Rip Esselstyn TED talks on Plant-Strong & Healthy Living (Transcript)

In this TED talk, Rip Esselstyn, a former firefighter and author of The Engine 2 Diet, advocates a plant-strong diet to combat chronic diseases. Esselstyn inspired his fellow firefighting crew at the Austin Engine 2 station to follow a plant-based diet and dramatically heal their health. In 2012, Engine 2 and Whole Foods Market unveiled the Engine 2 food line. More on




Rip Esselstyn

So I’m wearing my shirt inside out and a lot of you have pointed that out to me. And I do this from time to time, and when somebody says it, I say: “I know… I’m wearing my shirt inside out. I’m doing it on purpose and I’m doing it to help people turn their health around.

And they say: “Well, how do you do that?”

And here is the story. So, I became a firefighter to help people, to save lives, and to slay dragons.

Now, obviously, we are not slaying real dragons, but that’s our term for slaying fires. And a fire is really a living, breathing entity, and it’s hell-bent on creating all the destruction and devastation that it can. And so, we as firefighters have to use all of our wit and we have to outwit, outsmart it and outlast it, and whether it’s an offensive fire or a defensive fire, there are certain tactics.

But the essence of basically killing a fire is: “You got to put the wet stuff, on the red stuff” and it doesn’t matter if it is a house fire, an apartment fire or high-rise fire, or if it’s a wild land fire, we got to put the wet stuff, on the red stuff.

Now, I retired from firefighting a little over 3 years ago. So, I’m no longer fighting fires, but I now and still, I am helping people, I’m saving lives, and I’m slaying – I’m slaying a different type of dragon.

The dragon that I’m slaying today, is what I call “The 5-headed chronic western disease dragon” And This, over the last 100 years, has gained more strength and power and momentum and it is flying around, and it is creating more death and destruction on different individuals, families, cities and states in this country, it’s just absolutely amazing.

5-headed dragon

And let me introduce you to this 5-headed dragon.

So, right here we have the leader of the pack, we have heart disease. 100 years ago, heart disease wasn’t even on the map as one of the top 10 killers of Americans. Today, it’s first and foremost; 1 out of 2 of us will die from heart disease.

Here we have breast cancer and prostate cancer. Cancer will overtake heart disease as the number one killer of Americans if the trends continue. In the back row here, we have diabetes, and we have obesity. Close to 50% of Americans by 2030 will be either pre-diabetic or diabetic and over 70% of Americans is now overweight or obese.

This dragon is playing for keeps, okay? It’s playing hardball. And the current paradigm that we are using to try and slay this dragon, is having absolutely no effect whatsoever. There is a saying: You can’t break a glass bottle from the inside.

And what we are currently doing, with pills and procedures and more legislation and more doctors. We are not going to break that glass bottle. We have to think outside the box, and the answer is plant-based nutrition. Something so simple, yet so profound, and so inexpensive, that we can absolutely lay waste to this dragon that now comprises 75% of this country’s healthcare costs.

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Right? 5 diseases, 75% of our healthcare costs and we know beyond the shadow of a doubt, every one of these diseases is either preventable, or reversible with plan-based nutrition.

Now, let me tell you why I have so many ripples of hope about what we can do as a country going forward. We did something really remarkable at a little fire house in Austin Texas. We had an event that led to the discovery that one of our own was basically a dead man walking. And so I challenged these guys for 28 days, let’s eat all plant strong fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans, some nuts and seeds and these guys, in 28 days morphed themselves from medical time bombs, into healthy superheroes.

It was absolutely amazing and it was the spark that we needed and the confidence that these guys needed to start a wellness revolution at a firehouse in Austin Texas… the land of beef.

And so we just fed on this and — and the reason we were so successful is because we made health a habit at the fire station. And some of the things that made it easy is the guys at the fire station: they are my second family. So we had tons of support. We had an amazing amount of love between us, compassion, respect and admiration. So we had the support that you need.

We developed routines. Every day we come in and we have a plant-strong lunch that we share together. Then we’d have a crossfit workout in the afternoon. Then we’d have a dinner, a plant-strong dinner and we would alternate who would buy and shop for the food and then together we would cook it and eat it and then clean up afterwards.

And then the next morning we’d have a plant-strong breakfast and then before we left at noon the next day, we’d have a plant-strong lunch.

So these are routines that became consistent for months and years.

And then, I had to educate these guys. These guys had the same questions that everybody has: Well, where am I going to get my protein from plants? What about calcium? And I said: Listen, as far as protein is concerned, it’s a boogie man. Don’t worry about it. The scientific term – the medical term for protein deficiency is kwashiorkor and you don’t know it, and you don’t even have to mess with it.

And then for calcium, calcium comes from the ground, it’s a mineral. If you want to get a first-class, highly absorbable form, you want to get it from plants, not from Cowcium”, it’s not cowcium, it’s calcium.

And then these guys, they had a huge disconnect between what they thought was healthy and what in reality was healthy.

So let’s slay some of those dragons here together.

Red meat?

So first, they thought red-meat put hair on their chest and made them more manly. And I said: “Guys, no, it doesn’t. What it does is it puts plaque in your arteries and it makes you less of a man.”

The canary in a coalmine when it comes to heart disease. The first sign is an under-performing penis. And I said you take a look at the size of the arteries, they go up to the brain, to the heart, down in the legs. They’re all about five millimeters in diameter, about the size this straw here.

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You take a look at the size of the artery that goes to the male penis, it’s one millimeter. It’s about the size of this coffee stirring straw right here. And what happens after you eat all that meat, right? It gets clogged up with all the fat, the cholesterol and the animal protein. And that’s problematic.

So if you want to slay that erectile dysfunction dragon and allow your Puff-the-Magic Dragon to roar, then you want to ditch the meat and you want to reach for the plants.


These guys were absolutely convinced that chicken was like the cat’s meow when it came to health food. I said: Listen guys. Never mind that cat; this doesn’t even belong in your dog’s breakfast bowl, all right. It’s got the exact same amount of cholesterol as red meat. It’s got the same amount of problematic animal protein and the leanest piece a chicken is still 20% saturated fat.

You’re not going to be slaying any dragons with this guy here. “Okay, Rip. Fine. But fish, fish is the gold standard when it comes to a healthy meat, right?” And I said: No. It’s the 10th standard, okay? Most fish has more cholesterol than red meat or chicken; salmon, which is considered the healthiest, is 50 milligrams of cholesterol. You still got the problematic animal protein and varying amounts of the bad fats. Don’t go there guys.


Okay. Fine, Rip. But the egg? The egg is the perfect food, right? We know it’s the perfect food. Yes, the perfect food? if you want to continue to feed the dragon.

If you want to slay the dragon, you got to get rid of the egg. One egg yolk, almost 200 milligrams of dietary cholesterol. It’s the same amount as 2 Burger King whoppers and the egg white is a concentrated source of animal protein.

Now these guys knew the processed and refined foods were not healthy. They knew about the sugar, and the pop, and the fried chips and the candy bars. But they had no idea that extracted plant oils weren’t heart-healthy and weren’t beneficial.

Olive oil

So I said: Listen, this epitomizes the triumph of marketing over science. Let’s pick on olive oil for a second. It takes 1,375 olives that you have to squeeze to death, right, to get enough olive oil for one 32-ounce bottle. And you get rid of all the fiber, the water, the phytonutrients and the anti-oxidants. And you’re left with a 100%, the most concentrated source of calories on the planet and it’s 15% saturated fat. And all it’s doing is contributing to America’s heart disease and obesity epidemic.


Okay. But Milk? Milk does a body good, right?” And I said: Guys, milk does nobody any good. You’ve been marketed to death. Don’t buy the hype. As a matter fact, this milk is just liquid meat. It’s what it is. It’s got a very similar nutritional composition. And as a matter of fact, one eight-ounce glass of whole milk has the same amount of saturated fat as four slices of bacon.

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