Mackey, the founder and CEO of Whole Foods. Walter quickly rose up in the Whole Foods family to be a very strong principal in expanding and setting the tone and the architecture and the mission and the vision of Whole Foods, ultimately to go through the rank of EVP, and then to the COO, and then finally to become the co-president with John Mackey in 2004, which he continued for a decade.
His path is broad, but it’s also deep. He, I think, is the measure of an individual. I can say this without any equivocation. I’ve had many, many people I’ve known who know Walter Robb, and singularly, every one of them always says, “Oh, Walter Robb. Yeah, he’s one of the sharpest, most dedicated, most insightful people you will meet in this industry of organic agriculture, food for health, and the newly emerging view of the role that agriculture is going to play across the range of different concerns that we have in our culture right now—from planetary health, to climate change, to nutrition status, and everything in between.”
That’s just a short little vignette of the fortune I’ve had on my immune system for getting to know Walter Robb. So, with that introduction, Walter, welcome to the Big Bold Health Podcast. It’s such a privilege and pleasure to have you.
Yeah, thank you for such kind words. So many years have gone by since we first met, and it’s a pleasure to be with you again today and to talk about what you’re working on now, but for those listeners to know that you were really the first real scientist to come into that intrepid industry back over 30 years ago, bringing the perspective of a different world.
It’s just amazing that we find ourselves today at the place where these two worlds are now really beginning to converge, and we’ll talk about that. But equally, I loved you from the start, even more so now as we’ve had a chance to spend some time together on this latest project. I appreciate you having me on the show today.
Dr. Jeff Bland:
Well, thank you. One of the things that you’re associated with is a soundbite, which I think is a fantastic soundbite. You stand for a humane and healthy planet. Could you tell our listeners, in your context, what that means?
Well, a lot of things, but maybe this… I stumbled into natural food out of a reading of Wendell Berry and Frances Moore Lappe many years ago. But let’s be honest that food touches everything about the human experience, whether it’s the individual’s health, the community’s health, planetary health, and as you point out, relationship health. Whether it’s the convening at a dinner table and the sharing of a family meal, to the way our food system works holistically, all those things have been exposed radically this past year, year and a half, in a way that the connections are very clear.
As you start thinking about it generationally, if we think about the modern food system born after World War II, after the use of the war materials converted to production agriculture, you think about what we started in the late ’70s with the natural food saying, “Hey, we’ve got to think about whole foods.”
You think about this moment in time right now where we’ve been able to see the changes that we really do need to make in terms of transforming the food system to support the… It’s really what is our desire to create a more just, more sustainable, more inclusive society. The food system is very much integral to all those efforts. And so, what I mean by that is, what are we looking to create here? What are our expectations? What are our hopes? What are our dreams for how this world can function?
I think Albert Schweitzer, to your point of relationships, said at the past—and he was my heroes growing up—he said, “The future of humanity depends on each and every one of us and every moment that we find ourselves displaying true humanity to one another.”
I really hope that out of this experience, we’ve all realized that we do need one another, that we do miss one another when we’re not together, that we can do more together. And that that humanity that we will find in ourselves, and for one another, and for the ones that we may not know, but are still nonetheless at risk, or are not included in some way, or their concerns are not being met, that is really where we’re trying to go, where we’re trying to get to. That is the future I want to continue to work for, continue to believe in, and continue to believe it’s possible to strive for. I think it’s always good to have a north star and that’s mine.
Dr. Jeff Bland:
In the conversation you and I have had over the privileged now nearly four decades that we’ve known one another—it’s hard to even believe that that’s true…
Thank you for dating us.
Dr. Jeff Bland:
Yeah. That’s pretty unbelievable. Scary! But you’ve talked a lot about different experiences that you’ve had in your life that patterned you and gave you some of the insights that you shared with many others now through your activities at Whole Foods and other places. One of those that struck me way back when in your life was that you were, I believe, the captain of the soccer team at Stanford. That whole concept of teamsmanship and its relationship to athletics and fitness. Did that play a role, do you think, in your early development of some of your perspectives?
Well, I think that the team thing, it was certainly incredibly enjoyable to take the field with a group of teammates. I think also the power of competition, it makes you raise your game. Both of those ideas translated to Whole Foods in the following sense. With respect to the competition, was always like… I would tell the team, “You can always learn something from every single competitor, and your mind should not be that there’s something wrong, but it should be like, ‘What’s the one thing I can take away from this competitor?’ And to look at those, how you can use that to make yourself and your own work better.”
And so, let’s have an appreciation for the power of competition and how it helps us to all raise our game, which is when you take the field of soccer and you’ve got to play against a better team – You’ve got to step it up. That’s the way the marketplace works, and that’s the power of competition.
With respect to teamwork, learning this lesson, I think you learn it over and over, and again as you get older – that you can do more together than you can do individually. Ultimately as a leader, for me the greatest realization was that the greatest feeling you can have as a leader is to actually create space for others to grow and to create a culture. I put together a culture in a way that allows others to find and stretch, and find more of themselves. There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing somebody grow before your eyes.
The team thing, in particular, is just that… What does it really mean to be part of a team, and what are your responsibilities therein? I’ve learned that lesson again over and over again, by realizing you don’t have to do it all yourself, but in fact, you want to actually include and lean on others to do theirs. The power of a team comes when people are together using their respective skills, respecting the skills of others, leaving the space for them to use it, is when you find the true power of team, and the power of being part of a team.
Dr. Jeff Bland:
Now I want to take what you just said to a very interesting example, and you were one of a small group of individuals that could really speak to it very intimately. That’s the development of the designation “organic” as a standard of identity within the USDA and the Organic Standards Act. I recall so vividly you have a role with a fairly small group of people on the percentage population at large. It was not a large group but was eventually capable, as a team, with disparate interests and different backgrounds, to push that through. Can you give us some insight into the Organic Standards Act and how that all occurred?
Well, you’ve got to give shout out to Kathleen Merrigan, who at that time was working for Senator Leahy, who ultimately was the vessel through which this was able to all happen. But you remember California passed the first Organic Act in 1990? The first state to do so, to set an actual standard, because prior to that time, it was like, “We’re selling organic,” but what does that actually mean?
There were a lot of yogurts and wrinkled vegetables and things like that, and the first standard really paved the way. It took about 10 years to get that standard pulled together. The process was just like, “We have got…” As this thing is growing, we could all feel the momentum. We had this desperate situation in different states that we were doing business. Whether it was transport growers or retailers, we didn’t have a standard that we could rally around.
The customers would be, as the organic industry grew, and folks were taking potshots at it or saying, “This is a marketing scheme,” or something like that. Without something to fall back on that was a guardrail, we could just see that this confusion was going to continue and that it was time to put a stake in the ground, and so, it was not an easy journey to convince at that time. It’s not like what you see today where people just accept it and accept the seal.
It was a lot of work, and to build the political coalition and so forth and get the support. Senator Leahy did a masterful job. Kathleen did a fantastic job. Katherine DiMatteo from the trade association did a wonderful job. A number of folks from different companies all participated in just building the momentum to get this thing passed and set the standard in place, and also the mechanism to be able to let the standards continue to evolve as to ingredients that were appropriate or so forth.
What I have seen is that I do think the appropriate role of government is to set the guardrails, so that the rules are clear. What happened is when that seal landed and it was put in place, the market took off because the rules of the road were clear. Capital could flow in, companies could grow, and the customer got a clear proposition as to what they were using their dollars for. As a result, as you know, the compounded growth rate of organic since that time has been north of double-digit, and continues that today as customers clearly want that choice. Despite folks still taking shots at it, et cetera, it’s an established marker in the marketplace now, but 21 years on. So maybe 2010 before the seal fully went into effect.
Unfortunately, what’s happened is that the process around evolving the standards, which was always contemplating, remember, we didn’t think about animal welfare at that time. We didn’t think about social conditions. We didn’t think about improving soil quality. We were just trying to get a baseline standard in place that we could certify.
There’s work to do to continue to take those standards forward. That falls to this generation to do that work. But I will say that, clearly, it was a very important moment for the industry to rally around something that had the seal of the government, in the USDA organic seal. I believe in this current administration they will continue to invest in that seal, it has real equity in the market. Time and time again, on any survey that you see or do, the customers have accepted it, they value it, they understand it. It was a pivotal moment.
That industry, depending on which numbers you look at, you could argue now that’s in the 70, 80-billion-dollar neighborhood. In a grocery marketplace, there’s close to a trillion dollars in the United States. It’s a very meaningful part. The growth rate which is at north of double digits is very meaningful as well.
Dr. Jeff Bland:
Let me take you back for a second because I’m now going to make the connection to immunity. I’m taking you and I both back to the early ’80s. At that time, I was research faculty at the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine in Palo Alto, and I was visited by this young guy from the Whole Foods store in Berkeley.
Dr. Jeff Bland:
He was asking me, “Are there any analytic procedures that we could use to document the presence or absence of a whole family of different biocides that might be present as residues in commercially growing products?” This was Rachel Carson revisited. This was Silent Spring, just as you were talking about Frances Moore Lappe with Diet for a Small Planet. These were the vestiges of starting this new mentality about how we would steward the relationship with our soil, with our crops, and ultimately with our food.
At that early stage in the ’80s, the analytical technology was not so well defined that we could get a really hard and fast set of analytical tools to demonstrate the absence of this whole range of different chemicals that could end up in foods. But over time, thanks to the advocacy of you and your colleagues, it put pressure on the system, which then brought not only information, but also capital into the system to do the research. It was necessary to develop the analytical tools to make the testing procedures more secure, so that you could actually have a documented system.
This is an example where science and society can work together, I think, successfully. I think that’s going on right now with regard to regenerative agriculture, as to how we go to the next step in our stewardship.
That’s right. We talked a little bit about the bigger purpose of those next steps and what sort of society, what sort of food system, do we imagine or want to have, now that we know the things that we know? Regenerative is a two-sided thing though, Jeff, because on the one hand, it’s striving to really go out soil health and carbon capture. On the other hand, it’s confusing the customers because there’s so many versions of it out there, and different companies saying things about it, that in the end it doesn’t have the clarity.
There’s only one seal out there now that I think is recognized, for example by WholeFoods, which is the ROC standard. But there’s many others in formation. As you know, the Climate Solutions Bill that Senator Stabenow has put forth, well, ultimately tasked USDA with creating a standard around carbon capture. The potential here is that folks, because customers easily get confused as to what…. There’s no more confusion around organic! There may still be some folks that don’t choose it because they can’t afford it, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s only a choice. But with respect to this, we’re in a period now where there’s a desire for the standard to capture more of the soil health and the soil quality in particular. But on the other hand, there’s real confusion going on out there about what regenerative means and how it gets measured over time, and why do the people who are just now starting get more credit under this than those who have been doing it for 20 years, and all those sorts of questions that we really need to work through and resolve.
I think the new generation of leaders… I think the government does need to step back up here in this time and put up a more robust standards process and really get the process moving. During President Trump’s administration, we just had no investment in any of this infrastructure. That’s the role that needs to be played. There are a number of brands out there that have taken this on and are working hard to work on the supply chain directionally, correct? I think it’s how do we do this in a way that ultimately the customers can trust and have confidence in, and it’s measurable? Those sorts of questions are really what’s before us right now.
Dr. Jeff Bland:
It’s interesting when I reflect on you and your extraordinary both breadth of what you’ve been involved with over your years, as well as the depth of which you’ve gone into it. I’m reminded that often as we get into a field and we start to bring our presence to it and total immersion, that unexpected things happen, things that we didn’t anticipate. I’m thinking here about organic specifically. I believe it was well-founded to try to get chemicals out of our food supply system. But I don’t believe that we, as a culture, even those founding people in the organic movement, fully understood the impact of these low-level hormetic, or small concentrations of these residues, the effect that they could have on our immune systems. Now we’re starting to see this immuno-toxicology field grow up, moving from where we thought toxicology was just the amount that would kill a person. What’s the lethal dose that would cause sickness or an illness or cancer? To where now we’re looking at functional changes in the immune system. How does it change the personality of our immune system to become less resilient, less adaptive, less capable? That particular emergence of the science of immunology, when tied together with the advocacy for organic and now regenerative agriculture, frames a whole different complexion of how we look forward, not only in the development of the food industry, but also how we as consumers make intelligent choices about the planet that we want to steward.
Well, I think you’re exactly right. I think what’s exciting about your new company Big Bold Health, Jeff, is that you’re starting to look at some of those crosscurrents and some of those connections in a new way. Well, I’m sure we’re going to get into that in just a moment. We really are at a moment in time, more broadly for the food system, but more broadly than that even is the convergence of food and healthcare and health. These new capabilities that we have and that you bring with your experience are pretty exciting to unlock possibilities and pathways for health that we’ve not had up to this point.
Dr. Jeff Bland:
Let’s look at the wild card for a second, that we’ve all been confronted with. I think every person on the globe, no matter where they have lived, has been impacted by the SARS COVID-2 virus in one way or another. It’s a frameshifter. It changes so much in the way of perspective. It changes so much in the way of our sense of mortality, or vulnerability, or isolation. I mean, there are so many different words that we can attach to this is pandemic, the COVID-19 pandemic.
I know you’ve some experience yourself, as is often for many of us, with this virus traveling through your life, your family’s life. What have you observed as learning about how these connect into our ultimate questions about our lifestyle, our environment, our eating habits, our relationships? What’s your learning, from this whole experience?
Well, that’s a big question that I think… It’s funny because my friend, Sara Eisen and I, we hosted a dinner for 16 CEOs in New York about a month ago exploring the zeitgeists of this moment around that. All the leaders, these were all CEOs, expressed how this experience had cracked them open to really realizing… affected their empathy, their ability to listen, their ability to respect the viewpoints of different generations around their business and wherever it was going.
This was a life-changing experience in terms of their role as a leader and their role as a citizen and their appreciation for their fellow human beings. But look, we know that it exposed the supply chain, which was 50-50 food service and retail—that didn’t work. It exposed the over-concentration in certain industries that were not resilient to being able to supply and keep in stock. It exposed the hard and essential nature of people’s work every day, that bring groceries to people and expose that, and has raised up that appreciation to a new level in terms of minimum wage or in terms of working conditions.
That’s taking all sorts of shape and it raised up, I think, some of the disparities in healthcare, and why is it that the average Black has lost three years of life in this, the Latino two and a third, and the white person 1.7 or something like that. Why is that? What are the underlying conditions for it? Those sorts of questions have all been raised as a result of this experience. The average person in America put on 29 pounds in COVID!
Though I think, looking forward, you come back to this idea that what shifted is obviously, one, where we work and how we work. Fifty percent of Americans have said they’re going to use this as an opportunity to reshape their lives. The home has obviously become a new hub, to quote the new CEO of Pepsi, Ramon, who just shared this idea of home as a hub. I think he’s right about that.
We’ve obviously seen the increase in digital options, so companies growing, companies going to market, the way customers are using multiple channels to live their lives, where they get their information, and how they do business.
Third, I think more broadly, is just that it has put a new emphasis on the lens of health. I used the word in the broadest sense of the term ‘health and wellness,’ that there’s a recognition in some ways that really, at the end of the day, you can’t take it for granted. You can’t take anything for granted with respect to the climate right now, with respect to the COVID stopping or going, and your individual health is at risk at any moment.
But the whole ball of wax is here, that I think this younger generation is also saying, “I don’t want to go there. I don’t want to have a view on senescence where I’m just going to live till I’m 50 and then hit the aging home,” which are very undignified places, for the most part anyways. “I want to think differently about a life of wellness and making the most of the time that I have.”
I think that the biggest shift really is around a reorientation, around a view towards health and wellness in general. Everything that that touches—as we’ve discussed, that the food system is certainly part of that—whether it’s your lifestyle, your relationships, the food you eat, the activities you choose, where you do them. All that is up in a way that it just… this thing broke this thing wide open. But I do think that that broader lens of health and wellness is what we have before us now.
Dr. Jeff Bland:
Well, that was just so beautifully stated that it gave me goosebumps! There’s a term that has become much more understood now and used a lot more frequently, called social determinants of disease. I’ve thought a lot about that term as it relates to what we’re doing with Big Bold Health and the immune system. How does a social determinant translate into a functional change in our immune system?
This is, to me, a really interesting question because those people that have a low sense of self-regulation, people who have maybe a lack of feeling loved, or accepted, or appreciated, or supported, maybe they’re living out of fear, a deprivation, isolation, all of those things which are words that are hard to quantify because they’re a little… squishy, translate through a person’s immune system into what we call comorbidities—into increasing risk to all sorts of diseases, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, hypertension, stroke, all these things that come down.
Now we see increased relative virulence and risk to SARS COVID 2 becoming not only infective but maybe a cause of death. We say, how does that happen? How is it that the social determinants of disease—which are not like a virus or a bacterium, they don’t float around, and then you can measure them under a microscope or something—how could they actually influence our immune system to create all these downstream effects?
I think what we have started to really explore – and not just we alone, I mean, we plural in the community of science, of immunology – is how are these signals, the signals that we’re receiving from our lifestyle, the signals of love, or the signals of appreciation, or the signals of isolation, how do they get translated through receptors that pick up that information into our immune system to change the way our immune system actually looks and feels? Can even scar the immune system, leaving bad memories in the immune system that stay with us for some period of time, this epigenetic effect. Those are the things that Big Bold Health is really trying to focus on.
I mean, we’re not alone in the world in trying to do this. But if in fact there is a way that we could, as you use the really great statement, crack the code, or break the nut, of how you could get a person to understand how the social determinants, as well as the physical determinants, like how we eat, and exercise, and sleep, and so forth are influencing their own personal immune system, and help them to do something about that. We could reduce so much unnecessary morbidity and premature serious illness.
That is really, I think, the germ seed of the reason that some two and a half years ago, I decided to try my hand in Big Bold Health as a company focused on personalizing immunity.
Well, this you said to me, Jeff, the three major highways to help, and that’s the brain, the gut and the immune system. That was helpful for me to hear that framing because we know the blood-brain barrier is tough to cross. I know that because my boys have a genetic condition, and we’ve learned from the years of living with that, that’s a tough way to go. The gut is confusing – there’s a lot of stuff out there, prebiotic, probiotic. There’s promise there in terms of understanding that connection to health. But it’s very hard for customers to wrap their heads around, plus there’s been some funky news out there about some of these various companies manipulating information, et cetera.
Then you come to the immune system, which under your tutelage, I’ve really learned to appreciate just the role that it plays with respect to inflammation, which from my view and experience, lays at the root of all chronic disease, which affects…some 75% of healthcare spending is on chronic disease, and inflammation is the root cause for all of those conditions. The immune system is the modulator of that, or the one that has to deal with inflammation.
I mean, I think you’ve touched on the fact that we’re dealing with one of the three main highways into health, and we’re dealing with the fact that people can begin to take charge of their health as opposed to waiting for it to happen to them, which is what I think has come out of this COVID, is the realization you can’t take it for granted. You want to take responsibility for yourself.
But third is this idea that you can actually personalize it! We’ve accepted now that there’s no one size fits all, that there’s no diet that’s right for everybody. Generally speaking, more plants, yes, but your own body will tell you what’s right for you. This idea that you’re going to begin to think about it on a more personal level of your own direct experiences, all these things are directionally correct, and why Big Bold Health is there to bring those together as we shape this future narrative—that you’re in charge of your own health.
You have to make your own choices. You’re responsible for those choices. You can begin to personalize those things to things that actually fit who you are and where you are, that is happening in real time, which is a new realization that epigenetics says to us—that what you’re experiencing or what you’re feeling, as you point out, is going to get expressed in how you show up in the world. You actually have the ability to affect that through the decisions you make, and that the products that you use, or the foods that you eat are going to directly impact what comes out on the other side. In the case of Tartary buckwheat, which is at the core of a Big Bold Health, this combination of the two phytonutrients that are found in this buckwheat, have the ability to directly, in real time, modulate your immune system in a way that can be very powerful.
I personally have been using it for close to a year now, since we started talking about this. I did have COVID very badly, deep in my lungs. Now some 20 or 22 months later, my antibodies are still off the charts, some of which I give credit to Big Bold Health for. I mean, they’re testing north of three across all four of the major antibodies—that should not be the case this far away from when I actually had the thing.
But I think what Big Bold Health represents is this idea, we can put a thing up there, naming this major highway to your health. We can see the power of discovering compounds in plants that perhaps we wouldn’t have found before. We can actually use clinicals—which is your expertise, Jeff—to do the trials, to show a real evidence around how this could connect to greater health and empower people with those tools and information, which wouldn’t have been possible five or 10 years ago, I don’t think, to find these compounds and then be tied to clinicals, and give people new a new way to think about the power of immuno-rejuvenation, which is really the big idea here of Big Bold Health, is that we’re not going to just improve it. We’re not going to just boost it for today or tomorrow. We’re actually going to give you the capacity to real-time rejuvenate your immune system, which is a direct modulation of the inflammation and the other things going on in your life that say it’s a very powerful idea that you’ve come up with here and that you’ve found in this 3,000 year old grain.
As you continue to build out this company, the potential and the progress is exciting for me to think of this idea that people could actually understand the power of the immune system, find their own personal profile and begin to measure the actual impact of their actions, and their decisions, and their choices on their personal health.
Dr. Jeff Bland:
Wow, that was unbelievably well stated. I’m often trying to find ways of taking the complexity of these ideas that relate to our immune system, which is a very complex system, and to distill it down into simple concepts that still retain truth but don’t get lost in the noise of all the details. That that concept of simplexity was just beautifully stated by you. You did it magnificently. I was listening intently to try to capture some of that brilliance of how to take complex ideas and make them more simply articulated.
We’re complementary, Jeff, because with your deep background in research and clinicals, you can get cranked up on the sites and the medical research and the linkage and the science and you can go deep with anyone. There’s no way in God’s green earth that I could ever do that with you. I just can’t keep up with that all. I can read it. But I spent a lifetime serving the customer and think about how they think about things.
I try to take what I hear from you, and then say, “Well, how does this make sense in terms of the customer who’s looking at the world, trying to figure out how to go?” And so, I think that’s where we’re complements. I do think your approach is absolutely essential at this point. We’ve got to be able to a label claim beyond just these vague label claims of structure and function that are out there right now, that have only gone as far as they can go. We need a breakthrough around this, that actually ties these things together and I think that Big Bold Health is at the forefront of that next generation label claim. It’s not just about the label claim. It’s about what the label claim represents in terms of you embracing a view that there actually is a connection here, which nobody’s been willing to say, or go out there on a limb.
You’re willing to go out there and say, “No, I’m going to back it up and I’m going to show you this, and people are going to be able to experience it.” I think it’s because of your deepness in all that science, all those studies and the way you keep up with all the particulars of how this actually works. Yeah, you’re going to have to find a way to synthesize that and put it out more simply because no one’s going to be able to keep up with you on the depth of all that, but they’re interested in the headline at that. The headline seemed to be coming together around this idea that the immune system is the great highway to health, and that you have the ability to affect that, and that you actually have your own personal profile there.
These are ideas that people can get behind and understand as they choose to look at their life and say, “How do I live a healthier life?” The potential at Big Bold Health is really around this idea that it is a big, bold idea that we could approach in this new way, and it would actually be of the science and the data behind it to backup how our system actually works in real time, in real time. It’s like you’ve got AI and machine learning in your body, but you have to turn it on and you have to be willing to use the data to correct. Software principles are the fact here, but I do think we’re a good complement in that respect.
Dr. Jeff Bland:
Well, you’ve just given me a really interesting idea. Thank you. Let me feed it back to you, see if you think I’m way off the line. We’re all seeking some kind of languaging around health claims, but then it begs the question, what is really health? Is health the absence of disease, or is it the presence of something else other than just the absence of disease?
It’s my belief that when you talk to people about their health, it’s not that they’re just talking about absence of a disease, they’re talking about something related to their function. And so, when I think back to claims under the DSHEA structure/function claims, maybe what we need to do is redefine function in a different way, so that the claims are compliant with DSHEA, but they’re really talking about health as a functional determinant, not health as the absence of a disease determinant.
If you do that, then it ties directly to the immune system because the immune system has this functional capability of plasticity. It has the capability to renew itself, to rejuvenate itself, to reform itself. It is every two months turning over, so the immune cells in our body every two months are not the same ones that they were two months previously. Are they going to be the same as, better than, or worse than those that they were there two months previously?
All of this construct that we’re starting to see develop is around function, which is around health in a different concept than just the absence of disease. Health claims could not be a disease claim. They might be a functional claim. I think that’s a really powerful concept that you’ve just thrown out there, thrown the gauntlet up that I think deserves more deep drilled thought about it.
Well, frankly, I think the customer’s sick of claims. I think we need a different word. But as I’ve already told you, I do think there’s a new lens around thinking about your life in this way, an openness and a desire to take responsibility, because everybody can see the alternative. It’s expensive, doesn’t really work that well. People get sick, they live in suboptimal conditions for a number of years, and it’s just a slow sick decline.
I think there’s a yearning for an opposite view, which is not the absence of disease but the presence of real vitality to the end of our days. That desire to live life fully is what we want to try to support. Somehow we’ve got to bring this… It’s more than just the Big Bold Health hot products. It’s got to be more than the sum of the parts. It’s got to be this idea that this is a new way to think about it and to understand how our health actually works and to support that.
Dr. Jeff Bland:
Well, we’ve unfortunately come into the end of this opportunity for us to have this discussion. But I wanted to throw out one last question which I think you speak of commonly when we’ve had our discussions, and that is the vision of what is ahead of us. What’s the future look like? Because if we can see the future, we can make that future happen. If we can’t see it, then it’s an ephemeral kind of fog for which it’s hard to direct our energies in the right way. I think you have a very clear sense as to what you’d like to see the future look like, with regard to your zone of impact. All of us have our own zone of impact. Some are broader than others. Yours is quite large. What would you like to see in the years ahead as it relates to how we’re going to transform our culture into a sustainable culture?
Yeah. I mean, I think almost 40 years a grocer, I think that as part of a team, I think we established that the quality of food does matter. All food is not created equal. It does matter how it’s raised, does matter how you think about soil. I think the market has proven there’s a demand out there for quality, not just commodity foods that have reign for so long. The big challenge here really is around making that quality accessible.
Whole Foods started out serving a couple percent of people, maybe it’s up to 25%. We still want to make this fresh, healthy food accessible to everyone. Everyone deserves to have that opportunity. We’ve got that challenge of accessibility ahead of us, to make it more broadly available at more affordable prices. But I think in general, just the recognition that, in and through the food system, whether it’s working at the supplier diversification, whether it’s working at the flavor—bringing flavor back into food, as opposed to just productivity and yield, whether it’s around the customer’s knowledge around the power of fresh foods and this connection to health, all these things are possible ahead.
It’s the work of a new generation. Our generation laid down the base notes, if you will, that food does matter, it impacts a lot of things and has a real positive potential. Quality matters. The work now, particularly as we’re creating a new generation of foods through food tech—new options of food that we could never have imagined—there’ll be a new set of choices to be made that I hope will be done in service of this larger idea of a healthier society that we talked about when we started.
Dr. Jeff Bland:
Well, Walter, on behalf of myself personally and all of our supporters of the Big Bold Health imperative, I want to thank you for not only this time, but your vision, your leadership, your insight, your passion, and your tenacity through all these decades of change. It’s a model for me to continue to push on, and I hope it’s a model for everyone that’s had an opportunity to listen to this, to bring their energy to bear on this global opportunity for transformation of self. So thanks a million.
Thanks so much, Jeff. Good to be with you as always.
Dr. Jeff Bland:
Be well. Thank you.