Texas Town Has Healthy Turnaround Thanks To Plant-Based Diet
MARSHALL, Texas - Oklahoma is a national leader in heart disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cancer, but we don't have to continue being crippled by those diseases of the dinner table.
Being one of the country's most unhealthy states is costly in sickness, medical and insurance costs, a lower quality-of-life, and early death.
One Texas town's residents are working to turn the tide of chronic disease, at breakfast, lunch and supper.
To sit at dinner with Mayor Ed Smith of Marshall, Texas, and his wife, Amanda, is to sit with a couple reborn. They've regained their health with what they eat.
"If somebody wants to get control of their health, and turn things around, your body will heal itself very quickly, it's amazing what can happen in just a short period of time of four to six weeks," Ed Smith said.
In sharing the simple steps they've adopted with their friends and neighbors in Marshall, the Smiths have rated a mention in the New York Times, and a following that's blossoming across beef-eating Texas.
"We've had so many people come up to us that we've not even met that tell us their success stories. That is so rewarding," Amanda Smith said.
Marshall is a town of 25,000 people. It's in east-Texas cattle country, with a food culture, like the rest of the south, centered on meat, sugar, processed and fatty fried foods. That's why it's also, along with Oklahoma, in what's known as America's "stroke belt."
On the courthouse lawn, however, Johnny Reb offers a reminder of what we used to look like, before processed foods won "The War Between The States"; what we still ought to look like, a thin, wiry, fella, the way five-term Mayor Ed Smith looks now, Six years ago, however, he was 40 pounds heavier.
Two close friends, in their 40s, and seemingly healthy, had died of heart attacks, and the mayor was diagnosed with prostate cancer. So the Smiths immersed themselves in the science of nutrition.
They began eating a plant-based, whole foods diet, not to be confused with the grocery store of the same name, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes and whole grains.
Then, Ed Smith's prostate cancer disappeared.
"Most of these chronic diseases we have in the United States, for the most part, and even a lot of our cancers, are driven by what we're eating," Ed Smith said.
Buoyed by his success, the mayor offered to share what he'd learned with his neighbors, and has been overwhelmed by their response.
"I was 60 pounds heavier, so, because of a plant-based diet, this is where I am today," said Bill Dinsmore from Shreveport, Louisiana.
"He's lost 40 pounds, I've lost 40 pounds, he's off his statins, he's off his blood pressure medicine," said Kaia Schroeder from New Braunfels, Texas.
Once a month, crowding in a room at the fire house, they come bearing crock pots and foil pans full of home-cooked healthy foods, recipes to share and stories of lives that have veered off a collision course with chronic disease and early death.
"I wasn't even conscious at first that I was losing weight 'til people started saying 'Are you on a diet?' And I'm thinking, 'No, I've changed my lifestyle is what I've done, I've gotten healthy,'" Sharon Clark said of Nacogdoches, Texas.
Marshall's fire chief has become a kind of poster boy for the whole effort. Three years ago, Reggie Cooper was 50 pounds heavier and taking medicine every day for Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol. Then he switched to a plant-based diet.
"In 28 days, what I couldn't do in five years I was able to get off all the medications, I haven't been on medication since," Cooper said.
It was the same medicines, for the same ailments, for Gary Closkey. His doctor told him he'd be taking those medicines for the rest of his life, and then Gary began eating healthier foods.
"I haven't taken any medication in over four and a half years," said Closkey.
Away from the monthly plant-based potluck, there are now seven restaurants in Marshall offering the same on their menus. Robert and Deb Sorich's "Central Perks" draws a land-office lunch-time line for its plant-based offerings.
"We provide something that they desperately need and want, it helps our business and we eat the same way most of the time, too, it's just good tasting food," said Robert Sorich of Central Perks.
Stacy Daniels travels from Tatum, 30 minutes away, for the variety on Central Perks menu and her own peace-of-mind.
"So just not having to grill someone on how the food is prepared and what is in every single ingredient, it's a huge relief," said Daniels.
The mayor's new life has even boosted Marshall's bottom line. Three years ago, the Smiths underwrote the town's first "New Year, New You" festival, featuring some of the country's top physicians, nutritionists, researchers, dieticians and chefs.
It's only grown bigger since, drawing thousands of visitors from around the world, all because, in a world where arterial-stents and open-heart surgeries are considered, "normal," a man in Texas draws headlines for eating his vegetables and letting his friends' in on the secret.
"The end result is it's been a success in people's lives that we've seen, we've seen phenomenal changes in people's health," Ed Smith said.
The Smiths now travel throughout Texas helping other towns set up similar programs.