Health, Healing, and Happiness Conference Leaves One Hungry for Discourse

Brendan Brazier speaks at the Health, Healing & Happiness event.  Photo by Paul Graham.

By Rose Watson

As I walked into the Health, Healing & Happiness Conference and Expo on June 11, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I had looked into it briefly, finding a schedule of health conscious speakers and motivational stories. It seemed an auspicious idea: a convention devoted to health education, yoga and a community of support. The Tuscany Hotel and Casino seemed like a lovely space with the convention tucked away upstairs creating a private space for convention goers. The energy was high with annual attendees finding old friends and catching up before the opening remarks. I was gifted a goodie bag full of samples and pamphlets for being there early, which was a lovely gesture and a harbinger of things to come. I paged through the sheaf of pamphlets and fliers: farmers market flier, menu from local Indian restaurant, quick and easy recipes, custom tonic teas … alright, infrared wrap therapy … well I’d never heard of that, homeopathy … curing everything from autism to migraines … well; I was sure to learn quite a bit at this conference.

Not too daunted and ready to soak in all the information the first few speakers were ready to dole out, I took a seat. Don Tolman, the self-professed Cowboy of Whole Food Medicine, stood up to be the first voice of the event. He had a table of veggies and quite a memorable mustachioed look. But then he started talking. At first his vitriolic tone was funny in a sarcastic, schoolboy kind of way, and then he began to make it to the meat (if I may be so antagonistic of a vegan event) of his talk. The vitriol turned on the American health care system, the school system and the government.

Now, I am not a fool. We do have serious issues with our medical system, our school system and our government; however, when I rage against the injustice in those systems, I don’t cite the etymology of academic terms to justify my position. The etymology of pharmacist may lead back to the words “he who administers drugs/poisons/spells” but I’m also educated enough to realize that language has had different contexts throughout time. In ancient Greek a poison is a medicine, as it’s about the quantity administered that makes a substance dangerous or not. If one ate an obscene amount of kale, I’m sure it would be a poison too. But then again, this is the opinion of someone who was generally successful in school, not a trait Tolman has any respect for. Also according to the Whole Food Cowboy, cancer is a scam, doctors who leave the practice are put on a hit list and global warming is a hoax.

My mother is a breast cancer survivor. How dare Tolman trivialize her battle and the battles of thousands like her. How dare he try to tell me that the doctors and nurses that sat for hours with my mother explaining procedures and options, who became her friends and allies, where selling a scam to make money and make her sicker. Don’t tell me that if she’d just eaten more ginger and garlic she wouldn’t have had to go through what she did. To have the very first speaker, the figure to set the tone of the event, come out with such an abrasive and (in my opinion) offensive stance; well let’s just say it poisoned my attitude early. Not to mention that Tolman trying to sell his books on the secrets of the ancients as well as membership to his club for hundreds of dollars at the end of his talk, well it was simply full fat and dairy icing on the cake.

Thankfully the other speakers had a more measured approach, at least in comparison, and many acknowledged the pit falls of a vegan diet, specifically the need to supplement with vitamins. But throughout the other seminars there was this consistent thread demonizing doctors, mistrust of modern science and pity for non-vegans.

Not to say that I didn’t enjoy some of the seminars; the cooking demos were wonderfully informative and Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s talk was enlightening (as well as full of cited sources). The community in the dealer’s room was full of support. Everyone was excited to share their organic, all natural lifestyle, but there was no balance from other perspectives on healthy living. There were no vegetarian speakers, no organic omnivores and no everyman health gurus. If Health, Healing & Happiness was meant to be an event exclusive to the vegan community, why wasn’t it advertised as such? If the goal was to ensnare non-vegans into learning about veganism, this wasn’t the way to do it. People don’t enjoy being misled. I expected a conference of different perspectives on health and open communication between ideologies; what I got was frustration.

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