Kosher plant-based food conference comes to Jerusalem - opinion

The awareness of lifestyle medicine has grown exponentially and more and more physicians are being trained in it. We are now in the next generation of plant-based health providers.

 Chickpea meat burger (photo credit: RUTI AMANO)
Chickpea meat burger
(photo credit: RUTI AMANO)

History is about to be made in Jerusalem. It’s a “first-ever” event and it is far more significant than one might think. But before we talk about the first-ever Whole Food Plant Based (WFPB) conference for kosher consumers, let’s go back about a hundred years and put this event into context.

Sometimes, in order for the truth to come out, it takes people to go against the grain. It takes people who are willing to look at the science and not just do what everyone else does. In the late 1940s, Dr. Walter Kempner was at Duke University when he developed what came to be known as The Rice Diet. 

Kempner had many patients with malignant hypertension with kidney failure and there really weren’t any great treatment options back then. The diet consisted of white rice, sugar, fruit, and fruit juices. All animal proteins were removed.

The results were amazing and he turned around hypertension, kidney disease, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and obesity. He was a true pioneer and as Dr. John Mcdougall points out, all of the pioneers of lifestyle medicine today really owe a debt to Kempner. But it didn’t stop there.

In 1957, Dr. Denis Burkitt, a surgeon, began looking at large medical epidemics. He noticed that the great bulk of diseases occurring in the Western world – heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and many others – were surprisingly rare in rural Africa. During 20 years of surgical practice in Africa, he removed only two gallbladders, something he might have done on a single morning in any London hospital.

 Vgarden Tuna Salad. (credit: HAGIT GOREN)
Vgarden Tuna Salad. (credit: HAGIT GOREN)

Differing diets

Other conditions, from appendicitis to colon cancer, were rare in Africa, but common in Europe. He ruled out genetics and proposed that the culprit was diet. In Europe and the Americas, diets were low-fiber as opposed to the fiber-rich African diet. He was one of the first to suggest that it wasn’t our genes that were causing chronic disease, but rather our diet. 

In spite of Kempner’s and Burkitt’s discoveries, modern medicine continued to rely on drugs, surgeries, and procedures to treat various chronic diseases. While Burkitt was making his discoveries, Nathan Pritikin (not a medical doctor) was trying to figure out his own health problems. He researched thoroughly and met Dr. Lester Morrison who was using a very low-fat diet to treat many of his cardiac patients.

Pritikin then developed his version of Morrison’s diet. His cholesterol dropped and his ECG became normal. In 1975, he opened his Center for Longevity. He focused on this low-fat, low-cholesterol, high-fiber diet that he developed and his results were truly amazing. Over a three-week period, looking at 4,587 participants, they saw an average 23% drop in total cholesterol, 23% drop in LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, 24% drop in non-HDL cholesterol, and 33% in triglycerides.

As Dr. Michael Greger reminds us in his book, How Not to Die, his grandmother was told by her cardiologist to go home and get things in order as there was nothing else to do. She went to Pritikin, was wheeled in and after switching to the Pritikin program, walked out. She lived another 29 years. 

Keep in mind that Pritikin had no medical training. But he followed the research and saw what happened. This was the first popularized use of a WFPB diet to reverse disease. 

By the mid-1980s, Dr. Dean Ornish was putting his heart trial together to test the power of lifestyle, primarily with nutrition, to reverse heart disease and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn was persuading the Cleveland Clinic to send him some people with heart disease to see if diet could also bring reversal. Both doctors succeeded, using whole food, plant-based diet to reverse heart disease.

Just look at the angiograms before and then going forward into the trials and you can see it for yourself. It was during this period that Dr. T. Colin Campbell was involved in his 30+ year study of the effect of animal proteins on cancer. This became known as The China Study. All of these trials and research clearly showed that the single best diet to prevent and reverse chronic disease was WFPB eating. 

As Greger points out time and again, since 1990, we’ve had the answer to heart disease. We just haven’t implemented it. 

The power of plants

THE BIGGEST turning point occurred 12 years ago. On May 6, 2011, and empowering documentary called Forks over Knives was released. I don’t think anything has brought more awareness to the power of plants than this movie did. Featuring Drs. Barnard, Ornish, Campbell, McDougall, Pulde, Lederman, Popper, and others, this documentary put all the research out for the public to consume. It’s still amazing to me that research that would benefit mankind in so many ways managed to be so suppressed for so long.

More than 20 million people have viewed Forks over Knives. Its positive impact is immeasurable. It started yours truly on his own plant-based journey. Many other documentaries have come out since, including What the Health, Diet Fiction, Eating You Alive, Plant Pure Nation, The Game Changers, and now many, many more.

In addition, numerous books, all well-researched and well-sourced, have hit the market. The authors include Greger, Dr. Saray Stancic, Campbell, Ornish, Esselstyn, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Dr. Brooke Goldner, Dr. Will Bulsiewicz, and many more.

The awareness of lifestyle medicine has grown exponentially and more and more physicians are being trained in it. We are now in the next generation of plant-based health providers. Even though we are still a long way away from lifestyle being a standard front-line treatment, there are now more than 10,000 physicians who are members of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine and 20,000 affiliated with the PCRM. 

In Europe and Israel, PAN is guiding doctors on how to use nutrition and showing them that it is indeed the most powerful tool we have to treat and prevent chronic and autoimmune diseases. This is a slow and arduous process; however, it is progressing.

Conferences abound yearly on lifestyle medicine and WFPB. They are attended by thousands of people, doctors and laymen alike. These have turned out to be major events where new research papers are presented. New ideas on how to transition patients from SAD – standard American diet – to a plant-predominant diet are discussed. 

This brings us to July 11, at the Nefesh B’Nefesh office in Jerusalem.

Thanks mostly to Debbie Ezra, the first conference for Whole Food Plant Based and Vegan Kosher eaters are about to take place. Two major plant-based doctors will be speaking – Dr. Miriam Maisel from Tel Aviv and Dr. Malka Mann from New York. Workshops will be held (I hope to be giving one), and many vendors will be showing their healthy vegan products. Now here’s the clincher – it’s free. 

It’s been a long journey, but it’s really happening. Be a part of history – register online for the conference. You don’t have to be a plant-based or vegan eater to attend. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that the information and knowledge you will gain can have a positive impact on the quality of your health for the rest of your life. I look forward to seeing you there. Your attendance will “add hours to your days, days to your years, and years to your life.”

The writer is a health and wellness coach and personal trainer with more than 25 years of professional experience. He is the director of The Wellness Clinic. Contact him at