"Getting Americans to understand that eating meat or flesh in all its forms, whether it is red meat, chicken *OR FISH*, eating dairy, which is really just liquid flesh, all these things contain all the building blocks that are promoting Western disease.”
— Rip Esselstyn (asterisks, caps, bold, underline and italics mine)
Rip Esselstyn is the son of Caldwell Esselstyn, a doctor whose claim that a low-fat vegan diet can reverse heart disease is backed by “irrefutable results.” Rip became an athlete and then a fireman in Austin, leaving nutrition theorizing to his dad as he pursued every young boy’s dream. But after Rip convinced his fellow firemen to go vegan to lose weight and lower their cholesterol, he wrote a book about it — The Engine 2 Diet — and became a vegan role model.
According to The Engine 2 Diet ghost writer Gene Stone, however, Rip isn’t actually vegan.
Stone mentioned this in an interview with SuperVegan a few days ago, while talking about going from lacto-ovo vegetarian to vegan in order to write the book:
Fish was the hardest. Every now and then, when I can’t avoid it, such as if I’m at a dinner party and I’m really hungry, I’ll eat fish. I’ve seen Rip do it as well. As he says, you don’t have to be plant-perfect, just plant-strong. … [S]ometimes I think [fish] has health benefits, although I’m not sure because, having written so many books on health, I suspect that modern Western medicine knows little about the subject. …
"Plant-strong" is a term Rip uses often, and maybe savvy vegans will read between the lines and know that means "lots of plants" instead of "only plants." But Rip uses "plant-strong" interchangeably with "plant-based," which has come to mean "vegan." And anyway, Rip isn’t advocating the flexitarianism that he practices. He advocates veganism. In his appearance on Dr. Oz, Rip counseled some overweight Chicago firefighters:
Drill number two, we’re going to be giving up all meat. That means red meat. That means chicken. Chicken has as much cholesterol as red meat. That means fish. Fish has almost as much cholesterol as red meat.
(“Drill one” is giving up dairy.)
Like William C. Roberts, Rip isn’t in total denial about his flexibility, but he’s not as upfront as he could be. In a recent interview, Rip said: “So in 1987 without looking back I dropped the meat and the dairy and the eggs and the fish and I ate all plant-strong. It has given me the edge not only as a human being but as an athlete.”
That sounds to me like he doesn’t eat fish. It also sounds like “plant-strong” is intended to mean “vegan.”
He directly addresses the question of fish on his site, deeming fish oil unnecessary while failing to mention his own taste for the fruit of the sea:
Instead of taking fish oil, rely on ground flaxseed meal, walnuts, soybeans, and green leafy vegetables, all of which contain plenty of essential omega-3 fatty acids.
But if you can maintain long-term health without any animal products, Rip Esselstyn wouldn’t know it from personal experience.
I certainly think flexibility is better than purity. What bothers me is that Rip is inspiring people to make more radical changes in their diets than he is willing to make himself. And if it’s the fish that’s keeping Rip healthy, he’ll be fine while his Engine 2 groupies suffer.