032: David Biello, conversation 2: “Way better than I expected … and easier”, full transcript

March 5, 2018 by Joshua
in Podcast

David Biello

You’re about to hear how David reduced his meat eating and found it way better than expected. It sounded like he enjoyed it. He benefitted from it, he feels better from it, and he wants to do more. You’ll hear from him. He also shared the challenges that he faced, in particular travel, other people and going against the general systems around us, doing something different. These are his challenges. So as you consider your personal challenge for you to act by your values listening to how he overcame his may help. Also, for those keeping track of how I evolve and how this podcast and thис movement change and in this podcast conversation you’ll hear a lot of direction that you’ll see playing out later in this podcast. So listen on.


Joshua: Welcome to the Leadership and the Environment Podcast. I’m Josh, I’m here with David Biello. David, how are you doing?

David: I’m doing well.

Joshua: So it’s been a little while [unintelligible] we recorded, you were going to do for one month to go from eating meat twice a day to twice a week, if I remember right. And then you had lots of travel so lots of other stuff has come up. How have things gone? I am very interested to hear what’s the story.

David: It has gone way better than I expected and for the most part it’s been easier than I expected in fact so much so that I decided to try to go full vegetarian at least for some period of part of that time. And actually, for the first month I would say after we talked and spent a couple of months at this point I did a good job of that and then I had a bunch of work travel where I didn’t have as much control, I guess is the easy way to put it of my diet, and you know I was going to kind of hosted dinners. And what was interesting about that is that kind of my upbringing in the Midwest started conflicting with you know my desire to eat no meat.

Joshua: [unintelligible] something of being very polite?

David: Exactly. Exactly. It’s kind of like, well, two things. One, you kind of get what you get and you don’t get upset. So, if somebody serves you steak, you don’t you know like, “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m actually a vegetarian” just because that would be rude. They’ve gone through the trouble of preparing you the steak. And then the other piece of upbringing that I found it difficult to overcome was you know finish everything that’s on your plate. So I couldn’t just like except the steak but not eat it. But if we’re going by the criterion of you know two times a week except for I would say on average yes, because I went to zero for probably, I don’t know, I can’t remember exactly when we spoke, let’s say it was eight weeks. I would say five out of, well, four out of the eight weeks I ate zero meat. One week I ate meat you know maybe twice a week and then a couple of other weeks, those other weeks when I was on the road I ate meat maybe three or four times a week but I avoided it basically wherever I could.

Joshua: Well, this is very refreshing. I’ve talked to a bunch of people for second conversations and it’s for you to say “At the beginning it went very well” is I’m glad to hear and then to hear that the big challenge is travel. Travel is one of the biggest challenges that people are finding is that when you’re not in control of your environment it becomes much more difficult. But you’re not folding. I mean some people are like, “Oh, what can I do?” I feel like if I heard you right, you change the nature of it. You said, “Well, here’s what I can…” Well, how did that actually… How did you look at it?

David: Well, that is kind of you know I basically controlled what I could control and when I couldn’t for you know for social reasons or whatever, politeness, I just went with it and I tried not to beat myself up too much. At first, I felt a little bit guilty but then I was like, “Well, look you know this is just part of the deal.” And I actually had some interesting conversations around it with some of those folks. Just to be like, “Look, you know I was doing this thing” and they were like, “Oh, you should have told us.” And you know like well, you don’t want to be a burden. So you know we’re just talking about it now. And so, in some ways it was a great conversation starter which is important you know for the kind of educational component of this.

Joshua: Well, you know I mean that’s one of the big things that we talked about before was that it’s we have technology, we have… It’s not a question of “Can we do this?”, it’s “Will we choose to do this?” I think that this is changing things from accepting what’s handed to you and just there’s a system out there and the system works a certain way and saying, “Well, I can do something about it” and what’s our motivation, do we act on it.

David: Yes. And funnily enough you know during this period all that research came out showing how you know, “Oh, there is no way to make meat kind of climate neutral.” I don’t know if you saw this you know summit had hopes that you know by switching kind of grazing practices or livestock rearing practices that kind of the environmental impact of beef in particular could be reduced. You know switching from say grain, finished as the saying goes to grass fed might somehow cut down on the greenhouse gas emissions. But unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that’s the case so it is more important than ever to reduce meat consumption, to reduce that big source of greenhouse gases.

Joshua: So how did that make you feel? I mean we talked about what happened. So what was the internal response?

David: I felt good although the one thing, this is…And I don’t know that this will be appropriate for your podcast so you can edit this out if it’s not but I gained some weight. I don’t know whether that’s because you know in making up for meat. I was eating more carbs or what? But I don’t know I probably gained about five pounds. I also again was traveling and so was not eating… You know I might have a pastry for breakfast rather than my usual cereal or whatever it might be. So it might have been that but so it might have been correlation not causation. But I did gain some weight. And so, you know for those who are vain maybe that will be another factor.

Joshua: I’m not sure. I’ll leave that one now not to follow up just because it could go in…I don’t know where to go. But I’m curious about…So you felt good. I mean there’s lots of kinds of good like satisfied or happy or joyful or…

David: Oh, what I meant I felt like energetic and yet physically good and I felt like I guess a sense of achievement as well, like, “I can do this.” It’s just a matter of deciding to do it. Like taking the decision to do it and then doing it and kind of living up to your word on that as much as possible.


Joshua: When you did it, externally you’re eating less meat. Internally is it…There’s usually a value that it connects to “I’m going to do what I say” Is it environment, is it…

David: I think it’s a little of all of that. And then also I don’t know kind of trying to be the change you want to see in the world if that’s an internal value, like morality I guess.

Joshua: Yeah. It sounds to me like it resonated with a few different things inside of you and that resonates with our conversation before because I think that we were… One of things I really like about talking to you is I feel like you are looking at this in the way that I look at it like you have to approach this in a systemic way coming out from a lot of different perspectives, you can’t just say, “This one change will do it all”. You have to change. You can’t just wait for everyone else.

David: Yeah. And a lot of the time people are like you know, “Well, what does it matter if I change if everybody else is still eating hamburgers? What does it matter if I stop?” Because I’m just one person and they’re billions eating hamburgers. And as a result, you know we have the food system that we do. But I guess my counter to that is you know what I just said – be the change you want to see in the world. If you want to see a more sustainable agricultural system, then you need to eat accordingly. And by the way I think it’s probably better for your health.

Joshua: Yeah. And the message I’m hoping to come across with this podcast is it’s better. I mean you will feel better.

David: Yeah, yeah.

Joshua: I mean I get that is all you need.

David: Yeah, I definitely agree with that. It’s yeah, it’s interesting. Yeah, I feel physically better. Yeah. I mean there’s no other way to put it. I don’t know that I can quantify that exactly for you but I know it’s just kind of a general perception. And that may be related to you know the changes in diet or it may just be kind of a mental state because you’re living up to your ideals or whatever it may be or both. But you know, I feel better.

Joshua: Yeah, I think that…I mean that’s the goal. You know one of the things, I don’t remember if I said this before, one of things I’ve realized lately is that if you say to someone, “Here’s a little change you can do”, it implies that you don’t want to do it. Like we talked about smoking and no one says, “Smoke a little bit less.” You basically say… Maybe long time ago people said it but now they say don’t smoke. No one says drinkless driving Mondays because there’s never a benefit to drinking and driving. It’s always a benefit to not drinking and driving. And so, when you look at it from a systems perspective to say “Here’s a little change” reinforces the goals driving the system even if you change some little thing. And so, I hope that maybe… This is maybe my big message is when you change you want to change more.

David: Well, it did make me think a lot about travel. Like obviously as you well know given the choices that you’ve made, flying around is one of the worst things we can do from a climate change perspective, from a pollution perspective, whatever perspective you want to take. And so, it made me question that a little bit more and wonder if there were ways that I could you know do more things like this where it’s just kind of telepresence or videoconferencing. Now that’s a little bit tough in my current job but it did make me think a lot more about that and want to figure out ways to make that better.

Joshua: Part of me is mindful of that… So people know we started late and we have limited time so I can’t get into too much depth but I want to see if you’re interested in following that up, if you feel like, “Oh, I wonder if I can do more” and seeing if you’re up for another challenge. If this one has made you feel good, maybe a bigger one may make you feel even better.

David: Yeah, I’m definitely up for another challenge. I think the challenge is to kind of… In some ways I feel like this task is uncompleted, I need to go full veggie or you know go minimal meat whatever seems best. The travel one is the obvious next choice. But you know without changing my job there’s just an expectation that I will go to the TED event in London or the TED event in Vancouver or the TED event in Tanzania. On the one hand, you can justify it or rationalize it by saying like, “Oh, you’re spreading the word and spreading all these great ideas and helping the world” and in that way and that justifies the travel. But if everybody does that, you know just like the climate change negotiators, you know we’re in the same mess that we’ve always been in.

Joshua: It’s a real quandary. Yeah, it’s…

David: Yeah, it’s a tough one given my work. I feel like I have to think about that one a little bit more. On the flipside, you know I was talking about some of these things during my travel. And you know at least living in New York we have the benefit of wonderful public transportation and you know from that perspective I’m not you know driving 30000, 50000, 100000 miles a year in my car just to get to and from work. That’s the way the system is set up now for 90 percent of Americans. So I’m lucky to be able to avoid that trap.

Joshua: So this is really I think a very rich topic and this is something that I begin to talk about with a lot of people only to hear, “It’s for my work absolutely no, end of conversation, or my family’s over the world, end of conversation, or the plane was going to fly anyway, end of conversation.” And you’re the first person, I think at all that I’ve spoken to that it’s like, “What can be done?” And I’d love to follow this up. I’m also seeing that we have three minutes left.

David: Yeah. Well, yeah, I think you know it is a challenging one. But what I would like to do is try to find ways to again use telepresence, use videoconferencing as much as possible and/or you know get to be the person in charge so that that is the way things are.

Joshua: Or to influence that person.

David: Yeah, exactly.

Joshua: Because I keep thinking like if I were on a TED stage, I’m like…I would go [unintelligible] stuff like that but I’ll be like, “All the people who flew here you know think about taking the train home. Think about carpooling home.” Because if you’re Leonardo or you’re Larry or Elon or Sergey, people look up to you and you could be the first of the next generation of people that say this is the new way that we’re going to… Like status is not… We don’t show status by flying a 747 by ourselves. You could be the future. You could set the new… You know you could be the Thomas Jefferson of… If we turn this thing around, if we keep the car from going off the cliff, you could be you know… I can’t do that because I’m not, you know I’m not Oprah. I’m not one of these first-name people yet. But they could really be, and if they don’t change then it takes like hundreds of thousands of other people to change to add up to one person flying around on 747 all the time.

David: Well, that is so… I was… That is exactly the point that I was going to make that you know the reality is there are a couple of billion people on the planet who have a negligible carbon footprint. And then there are you know a couple of thousand, a couple tens of thousands of people who have an enormous carbon footprint because of the kind of luxury, their lifestyle and the access to fossil fuels that they have. And so reforming you know the one percent from a carbon perspective is much more impactful than anything else.

Joshua: I propose we schedule a follow up.

David: Ok.

Joshua: Should we do it now or you have to run?

David: I have to run to this other meeting. But yeah, we can do it via email.

Joshua: Okay. And I’ll put out there…Figure the veggie thing. You know I invite people over and I make these amazing vegetable stews, especially…

David: Oh, yeah. That’s right.

Joshua: And if you want to do it on a Saturday morning, then we can also pick up the vegetables from the farmers’ market. And that adds whole another element to it. [unintelligible] that when we go by e-mail. And thanks, and probably the next will get joined to this one, I’m not sure but we’ll figure it out.

David: Yeah, yeah. Whatever works.

Joshua: Alright. Talk to you again soon. Bye.

David: Bye.


This sounded like a positive experience from a guy who knew the issues and nonetheless sounded very pleasantly surprised. That’s the value of acting in leadership not just talking and thinking about things. It sounded like sharing with others engaged and attracted other people to do this. Even people he didn’t ask to be on board. I heard a range of benefits mostly around feeling better himself and he wants to do more based on experience, meaning he knows more, not less about what he was doing. So in this case doing more leads you to understand more and act more. So as you think about your challenge, his experience implies that it’ll be more fun and more helpful than you expect.

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