Interviews with Vegan Veterans is an ongoing interview series where I get to pick the brains of long-time vegans and give the world access to the knowledge, wisdom and understanding that they have spent decades accumulating.
I didn't even know it was possible to "cure" asthma until I started exchanging emails with Geoff.
As it turns out, life-long relief from this horrible disease through a change in diet is not really the massive secret I thought it was.
Read on to learn about Geoff's story of ridding himself of this life-changing disease, his views on watching the world change as the vegan movement has grown over the 38 years he has been vegan, as well as some serious wisdom that only comes with his kind of life-experience.
I have also included on this page science-based videos referencing studies on successfully preventing and treating asthma with diet.
Geoff is now a happy, healthy, asthma-free, long-time vegan.
Let’s start with the basics... Who are you?
Geoff Russell, I will be 64 next month.
I started my journey to a Vegan Life when I was 21. I had asthma from the age of 10 which had made life difficult with many lost days at school, a long list of drugs including bronchial dilators, anti-histamines, many doctor visits and hospital trips for physiotherapy, culminating in an exhaustive bunch of tests to assess what I was allergic to and what the medical experts could do for me.
In their wisdom, they suggested that I have an operation on my nasal passages to clear my airways. Bad move, it did not help, it caused many problems including loss of smell and even more problems with blocked sinuses. The summation statement of Australias leading authority on Asthma to me on my last visit was “Your Asthma can be managed, just keep taking the drugs.”
I was convinced that there had to be a cure and walked away feeling disheartened that medicines best did not have an answer for me. On my way home I saw a health food shop (Subiaco [in Australia] in the mid 70’s) and decided to visit and see if they had any answers, it was a busy little shop and full of mysterious items and books, I slowly turned a carousel of books, perusing the titles, when a small book fell from the carousel. It was by Ann Wigmore about wheat grass and fasting - it looked a complete mystery to me. I put it back. But after looking at a number of other titles I came back to Ann’s book and decided to buy it.
Within three months of following the steps she outlined, I was free of Asthma. Her main message to me for asthma was to cut out two of the most notorious irritants to most humans “wheat and dairy”.
Wow, you cured your asthma with a vegan diet? That’s amazing, and I have never heard of that before. Was it really as simple as you make it sound?
I missed many weeks and months off school especially early teens.
Yes, it was as simple as that after I had resigned myself to the fact that allopathic medicine was ineffective as a cure (it saved my life when I couldn’t breath so it was a godsend) embarking on the change of diet to remove dairy and wheat and start juicing absolutely changed everything within a very short time.
Within days I was starting to feel better and within three months I stopped getting asthma.
The more I read about the foods we humans normally consume the more I became vegetarian and then ultimately vegan.
At first my motivation was health but as I discovered more about traditional farming methods and the intolerable way animals were treated and farmed for human and pet consumption the more I was convinced it was neither humane or necessary for our health.
As the years have progressed I also now think that for the health of the planet we can not sustain the massive factory farming operations and fishing currently in practice.
A prevention is always better than a cure... A study involving more than a million kids suggests the striking worldwide variation in childhood rates of allergies, asthma, and eczema is related to a diet high in fruits and vegetables. (The follow up video is embedded below.)
What does your usual diet consist of?
Lost of salads, stir-fries, nuts, seeds, fruit, hummus, tempeh, beans and fresh coconuts.
Would you classify your current diet as anything additional to vegan?
I have tried raw and 80/20 and these days it is more like trying to follow a more relaxed approach where I buy local as much as possible and make raw a large part of my diet and try as much as possible to be grain free.
You avoid grains for your asthma, but why do you like to eat raw?
I think Raw as in fruits nuts and greens are more alive and hence more bio available to the body, things like pulses and some root veggies I think are necessary to process with heat or soaking/sprouting to make them more efficient as a food source.
Do you take any supplements with that?
Magnesium, D3, Zinc daily and regular vibrational medicine assessments for minerals and vitamins.
With Magnesium, if I don’t take it regularly I sometimes get muscle cramps. The others are regulated by regular assessments with Paul Alexander at the Tara Centre in Perth. And sometimes I visit the Remede Centre.
I also take B12 in a liquid form a few times a week.
Increasing fruit and vegetable consumption to seven servings a day appears to cut asthma exacerbation rates in half, whereas restricting consumption to Standard American Diet levels leads to a significant worsening of lung function and asthma control.
Why do you think you stayed vegan for this long while others didn’t?
A strong belief that it is the only way for me, and a strong conviction that it ultimately is the best for us and most other animals to have the best long-term future on the planet.
How have your views on veganism changed since you started?
I am not a militant vegan but I was pretty pushy about being vegetarian and then vegan to start with, I must have been a pain to friends and family. But I am OK about the use of honey and don’t get too uptight about the use of eggs (although I have not knowingly eaten an egg since 1989) when the hens are raised in a healthy way.
A lot of ex-vegans say that they got really sick on a vegan diet. What are your thoughts on this?
I think it's mostly through misinformation and I think an unguided program. Just because something has no animal products in it, doesn’t mean it is healthy, things like Oreo’s being vegan and textured vegetable protein and GMO soy, sugar, overuse of salt and oils...
I have been healthier since being veg and vegan than I was in my teens. But when I do get sick it is usually when I am stressed and not exercising or sleeping enough and not paying attention to my diet properly.
I am concerned when I see Vegan sites full of crap foods and feel it is sad that many vegans don’t make the connection that a healthy diet is also important. We are animals too, we should be kind to ourselves and look after our health as a priority.
"I think it is incredibly important for there to be militant action to change the current status of how animals are being abused."
Have you ever had any thoughts of eating animal products again?
The only exception I have is honey (from a friend's hives) but it is not something I take on a regular basis. I have no desire to eat another living sentient being as long as I live.
Have you ever had a period of “relapse” into animal eating?
When I was in Spain for two years, 1988 - 89, I ended up eating eggs and fish for a few months when travelling as it was impossible to get sufficient food. But I could not sustain it and happily stopped eating them and found ways to sustain myself.
Whats the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced with being vegan?
1) In over 40 years of business, I have not met another Vegan and only one other Vegetarian that I know of, I find it difficult not to have any peer support, I live in hope.
2) Finding friends that are vegan/veg and partners.
3) Getting vegan shoes has also been a real challenge, happily now there are more options, but in the early days they were pretty bad!
About a year ago I read a vegan survey from about 1999. They asked thousands of vegans what they wanted the most... and way above more food options and everything else was vegan shoes. I was surprised.
You're in a unique position, having been vegan for so long, you got to see the world start to adjust from the inside. What do you think is the best part about being vegan these days opposed to when you first started?
There are definitely more options available in Restaurants and so going out with others and travel is more acceptable.
But even though there is a shift to a more plant based diet for many people there is even more misinformation being spread about what is good.
The most disturbing thing is the opinion by many Vegan’s is that it is not about health it is just about protecting animals, so if a product does not have any animal products it is OK! So things stuffed full of sugar and chemicals is acceptable like Oreos!
I think we have such a long way to go for humanity to find a way to thrive without damaging ourselves and our environment. Pesticides are still I think one of the worst things we do to our foods.
Maybe with the move to more hydroponic systems for food production we will be able to get healthier greens and other essentials.
So is there anything you miss about eating animals?
It is the sense of community that is the most important aspect that I miss, being Vegan is too weird for most people and so it makes it hard for family and friends to accept.
Do you have many non-vegan friends?
Most of the people I know are non-vegan.
A lot of people use this as a reason to go back to eating animals...
I can understand it.
We are social beings and so community is important, I know I have lost friends or moved away from friends due to them being uncomfortable inviting me to gatherings where there is wholesale carnage like BBQ’s and I find I prefer to not go to such gatherings.
It is an issue that I find difficult, the far right and far left seem to predominate, I think there needs to be a balance like in most things in life, extremes are not healthy as it disregards valid reasoning from the opposite side.
Would you classify yourself as a militant vegan?
No. I think in all things we do as humans we tend to take extreme points of view rather than trying to find a balance and compromise.
In a utopian world we would all be vain and use our intelligence and inventive abilities to find ways to make vegan products such as leather and foods. I think it is incredibly important for there to be militant action to change the current status of how animals are being abused, for food, medicine, pets, sport etc.
But I know also that not everyone will be able to make the shift in consciousness required to be Vegan or even Vegetarian and so we need to find a way to understand them and be compassionate to their way of thinking, but I do not know what the answer is to that.
Do you personally partake in any form of activism?
I have not partaken in any activism events but would be happy to attend them, I just have not organised myself to do so.
If you could say one thing to yourself when you first went vegan, what would it be?
Health is wealth. Focus on being free of the desire for money and things, focus on your health.
This is incredibly wise and I’m very glad you said it. It reminds me of some great eastern philosophy.
I was brought up in Perth in a loosely Christian family, we went to church on Sundays as kids, but were given the choice as teenagers whether we wanted to go or not.
I was disturbed by the evidence of hypocrisy in religion and Sunday Christianity and felt there were many things that just did not make sense with the scriptures and preaching. I became an atheist and then investigated other spiritual practices such as Buddhism and found it to be more in balance, but I think there is a way to be spiritual without the need for any dogma or belief system that is not
flexible and able to adapt to the changes we experience both personally and as a race.
I sometimes despair of humanity, especially with the current state of the world’s politics, wars, lies in the media and government and self serving large corporations where the environment is not considered important.
Having said that, with more awareness of all the great things people are doing to change personally and bring help to those in need around them, I see a glimmer of hope.
A plant based diet I think is the only way for us to survive as a species and to keep our world a healthy place for us to continue to live on. We need to make a giant shift away from consumption of animals and fish but I don’t see that it will be a full move to Veganism, with all the changes we have made to the world we have set up many imbalances that will require us to intervene.
In Australia for example we have so many feral animals that wreak havoc on our native species, cats, dogs, rabbits to name a few and these need to be controlled. Plus there are benefits to both us and the animals that we manage, such as bees for our agriculture, but they need to be managed holistically not abused.
Do you have any other advice for newer vegans or anyone thinking about making the transition?
Keep it simple, start slowly and assess the many ideas about what constitutes a healthy life. Do not get into fads, follow your own instincts and listen to your body. Be gentle on yourself.
Explore and experiment with what feels right for you. You might find that your body might go through a healing crisis, you might feel ill or come out in rashes as your body detoxes.
Get some advice and make sure you allow your body to become accustomed to this new way of being. Get help from experts that you can trust.
Structure is important, so a regular visit to an Osteopath, Chiropractor, Physiotherapist, Homoeopath may help you make the changes and keep you well.
Exercise, Sleep, Meditation, Vitamins and Minerals in the right balance are essential.