Donna Quesada: Too many people are in survival mode or they give up all together…
Tim Ryan: Totally, and voting. Here’s the thing you see a lot about in the political organizing world… We have to register people to vote. We’ve got to get people out to the polls. If everyone voted, we could have a more just society. Yeah, there’s a lot of truth to that. But the problem is, voting is an end result of a person who feels deeply connected to the community in the country they live in. If you don’t feel connected to your community, you don’t give a damn who’s on the school board or who the country commissioner is. And you’re certainly not going to vote for who the president is, or maybe you will every now and again, because you just think it’s the thing to do. So, voting, again, is the end result of a connected human being, who feels a part of what’s going on around them.
Donna: So, would you say it’s not just the apathy that has taken us over, it is the lack of connection and perhaps a bit of hopelessness thrown in for good measure? We don’t feel that we really have the power to make a change…
Tim: Yeah, it compounds. Little acts of courage compound. Little acts of hope compound and grow. And so does that kind of apathy that you… “Ehh, whatever. I didn’t vote last election. It didn’t matter. Nothing’s changed… still bad from the same time when I did vote. It doesn’t matter.” And then that can build. I think that’s, in a lot of ways, where we are. So, you throw in the social media piece, you throw in the technology piece. There’s a real disconnect there. You think you’re more connected because you got this cool technology that can connect you… If used properly and in moderation. But yeah, it’s just that apathy has compounded.
We saw it in this last election. We saw in a lot of communities where people just didn’t show up to vote. We communicated with them. We were on their side. We were in their face about the election. It wasn’t just me, it was in Ohio, it was a lot of different states. There’s just a group of people that just don’t feel connected, and that has built. So, we’re going to need some kind of shock to the system, I think, to get us out of this.
Donna: We are so thrilled also about your work in the agricultural industry. This is one of our pet issues on Awaken. I’m so happy that you talk about nature as one of those tools to bring us back to a heart space. Or if that’s too mushy, back to a sense of being connected to something that’s beautiful, rich, fulfilling, and nourishing. You talk about that in your book, The Real Food Revolution. I would so love to explore that further with you… how this industry, the food industry, the agricultural industry, has gotten away from our well-being or it has sort of sabotaged us, our health… we’re eating more… I think it’s an important component to feeling healthy and to feeling our best, so that we can thrive and do better as individuals and as a people. I would love to know what encouraged you or motivated you to write that book, and to bring that discussion into the public eye.
Tim: When I was writing my first book, Healing America, I was doing a lot of research on trauma, on fight or flight, on brain, and all of that. And I kept coming back to the trauma, the brain, and how mindfulness meditation could really help with those kinds of things. But I kept stumbling on… It wasn’t just stress and anxiety. All the articles would also mention diet, would also mention nutrition, which… I played a lot of sports growing up, and paid a lot of attention to high-performing athletes. So, it resonated with me, and so, yeah, well, it makes a lot of sense.
As I was finishing up the mindfulness book, the Healing America book, I said, I think I want to do another one on food. Because I just think those two would fit together, like two sides of the same coin, in a lot of ways. I really started digging into the food system. I’ve got good friends, like Dr. Mark Hyman, who’s a big functional medicine doctor. He started the functional medicine clinic at the Cleveland Clinic. And really understanding that the blend of the Eastern medicine and the Western medicine, the looking at the body as a system… And then, you can’t look at the body as a system without looking at how the food that goes into the body, and how that’s affecting everybody in the country, with diabetes and pre-diabetes… This was, I don’t know, five or 10 years ago when I wrote it.
And that got connected to the farming practices, and the farming practices got connected to the crops that we grow. So, it was all kind of like, “Holy cow, we are really subsidizing the crops.” I was on Bill Maher last week, and this came up. I was able to do like a two-minute riff on this, which I was really thrilled about because it was such a different audience for, you know, trying to get the message out. And people clapped because it, I think, resonated with them. But the government subsidizes these crops: corn, soy, wheat. Most of the crop ends up going into oils, the corn. Ninety-nine percent of the corn we grow in the country just goes to feed cattle, and only 1% of it, well, you get in a can of corn. If you go out to dinner and you order corn, that’s 1% of the entire corn crop in the country.
We built out an industrial food system because we think we’re making cars. The thought was right. I think we gotta be semi-objective here. It’s like… the thought was right, we were trying to feed the world, and people are starving all over the world. So, that was the goal and the thought. But now, we have fake food, an industrial food system, that is not good for us. The country is getting sicker by the day. Half the country has diabetes or pre-diabetes.
We just had this big debate in Congress about insulin, and capping the cost of insulin, which I, of course, supported, because so many people need it…
Donna: Again, the root cause…
Tim: Yeah, the culture shift is… Why does everybody need insulin? Is anyone going to ask that question? It’s a very few of us who were asking that question. And then politics looks like, “Okay, we got this bill to limit insulin. Are we going to do it or not?” It’s like, “Of course we’re going to do it. But when are we going to build a system out here that says, “Why is everybody sick? Why does everybody have diabetes or pre-diabetes? Why does everybody need insulin?”
Supply. Demand goes up and supply can’t beat it, the price goes up. Basic economics. If we want to save healthcare costs, how do we… And now, knowing you can reverse these diseases, a lot of them, not all of them but a lot of them, with food, with diet nutrition and a little bit exercise.
Donna: We’re eating too much… more than we ever did before and we’re eating fake food. I was speaking to John and Ocean Robbins. He was one of my heroes as a teacher… John Robbins, who argues for a plant-based diet, for the same reasons that you described… because all of our grain is going into an inefficient system to support cattle, which in turn, supports a meat-based diet. Do you support a plant-based diet?
Tim: I go heavy plant, I try to. I do eat meat. I try to eat grass fed, if I can, which is hard to do most of the time. But I think the key is going to be, again, creating a system. I think some people need some protein. I talked to guys like Mark Hyman and these other doctors, and it works for some people. It doesn’t work for others. Again, we’re all different. But yeah, moving a system away from all of the resources, including the carbon in the agriculture area, that’s released, the methane that’s released in agriculture. Like, that’s got to be a part of a comprehensive climate change plan, too.
Again, it’s got to be a culture shift. You don’t go to a lot of places around the world where the size of the portions of food are as big as they are here in the United States. It’s Super Size Me. And you got to do it, honestly. It can’t be like… we’re lecturing people on how to eat. It’s got to be like through the healthcare system. People, they always listen to their doctors… they respect their doctors. There’s stuff we got to teach in school.
Again, root cause. Like, we’re feeding our kids highly processed food in schools. We’re feeding them chocolate milk and rice crispy treat for breakfast, which is like 80 grams of sugar. That’s more sugar than they should have in the whole day. So, they’re all hyped up for the first two periods of school. They crash in 3 or 4. They got Math in 4th period, we can’t figure out why they’re not doing good at math. But we got to talk about that because most people go, “Yeah, I guess, you’re right.” If we don’t talk about it, you’re not going to shift the culture. If you don’t shift the culture, you don’t shift the policies.
Donna: What is the best advice you’ve ever received, in going into such a challenging position?
Tim: A guy back in Youngstown, his name is Tom Hannon. When I first started, I was 26 years old, I was running for the State Senate. I had braces, no gray hair. He was a mayor of a village. He said, “People don’t care what you know. They want to know that you care.” And I really took that with me. I mean, that was some great, killer advice, and it’s true. I think sometimes, leaders, and it could be in business, it could be in religion, spirituality… it could be in politics. They want to tell you what they know, and how much they know, and how smart they are.
The reality is, people don’t care. In fact, if they think you’re thinking you’re smarter than them… gone. You won’t penetrate it. The amygdala gets cranked, prefrontal cortex goes offline. They’re angry at you, and they won’t even understand anything you’re saying anyway. But if they know you care about them, they open right up. I’ve seen this with my wife, who was a school teacher in 4th grade and 1st grade for almost 20 years. She would hug the kids. She would love the kids. Those kids felt how much she cared about them. They all did well, because they were open. Their mind was functioning at a good level, because they were calm, they weren’t in fight or flight mode. They knew she cared about them, and then they open up like little flowers.
That advice works for adults too. That’s the number one leadership lesson I would give to any servant leader. If you’re a good coach, you’re here to serve the team. If you’re a good pastor of a church, you’re here to “pastor”… you’re here to help the church… If you’re a good meditation teacher, you’re here to serve the student. They’re not there to serve you. That whole model is an ego-based model and not a service-based model.
Donna: Well, as a teacher, I relate very much to the story you told about your wife. It doesn’t matter what grade you’re teaching. Again, it goes back to what you were saying about connection. They connect to you and now they’re listening to you. They care about what you’re sharing with them. And so, it’s less disciplinarian and more about kind of a “Let’s sit together and share” kind of experience, which I think generates better results and more openness all around.
Tim: For sure, 100%.
Donna: What is your daily practice, if you wouldn’t mind sharing it with us?
Tim: Yeah, sure. I have, in the last few months, years on and off, but more directly in the last two months, super hard breath practice. Various… various kinds of pranayama. I guess, you call Kriya Yoga. I started picking this up through a veterans program that I brought to Ohio. It’s called Project Welcome Home Troops. The art of living organization does it, and it’s called the Power Breath Workshop. And so, I was trying to help these veterans who have all this post-traumatic stress, and this group does a phenomenal job. But it’s a Power Breath Workshop where it’s really intense breathing…
Donna: Breath of Fire?
Tim: Yeah. All kinds of different ways. And then Dr. Jim Gordon at the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in DC… he does a lot of this breath work. And then I do a lot of like, Yoga, so I remembered all the pranayama stuff. I started to do that, and that’s kind of my daily thing. I would say every single day, but most, five to six days a week, for sure. I find some time to do a really hardcore… Then I started doing this Wim Hof breathing… the Ice Man. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen him.
Tim: He’s just a neat guy and so interesting. And so, I started doing some of his stuff, too. But the really deep breathing and holding your breath, both on the exhale and letting carbon dioxide build in your body. And then, inhaling and holding there, too. But all these different variations… boy, I drop right in. When you got a million things going on… if you could see my desk underneath my camera, it’s like, I know where everything is. But it is kind of like, I got a lot going on, like most people do, just to come into a room. That’s hard for me.
The breathing, I just drop right in and I could just start seeing my thoughts. And then I just start doing my touch-and-go. I start doing my mindfulness. If I get really crazy, I’ll hit a mantra. But mostly, just kind of the mindfulness stuff. And then, periodically throughout the day, I try to reconnect, take a deep breath. My wife’s like, “What are you doing?” I’m like, “I’m just breathing.” Just to keep myself sane.
Read and Watch Part 3 Here: Awaken Interviews Congressman Tim Ryan Pt 3 – We’re All In This Together
Read and Watch Part 1 Here: Awaken Interviews Congressman Tim Ryan Pt 1 – How Do We Shift the Culture From Disconnection To Connection?