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Chris Kilham On Building Sustainable Communities By Learning From Indigenous People

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Urbanization and modernization have become the core elements of community building today, and sustainability is now harder and harder to achieve. However, there is still hope by examining indigenous people and learning from their ways of life. Corinna Bellizzi is joined by Chris Kilham as he looks back on his experiences visiting and living with natives all around the world. He emphasizes how their culture deeply value connections in family and laments how selfish corporate interests slowly destroy them. Chris also highlights their unique connection to natural food, an important factor in building strong communities with bright and promising futures.

About Chris Kilham

Chris Kilham is a medicine hunter and explorer working with indigenous to promote sustainable botanical trade. Dubbed by The New York Times as a fusion of Davin Attenborough and Indiana Jones, he has authored more than 15 books, provided lectures all over the globe, and appeared on over 500 television programs.

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Show Notes:

0:00 – Introduction

3:30 – Chris’ current perspective on the natural food industry

7:38 – Eco-friendly food packaging and presentation

10:54 – Living more sustainably like indigenous people

25:14 – A 103-year-old woman in Amazon

28:13 – Brands that create a better world

32:11 – Solving problems fairly and equitably

35:00 – Outdoor travel, food connection, and the simple joys of life

44:15 – Getting the message out there

48:50 – Coming together

54:38 – COVID-19 pandemic and vaccination efforts

1:02:55 – Conclusion

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Chris Kilham On Building Sustainable Communities By Learning From Indigenous People

I’m joined by a fellow natural products industry veteran, Chris Kilham. He is a medicine hunter and explorer who works with indigenous native people to promote sustainable botanical trade. He is the author of fifteen books. He lectures all over the globe and has appeared on over 500 TV programs. The New York Times called him part David Attenborough and Indiana Jones. Chris, welcome to the show.

Thanks, Corinna. It’s great to be on with you. I’m happy that your show is doing so very well. That’s good news. We need more positive material out there and less of a lot of the garbage that’s floating around.

I’m glad that it’s rising. I’m in the top 2.5%. That’s always a good feeling. I’m jealous of you being called the cross between David Attenborough and Indiana Jones because these are two of my idols.

It was extremely kind of Andrew Downey who wrote that. He got a good immersion. I took him up to the Andes and to Mecca country to see how botanical trade happens. He’s a very smart guy. He wrote a beautiful article about it for the times. Any in-all media that we can get for things natural for indigenous people, for communities that most folks don’t know about, does help to lift everybody over time. That was a terrific thing. I fell over backward when I read that.

I want to tell the story first of how we met as we get started because I’ve been working in the natural products industry since 1999. I was fresh out of college. I joined Draco Natural Products, which was manufacturing some 100 plus herbal extracts. I met you, the medicine hunter. In our first meeting, we got into a deep discussion on green tea, all the different ways that it can be used and all the health benefits of green tea.

It goes fast. You’ve done so many wonderful things in the scene. One of the things I like about the whole natural products world is you can go from, let’s say, working with cereal grains, being a non-GMO campaigner, devoting yourself to fish oil to going on. People consider it part of your aggregate body of knowledge rather than, “They move around a lot.” It’s this great learning field. It’s wonderful that we have thousands of people who are terrific resources, specialized and generalized knowledge and in all the things that we care about that are in the natural sector.

Given the time since then to this moment, I wonder what has changed about your perspective. If anything at all, what surprises you?

I don’t know that I’m exactly surprised. I did my first work in the natural products industry in 1971 for Food Co-ops. At the time, we had the idea of “Maybe everybody could eat natural foods. Wouldn’t that be amazing? It change the health of the world,” and all that. A lot of the people who were fundamentally idealistic at that time and who started all kinds of companies, Lundberg rice, Celestial Seasonings teas and on and on were visionaries. Many of us were ardently devoted to this cause, for which we took a lot of ridicule.

The vast industrialization of it is a bit sad. The consolidation of brands and the winnowing out of local and regional brands in the business is quite a shame. I’m disappointed that Whole Foods has become a palace of clamshell plastic cases when they could do something good for the world and champion whole new worlds of packaging. Our industry, unfortunately at the very same time that so many good things are happening, is also fallen prey to things like single-serve packaging for organic goods. Ten thousand-year trash for certified organic soup or something makes no sense.

Most indigenous people are on the ropes. They are struggling on all sides because they are getting pressured to die, being a common nuisance to larger interests.

In some ways, I’m glad that many more people have available to them many natural brands that do elevate their health and nutrition. On the other hand, I’m sad that we’ve lost so many of the core values, especially environmental and sustainable values. It’s all going to come crashing down around our heads, however organic we are, if we don’t take care of the planet.

You bring to mind for me something that I saw in a Whole Foods that was quite astounding. They had taken an orange, peeled it and sold it in a plastic cup with a plastic lid. I feel the same way about pomegranates. They’ve taken the work out of showing the pomegranate and they’re selling it to you with the kernels and this plastic thing, which is superfluous.

What’s crazy about the whole thing with pomegranate is eating it. When did you first eat a pomegranate? When you were a kid?

It was always an incredible mess but I loved it. It was an experience. You dug into it.

It was a little bit hard to figure out how to do it. You start opening it and all of a sudden, you’re all purple and there’s all this stuff. That’s eating a pomegranate. It’s not the little kernels that are coming to a small plastic cup. That’s not okay. That’s infuriatingly dumb as far as I’m concerned.

It blows my mind. It’s the same thing with hard-boiled eggs. People are selling hard-boiled eggs in plastic packaging. They’ve taken the trouble of shelling it out when nature has provided the perfect container for it already. We’re essentially saying we know better like make it out of plastic.

It’s good that we’re getting some of this out of our systems. The thing is I travel all over the world. Although during COVID, I haven’t been doing so. I see all kinds of clever ways that people have, in many places, more sustainable packaging for food. Entire express stores in Europe have paper or cardboard packaging for sandwiches soups, salads and all kinds of take-out items. It’s smart and sane. Utensils can be easily disposed of that are environmentally friendly. We’re way behind here and it’s primarily to do with enormous pressure from the petroleum industry in ways that it’s hard to comprehend unless you spend time in Washington seeing the ugliness of it all grind out. We can put lipstick on a pig and say it’s getting worse.

I’ve seen some creative uses of things, even banana leaves in some other countries where they’re using these things as the packaging to disperse products. I wonder if you see some of that coming in from some of these international spaces. If you have any purview on that.

At the trade shows that we attend, especially in the deep end of the dial, the so-called sustainable end, you’ll see people selling press bamboo-based utensils of different kinds, cups, bowls and things. A little bit of this creeps in but for the most part, it doesn’t seem to be something that a majority of people have caught on to. The first time I was in India, back in ‘83, I went to a feast at this temple.

CMBB 73 | Indigenous People
Indigenous People: The natural food industry has fallen stupidly to prey to things such as single-serve packaging. It lost so many of its core environmental and sustainable values.

They had these bowls that were made of long leaves that were wrapped together in a certain way and then they had little pieces of almost like toothpicks around the rim to hold them together. They were serving a very soupy doll. I’m like, “This is going to pour through these little things.” It didn’t at all. At the end of the meal, when everybody was done with it, they just threw these things into the fire and it was done. We’re way behind in the packaging world. It’s unfortunate. Single-serve organic should not be allowed to be called organic, as far as I can figure.

One of the things I spoke about in a show, Dr. Vimal Thomas George, wrote a book called Health in Flames, which is all essentially about how the economic disparity is pushing more health challenges than you might think. If you make some specific choices to save more and consume less, you’ll essentially be able to create a healthier life and even do passion projects as opposed to work for the 9:00 to 5:00.

The interesting point that he made and the point I wanted to get to is that in India, utensils would even be considered a non-necessary item because of things like what you mentioned. They eat with their hands. Our hands work perfectly well. It is attached to your body. You put food in it and put it in your mouth.

You wash your hands. You use utensils that might be crafted from something as simple as part of a banana leaf. There’s a disparity between how we and other cultures see the necessity. Part of why I invited you to talk has to do with your experience in understanding the global perspective of what sustainability is, your desire to help preserve the health of our home planet, we only have one and because of your important work in preserving the historical knowledge of indigenous people. One of the things I hoped we could talk about was a little bit of a perspective on what you have learned from indigenous people around the globe about living more sustainably.

First of all, it is fair to say that most indigenous people are on the ropes. I haven’t ever seen an idyllic, indigenous community anywhere. I spent my entire career with indigenous people all over the world, whether it’s in the mountains of Sichuan, China, the Amazon or Vanuatu South Pacific. The world had a crushing effect on indigenous life everywhere, whether you’re talking Aboriginals in Australia, Māori in New Zealand and Mapuche in Chile. I’ve spent time with them. They’re all struggling because on all sides, mostly they’re getting pressure to die. They are a nuisance to large interests. There’s this constant pressure to get land and their resources.

There are some very good projects out there but indigenous people around the world are rapidly out of the transition from living with the rhythms of nature. If you go into the Amazon and into native communities, you go to any shopkeeper and say, “Take me into the forest and show me medicinal plants,” they can show you 100 of them. They have that basic knowledge like, “My grandmother always boils this if you’re sick.” It goes to the whole bit, “But I didn’t know that much.” You can find that knowledge. In that sense, people are more in the rhythms of nature mostly because they’re surrounded on all sides by nature that’s being rapidly defiled and destroyed.

Because of industrialization of food, people miss out on the joy of cooking, preparing, and consuming food.

You see this in Congo, Ivory Coast, Thailand and all over the place. Malaysia was a splendor of tropical rain forest, the oldest rain forest on Earth, million years old. A much smaller amount of it remains because they took tens of millions of hectares of land, bulldozed and burned them down so that they could grow Palm and be a player in the Palm oil market. Palm oil is a race to the bottom of the economic ladder.

One thing I’ve learned from indigenous native people is that they have all kinds of different ways of adapting to this. Some of them wind up predictably becoming more consumer-oriented because they see stuff that they like and want it to. There are often divisions in different places between people who choose to be more “traditional” and people who choose to be more modern like in Vanuatu south Pacific, where I’ve spent a lot of time since ’95, there are some villages that still remain.

However, few there are wearing traditional garb, men wearing a penis sheath, women wearing looked like grass skirts but are made from the inside of a bark of a particular tree. Mostly, the villages are people in flip-flops, drawstring shorts, t-shirts or polo shirts and flip phones. It is a rapidly changing scene. One of the most wonderful things I have learned from indigenous native people is their sense of community. For the most part, what I’ve seen in different communities throughout America, Asia, Pacific Islands and different places is that there is more of a sense of community cohesion in villages.

People take care of each other’s kids and there’s much more sharing. There are more feasts that people have together. That cohesion keeps communities stronger. We lack a lot of that. I know people find community in many different ways here but the simplicity of living with people in the same village, growing up multi-generationally, taking care of each other’s kids, being kids together and winding up being grandparents together does something pretty wonderful to a group of people if they’re not terribly disadvantaged. I’ve found indigenous native people to be remarkably resourceful.

One time I was up on a very far-out island right on the Northern Malaysian and Southern Thailand border and Accompong that is an island dedicated to the Malaysian Aboriginal people there, the Orang Asli. The first time I went there, the scene was desperately poor. It was awful. The poverty was extraordinary, sad, hard to watch and hard to be around. About four years later, I went back to the same place. As soon as we started pulling up to the boat, I saw that people had clean clothing. They looked better and groomed. There were lots of changes on this island. To the one person who could speak with them, I said, “I need to know what has changed because it’s something radical.”

We talked with them for a while. They said, “What has changed is we found sandalwood in the forest.” Sandalwood is worth a fortune. They’d go in periodically, cut a little bit, sell it to the perfume industry, make a lot of money and improve their community. One of the things I have learned from indigenous people is they’re endlessly creative when it comes to finding ways to keep alive.

You’ve shared so much to unpack from deforestation. Ultimately, we’re planting a bunch of Palm trees to get the Palm oil out and taking the forest away from the orangutan. This is exactly the reason I try to avoid Palm oil and every product I worked to formulate over the years, even if it was a great alternative to homogenize something. It’s important that, as consumers, we think about these things.

CMBB 73 | Indigenous People
Indigenous People: Indigenous people around the world are rapidly transitioning from living with the rhythms of nature. They are endlessly creative in finding ways to keep themselves alive.

When we hear about Palm oil, we say, “You could have the most safe Palm oil forest in the world that may claim not to deforest but by even supporting that industry in a way, we’re supporting that industry.” One of the delicate things about being in the natural food space is that you have to sometimes balance those things and think about the intended and unintended consequences of your formulary choices even.

There was one thing I additionally wanted to mention about indigenous people, at least in my experience. I have been treated over the years with extraordinary hospitality, generosity and kindness. You can’t believe the things that people have done for me. One of the things that happens almost all the time if I go to a faraway place as I show up is I don’t go roaming around by myself. I usually have a team of people. I’m working for a purpose with particular plants, whether it’s tea, ginseng or something, Schisandra berry or Ashwagandha. If our team shows up in a community, people will drop what they’re doing and say, “What do you need?” We say, “Is anybody harvesting coffee?” They go, “My aunt is harvesting coffee. Come with me.”

They will abandon their day utterly and do it out of the kindness in the South Seas. I know this sounds not even credible. On two occasions, my friends built me a house so I’d have a nice place to stay. When’s the last time you built a house for a guest? Never. I am often mind blown by the generosity of people and also, by the sense of time. You go to Morocco. It’s mostly Muslim. That means hospitality, among many other things. You have what they call a small tea, which is tea, bread, dried fruits, fresh fruits, melon, honey, raisins, dates, nuts and cheeses. You have to eat it. You can’t go, “Thanks. I’ll have a look.” That’s not going to work out.

The deal is it’s happening until the guy in the turbine says, “We’re done. Let’s go out into my orchard.” There’s this whole sense of you’re not in charge of the time. You’re there. It’s a different scene. Relax, enjoy it and thank them. I have had hundreds of conversations with people across languages. What I mean by that is I talk with Arabic people all the time. They don’t have a clue what I’m saying. They talk with me cheerfully for 5 to 10 minutes. I got no idea what they’re talking about but there’s something about the moment and the time.

If you’re going along in the woods and somebody is speaking in Altai in Southern Siberia and they’re pointing to something, you can get the gist that they’re saying, “Isn’t this majestic, amazing and beautiful? Do you have anything like this back home?” That’s all by way of saying that I have found the actual spirit of the people that I’ve met all over the world to be pretty damn wonderful and unfailingly kind toward me. I’m so grateful for the experience.

Part of the reason that you encounter so much of this is because you approach everything you do with an innate curiosity. I’ve never felt like there was a moment where you were judging the experience or the people that you’re with. I’ve observed you in many different settings. Even just looking at how you’re presenting your thoughts and ideas on social media to try and get people to think about indigenous peoples or plants in a different way and to think about access to these things in a different way, you’re always coming at it from an educational and curious perspective that is, in a way, beautifully childlike.

I had ministers and broadcasters in my family. I’ve always had a, “You get to do good for the world,” attitude. That was part of the basics of the family ethos and the, “Tell the world,” was the broadcasting part. One of the greatest joys I have ever had has been in the endless hundreds of shows or seminars in which I have been able to show people when I am showing them people in Siberia, Hunan, China, Vanuatu, Chile or Thailand.

No single person should carry the burden of the entire world and fix everything alone. That will not be possible. Everyone must come together to build a better future.

A long time ago, on my first trip to the Amazon, I wound up meeting a 103-year-old woman shaman named Maria Seana. We chased her around a bunch. We couldn’t find her. It was one of those that they show up and go, “She left about one hour ago.” We went on for days. We played like, “Where’s Waldo? Where the hell is this?” We finally found her and she was incredibly tiny.

She was 103 but she was brilliant. The gist of the story is she looked at me and said, “You bridge the world.” I was like, “I’m all ears.” She said, “You have to do this, share about each other and other cultures. You need to go around and do this. You need to foster.” She’d never met me before. She didn’t get any introductions to me. She didn’t know about my work but she nailed it.

I took that to heart. I’d been doing that but the whole idea of bridging worlds, we live in such a fractious time. I hate to say it but I see projects out there like the harvesters of Devil’s Claw in Namibia. You couldn’t find a poorer group of people. Desperate poverty is the exact description. A lot of the botanical world works on the back of the poverty of people. The price holds in the $3 a kilo region.

Here’s the crazy thing. If it were $6, you could revolutionize the lives of thousands of people and dozens of villages overnight. The end difference to civilization, the people who will faithfully walk into a chain store and come out with a $4 coffee every single day of their lives, it’s meaningless. $0.25 more a bottle for the supplements? Who cares. We have a lot of downward pressure on pricing and that harmed indigenous people in communities terribly.

I got to tell that story a bit from the eyes of Mokhtar Alkhanshali, who is the CEO and Founder of Port of Mokha, which is a coffee company that is working to bring good quality coffee from Yemen to the states. He has such an incredible way of telling the story from the perspective of an entrepreneur because he’s coming in, seeing how these people are living, how they were growing and curing the coffee. Let’s say it wasn’t very clean or very precise and the quality of the coffee would end up being worse as a result.

He came in with a technologist perspective, helped them fix some of how they were growing, curing the coffee and committed to paying what is four times what any other company was paying them to help elevate the growers to a standard of living that would be very good by comparison to where it had been, commercialize it and sell it in the United States. He sent me some of the coffee. It’s some of the most divine coffee I’ve ever tasted. I’m a coffee snob. He’s doing something right.

To the best of our knowledge, coffee happened in Yemen, second only to Ethiopia. It’s spread from Ethiopia to Yemen. Yemen is where it was first made into a hot beverage. The thing you described is that you do have people who will do projects like that. I love the folks at Sambazon Açaí. They’re good friends. I’ve been in the Amazon with them a few times. They do good things for the communities. It’s not hard to do the right thing and say, “It would be a better world if the people that we acquire our botanicals from didn’t live in desperate poverty and have trouble feeding their children.” For a few cents more, that can be accomplished.

We have some rethinking to do about what human beings we want to be. Not only in terms of treating other human beings and I know this is a big focus for you but also treating the natural environment. I see things I’m so sorry I’ve ever seen because it’s such wholesale destruction out there. Sometimes images come up and I wish I could get rid of them for good. We’re doing terrible things out there. This is not a sustainable situation.

Every time there’s a new United Nations report, urgent warning or 16,000 more scientists get together and conclude that we’re running out of time, people go on and there’s not enough sense of urgency about it. It’s a shame because we have the capacity to create a very good world. We have people who have modeled things like the man you’re talking about, Mokhtar. We need hundreds of thousands of projects like that humming along all the time to reshape the entire landscape mentally, socially, environmentally and economically the whole kit.

CMBB 73 | Indigenous People
Indigenous People: Indigenous people have different ways to adapt to urbanization. Some of them become more consumer-oriented, creating division between those who want to remain traditional.

A couple of other brands came to mind as you were talking about that with Amazon. Alaffia, what they’re doing for shea butter out of Africa, as an example. There are several that are doing good things. You have this other side of the equation in the natural foods environment where people are trying to create a new technology to make food that might be very expensive to create. I’m thinking about things like lab-grown meats, for example.

People are talking about bringing them to market and having a viable product that they would sell alongside or in competition with the impossible burgers of the world. We could talk for a while about the impossible burger. I’m not confident that an approach like that is doing anything necessarily good. There are all these novel approaches to foods where it’s like we’re saying, “We’ll throw technology at it.”

We throw technology at something and it doesn’t necessarily solve the problem that is seeking to solve. It creates another slew of problems that we haven’t yet identified. It’s one of the things about human nature that is continuing to come up for me. We, as man, in this extractive world, think we can solve it by just doing X, Y and Z. Sometimes, we need to look to some of the cultures of the world, how they’re solving problems and how we might scale those things in a fair and equitable way.

If you look at a lot of communities out there, they shop every day. They go to the market. The fruits and vegetables are fresh. They buy them that day. They go home and make whatever they make. If they’re in Thailand, maybe they make a pumpkin curry. There’s a lot of local agriculture and small production. It’s not a consolidated, high chemical input, agricultural type of environment. That’s great. You have people making specialty foods, a relish or a sauce. You go to Jamaica and there are women all over the island who are famous for, “You haven’t had jerk sauce until you’ve had Annabelle’s jerk sauce. You think you’ve had jerk sauce. You don’t know anything.”

One of the things that I’m fortunate with is that I’ve got to eat all over the world. I’ll tell you a quick story. I was in Vanuatu with some friends in a village that was as close to anything you’ve ever seen, described as a tropical paradise ever in your life, a crescent-shaped beach, huts all around it, facing a live volcano across the bay. It nailed it. My native friends, who are more fit than you could ever be if the only thing you ever did for your whole life was to workout, say to me, “Do you want to go to the waterfall and then eat lunch?” There’s only one answer to that, which is, “Yes.”

One guy has a sack. A couple of guys have machetes. One person brings a box of matches that are protected in plastic. We all head off to the waterfall, which is so splendid that you want to weep with joy that you have the experience of being there in this beautiful water that you can drink and swim. We do that for a while and then climb way up a hill. As we go along, the guys go into a stream and scrape underneath the banks of the stream. They get these big freshwater prawns, throw them in the bag, we go along, find some tarot, yams, coconut, bananas and a bunch of other things.

We get to a clearing and make a little fire. We prepare the yams, tarot, shrimp, coconut and all that, wrap it up in the banana leaves and cook it on the fire. Once we started to eat this about 45 minutes later, we all looked at each other and burst out laughing because we knew this was the best that we could possibly have. There was no better thing you could do at the time. The point to that is we miss out a lot on the joys of cooking and doing things around food. They have this great thing in Grenada called oil down.

By reaching as far as possible beyond your own circles or tribes, unexpected, surprising, and wonderful changes happen.

One person brings a cooking pot to the beach. Somebody brings some cooking oil, onions, carrots, fish, this and that, salt the whole bit. They all show up, throw it in the pot and make this stuff that’s categorically delicious. If you’re walking by, they will insist that you have some and it’s delicious. How do they do this community thing? 6 to 8 people go, “Let’s do an oil down.” We miss out on a lot of that with all this packaged crap and the industrialization of food. It takes a lot of the joy out of it. If you go to Italy, it is the best food place on Earth. If they want to have a two-hour lunch, they’ll have it. It includes wine. You go back and work. You’ll be productive. We’ve lost something with our connection with food.

I was propelled on a journey with you. I don’t think that I have a single experience that parallels your hike to that waterfall. That saddens me. I might’ve come close with a cookout or something to that effect but harvesting from the forest farm right then, from the creek or river that’s right there, getting that food, spending that time together, having it be this quality engagement where you weren’t watching the clock. You were living in concert with the environment and its pure state. It is a beautiful story.

What do we do with the moments of our lives? My friends and I were in Sichuan in the mountains and there is an indigenous group there. They’re not Han Chinese. We went to their town. It was the middle of the day. We were going by a school. I said to the drivers, “Stop this van.” We stopped it, me and the couple of guys I was with got out. We walked right into the school. It was pandemonium as soon as we walked in. They had never seen a foreigner ever. All of a sudden, this tall American walks in with two French guys and they got video cameras. The teacher was great.

She took one look at me and went like, “That’s it for the day.” We took all those kids to the town square, which was only about a block away and the parents came out. We spent hours photographing each other endlessly, looking at women pounding tobacco, being taken into people’s homes and making a real connection with this community. I know that not everybody can travel but if we can have more experiences where we’re doing something joyful and maybe completely unexpected, we can have a better experience in this world socially among us, instead of feuding over people like Donald Trump and stuff that doesn’t matter. Thank you for letting me rant. It’s cleansing.

I don’t see it as a rant. I look at this conversation as probably the highlight of my week. You have to consider to the fact that we’re in this COVID time. I’m dealing with eruption after eruption. I’m somewhat isolated. As we talk about community and these types of experiences that many people are longing to have, it reminds me of the wanderlust that I’ve been putting to bed for a long time, the desire I have to go see and be in other spaces with other people and living in a different culture for a while because it’s so eyeopening when you do that and when you see that the way that you do things, when you live in the fact that it’s not the way everyone does things.

CMBB 73 | Indigenous People
Indigenous People: A lot of downward pressure on pricing that has been imposed on indigenous people resulted in communities in terrible shape.

The difference isn’t necessarily better but different offers perspective in a way that hearing about it doesn’t. You talked about the two-hour lunches in Italy. I was in France. We’re living in a very small town where that was the same norm. If you started to try and clean up your dishwear when you were half an hour into the meal, they look at you like, “You’re crazy. What are you doing? We haven’t got to the fruit yet.”

“Are you sick? Have you fallen ill?”

Those cultures invite you to slow down. One of the things that we have lost is we have this perspective that slow is somehow bad or you’re not productive enough if you’re not doing six different things at once. I don’t think that we necessarily have all the right answers but the key to happiness is not sitting there on the hamster wheel every hour of your day.

Do you know what a happy experience is? It’s sitting around a fire. I have sat around fires in endless places all over the world. You don’t have to know the same language. We’ve sat around telling stories in different languages around fires on many nights that I’ve enjoyed out there. People have been staring into fires for millions of years.

There is an example of something that provided you to do it safely and it’s not in a high-risk fire area. It’s easy, beautiful and something that brings people together. Maybe food, music, a little bit of drink or cannabis shows up. Anything can happen but a lot of the pleasures don’t have to be the brand new Maserati. I don’t give a crap about the brand new Maserati. I care about people having good experiences in life.

You’ve done so much work in media over the years in 500 different TV and radio, for example. You had your own radio show. You’ve been able to use your voice to communicate your thoughts for a long time. What is the message that you are the most connected to or the most proud of in that time?

This will surprise you. I had nine years on Fox. I was on the Fox News Network in 100 countries. I love if I get up and speak in front of a room full of herbalists. I’m an ecstatic bliss. You have to practically nail my toes to the floor because it’s like, “My people.” I also found, being on Fox, that I was able to get messages out to millions of people about herbal health, indigenous communities, the value of psychedelics and psychiatric therapy, all kinds of things about organics and sustainability. I also did things that were playing entertaining, weird food segments and stuff like that. That time enabled me to reach a lot of the people that we don’t reach within our own sphere.

That stepping out was in the loads of appearances that I did on the Oz Show back in the days when it was good, reaching millions of people who hadn’t heard these messages over and over again. I know for sure that many people tried herbs as a result of those segments and messages and thought more about organics and any number of other things. As is the case with you, you don’t have a single message. You have a mixed message that’s cohesive and all fits together, health, sustainability, living well, living right and all of that. I got to do it on a global stage in 100 countries.

If there ever was a time to be kind, caring, and considerate of others, it is right now.

Those days are gone with the 2016 election when Fox News became this corrupt miasmic access pool of everything but it’s reaching people who aren’t already converted. We used to get comments. People appreciated the heck out of stuff. To me, that is very satisfying. If we can reach as far as possible beyond our own group, tribe or what Kurt Vonnegut used to call our own caress, reach out far and stretch far.

That’s where a lot of the unexpected, surprising, wonderful change happens. Oddly enough, if you go look online, there’s this thing called Fox News Finally Admits That Marijuana Is Safe. That was me. I was sitting and doing a segment with Manny Alvarez. He says, “What about marijuana?” “We all know it’s safe.” Oddly enough, that became the bell ringer moment with zillions of places all over online. “That’s proof.” I have a go bigger, go home attitude. Thank goodness, it has been more helpful than not and I want to keep reaching far.

It’s reaching across the aisle as far as you can in whatever the aisle is. I was in a Clubhouse room where I mentioned a podcast that I had heard, where Abe’s Eats was featured. The founder of this company created halal and kosher foods to serve both communities. It was one of the first to do. This is before COVID hit. What he started to do was organize meals in San Francisco where he would invite Hasidic orthodox Jews, Muslims, atheists and Christians to had dinner and then make them sit in an all-mixed-up fashion. It would be like a several-course meal. We are talking about a 2 to 3-hour dinner.

The first time he did it, it was an experiment. He shares this story on a few podcasts. It’s like, “I wasn’t sure at the end when this Orthodox Jewish lady I’d invited was approaching me with a shaking fist if I was going to get a tongue lashing or more.” What she ended up sharing was that she was thankful for the experience that not just opened her mind but changed her mind with regard to how she saw these people that weren’t other than her. Those moments are powerful, especially as we’re in this very divisive world. We need to seek where we’re common because there’s far more that’s common than separate. We each have our own ideas but those are just thoughts. We should treat each other well, try to live well and do good. It seems so simple.

We have a lot to unwrap. I drive a car, pollute the environment, buy petroleum products, fly around the world and use jet fuel. That’s not lost on me. We’re participants in a greater problem. It’s not possible to extricate yourself unless you want to go live in a tarpaper shack in the woods. That’s no solution because you don’t help anybody doing that. These are challenging times but if we’re simultaneously communicating about these issues and also doing practical earthly work that represents those values, it’s the best we can do.

One of the overwhelming things that happen in people’s minds and hearts is that often people feel so badly about what’s going on in the world that they feel that the burden is too great for a person to carry. Of course, it’s too great for a person to carry but if all of us carry a little bit of it, then it’s not. The people who expect one person to come and save everybody are delusional.

That’s never going to happen. There’s not going to be a Messiah who shows up and goes, “You have been a mess. You’ve had a rough ride but I’m going to fix it all.” We’re all that being together. That’s the only way it works. Nobody has to feel overwhelmed that the weight of the world is entirely on them because it can’t be and shouldn’t be.

This is going right back to my review of Paul Hawken’s book Regeneration. He makes a statement in there. “You can’t solve the world’s problems. It’s the reality but we can be all be part of it. It can be something we do together, a community effort and something that becomes beautiful. It’s going to take work and time. It’s not going to happen overnight.” The climate crisis isn’t going away. Wildfires are going to rage around the globe again in the next fire season. We’ll have to contend with those things. Those events will bring more people into the fold but it’s not going to happen overnight. You don’t know. Human behavior is a complex and tricky thing.

If you can connect through kindness, hospitality and mutuality, you can discover wonderful things about each other. People talk endlessly about, “The French are so snotty to American visitors.” I’ve been to France three dozen times. I’ve never had that happen. Everybody treats me nicely. I treat them nicely. This is not a hard formula. This is not like, “What do we possibly have to do to get treated well?” This is an easy one. Treat others well.

I come from a family of ministers and broadcasters. I am not religious at all. I’m deeply spiritual. I have no interest in isms, ologies, osophy or any of that but I will say that if you had to pick a single teaching that plain works, it is, “Do unto others or love thy neighbor.” If you adjusted that and nothing else, this would all be settled.

Is there a final thought you’d like to leave the audience with or a question you wish I had asked that I haven’t? If you have one of those, feel free to ask and answer it.

CMBB 73 | Indigenous People
Indigenous People: Human beings must face the fact that they are living in real human bodies that can be exposed to viruses. It has absolutely no immune capacity to defend itself. It needs further help.

I’m deeply involved in the natural scene and have been since I was a teenager, which was a long time ago. During COVID, I have been an outspoken advocate of science. I read WHO every day, CDC, SitRep and British Health Authorities. I read individual reports, vaccination reports and development trials, you name it. I’ve had time on my hands. I have put this out on a lot of social media. I’ve been very disappointed by a lot of the crackpot responses that I’ve got from people in our scene, people who are totally vociferous anti-vaxxers. “We didn’t realize you were such a coward.” It goes on and on.

It’s not an either-or proposition. We use natural agents as much as we can but I travel with Ciprofloxacin because of very few times when I’ve been out there and been hit by dysentery, it has saved me from grave harm. When I was a kid, there was a guy in my neighborhood with polio. That made it real. All he needed was to see one image on TV, one time of a kid in an iron lung and I was like, “Give me the vaccine. I don’t care if you have to chop off my shoulder,” because he didn’t want that.

We’ve gone a little bit Loony Tunes, off the bend and playing completely crackpot wacko in some ways. Homeopathic vaccinations? Give me a break. You’ll die. You got to get real about the fact that we’re real human beings living in real human bodies, exposed to viruses that we have never encountered before, to which we have no immune capacity to defend ourselves. We need help. It’s not going to come from taking more vitamin D.

I’ve been taking my vitamin D more religiously than I probably ever did in the past. I have very old relatives. My in-laws are almost 90. I would like to see them have their 100th birthday and not just be dismissed into this. They were old and lived a good life. I liked them and other grandkids. That’s the challenge. That’s part of why the social circles have shrunk for a while. I can’t have these get together and have those experiences around the fire that I might want to have the same way because I also know that every time I expose myself to somebody else, it could run the risk of then infecting family members who are very aged. It’s been a tough year.

My wife’s parents are equally old. They’re in New Zealand. We can’t get to them because of restrictions. You don’t want to spread this. This is a real thing. I am disappointed that some seemingly very intelligent people have gone off the deep end with people that we know and love.

It’s easy to judge when it doesn’t affect you directly. I’ve seen a few that have gone through some minor changes over sickness. I have friends who work as doctors and nurses at the hospitals who are dealing with these things on the day-to-day. The stories that they tell are frightening. In fact, one of my friends is an author and she wrote a book about it. I’ve done a show which was Year of the Nurse: A 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic Memoir by Cassie Alexander.

She worked through the pandemic as one of the first nurses on the frontline in Silicon Valley. The reason that she was on the frontline and that she volunteered for that was multifold. She does have children. She has a husband. He’s relatively healthy. She’s healthy. She also worked in the burn unit. As somebody who worked in the burn unit, she was very accustomed to the isolation gear that you have to wear to treat COVID patients.

One of the challenges that these nurses and doctors were going through having to wear this garb for an entire shift was something that was very hard for them to get used to. Some were having almost claustrophobic attacks because of it and a lot of anxiety where it would spur up anxiety. She’s like, “I’m taking one for the team. This is what I’m doing.” Over the course of that year, she had a complete mental collapse because it was so hard to see so many people die that she treated.

It’s a terrible thing. People are understandably anxious, upset and sleeping poorly. If there ever was a time to be kind, caring and considerate of others, it’s now. I flew a couple of times back and forth across the country. It’s no fun to walk into an airport and know that from that point, until you walk out of the airport at your destination, you’re going to be in a mask, have that the whole time, deal with that and all the cleaning procedures. You walk on a plane and they hand you an alcohol wipe, first thing. It’s a different world and people are wicked stressed out.

There are supplements that help that, whether you’re talking Rhodiola, Ashwagandha, lemon balm, passionflower or any number of things that can calm you down but it’s a rough time for humanity. What I hope and nobody knows this, is that we don’t get a variant that has the transmissibility of Omicron and the fatality of Delta. If we do them, then that’s a whole other thing. It appears as the cases are slowly going down in many places that have been hotter. We can only hope that’s a continuing trend.

It’s a touchy subject and I have probably avoided more than I like to admit on this particular show. Partially because I want to reach as many people as possible and extend that out, frankly, discussions about vaccination shut down half of the audience that I might reach in some cases. That’s a tough one but I appreciate the conversation. My point of view is fairly obvious here. My family and I are vaccinated. My four-year-old can’t be yet but we’re doing it.

With my work, I have to be vaccinated for Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Japanese Encephalitis, yellow fever and tetanus. What you don’t want to do is wind up in someplace far away with hepatitis, then you’re in grave trouble. I see this as part of living a modern life. We get more exposed to pathogens of all different kinds and travel more freely around the world than ever before. The needs and requirements of civilizations are different than they ever have been.

Thank you, Chris. I can speak for another hour to you easily.

You’re a wonderful interviewer. One of the things that I appreciate is that you’re prepared and thoughtful. You have a long history in this industry. You have done good work, smart work and that helps a lot. It’s a pleasure to be on with you. I’ve got the time, so as you suggested before, when you get your other show up and rocking, I’ll be happy to come on and talk with you there as well. It’s been a real pleasure.

I can’t wait to do that. Thank you so much for your time. The overarching theme of this conversation has been pretty much about community.

These are fractious times. Especially with people having to isolate and not having so many of the activities that do keep the community going, it’s even more important to keep it in mind at this time. We don’t know what the times ahead will be. I do think it’s going to be better in the spring but we have a few rough months to go.

I certainly can’t wait to get back to concerts, spending more time with loved ones, enjoying music, dining out and all that stuff that we’ve been missing. As we wrap up, where can our readers go to find out more about you?

They can go to my website, They can look at the @MedicineHunter Facebook page, Instagram. Don’t look at my Twitter page. I mostly ranted stupid things. I say terrible things to politicians who deserve terrible things to be said to them. That’s not a place to find health advice. My books are on Amazon, as everybody’s books are. You can find them there as well.

All my best to you. Thank you so much.

Readers, as we wrap up here, it’s time for that simple ask. Please share this episode with your friends and family. You can even grab their phone, subscribe them to this show and download them this episode. That way, you’ll be sure that they’re more likely to read because sometimes what we need is that gentle nudge and that’s through sharing the in-depth discussions like this one that we had with the Medicine Hunter himself, Chris Kilham, that raise awareness.

Invite your community to care more so we can all create a better future for you, your family, the climate and our planet Earth. Together, we can create the future we want. I invite you to lean into your curiosity and that process of discovery. Encourage that wanderlust. There’s always more to learn. Thank you now and all ways for being a part of this show and community because together, we can do so much more. We can care more and be better. We can even regenerate Earth. Thank you.

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  • Chris Kilham

    Chris Kilham is a medicine hunter and explorer working with indigenous to promote sustainable botanical trade. Dubbed by The New York Times as a fusion of Davin Attenborough and Indiana Jones, he has authored more than 15 books, provided lectures all over the globe, and appeared on over 500 television programs.

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