John Grossenbacher (00:00):
A really good history informs us in a way that nothing else does.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:09):
Welcome to The Doctor’s Farmacy. I’m Dr. Mark Hyman and that’s Farmacy with an F, F-A-R-M-A-C-Y, a place for conversations that matter. And if you care about where America is going after this horrible episode we’re having in this moment, COVID-19, economic catastrophe, the results from it and the social unrest that we’re seeing today, then this conversation is one you want to listen closely to. Because this is with an extraordinary man. A man who spent his life serving our country, John Grossenbacher, who’s a Navy veteran. He’s a submariner, he was the captain of a nuclear attack submarine, and he rose to be the vice-admiral and commander of the US Submarine Forces. So he’s in charge of all the nuclear submarines that were pointed at Russia, and has quite an extraordinary, extraordinary history of service to this country. He’s led in the military in organization of 25,000 people.
Dr. Mark Hyman (01:04):
He went around the world, around the country. He served multiple times in the Pentagon, worked with the executive branch, congressional leaders. And then after the Navy, he became the director of the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory where I used to work in Idaho as a family doctor. And he knows the little town, Oro fino where I spent many years as a small town family doc. And it’s an incredible facility, employs 4000 people, 900 square miles. And he led the Science and Engineering Research in Energy Environmental National Homeland Security. He’s advised governors, senators, congressman, state and local leaders, and even internationally on energy, environmental and homeland security matters. And he’s married to a very good friend of mine, Tracy Daudet, who’s an extraordinary woman. That’s how I kind of got to know him. And he and she are quite a power couple.
Dr. Mark Hyman (01:54):
Tracy was the head of the VAs Office of Patient Experience, trying to help improve the quality of care in a more holistic way. She ran Andy Weil’s Integrative Healthcare Program, the Duke Integrative Health Program. She’s been a good friend for 25 years. And I think you guys are just an incredible, incredible couple. And recently John has been working on thinking about America in a new way. Thinking about, what should America look like after COVID-19? How do we want it to look? And even before this, he’s written extensively on saving America, saving the idea that is America. And you know, we look at what’s happening in America today, it seems very far off from the idea that our founding fathers had, Jefferson, and Washington, and Franklin, and Madison. All those characters who were so thoughtful, so perceptive, so deeply thinking about how to solve some of the big problems facing society and nations. And we seem to have gotten so, so far from that. So, welcome, John, and I’m so excited to have you on the podcast to talk about some of these issues.
John Grossenbacher (02:58):
Thanks Mark, it’s great to be here. Thank you. And it’s great to see you.
Dr. Mark Hyman (03:03):
Great to see you too. All right, so, a lot of your writing and research lately has been after running the world, saving us from imminent nuclear threat, is writing about this concept of saving the idea that is America. What do you mean by that? And why does it need saving? And how do we do that?
John Grossenbacher (03:23):
Well, the idea is an important one. And I think it’s really unique in history, that a group of people, very diverse people come together, and they say, “We’re going to figure out how to govern ourselves. And it’s going to take some… it’s going to take self-discipline. But we’re willing to work together to do that and do it in a way that affords everybody a very high degree of individual choice and freedom.” That’s unique in world history, that a group of people comes together and creates an organization, a government to do that. So that’s what I mean by the idea that is America. I think it’s under threat, I think it’s drowning today. I think all we have to do is look around us. And I understand, there’s always a tendency to look at the problems of the day and say, “Oh, they’re terrible, and they’re historically really bad.” Well, these are historically really bad.
John Grossenbacher (04:16):
Our political system is dysfunctional, we can’t get big things done. It’s open partisan warfare between parties. A lack of governance, we can’t get fundamental things done. Our economic system is out of balance. There are restraining forces that used to be in place that controlled a lot of the activity in the economy that aren’t there anymore, they’re not effective. And so what do we have? We have a gross income inequality at a level that’s just not sustainable. And a concentration of wealth in a relatively small number of individuals. So our politics, or economics, our education system isn’t serving us, our public education system. So I think that idea is drowning in a sea of all those, what I call, societal system failures. And it’s happening simultaneously. And now, to add onto that, the tragedy of this virus and then the social unrest. It’s serious, it’s big time.
Dr. Mark Hyman (05:23):
You know, it’s really true. I think this monopolization of wealth in America is pretty interesting. During the turn of the 1900s, there was a lot of efforts to break up monopolies, the big monopolies of steel, and railroad monopolies, and oil. And it was very successful, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act was in place. And that was sort of repealed under Reagan in some ways that allowed for, at least in the areas that I know about, incredible consolidation in the industry. For example, the Food and Agriculture Industry. I mean, there were hundreds of seed companies in America that were providing seeds to farmers. Now there’s four main companies. There were so many different slaughter houses and food processors, and now there’s four main processors of meat in America. Smith field which produces pork is one plant that got shut down, produces 5% of all the pork in America.
Dr. Mark Hyman (06:26):
And so, we’re seeing the break in our supply chain with incredible centralization and monopolization of industry, that when it breaks, it really has an impact. As opposed to one farmer and one slaughter house going down out of hundreds or thousands, it’s not going to have an impact. So we’re seeing this incredible break in our society. We’re seeing… it’s sort of revealed by the cracks that are apparent now with the pandemic of coronavirus. It’s the worst pandemic since 1918, with the incredible crushing economic blow that’s it’s given our society, where 40 million people are out of work. And the economic scale, the destruction in people’s lives is staggering. There’s 40% of Americans who can’t withstand a $400 emergency, 40%. And those 40% now are having way more than a $400 emergency. And then on top of that we’re seeing the fragility of our social fabric, in the death of George Floyd and the incredible unrest that that’s provoked across the spectrum of society.
Dr. Mark Hyman (07:40):
I mean, that scope of the protests, the number of people out there saying, “Enough is enough. I can’t breathe.” I mean, it’s just… I think it’s a metaphor for how, “I can’t breathe,” that so man people feel, I can’t breathe with the weight of all of these things that are happening today in America. And the polarization of the economic inequalities, the health disparities, the social inequalities. I mean, this is not America that we want, is it?
John Grossenbacher (08:06):
No, it isn’t. It isn’t. And the road, the path out of this, the path forward I think is going to be extraordinarily difficult. I mean, I don’t try to use words like unprecedented, you know? But it is unprecedented. I mean, let’s just think about it. First, we’ve got to manage our way-
Dr. Mark Hyman (08:25):
Yeah, your a military guy, you’re not prone to hyperbole, right?
John Grossenbacher (08:27):
I try not to be.
Dr. Mark Hyman (08:30):
No, understated, just the facts. And if you’re saying that, we should pay attention.
John Grossenbacher (08:34):
Well, we got to our manage our way out of this virus in a competent and compassionate way. You know, we know… I mean public health experts have made it clear what we need to do to protect the vulnerable, to protect our essential workers, and to begin reopening the economy, begin economic activity in a way that doesn’t take on undue risk. So, we know how to do that. It’s not going to be easy. But we can do that. Then we have to step back, we have to bury our dead, over 100,000 dead. And we have to take care of those people who are going to have a long path to recovery from the impact of the virus on them. And we have to be prepared for the surprises. Because we call it a novel virus for a reason. And we’ve got a lot to learn about it. And undoubtedly there will be some positive and negative surprises. Then we can start to think about rebuilding our communities, our citizenship, our infrastructures and our economy.
John Grossenbacher (09:48):
We’ve got the systems of politics, economics, education that we have, so we’re going to have to use those. But I think we’re going to have to take every opportunity for reform. It won’t change the system, let’s be honest with ourself. But it’ll move things in the right direction. So, politics. Let’s have fully funded elections, get the money out of politics, it’s a competition of ideas. You and your competitor all get the same money and the same TV time, good luck, you know, have at it. Economics. Now, clearly the minimum wage has to be increased. We have to take on issues like corporate governance, where CEOs can’t just think that their only responsibility, or their prime responsibility is returning value to the shareholders. What about their employees? What about the communities? What about sense of social responsibility?
John Grossenbacher (10:42):
So, we’ve got those reforms to get through to rebuild and get ourselves back on our feet. And in the meantime, we’ve got to feed, we’ve got to clothe, and we’ve got to house a lot of people. The economic impact of this pandemic, and near great depression levels of unemployment is not going to go away easily. And there are going to be people that are hungry and need a lot of help, and we don’t know how to do that. We haven’t done that in modern times. So, we’re going to have to do that. Then, we can turn our attention to what I think the long-term issues are, in terms of changing these societal systems of politics, economics, education. I think how we use technology is an important factor as well. And that won’t be easy. Because they’re big, they’re complicated, there’s lots of stakeholders, but we have to take that on.
Dr. Mark Hyman (11:45):
Wow. That’s a whole lot of reform.
John Grossenbacher (11:49):
Yeah, it is.
Dr. Mark Hyman (11:50):
So reform is clearly needed. We’re talking about big ideas. We’re talking about reforming elections, reforming campaign finance, reforming corporate governance, reforming digital technology platforms, reforming social welfare programs. I mean, this is like a whole revolutionary idea coming from a submarine commander, an Admiral.
John Grossenbacher (12:11):
Dr. Mark Hyman (12:13):
You sound like a hippie from the ’60s, I don’t know. So I don’t know what’s going on here. But, I think the question really I think we’re all going to have is, how do you get this done? Is it doable? We know what needs to get done, but it doesn’t get done. So, how do we break that logjam?
John Grossenbacher (12:31):
I think in the near term there’s lots of policy things that can be done that will be helpful. I think how we elect our representatives, the whole primary system. There’s lots of what I call nuts and bolts things that can be done. And I think, if there’s enough interest, if there’s a broad social movement for change, then you can get support for those kinds of things. In the economic area there’s really big things. Like, what would happen if we reimagined our economy as not being based on consumption? But on yes, consumption, but substantially more savings and investments in public goods, the things that are important to us all, infrastructures, education. Things that the private sector doesn’t do. So, those big kind of changes aren’t going to come from small, what I would call, incremental policy changes.
John Grossenbacher (13:32):
We’ve got to take on a process of engaging, educating, informing Americans, and getting them much more involved in their government. To an American citizen, that’s the most important thing that we have to do right now, is we have to get involved much more than we’ve been in any of our memories, I’ll even say, any of our lifetimes. Then we can do it. Because we can engage, we can empower, we can inform the millions of amazing people in this country who will come up with approaches that are far more sustainable in terms of how our systems work. Because systems and the institutions, the organizations within them… The term I like to use is that their sticky. They don’t change easily. There’s lots of reasons for that. But to take on a major system change in politics, economics, is enormous. It’s going to take a grass roots level effort. Not just engage citizens, not just even a broad-based community support, it’s going to take an overt effort to educate, inform and engage Americans.
John Grossenbacher (14:56):
And our role is, we have to want to do it. We have to want to change the direction of our country. And I think it’s also extremely important that everybody who’s not suffering right now, be engaged in this, and be involved in leading it. One, they have a lot more influence on the current system. But I think it’s incumbent upon us all to look around us and say, “Is this what we want? Is this the future of our country that we want?” And they’re going to have to also engage so that they earn the trust of the rest of us. That we all really believe, “We’re all in this together, and I’m going to do my part.” And that doesn’t mean we all agree. Nobody expects unanimity. But we’ve got to be able to work together to from a consensus, and where necessary compromise and move forward. And we can’t do that if we continue in the direction that we’re headed, with the polarization that has developed a lack of participation.
Dr. Mark Hyman (16:06):
So, John, what I think is interesting to me is, thinking about America. I was sitting with my wife this morning talking, taking a walk. And we were talking about America, and what’s happening, and should we stay, should we go? What’s going to happen in the next election? What’s going to happen, you know, society seems to break down. And it’s really clear that a lot of the things that made America great, the individualism, self-determination, the American dream, people being able to sort of rise up out of the ashes and to reclaim their lives and become successes. I mean, there’s a whole sort of mythology of America. But the mythology of America has actually prevented us from understanding the way in which we’re interconnected, interdependent, and to think collectively about solving our problems. It’s all about me, mine, us and not we. And I think it’s a challenge. And we combine that sort of DNA of America with the rise of consumers and materialism-
John Grossenbacher (17:09):
Dr. Mark Hyman (17:09):
… and the sort of culture of image, and beauty, and fame, and celebrity, we’re sort of ending up in a very scary place from my perspective. And some people will call it the decline of the American empire. You could sort of argue that that’s not inevitable, that we can do something about that. But you also challenge this idea of the original American dream, which sort of value-climbing society’s ladder, accomplishment, material wealth. And you sort of asked a very important question, is that what we want? Is that the dream we should have now? Is that enough? Can you talk about that, and how-
John Grossenbacher (17:45):
Yeah. You know, I think the whole, the term, the American dream has been with us for a while, probably close to 100 years in terms of climbing the societal ladder to the things you talked about. As a statement, I don’t think it’s bad. The problem is how we define success, how we define the ladder that we climb within society. And that’s what’s got to change. Part and parcel of any of the reforms, any of the societal system changes that we need. The foundation is for us to talk about what’s important to us, what we value. And I’m not talking about these temporary arguments over abortion and gun rights, no, no, no. Things that are more fundamental. You know, what are values? What we do learn at home? What do we learn at school? They govern how I live my life, how I treat you, how you treat me. Those are the things we’ve got to come to grips with.
John Grossenbacher (18:49):
And it’s things like, well, I think people should be honest, I think we should try to be honest. We should try to be fair. Shouldn’t we try to be fair to one another? How about generous? Generosity is a good thing, you know? Hopeful. Yeah, hopefulness is confident optimism, let’s be positive about what we can do together. Humility. And it’s not false humility. You know, I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t know anybody that does. So the way to get to the answers to hard questions is, we have to be humble and listen to one another, even though we disagree, so that we can work together. And last but not least on my list of these values, is patriotism. And I’m not talking about this, we’re number [crosstalk 00:19:39] one, American first nationalism. Patriotism is, we’re all in this together, and it’s important to me that this succeeds. So I’m going to do my part.
Dr. Mark Hyman (19:52):
You know actually, I had a bit of hope when this all started, because I saw America and the world coming together to adhere to social norms that we would not have really imagined possible, where we’re all sheltering in place. Not just for our own protection, but for each other. Why are we wearing masks? So that we don’t get sick, so we don’t infect others. And I think there’s some people who are not doing it. But for the most part, it’s pretty universal. Wherever I go I see people really being part of our collective community. And I think that we need more of that. And one of the things, reflecting on what you said is that, our educational system, we’re not educating children to be thoughtful engaged citizens. And it’s almost like we’re creating a workforce of autonotoms who don’t know how to critically think. And it’s driving so much at the lack of ability to sort through information, to make sense of things, to think about things carefully and thoughtfully.
Dr. Mark Hyman (20:46):
I mean, I do remember going to school, and I was like, “This is terrible.” I was in high school, first year of high school, 10th grade, and I was like, “This is not for me.” And I literally dropped out in 10th grade and went and found an alternative school where I was able to create my own curriculum and engage in sort of a intellectual curiosity, and critical thinking, and discovery, and things that were just not part of the regular curriculum. And then I really had the privilege of going to a top college in America, Cornell, where you are taught to analyze, and to think, and to critique and not just accept at face value, and think carefully. Even in medical school, honestly, it was rote learning, it was just, I was in automic time, pump through information and expect you to memorize it and regurgitate it out. And I just rebelled at that.
Dr. Mark Hyman (21:40):
In fact, I began to… I mean, I barely got in because I was an Asian studies major, and I majored in Buddhism and not in science, or biology or chemistry. And I barely passed a few of the science courses. And I did all right on the MCATs, but it took a lot of work. I spent days and days, and hours and months studying and studying. And I sort of got in at the last minute. But I ended up being at the top of my class. And I think the difference was, that I had the ability to sort through the information, the flood of information, and understand what was important, what was not important, what was the narrative and story behind it, and how to think critically about it, and to analyze, not just to memorize.
Dr. Mark Hyman (22:22):
And I feel like America has just lost that. Like when I see Americans thinking that Hillary Clinton was running a pedophile sex ring in the bottom of a pizza parlor, and that they actually don’t go, “Wait, that doesn’t really make sense.” And that they’re literally going there and protesting. Like, wow. We have created a nation… And it happens on both sides, right?
John Grossenbacher (22:46):
Yeah. Oh sure, sure.
Dr. Mark Hyman (22:47):
And so it’s like, wow. Like, we need to start there. And that’s sort of what you were speaking to is, how do we create a culture of values? How do we create a culture where people are understanding what our values are, how to think critically about issues, how to work in collective ways to solve problems. It seems kind of sad to me that, how do we resurrect a thoughtful citizenry?
John Grossenbacher (23:11):
Yeah. Well, let me make a couple points about that. I think first of all, getting everybody to sit down and talk about values when they’re trying to get through the day is a difficult thing to do. I recognize that. But this is also the business of spiritual leaders, the [crosstalk 00:23:30] leaders, philosophists. I mean, we need to have these kinds of conversations. It doesn’t matter where they occur. They could be in the bar, even at the barber shop. Who do you talk to about the stuff that really matters to you? Most of the time it’s family. So, we need to make an overt effort to stimulate those conversations. I sometimes think approach is like… I don’t know if you’re familiar with America in One Room, but this kind of experiment runs by some folks out of Stanford to get Americans of vastly different opinions together in one room, [crosstalk 00:24:05] and with some supervision and guidance, get them to talk about things. And guess what? They are less far apart than we imagine they are, and they can come together.
John Grossenbacher (24:15):
So I think there has to be that kind of effort. We have lots of holidays. Maybe we need several citizen days, we’ve got to make the time and place to do this. The education system is a classic case of a big complex system. And one of the challenges in our country, is it’s so highly decentralized. And that makes, to me, a highly decentralized systems like that, they defy top down solutions. There’s too many stakeholders that you’re giving guidance and direction to, and they don’t work for you, and it’s their money. And so it’s hard to change those systems. They can be changed. Today I think the most important thing we could do is help the school boards, the teachers, the government officials who own these schools and are responsible directly with the parents and with the teachers to the students. I think we’ve got to help them. They need university level resources in terms of data collection and analysis, understanding what works and what doesn’t, sharing lessons and getting better. Being able to say what’s politically incorrect. And I think the universities could help do that.
John Grossenbacher (25:33):
But the other thing about what you’re saying, I think we have to face up to, and this is hard. It’s the impact of technology on our lives. And I never blame technology. Because I think technology is just stuff. It’s things, it’s amusements we create. Because we think they’re helpful. Either they’re tools, or we like them. And we’ve been doing it for millions of years.
Dr. Mark Hyman (25:57):
Or they were designed to be addictive.
John Grossenbacher (25:58):
Yeah, a lot of them are. [crosstalk 00:26:00].
Dr. Mark Hyman (26:01):
I mean, it’s sort of like food, right? I mean, food is great, we all need it, it’s delicious. But certain foods are designed to be addictive, hijack your brain chemistry. And certain technologies and tools serve us, and others have been designed to actually hijack our brains, which a lot of the digital technology does.
John Grossenbacher (26:13):
Dr. Mark Hyman (26:14):
That’s why many of the founders and creators of these big tech companies don’t let their kids use their phone, or iPads, or social media. I mean, it’s quite interesting when you see the level of concern about how this is affecting our kids and even our adults. Now, my wife is taking off of all technology-
John Grossenbacher (26:33):
Good for her.
Dr. Mark Hyman (26:33):
… and I’m hoping to do that soon. This summer is my goal. I have a few things to clean up first, like this podcast. But I do find that when you disconnect from it, it brings you back to being a human as opposed to being a passive consumer, and information is fed to you that you think is actually your choice, but is actually being fed to you in ways that are highly manipulative based on millions of data points from your online activity, and your phone activity, and your geolocation. I mean, it’s kind of terrifying. I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie The Great Hack, which everybody-
John Grossenbacher (27:03):
No, I haven’t.
Dr. Mark Hyman (27:03):
… should watch. But it’s a movie about Cambridge Analytica, and how they manipulated the populace through a very targeted social media “misinformation” campaigns, personality type people and targeted messages based on the personality type to control what they were behaving. So, for example, if someone is fear-based, then they actually appeal to that. If someone is sort of empathy-based, they appeal to that. And then they can manipulate their choices and behavior. And you think you’re an autonomous human being, where actually you’re not. So I think there’s a level of like, where they’re agnostic, but they’re also, they can be designed in ways that are not.
John Grossenbacher (27:43):
Yeah. I’d like to say that technology, particularly modern visual technologies as you talked about, they abstract reality. They present us with an abstract picture of it. And if you surround yourself in it enough, without even thinking about it, that’ll become your sense of reality. Particularly of things you don’t know anything about. But the other thing I think gets done, is we’ve always had demigods and crooks. I mean they’ve always been part of society. But now, now we give them an opportunity and a way to connect with each and every one of us.
Dr. Mark Hyman (28:18):
John Grossenbacher (28:19):
Yeah. Well, that they never had before. And guess what? That gets utilized and they’re taking advantage of a lot of people.
Dr. Mark Hyman (28:28):
Yeah. It’s quite a situation we’re in now. One of the things I want to talk to you about is this whole idea of how this pandemic is really going to affect us going forward. And you talked about not going back to the new normal, and not wanting to sort of just go, let’s get back to normal. Well, no, we don’t want to get back to normal. Because normal wasn’t good. Normal was sort of what we’re seeing now happening in America with the pressurized effects of the pandemic, the economic hardship and the racial injustice. I mean, it’s sort of exploding and it’s now hard to deny. So, how do you see us moving into a new normal that’s quite different?
John Grossenbacher (29:15):
Yeah. I think, and listening to you say all that, it breaks my heart, it really does. But first, go back to, we have to competently and compassionately manage our way through the virus. And then we’re going to have to look at what’s happening in the rest of the world, because it’s going to impact us. And there’s certainly lots of concern about the potential for a famine, given that in other countries the supply chain for a lot of their food sources is a lot more fragile than ours. So, are we going to have to deal with large scale famines around the world? Is there going to be refugee flows and political unrest associated with that? Could be. And I think we’re going to have to soberly, and constructively, and compassionately face those challenges together. Then I think we begin the rebuilding that I talked about. And certainly rebuilding the economy, but rebuilding our communities, our citizenship. And at every step of the way we’ve got to say, “What are we doing that we don’t want to do anymore? What can we change today?” And you can go through a long list of things-
Dr. Mark Hyman (30:30):
What are the top things that you think really need to shift as a result of this?
John Grossenbacher (30:35):
Well, I think the things I would go address first… and really, all the pandemic did was highlight them. They were pre-existing conditions. So, get the money out of politics. Have funded elections as I said earlier. Reduce [inaudible 00:30:53]. We can come up with a computer model that’s acceptable to all the states, that allocates, representation. And now there’s no more politicizing that process. Economically, I do think we’ve got some significant monopolies that we need to break up. We need a sense of social responsibility. There needs to be responsibility in corporations. I mentioned the minimum wage. Education, we’ve got to resource… and I would use… I like the land-grant university concept of the United States, they were created I think by Abraham Lincoln.
John Grossenbacher (31:31):
We wanted education, so let’s create institutions, by I say go create one and we’ll give you this land as an endowment. And so you’ve got some money to get started. And that’s where all, I think just about all of our state universities came from. Well, let’s use them in a different way now. We need them. Because they are a repository of knowledge and educational expertise that needs to be tapped to move us forward in the long-term, and the long-term reforms.
Dr. Mark Hyman (32:01):
So, you talk about how you work with governors, senators, congressmen in the White House, local and state leaders. I’m very interested in food system reform. Because I feel like it’s sort of central to a lot of our problems. It’s sort of central to a lot of the economic stress we’re seeing. It’s central to the chronic disease stress in terms of national security which we’ll talk about in terms of the military, it affects our kid’s ability to learn in school. It affects the environment and loss about diversity, climate change. These are all massive issues that are in some way or another connected to food, some more than others. And we need to sort of shift that. How do you see that kind of reform happenings? And how do we sort of get leadership to get that this is an issue? Maybe they do get it, and they just are so entrenched that they’re able to actually do anything about it.
John Grossenbacher (32:50):
Well, I think it’s a classic problem of a big complex interactive social system. And you know, when you draw a circle around it, you say it’s the food system, that’s just for purposes of discussion. I mean, you can’t separate the food system from politics. You can’t separate the food system from economics. So, the first step is to have great respect for the complexity of a system like that and what it takes to change it. I think the first step, and I think your work is promoting this, is you got to build the foundation for a broad social movement. You’ve got to educate, engage, empower individualists, these amazing people in our country who will things, you know,
Dr. Mark Hyman and
John Grossenbacher never thought of. But that’s a foundation. Now the harder part I think for us, and it’s why so many reform efforts fail, system reforms, is you got to have enough people who can step back and study, and I’ll even say, admire this system.
John Grossenbacher (33:56):
Because if you don’t begin to understand how it works as a system, then you can’t make the changes, make changes that’ll last. So for example, the high leverage areas you want to change a system, first of all change the paradigm under which the system operates, okay? We don’t want to have a disease care system anymore, we want to have a healthcare system. Change the purpose of the system. We don’t want a food system that delivers cheap calories. We want a food care system that delivers nutrition. Change the structure of the system, and I’ve read your book. And part of the problem is big agriculture, and big food, and big seed, break them up. Create the opportunity for change by making them smaller, with no objective other than you’re changing the structure of the system, and now it can adapt and be more susceptible to change that’s supported by a broad social movement.
John Grossenbacher (34:59):
So that’s the kind of thing it takes. It’s long-term, and in my opinion you got to do it all. You got to have the broad social movement. And when you’re doing the broad social movement you can take on the obvious changes that you can make today, and that you know people will support. But don’t fool yourself. That’s not going to change the system. To go after the system, a lot of system experts say you have to learn to dance with it. And my experience tells me that’s true. And it’s hard. And it’s why so many particularly societal systems, because of their enormous complexity. That’s why those kind of reforms fail.
Dr. Mark Hyman (35:38):
So, you were a Vice Admiral of the US Navy, you were commander of all the US submarine forces around the world. And what we’re seeing now is sort of a terrifying, from my perspective, terrifying trend, which is that 70% of recruits from the military are rejected because they’re unfit to fight. And 700 retired admirals and generals in mission readiness, which has formed a group of them called Mission Readiness. Where they created a report called Unhealthy and Unprepared. And what was striking, was not only are a lot of people rejected because they’re obese, overweight, and unfit in other ways. But that of active military, there’s a huge problem of unhealth, and unhealthy overweight military.
Dr. Mark Hyman (36:22):
And during Iraq and Afghanistan, there were over 70% more evacuations for obesity related complications than for war injuries. Which I found a staggering statistic. So, how did you see that yourself? And did you notice this challenge when you were there? And was your conversation about it? And how does the military take a leadership in this. Because, they have aligned interest. You said before when we were chatting that, healthcare costs for the military, I think it must include the VA, right? It’s $50 billion a year.
John Grossenbacher (36:54):
No, just the Department of Defense healthcare.
Dr. Mark Hyman (36:56):
Oh, jeez. Okay. So forget the VA. Which I don’t know how many billions that is, it’s a lot of billions. $50 billion. And these are, you’re thinking $50 billion, okay, fine if you’re a bunch of 65-year-old people with diabetes. But these we’re talking about people in their 20s and 30s who are healthy, supposedly healthy, and it’s $50 billion. So, how did you notice this? What did you see the challenges of where to addressing this? And how do you think the military can be a leader in taking some of the initiative around changing the food and food systems, at least within the [crosstalk 00:37:26].
John Grossenbacher (37:26):
Yeah. I mean, it’s important to remember, the military is just a cross section of American society that comes together. Today they all volunteer to come together for this mission, to serve. So they have… If America is obese and unhealthy, guess what? The input to the military is obese and unhealthy. And then the challenge of the military leaders immediately, and their job all day every day is combat readiness. How do we make sure that when we send these young men and women into combat, that they’re going to be successful and they get to come home? And it’s hard to describe I think, to people that don’t live in that world, what a unifying force that is. So do they care about every man and woman under their care? You bet they do. But they know that they’re not going to succeed unless they’re combat ready. Which means both physically and mentally, and healthy. So when the input is unhealthy, guess what? Now they’ve got to go work the problem and they apply resources to it. And that’s why the cost of healthcare is so high in the Department of Defense.
Dr. Mark Hyman (38:37):
On the bases, they’re just playgrounds for the food industry, and the fast food restaurants on all the bases, they’re eating all kinds of junk from the commissary. I mean it’s just like, why does the most say… look, this is going to be a health zone. You know, our military bases, or you want to go escape and go to McDonald’s, fine. But here we’re going to have a safe zone, and we’re going to provide food that’s going to create high performance, elite military… And that’s what we should be focused on. Why isn’t that happening?
John Grossenbacher (39:09):
I think your question is a good one. I think, you know, military leaders a long time ago figured out that if you’re going to have warriors, they have to be physically fit, so they need gyms, they need places to exercise, they need opportunities to do that. And the most honest answer or direct I can give you is, I don’t think they’ve connected food [crosstalk 00:39:30] and health, and readiness in the way that you and so many others do.
Dr. Mark Hyman (39:36):
I mean, if you’re a submarine commander, you’re going to get those guys in those little tiny things to get in between compartments, like they can’t move around.
John Grossenbacher (39:42):
Well, let me tell you about that. Let me tell you how that affects you. So, we’d send a submarine to sea. You send it to sea typically 70 days underwater is pretty standard. You can probably push it to 120. The limiting factor, the limiting factor is how much food you can carry. Because you make your own oxygen, the reactor has enough fuel for 30 years. You clean the atmosphere that the people breathe. So the limiting factor is food. So what do you do? You have two big iceboxes, and you stuff them with as much frozen protein as you can of every from. And then everything else is canned and dehydrated, everything. So, there’s an emphasis on both calories and nutrition, but in that context. There are no fresh fruits and vegetables.
Dr. Mark Hyman (40:42):
Well, canned is fine, and dehydrated can be fine too. It’s not necessarily processed food. I mean, if they’re all eating Doritos and Cheetos-
John Grossenbacher (40:51):
Then I think you get into the food system, and when the military procures things, how do they procure them? Where do they come from? And they get trapped in that same system that you know so well and write about. And you know, there’s even political influence. Wisconsin butter, everybody should eat Wisconsin butter. I mean, those things are factors in that environment. But I think the fundamental issue is that military leaders haven’t put enough emphasis… and perhaps enough of them don’t understand the food element of health and readiness. And if they’re getting there today by spending money, I’ll even say wasting money on a healthcare system that they wouldn’t otherwise need, nobody’s shown that to them. To your point, they could show everybody else how to do that. And I think they should listen to you, Mark. I think they should… no, I’m serious. I think-
Dr. Mark Hyman (41:56):
I hope so. We’ve been talking, I mean, it’s interesting. I met with a lot of military leaders over the years. I actually spoke with the CIA. And they’re very focused on the performance aspect. And you think of these guys with these million dollar horses, running the Kentucky Derby, they don’t feed them McDonald’s fries and a Coke, they give them a lean fat feed, they know how to create high performance athletes. And I think the military is seeking to create the mission readiness, and to create the combat readiness. But it’s amazing that they haven’t connected the dots completely. And it is-
John Grossenbacher (42:30):
Again, in defense of that world, part of their thinking is, “Look, I’ve got to get these people ready to fight. I’ve got to make sure they have what they need to fight, and that they’re going to be successful. And I’ve got lots of moving parts here. So I’ve got these doctors over here, and they’re supposed to deliver to me healthy people. I pay them a lot of money. I’m not in their business, they work for me, what have you done for me lately? What have you done to ensure the health of my people so that I can make them combat ready?” So I do think the military healthcare system who serves the operational commanders, see that’s-
Dr. Mark Hyman (43:08):
Well that’s a problem. That’s the problem there-
John Grossenbacher (43:09):
… in that role-
Dr. Mark Hyman (43:10):
… is assuming that doctors know how to help people get healthy. They don’t. They know how to treat disease, they don’t know how to create health. And that’s really what the difference is. That’s what functional medicine is, really about the science of creating health. That’s what Tracy does, it’s what we do.
John Grossenbacher (43:21):
Dr. Mark Hyman (43:23):
And so it’s like…
John Grossenbacher (43:23):
But in that world, the operational commanders rule supreme. Because they’re the ones that have to accomplish the mission, what they do determines whether or not these young men and women come home, you know?
Dr. Mark Hyman (43:36):
John Grossenbacher (43:37):
And so, they are focused so intently on all the things they care about. And again, they have these support functions like medicine, like the food supply system. And they expect that those are going to serve them well. And if they don’t, then they compensate for it. If it gets bad enough and they’re aware of it, then they’ll take it apart and fix it. But it’s, when you’re trying to get through the day in that business, that’s not easy to do when you’re trapped inside this bigger system [crosstalk 00:44:10].
Dr. Mark Hyman (44:10):
It just seems like the Defense Department is one of those sort of closed systems that has the ability to address these systemically. Because they procure the food, they provide the healthcare, there are sort of aligned incentives to do the right thing. That it mainly can-
John Grossenbacher (44:27):
They’re more a part of the America and the American societal systems than I think you’re saying. But I do think it’s an important message that needs to be carried to the top level leadership.
Dr. Mark Hyman (44:40):
Well, you might know them. They might be buddies of yours, right? Call the head of the Navy.
John Grossenbacher (44:46):
Yeah, I’ll work on it, Mark, I’ll work on it.
Dr. Mark Hyman (44:52):
Okay, okay. You got me… helpful conversation.
John Grossenbacher (44:53):
You’re right. You’re right.
Dr. Mark Hyman (44:54):
All right, well fantastic. So, you know, just to sort of close up here. You talked a lot about the challenges we’re facing and the impact of COVID-19, and how to sort of reflect on what life will be like after. And what do you think the impact will be? I mean, when this is all said and done, where will we be as a society? Where will we be as a government?
John Grossenbacher (45:14):
Well, you know it’s hard. I don’t think I’m a pessimist, but it’s hard for me to say anything that it’s going to be very, very difficult. It’s not the 1918 Spanish Flu and Great Depression simultaneously, but almost. As best I can tell so far, I mean 100,000 dead. I think the Spanish Flu was 670,000 dead Americans. I mean, it’s awful. The unemployment levels are very, very high. So, that’s going to have a huge impact on us. And then, the international outside our country challenges that are going to touch us. Whether we want them to or not. So, I think we’ve got an enormously difficult path ahead of us. I am hopeful, because I believe that people, people possess extraordinary reservoirs of creativity and fundamental goodness in them.
John Grossenbacher (46:16):
That we do care about one another. That we are connected to ourselves and really to all living things. And this terrible time may actually force us to stop doing all the busy stuff we do, and look at that and say, “Yeah, you know what? We got to fix this. And the time to fix it is now. We’re not doing this anymore.” And then they’re going to need help. They’re going to need leaders and people who understand the complexities of some of these big societal systems. Where a lot of people are just doing what they think they should be doing because that’s the way the system works. Or, they know it’s screwed up, but they don’t know how to change it. So there’s a lot of fundamental foundational work that’s going to have to be done in terms of education, empowerment and training. But you know, I am an optimist.
John Grossenbacher (47:09):
I think that the course of human progress is not over. I do think we’re at a critical point. And we haven’t talked a lot about technology, but I do think that that’s one of the things we’re going to have to come to grips with. We have to step back and say, “Do we want to live in a manmade world?” You know, if you have enough manmade light around you, you don’t see the stars anymore. I’ve been in environments where you don’t see anything but a manmade world for months at a time. It’s not-
Dr. Mark Hyman (47:40):
Yeah, like a submarine, a submarine.
John Grossenbacher (47:41):
… not good. And people can tolerate it, people can make it work. But that’s not who we are as living, breathing, I like to say [crosstalk 00:47:52] spiritual beings on a human journey.
Dr. Mark Hyman (47:54):
You want to come ut of these submarines, into the light.
John Grossenbacher (47:56):
Yeah. So, we’ve got a lot of work to do. And we’ve got to do it together. There’s no other way. There is no other way but together.
Dr. Mark Hyman (48:06):
Yeah. That’s really true. I think it’s really about us sort of understanding our common collective humanity. And understanding that maybe this virus has unified us in some ways that I think will allow us to understand our collective need to work together to solve our problems. Which I think we have done in some degree around this. And I really thank you for your thought leadership and you’re sort of laying out a different view of how we need to think about things going forward. I did want to ask you something that just came up in my mind, which was, who have been the thinkers, and writers, and teachers that have inspired you? Because you seem to have a very enlightened view that doesn’t seem to be typical of people in government who have been in public service. So, who’s inspired you to seem-
John Grossenbacher (48:52):
Oh, well, there’s so many of them. I mean, I love history, because history always reminds me how messy the real world really is. And also how complicated it is and what it takes to solve big challenges. So I’m a big fan of Frances Uchiyama, and he writes these, from the history of mankind from when the earth’s crust was still warm, you know? And our social systems, and how they change. And I think really good history informs us in a way that nothing else does. So, I like history. And I try to read all I can.
John Grossenbacher (49:32):
For me, it’s my best teacher. I like John Meacham, he’s a popular historian of the day. And I think he wrote a book called, The Soul of America I think it’s called. And it’s a wonderful book about religion in our country, and what it means, and that story of lives it’s been. So I think history is number one. I think science education. I’ve spent a lot of my time studying science and engineering. And I think that helps, because it grounds you in what reality is. And I think even more importantly it reminds you every day of what you don’t know, and how little we really know.
Dr. Mark Hyman (50:14):
That’s so true, so true.
John Grossenbacher (50:16):
And when people behave as if they think they’re masters of the Universe, I mean, it’s so silly. We know so little and we’ve got so much more to do. So I think-
Dr. Mark Hyman (50:27):
The more you know, the more humble you get about what you don’t know.
John Grossenbacher (50:31):
Yeah, yeah, I think so. But history for me is… on these kinds of things, has been the best teacher.
Dr. Mark Hyman (50:36):
So if you were thinking of recommending a summer reading list for people to wake them up to what world we need to live in, what would be your top two or three books?
John Grossenbacher (50:45):
Oh, I think John Meacham’s writings are good. I think he’s written a number of biographies of presidents. But I think it’s called The Soul of America, is a good read. And I’d start there. There’s always the classics you can go back to. You know, I mean if you really read the federalist papers, you read a paragraph and you go, “Wow,” Hamilton and those guys, they really understood, didn’t they? They understood human nature in a way that I think is extraordinary. And we would be wise to listen to them. Not that their solutions and prescriptions all fit today. I like to think that Jefferson probably knew everything about the technology of his day in a way that nobody can today, it’s too complicated, it’s too detailed, it’s too involved. So, I think we have to be careful with literal interpretation. But I think conceptually, philosophically and a really deep understanding of human nature, and trying to put together a system, our governmental system that would work given the frailties and the challenges of human nature.
Dr. Mark Hyman (52:14):
Oh, that’s great. I mean, I actually had thought lately to going back and reading those writings of Jefferson, and Hamilton. I think maybe we should pause and think about why we started America, and how do we get back to some of those founding ideas. And I think for people listening, if they want to learn more about John’s work and his perspectives, a lot of his articles are published on TheHill, which is an online publication that is for Washington, but I think it’s relevant for all of us. There’s just fabulous articles in terms of saving the idea of this America, how to save America we must examine our values, we must repair or modernize our politics, we must rebalance our economic system, we must rebuild our education system, why we have to make technology a choice. These are all fabulous articles that John has written that I encourage you to check out and learn more. Because I think we need the kind of leadership in thinking you’re talking about. And hopefully we can sort of come to our senses after this is through, and redesign and recreate a better America.
John Grossenbacher (53:16):
Well, thanks, Mark. Thanks very much.
Dr. Mark Hyman (53:18):
Well, thank you for listening to this podcast. And thanks for being on it, John. And if you love this podcast, please share it with your friends and family. Leave a comment, we’d love to hear from you. Subscribe wherever you get your podcast, and we’ll see you next time on The Doctor’s Farmacy.