Healing with Diet: An Interview with Benji Kurtz

Food=Medicine Conference is All About Plant-Based Health!

Benji Kurtz lost half his bodyweight on a plant based diet. Here's his story, and how he's working to help others take control of their health.Benji Kurtz lost half his bodyweight on a plant based diet. Here’s his story, and how he’s working to help others take control of their health.

In mid-November, I got the chance to attend the Food=Medicine Conference here in Atlanta, Georgia. The conference was organized by Benji Kurtz, a man who transformed his own health by changing the way that he ate.

Related: Eating Healthy Food on a Budget

With New Year’s Eve coming soon, and all of the resolutions that go along with it, I thought it would be a good time to share this short Q&A with Benji Kurtz. Maybe his story will inspire you to eat more plants in the new year. He has a big project in the works that can help support you!

Can you share a little bit about your own journey to plant-based eating?

Sure – I was a lifelong obese adult, and had tried every which way to lose weight that there is, including ‘healthy’ weight loss as our country knows it – low carbs, ‘healthy’ lean meats, vegetables, etc. As everyone else who tries to lose weight this way knows, at a certain point, willpower will lose out to the brain, and when the carbs rush back, so do the pounds.

I wasn’t even looking for a solution when one found me. My wife and I were simply browsing through documentaries available to rent on the Tivo when we saw one that looked intriguing – Forks Over Knives – we watched the film, and a lightbulb clicked on.

This was the first time that the science and the advice given about weight loss and health seemed logical to me – the idea of a bacon-wrapped filet cooked in butter and olive oil being healthy while eating corn, rice and potatoes were not – that never really made sense to me (although you can certainly lose weight that way).

The science presented in Forks Over Knives made sense to me, and we both decided to give it a try, just for a month. The pounds fell away, and while they did, I plunged myself into books, YouTube presentations from plant-based pioneers – hours and hours’ worth. The more I learned, the more I became convinced that this is indeed the diet humans are designed to eat. A year later, I was down 100 lbs, and when all was said and done, I had lost half my weight over roughly 18 months.

Was this what inspired you to put together the Food = Medicine Conference?

We flew to Southern California twice, in fall of 2013 and 2014, to take part in Jeff Nelson’s VegSource conferences – these conferences are pretty easy to find on the west coast, but here in the south, where we are fat and sick, where that information is so needed – there was nothing. On that plane ride back in 2014, I decided to start putting out feelers with some of the potential speakers about building an event here. A year later, we had our first live event in Atlanta!

Who are your plant-based nutrition heroes?

Probably the same as many others – Dr. McDougall, Dr. Esselstyn, Dr. Campbell, Dr. Greger, Dr. Barnard.

At this year’s conference, you announced the launch of Remedy Food Project. Can you talk a bit about what the project hopes to accomplish?

Sure – Remedy Food Project will have three main areas of focus: Remedy Food Live Events, Remedy Food 21-Day Programs, and Remedy Prepared Foods.

Our live events will be very similar to the Food=Medicine Conference – bringing together a diverse audience to hear from a group of plant-based pioneers, physicians, surgeons, athletes, cookbook authors, chefs and social media personalities. We’ll be taking the show on the road – our next live event is in Toronto, with future events in the works in various venues and locations around North America.

Our 21-day programs will invite at-risk members of the community interested in improving their health to attend 6-7 sessions over three weeks, allow us to do health tests and bloodwork on both sides of the 21-day period. We’ll provide education, three healthy, plant-based meals for all 21 days, cooking instruction, perhaps a grocery shopping lesson, and lifelong learning resources about how to live a healthy plant-based life after the course.

Related: How a Plant-Based Diet Can Save the Planet

We’ll have a research component to these programs, taking written records of all participants’ success, and we’ll be able to release those studies over time as we build up the number of members of the community we’re able to help.

Since we’ll be preparing healthy plant-based meals for the 21-day program in a commercial kitchen, we intend to make these meals available to the public. We know that convenience is important to many, and we want to make it as easy as possible for any member of the public to eat in a way that is health-promoting, doesn’t contribute to the destruction of our environment, and is cruelty-free.

What can folks expect at a Remedy Food Project live event? Will it be similar to the Food = Medicine conference? Will there be any differences?

The only differences will be improvements we make over time – we never want to be static or stand still, so there will definitely be minor tweaks and changes after each live event – but the concept will be exactly the same as the Food=Medicine Conference, only with a different name.

Where can folks keep up with what you guys are doing?

We just released a book that summarizes my journey and includes recipes contributed from several very talented cookbook authors and chefs. The Plant Advantage is available in paperback and kindle editions exclusively from Amazon. Our website is remedyfood.org, and our facebook page is Remedy Food Project.

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