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From Lecturing to Snorkeling, New York Times Bestselling Author Jonathan Balcombe Shares Voyage Highlights

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Jonathan Balcombe at Holistic Holiday at SeaLast March, Dr. Jonathan Balcombe made his Holistic Holiday at Sea debut on our 14th annual Caribbean cruise. As a featured presenter, Jonathan gave insightful lectures about the amazing abilities, personalities, and feelings of animals, from fish to baboons. Often humorous and always compassionate, Jonathan pulled from scientific facts and his own observations as an expert in the field of ethology, the study of animal behavior.

Jonathan is the director of animal sentience at the Humane Society Institute for Science and Policy and a favorite among animal advocates around the world. He’s authored several books, including Pleasurable Kingdom (2006), Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals (2011), and his latest What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins (2016), a New York Times bestseller that was released in paperback this month.

We’re so excited Jonathan will be returning for our special ten-day 15th anniversary cruise to the southeastern Caribbean, February 15–25, 2018! We recently got the opportunity to catch up with him about his trip highlights, how the ethical and nutritional aspects of veganism work so well together, and why he’s so often curious about animals who don’t typically get the spotlight.

Fish Sightings on and Under the Deep Blue Sea

Jonathan Balcombe SnorkelingIn the early morning on the first full day at sea, Jonathan, with binoculars in hand, looked hopefully out over the sea. “I was delighted to see flying fishes taking off and moving away from the boat,” he says. “I saw them on like three or four occasions that day on different sides of the boat. We were definitely in waters that had a lot of them… I never saw any cetaceans. I talked to another group at my table one night who saw a pod of about 90 or so dolphins passing, coming toward the boat, and then kind of going past. I was green with envy at that time. Unfortunately I wasn’t party to that.” Timing is everything!

Our first port of call was Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Jonathan took part in the snorkeling excursion and saw many kinds of fish, including tarpon. “Tarpon are quite big, they’re like silvery white fish. They grow to over six feet long. The ones we saw were probably in the four foot range, the bigger ones. They just glided around so gracefully… I watched a boxfish blowing sand on the bottom, I guess trying to uncover food, that was pretty cool.”

On our last stop in Nassau, Bahamas, Jonathan snorkeled once again: “I enjoyed that, beautiful colors, lovely fishes of various species, and beautiful reef habitat as well.” Since the waters were very cold that day, Jonathan made a reminder to himself to pack a thick wetsuit for next year. Other fish Jonathan recalls seeing on his adventure are squirrelfish, yellowtail snapper, and porkfish, among others. He spotted yellowfin and mojarra, which are two kinds of fish he can also find at Boynton Beach in southeast Florida, where he lives.

A Compassionate Way to Live

Many people who choose plant-based lifestyles do so from a concern for the welfare and protection of animals. During his keynote lecture “What a Fish Knows,” Jonathan told the story of when he decided as a child on a summer camp outing that he did not want to fish like the rest of the kids. “From my earliest memory I was always smitten with animals, fascinated with them, wanted to know what it was like to be them. Of course I’ll never fully know. I was also deeply empathetic toward them. If there’s an empathy gene, I was born with it. I always went out of my way not to step on the ants. So it was that element. I was an animal person from my earliest memory.”

Jonathan Balcombe at Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary

Jonathan Balcombe with Clover at Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary

Jonathan earned three biology degrees, including a PhD in ethology from the University of Tennessee, where he studied communication in bats. When asked how he went from bats to fish, Jonathan replied, “I think I tend to consciously or maybe subconsciously gravitate towards less popular animals. Nowhere is that more evident than in my currently planned next book which is on one of the most reviled, least liked group of animals on the planet, that is flies.

“I almost did a graduate study on snakes which would have taken me in other directions, another very unpopular group of animals. I think that’s a big element for me, because I identify very much with animals ethically, I want to improve their lot, and the ones who are least liked by us probably need the most help.”

Humans are a Varied Lot

When he wasn’t underwater, Jonathan was exploring all of the onboard activities. “I went to quite a few lectures,” he says. “Most of the ones that I went to, the people who were speaking I had already heard before, which is not to say I didn’t learn new stuff or that they didn’t cover new stuff. I thought Caldwell Esselstyn’s presentation was really very interesting. Gene Baur, I always enjoy hearing him speak.” A pianist himself, Jonathan attended Luiz Simas’ jazz concert on Wednesday evening titled “A Musical Voyage to Brazil.” He says, “I really enjoyed it. I bought the CD. I love it and listen to it all the time.”

On the discussion of meat substitutes in the mainstream food industry, Jonathan said he was excited to see these products keep rolling out even if he wasn’t personally hankering for them. “Humans are a varied lot. We need a lot of doors for people to go through to get to a more compassionate way of eating. It may not be compassionate for them, it may be saving money, it may be whatever. It may be feeling like this food is safer, whatever works. But I think that’s an important sector that will draw in some more converts away from the conventional meat eating that we currently have now which we need to switch. So I’m very excited about those.”

One of the most magical aspects of the cruise is the way that people from all walks of life can come together over mindful eating. “One of the things I most liked about the cruise was that the meal seating was random, and you almost invariably got sat at a table with other people, and they were people you didn’t know. They were people you didn’t plan to sit with. That was great because it really helped with integration to meet different people, different angles, different geographies, where they’re coming from, how many times they’ve been on the cruise… It was really fun, I really liked that. I think that played a big role in the integration of different ways of thinking about it and different priorities for why people were there. We always found common ground.”

Join Jonathan on the 2018 Cruise!

Book a spot on our 15th anniversary sailing, February 15–25, 2018. In 2018, the MSC Divina will depart from Miami, Florida, and head to the following ports of call in the southeastern Caribbean: St. John’s, Antigua and Barbuda; Basseterre, St. Kitts and Nevis; Fort-de-France, Martinique; Philipsburg, St. Maarten; Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Islands; and Freeport, Bahamas. View the itinerary here and start planning!

Our Vegan Cruise Turns 15: A Look Back Through the Years!

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Holistic Holiday at Sea 15th Anniversary-1February 15–25, 2018, Holistic Holiday at Sea will embark on its 15th vegan cruise! Over the years, more than 15,000 cruise goers have come aboard to learn more about plant-based lifestyles in presentations and classes by world-renowned doctors, holistic practitioners, chefs, athletes, and other influential leaders. We’re so excited to celebrate this milestone with you and we have many new and fun things planned for this upcoming voyage.

Looking back over our journey since 2003, we wanted to thank you for Holistic Holiday at Sea’s success and growth, as well as share some memories with you and take stock of just how far the plant-based movement has come in recent years. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the support of a vibrant and compassionate community.

 

The Growth of a Movement

Although it was back in 2004, it feels like just yesterday we first set sail from Port Everglades with 410 people, traveling across the beautiful Caribbean Sea. Our small, but mighty, group visited Key West, Mexico, Jamaica, and the Grand Cayman Islands.Holistic Holiday at Sea cuisine

Participants learned from amazing presenters, such as the late Michio Kushi, who was a pioneer in the natural foods movement and an earlier proponent of the idea that one’s diet, environment, and health are connected. After the cruise, Michio said it was a great success: “People who worked to care for the participants were very entertaining. Throughout the period at sea, weather was continuously fine celebrating our dream. People could study, enjoy macrobiotic meals, sing together with Italian music and develop friendships. I hope everyone will join in the future.”

Guests on the cruise started off as strangers and quickly developed friendships and connections (many of the romantic variety!) that continued even after everyone returned home. 2004 was certainly an amazing beginning.

During this last cruise, 1,650 people shared the week with us! We owe this tremendous growth to a variety of factors, including the strength of the vegan movement itself. Sandy Pukel, HHAS president and founder, say it’s always been the cruise’s mission to help people choose lifestyles that will make them happier and healthier. Back then, however, he says it was almost like a secret society of people who followed vegan or macrobiotic lifestyles. But times have changed. “Now it’s okay to shout it from the rooftops,” he adds.

Michio Kushi

Michio Kushi

More doctors are also becoming more outspoken about their scientific findings. “In the beginning, we had maybe 100 doctors (MDs) on the cruise, but only 10 or 20 would say they were doctors because they were going against the accepted culture at the time of being vegan and being an MD and espousing this kind of philosophy and lifestyle. Now we have 150 doctors on there who are proud to say they’re part of it. It has become kind of like a magnet for people to see those doctors who are into alternative health.” Many of these doctors are presenters and participants in the CME program, earning continuing education credits. The CME program itself is a testament to the demand for education around the science of nutrition and wellness.

There are also more families and multi-generational groups on the cruise now than before. Sandy says that many people came in the beginning and “put their toes in the water,” so to speak, to see what it was all about. Those who raised their children with vegan or vegetarian diets are bringing them on the cruise for an educational and cultural experience. Guests of all ages can enjoy delicious food, engaging workshops, and exotic ports of call.

Is it Nutritional or Ethical?

Many people ask if this conference at sea gives a nutritional or an ethical emphasis on veganism. Well, it provides both—and more! Due to an increasing demand, Holistic Holiday at Sea is continuously expanding the focus to include more animal advocacy and environmental presentations and discussion. The mission has always been centered on education and there’s so much under this umbrella.

Neal Barnard at Holistic Holiday at Sea

Dr. Neal Barnard

Last year, new presenters included animal rights activists Jonathan Balcombe, author of What a Fish Knows and Gene Baur, co-founder and president of Farm Sanctuary. Returning again in 2018, they will continue to share their compassion and knowledge with us, giving voices to so many animals who suffer from factory farming and horrific food industry practices.

We are honored that many presenters return again and again. Dr. T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study and Whole, and Dr. Neal Barnard, founder of Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, have participated nearly every year.

In 2018, we are excited to welcome many new presenters, including health activist and food writer Rip Esselstyn, registered dietitian and nutritionist Julieanna Hever, and Dr. Ron Weiss, founder of Ethos Health. We’re also welcoming Ingrid Newkirk onboard. As president and founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Ingrid has spoken around the world on animals rights issues.

When Learning is Fun

Sandy stands by the idea that “no one minds learning when they’re having a good time.” For our 15th cruise, instead of the usual seven days, the cruise will be extended to ten days, including President’s Day weekend. In addition to onboard adventure (including poolside socials and entertainment), we’re certain guests will have a good time exploring the ports of call.Holistic Holiday at Sea

While the ship’s route alternates between the Eastern and Western Caribbean every year (and we’ve traveled to more than a dozen coastal cities and towns), there are always new spots to see. The 2018 ports of call are primarily brand new to the cruise. The MSC Divina will depart from Miami, Florida, and head to the following ports of call in the Eastern Bahamas: St. John’s, Antigua and Barbuda; Basseterre, St. Kitts and Nevis; Fort-de-France, Martinique; Philipsburg, St. Maarten; Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Islands; and Freeport, Bahamas.

But Who’s Counting?

HHAS Infographic 15th anniversary

Click to check out our Retrospective Infographic!

Nearly 50% of our 2017 guests signed up to attend the cruise in 2018. This means we’re doing something right. We crunched the numbers and figured out that we’ve offered 1,738 classes over the last 14 years. They’ve been wide ranging, from yoga, Pilates, meditation, and fitness classes to cooking demonstrations and lectures on topics including plant-based nutrition, cardiovascular health, and integrative medicine. Each year, cruise goers look forward to the always inspiring Recovery Panel.

One year, the kitchen staff (led by the talented Mark Hanna) dished out nearly 38,000 meals in seven days. Kudos to our talented kitchen team! The gourmet meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner are such an essential part of the experience.

We’ve also learned a lot from our experience running the cruise. During one of the first cruises, we left from Ft. Lauderdale only to realize that the majority of our produce order for the week didn’t make it onboard! Fortunately, we were able to contact the supplier who would bring us the greens at Key West (our first stop). There was a dock strike in Key West, so they had to be carried on case by case. Fortunately, it all worked out and the rest of the trip was smooth sailing. A good lesson in remembering the importance of going with the flow.

 

A Bright Future

Holistic Holiday at Sea sunsetSo many of you have adopted a plant-based diet because you want better health and a more peaceful world. What touches our hearts the most is hearing how lives have changed for the better through the cruise. While many guests have returned year after year, we always welcome aboard new faces! Make memories that will last forever and book by midnight on May 25 for the best rates and availability.

Experts Share Their Challenges to Becoming Vegan

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Holistic Holiday at Sea soupAs vegan lifestyles become more mainstream, it’s easier now than ever before to adopt a plant-based diet. At the grocery store, you’ll find many vegan alternatives to popular dairy and meat products, such as mac and cheese, pizza, and chicken. Big companies like Ben & Jerry’s are investing money and energy into making sure everyone has options.

With a growing trend toward vegan and vegetarian diets, many people are more motivated to make gradual changes that can improve their health. Medical research and studies support claims that diets based on whole plant foods and macrobiotics can even reverse disease, such as diabetes and heart disease.

As we get closer to our 2017 Holistic Holiday at Sea Cruise, March 11–18, we asked some of our presenters: What was your biggest challenge in becoming vegan? Here’s how they responded!

Gene Baur

Gene Baur

Gene Baur (Photo courtesy of Farm Sanctuary)

Gene is the co-founder and president of Farm Sanctuary, the nation’s leading nonprofit farm animal protection organization. He shares:

For me, the biggest challenge to becoming vegan was social and societal. When I went vegan in 1985, there was very little awareness or understanding about what this meant, which sometimes led to hostility. But that has changed markedly over the years. Vegans still represent a small minority of citizens, but we are earning the respect of non-vegans, many who have come to respect and see merit in this way of living.

Read more on Gene and his activism here.

Dr. Neal Barnard

Dr. Neal Barnard

Dr. Neal Barnard

A leader in investigating the effects of diet on diabetes, body weight, and chronic pain, Dr. Barnard is an adjunct associate professor of medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and founder of Barnard Medical Center. He led the groundbreaking study of dietary interventions in type 2 diabetes. He replied:

No challenges. It was easy. Much easier than quitting smoking, for example.

Robert Cheeke

Robert Cheeke

Robert Cheeke

A vegan bodybuilder and author, Robert grew up on a farm in western Oregon and developed a close connection and appreciation for farm animals. It just made sense to him that he shouldn’t be eating his animal friends. He learned how to fuel his high school athletic career by eating plants, largely on his own. He says:

I became vegan in 1995 at the age of 15, so it was a totally different landscape back then. I like to joke that I became vegan before the public internet was available. If I take a look back in time, I recall the biggest challenge for me was living in a small agricultural community and not being understood by my family, friends, and peers. There weren’t a lot of books and resources, and obviously no websites, blogs, or podcasts back then, so I just navigated out on my own, with support from my sister and some classmates. Luckily, plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds, have always been there, and even back in the mid-90s there were meat and dairy alternatives, so I was all set and poised for a bright future ahead. I just embarked on my 22nd year as a vegan athlete.

Jessica Porter

Jessica Porter

Jessica Porter

Author of The MILF Diet and The Hip Chick’s Guide to Macrobiotics, Jessica has been practicing macrobiotics since 1991. She teaches cooking classes in Santa Monica, California. She says:

Honestly, transitioning to a plant-based diet wasn’t hard. I was never a big meat eater, or dairy drinker. Although I did love my ice cream. I remember the moment I discovered Rice Dream faux ice cream in 1990, like it was yesterday–what a revelation! Of course, these days there are so many more choices, it’s downright easy to create delicious, satisfying vegan meals with tons of variety. I’ve been eating this way for more than half my life now, so it’s just what I do.

Christina Pirello

Christina Pirello

Christina Pirello

Having nearly died twice in her lifetime, Christina is acutely aware that life is precious. She was diagnosed with terminal leukemia at age 26. When she adopted a strict macrobiotic diet, it made all the difference.

I did not experience a lot of challenges becoming vegan. I was facing a health crisis that made my choices easy.

Read more about Christina’s recovery story here.

Kathy Patalsky

Kathy Patalsky

Kathy Patalsky

Author of two best-selling cookbooks, 365 Vegan Smoothies and Healthy Happy Vegan Kitchen, Kathy chose her vegan lifestyle for many reasons, including her love for animals and the horror she feels for how poorly they are treated across the world.

My biggest challenge was realizing for myself that veganism isn’t a strict diet. It is a happy way to eat that benefits your body and soul. It’s not about perfectionism or restriction. It’s about joy and self care.

Nancy Montuori

Nancy Montuori

Nancy Montuori

Nancy is a vegan chef who writes the recipe and nutrition blog Ordinary Vegan. When she was very young, she contracted a disease that landed her in the hospital for six months inside an iron lung. She relied on aunts, cousins, and godparents to help her with physical therapy so she could regain movement of her limbs. She strived to eat healthy and take care of her body. In 2011, the documentary Fork Over Knives profoundly affected her outlook. She adopted a plant-based lifestyle shortly after and was able to discontinue her high cholesterol medication. She shares:

That was close to six years ago, but the thing I remember most was that I was confused about nutrition. I now believe education about nutrition is the most powerful tool you can have to maintain and live a healthy plant-based lifestyle.

Sandy Pukel

Sandy Pukel

Sandy Pukel

Sandy Pukel is the president and founder of Holistic Holiday at Sea. He adopted a plant-based, macrobiotic diet beginning in 1970 and has never looked back. He offers this advice to those daunted by the idea of a vegan lifestyle:

The challenge of becoming vegan lies in the limitations we put on ourselves. Excuses, excuses, excuses. Once vegan, going out with friends is sometimes a challenge, but you can always find something to eat if you are not shy about speaking up for yourself. The ultimate game plan is to have everyone become vegan! Then, dining out, attending concerts, ballgames, etc. would be easy. You could just walk up to any counter and order without having to ask the ingredients. Keep the faith, the concept of health and happiness will soon be embraced by one and all.

Your Journey

Holistic Holiday at Sea hopes to support you wherever you are on your journey to optimal health. Check out our blog for more insight from the experts and ways to get the most out of our upcoming cruise, from poolside socials to essential things to pack.

Goodbye 2016: Hello 2017!

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Kathy Patalsky

Kathy Patalsky

As 2017 is well underway, we’re about one month out from the 14th annual Holistic Holiday at Sea cruise, which sails March 11–18! As we near our departure from Miami, our guests are getting excited about this year’s lineup of presenters. In addition to delicious food, poolside socials and camaraderie, health and wellness activities, and fitness classes, returning attendees have reported that they always look forward to hearing from leading authorities in holistic and alternative health in the form of lectures and workshops.

Since the very first cruise, Holistic Holiday at Sea president and founder Sandy Pukel has made it his goal to invite influential and popular presenters with a range of expertise, from distinguished physicians to fitness experts. “The whole mission of the cruise since day one has been to introduce people to a lifestyle that will make them happier and healthier,” says Sandy. “We think accomplishing this through diet, knowledge, classes, and exercise is the way to go. Our job is to make this information available to everybody. We try and pick the best people who can communicate that message.”

We recently got the chance to catch up with a few presenters for our upcoming cruise. As 2016 has recently come to a close, we wanted to take a moment and ask them their thoughts on this past year, and let us know what they’re excited about for the months to come.

Plant-Based Diets in the Mainstream

When we asked author of The MILF Diet and The Hip Chick’s Guide to Macrobiotics, Jessica Porter, what she hopes to see with regard to science, awareness, or popularity of veganism and plant-based nutrition for 2017, she replied, “I don’t have any specific hopes in this department only because I think that plant-based eating and veganism are moving quickly and powerfully into the mainstream with or without my hoping!”

When Jessica recently visited her hometown of Toronto, Canada, she noticed that three new plant-based restaurants sprouted up, in addition to the two already there. “It was fantastic! And the two I ate at (one of them twice) were very crowded and energetic. So the plant-based revolution is moving along quite nicely, thank goodness.”

A vegan chef and advocate for healthy living, Nancy Montuori says, “Awareness about plant-based diets is flourishing, and I predict plant-based nutrition will become more mainstream than ever in the next few years. According to a study published by US National Library of Medicine, motives of consumers interested in a plant-based diet are health and wellness, animal-related, or for the environment. But the vast majority of respondents mentioned more than one reason. That is a great sign.”

Holistic Holiday at Sea Robert Cheeke

Robert Cheeke

The plant-based lifestyle is gaining momentum. Vegan bodybuilder and fitness instructor Robert Cheeke shares, “I am confident that the growth of the plant-based movement and the rise in awareness of the vegan lifestyle will reach an all-time high in 2017. The signs are all around us. What was once a fringe lifestyle is now more mainstream than it has ever been. For example, when I look on Amazon.com, some of the top-selling books Amazon carries are vegan books. I mean, top 100 sellers out of millions and millions of titles available (such as Thug Kitchen, Forks Over Knives, and How Not To Die to name a few). Even my fellow plant-strong friend and colleague, Rip Esselstyn, had his new book, The Engine 2 Seven-Day Rescue Diet, peak at #82 of all books the first week of January 2017.”

Leading by Example

In addition to authors who share their work with the world on an easy-to-access platform like Amazon, many individuals and organizations also contribute to these efforts. Gene Baur co-founded Farm Sanctuary in 1985, which saves animals from the cruelty of factory farming and encourages consumers to make mindful choices about the way we live.

Gene Baur (Photo courtesy of Farm Sanctuary)

Gene Baur (Photo courtesy of Farm Sanctuary)

Gene shares, “Among the biggest news and advancements over the past year is the growing engagement of business leaders and entrepreneurs who are interested in challenging our animal based food system and supplanting it with plant foods. It is exciting to see vegan businesses selling their products in mainstream markets, and major investors leveraging their influence to promote a more responsible, sustainable plant-based food system. It’s also significant that traditional meat companies are starting to invest in vegan companies.”

The press and media also affect how people view this lifestyle. Emmy Award-winning host of Christina Cooks, Christina Pirello, says “I wish that people living healthy lives enjoying a plant-based diet got more press as opposed to the extreme stories of imbalance that seem to create a poor image of plant-based eating.” She adds, “I like that we have placed a good focus on ancient foods, fermented foods, and other natural processes to create healthy approaches to eating for people. I also like that the health benefits of plant-based eating are taking center stage.”

Blogger and best-selling author Kathy Patalsky says, “I think more people are realizing the positive climate change effects of veganism. For the earth and animals!”

A researcher funded by the National Institutes of Health and adjunct associate professor of medicine at The George Washington University, Dr. Neal Barnard notes that vegetarian diets were officially listed among the three healthiest food patterns Americans should know about in the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015–2020. The report was published in December 2015: “The three were vegetarian, Mediterranean, and Healthy-US. Veg diets are now mainstream!”

2016: A Big Year in Veganism

Robert has a slew of important new stories from 2016 that involve the vegan lifestyle. Among them are the fact that major companies, like Ben & Jerry’s, are also offering vegan products, and that famous folks, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, are encouraging their fans to ditch meat and help save the planet.

Robert says that according to the Plant Based Foods Association, plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy accounted for $4.9 billion in sales last year. “This, of course, doesn’t factor in produce which most of us consume daily,” adds Robert. “We’ll likely see the plant-based alternatives to meat, dairy, and eggs surpass $10 billion in sales in the very near future, and this is good news for the animals and the planet—and for people’s health, although a diet focused primarily on whole plant foods would do even better for one’s health.”

Nancy Montuori believes the biggest health and wellness news story was in March when five major food companies announced GMO labeling: “GMO awareness and food safety is now trickling down to the mainstream which will help advance veganism.”

Resolutions for 2017

Holistic Holiday at Sea meditationWhether you’re a new year’s resolution maker or not, taking stock of where you are in your health is always an important thing to do every so often. While many presenters said they had no new goals this year, quite a few expressed an interest in mindfulness.

Gene Baur says, “I intend to maintain my cardio exercises and to complete my first ultra-marathon, and also plan to add more strength exercise to support bone health as I enter my mid-50s. I also hope to take steps toward yoga and/or meditation. For years, I’ve been in what I call my ‘pre-yoga’ phase, and I think it’s time to move into doing yoga and meditation.” Along similar lines, Jessica Porter made a commitment to meditate every day for half an hour in 2017.

Kathy Patalsky answers simply, “Balance and peace. Trying to keep things energized yet also finding plenty of quiet time in this very noisy world we live in.”

Education Continues to Change the World

Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr. is a pioneer in preventative and restorative cardiovascular medicine. “We are at the cusp of a seismic revolution in health for this country and the world. This whole food plant-based nutrition revolution will eliminate chronic illness. It is safe, prompt, powerful, and enduring without added expense and no side effects. This whole food plant-based approach has been shown to halt and reverse cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, stroke, vascular dementia, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, allergies, asthma, renal disease, GERD, obesity, and hypertension to mention a few.”

Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr.

Dr. Caldwell B Esselstyn, Jr.

Thus, opportunities to hear from experts in health and wellness, animal advocacy, and fitness are going to be key in helping change mindsets and heal the planet.

Dr. Esselstyn adds, “This revolution will not come from a pill, a procedure, or an operation, but will come about when we as a profession have the will, grit, and tenacity of purpose to share with the public the lifestyle, and most specifically the nutritional literacy, that will empower them to vanquish chronic illness.”

Looking Ahead

Whether you’ve attended the cruise in years past or this is your first time, all the presenters are looking forward to having you on board! View the full 2017 Cruise Program here, and begin planning your itinerary today!

Four Amazing Stories of Health Recovery as Shared by Holistic Holiday at Sea Attendees

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Recovery Panel at Holistic Holiday at Sea

From cancer recovery to animal rights activism, the reasons why people choose a plant-based and/or macrobiotic diet and lifestyle vary widely and, in many cases, overlap. Each year on the Holistic Holiday at Sea cruise, president Sandy Pukel arranges for a Recovery Panel on which a dozen courageous and grateful people share with the audience how their lives have changed thanks to a plant-based (and oftentimes macrobiotic) diet and lifestyle. “The heart and soul of the cruise is this Recovery Panel,” says Sandy. “People go there and listen to these stories. They come out crying, they come out inspired. It’s truly remarkable.”

Sandy, who discovered his life’s purpose after being introduced to macrobiotics in 1970, adds, “Over the years, I’ve seen remarkable recoveries. My answer always is: Macrobiotics works if you embrace it wholeheartedly. You’re going to see improvement. The whole philosophy and food thing is stronger than you are, if you’re willing to embrace it.”

One Family’s Story

Thomas Kahn

Thomas Kahn

Thomas Kahn attended the cruise in 2015 with his sister Susan Bondi. “I heard the cruise helps people who had the same problems I had,” says Thomas, who has type two diabetes. Three years prior to attending, Thomas had a heart scan that revealed the beginnings of blockage. At the time, at 5’7”, he weighed 240 pounds. Susan, a gourmet cook, followed a vegan, low-fat, oil-free diet, and influenced Thomas in making a shift. He lost most of his weight within a year. “I lost 80 lbs from diet alone,” he shares.

The cruise helped Thomas solidify his oil-free, plant-based diet and, over the years, he has been greatly influenced by cruise presenters Dr. Michael Gregor and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn. Thomas’ father was a type one diabetic who had a heart attack at age 49 while on the low carb diet. Doctors encouraged him to use olive oil. Nine years later, he was in need of a quadruple bypass. “The olive oil messed him up,” says Thomas. “Then he went on a true low-fat diet and lived to be 80.”

Thomas’ is just one of the inspirational stories we hear from our guests each year. We got the chance to catch up with past panelists Christina Pirello and Janet Vitt Sommer, and 2017 panelist Judy MacKenney to hear where they are in their journeys.

A Life of Gratitude

Christina Pirello, Holistic Holiday at Sea Recovery PanelAuthor of six bestselling cookbooks, Christina Pirello is also the Emmy Award-winning host of the national public television series Christina Cooks. She will lead four cooking classes on the 2017 Holistic Holiday at Sea and is on the faculty of The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College.

At age 26, Christina was diagnosed with terminal leukemia and her cancer had already advanced to the acute stage. She saw a hematologist/oncologist who gave her three months to live with no treatment, and six months to a year with treatment. Having seen her mother pass away at the young age of 49 from cancer, Christina saw that conventional treatments seemed to have worsened her mother’s condition. Christina’s coworker suggested that she meet Robert “Bob” Pirello, a whole foods advocate. The two went grocery shopping together and Bob replaced all of the food Christina had at home with healthy options. He also gave her a copy of Michio Kushi’s The Cancer Prevention Diet, Revised and Updated Edition: The Macrobiotic Approach to Preventing and Relieving Cancer.

Christina’s strict macrobiotic diet consisted primarily of brown rice and millet, cooked vegetables (particularly green leafies and beans), tofu, tempeh, and miso soup. She went through a toxic discharge period, and knew that, despite the discomfort, her health was improving. Within 14 months after beginning her new diet, Christina’s white cell count was within the normal range. Hers is also a love story, as she and Bob later married!

Christina’s philosophy is that living a whole and healthy life should make us passionate and full of gratitude. Her recovery has helped her put things in perspective and she doesn’t waste time on petty things or people she does not resonate with. She shares, “It makes me humble and grateful for each moment of each day. My life is blessed, but since I don’t know how much time I have, I waste nothing. Each minute is precious although I admit I don’t fear death. I just feel like I am not done yet. I have work to do and would like to do more.” For more on Christina, visit her presenter page.

The Power of Food

janet-vitt-sommer-holistic-holiday-at-seaAlthough she will not be attending the 2017 cruise, Janet Vitt Sommer was on the Recovery Panel for more than ten years. In 1995, she was diagnosed with stage IV small cell lung cancer, with three tumors in her left lung, seven tumors in her right lung, three tumors in her liver, one on her pancreas, and another in her abdomen. A registered nurse since 1971, Janet saw her mother die from lung cancer at age 42 and knew the seriousness of this illness. “As a nurse, it’s difficult to believe I didn’t understand the power of food,” says Janet. “I thought of food as just nourishment, not a healing modality.”

Her oncologist said she had three to six months left to live. A dose of chemotherapy left Janet severely nauseous and underweight. Her internist Dr. Grossman, of Cleveland, Ohio, suggested that she try a macrobiotic diet. Janet enlisted the help of a macrobiotic counselor who told her she could be healed. After ten months on this healing regimen, her tumors disappeared.

Janet is now a nutritional counselor who leads cooking classes and prepares macrobiotic “meals to go.” The cruise has become an important part of her life—and romance! She and now husband Gary were married in Fort Lauderdale before the ship left the dock. “After all, where else could I go for my honeymoon and not have to prepare my own meals? Gary and I always get an efficiency suite when we travel. The cruise was perfect. Plus we were surrounded by many caring friends.”

Healing from the Inside Out

Judy MacKenney, Holistic Holiday at Sea Recovery PanelJudy MacKenney was introduced to macrobiotics in 1992 after receiving a diagnosis of stage IV non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. She completed seven months of chemotherapy and suffered from a multitude of side effects. Like Christina, she pored over Kushi’s The Cancer Prevention Diet after she was given a short time to live. “My new health regimen was to change my diet and lifestyle by eating organic whole foods, miso soup, grains, proteins, root, round & leafy vegetables, and pickles for enzymes, plus natural remedy drinks to cleanse and strengthen my body,” says Judy. “I also chewed my food seriously until it became liquid, walked, did breath work, body-scrubbed, developed a positive mindset to heal, and showed gratitude for everything in my life on a daily basis!”

This year, Judy celebrates 25 years of being cancer free. She shares, “I still rely on a plant-based, macrobiotic diet and lifestyle to keep me healthy. With so many delicious, nutritious recipes to choose from nowadays, I find it just keeps getting easier!” A Kushi-certified macrobiotic counselor, educator, and cooking instructor, Judy will share her story on this year’s Recovery Panel and facilitate a follow-up discussion group. Read more about Judy on her presenter page.

On Your Own Path to Wellness?

We’d love to help you wherever you are on your journey to feeling your best. Our 14th Holistic Holiday at Sea cruise is set for March 11–18, 2017. Book your spot today!

Earn CME/CE Credits Aboard Holistic Holiday at Sea

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Holistic Holiday at Sea CME/CE Program

Guests aboard Holistic Holiday at Sea’s 14th annual cruise, March 11–18, will spend the week dining on plant-based cuisine, mingling with fellow voyagers at poolside socials, taking excursions at several ports of call, and participating in cooking, fitness, and mindfulness classes. They’ll also have ample opportunities to learn from experts. Dozens of presentations and panels will be led by more than 40 leading authorities in holistic and alternative health. While many cruise goers consider this event to be their yearly vacation, others are licensed health professionals who combine pleasure with business, earning CME/CE credits while on the ship.

A Collaboration Between HHAS & iCamp

After spending years in school and training, it is crucial for physicians and other healthcare professionals to continue learning and staying on top of the latest research in nutrition.

The CME/CE program is a collaboration between Holistic Holiday at Sea and iCamp (Integrative and Complementary Academic Medicine Program) at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. Since the ’80s, Donna Franklin, director of operations for iCamp, has been friends with Sandy Pukel, a cofounder of Holistic Holiday at Sea and longtime promoter of macrobiotics and holistic health. Donna says that a few years ago, they had a conversation that led to this highly successful partnership and program between the cruise and iCamp. “It all fell into place,” says Donna.

This year, there are a total of 35 available continuing education units approved by the Florida Boards of Acupuncture, Chiropractic Medicine, Dentistry, Clinical Social Work, Marriage and Family Therapy, Mental Health Counseling, Psychology, Pharmacy, the Florida Council of Dietetics and Nutrition, and MidWifery. There are 30 attainable Prescribed credits for MDs, DOs, PAs, and ARNPs, 35 CEUs approved by the University of Miami School of Nursing and Health Studies, and 35 ACBN hours approved by the Diplomate for the American Clinical Board of Nutrition.

While everyone is invited to attend all courses, these specially denoted courses go deeper into evidence-based research on plant-based living and eating. Attendees registered for CME/CE credits must sign in and out of each class and these sign-in sheets are used to document hours. All CME courses are also approved as CEs.

Exploring the Benefits of a Plant-Based Lifestyle

The ship offers a unique environment for learning to take place. Donna says, “It’s more than just a class. You’re eating the food and living in the environment. It’s very empowering … You really get it at a different level when you’re surrounded by people that are ‘walking the talk.’ They are eating this way … They’re doing their yoga or their meditation or they’re learning how to cook.”

By experiencing a plant-based diet while learning about it, medical doctors are better positioned to help their patients with nutritional concerns. In this way, the professionals can better understand and explain the challenges and benefits. Donna says, “When you physically experience it, it is life-changing. It changes something in the brain … You’re eating with like-minded people. You’re hearing their stories and they’re hearing yours. You’re hearing their struggles. They’re hearing yours.”

A Range of Topics

The topics covered in the CME/CE program are vast in scope. “You have a variety of different approaches and people really need to see what’s out there and what will work for them,” says Donna.

For instance, Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr. MD, FACS, will examine the vascular system in “Making Yourself Heart Attack Proof by Treating the Cause of Coronary Artery Heart Disease.” His pioneering research is summarized in his bestselling Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease.

David Blyweiss, MD, began his medical career as a pharmacist and since then has become an experienced practitioner of what is known as “functional medicine.” He will present a keynote called, “Chronic Disease is Never One Thing: It’s about Diet, Lifestyle & Environment in the 21st Century.”

Another presenter, T. Colin Campbell, PhD, believes the time has come for the public and professionals alike to understand the importance of nutrition. He discusses the main principles of nutrition and evaluates popular diet types with that understanding in his keynote, “Fundamentals of a Whole Food, Plant-Based Diet.” View the full CME/CE Program here.

Interested in Learning More?

There’s no better way to learn about the science surrounding nutrition and wellness than by experiencing it both in and out of the classroom. If you’re a healthcare professional interested in learning more about the CME/CE program on this year’s Holistic Holiday at Sea cruise, click here for more information. Curious about the schedule? View the entire HHAS program and itinerary here.

If you’re interested in earning credit, you must first book your ticket to Holistic Holiday at Sea before signing up for the CME/CE program. Why wait? Book today!

Compassion is at the Heart of Farm Sanctuary: Q&A with HHAS Presenter Gene Baur

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Gene Baur of Farm Sanctuary

Gene Baur (Photo courtesy of Farm Sanctuary)

The nation’s leading nonprofit farm animal protection organization, Farm Sanctuary, celebrated its 30th anniversary this year. It was launched in spring 1986 by activists who investigated the treatment of animals at farms, stockyards, and slaughterhouses and found conditions to be horrific and inhumane. One of these activists was Gene Baur.

Gene, who is the co-founder and president of Farm Sanctuary, will make his Holistic Holiday at Sea debut with us this spring, and we couldn’t be more excited! He has spent decades speaking to people about where they are on their journeys, debunking myths about veganism, and encouraging everyone to take steps in the right direction.

In addition to saving animals from the cruelty of factory farming, Farm Sanctuary encourages all of us to think about the way we live and to make mindful choices. Small decisions can make a big difference. By shifting to a plant-based diet, each of us can have an enormous impact on animals, the planet, and our own health.

As author of Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food (March 2008) and Living the Farm Sanctuary Life: The Ultimate Guide to Eating Mindfully, Living Longer, and Feeling Better Every Day (April 2015), Gene will deliver three lectures during the cruise, which runs March 11–18, 2017. Read more about his lectures titled Living the Farm Sanctuary Life; Kindness on Your Plate; and Veganism 101.

Farm Sanctuary currently operates in three locations in Watkins Glen, NY; Orland, CA; and Acton, CA, near Los Angeles. Jon Stewart, formerly of The Daily Show, and wife Tracey are partnering with the organization to open a sanctuary in New Jersey. We recently caught up with Gene and asked him some questions about himself, the vegan movement, and what he’ll bring to the cruise:

How have you seen the vegan movement change and shift since 1985 when you first began adopting a vegan lifestyle?

The vegan movement has expanded significantly since 1985 when I went vegan. The idea of living without exploiting other animals has become more widely understood and respected in our society, and the movement is expanding with businesses recognizing and creating opportunities for vegan products in the marketplace. We are also seeing growing awareness and concern about a convergence of issues, including environmental, health, social justice, and animal rights, which are spurring more people to consider vegan lifestyles. I am excited and optimistic about the future.

You say that kindness and compassion to animals, ourselves, and to the planet are what the vegan movement is all about. Many people choose to adopt a vegan lifestyle out of health concerns (the cruise, for example, was launched with a strong nutritional focus). Why do you think it’s important for the vegan movement not to lose its roots in compassion for animals? How do you see those three areas of compassion that you mentioned above intersect? Do you believe it’s important to not just focus on one of these three areas?

To me, being vegan is an aspiration to live as kindly as possible, and to create mutually beneficial relationships. These principles apply to how we relate to other animals and the earth, and how we relate to our own bodies. Eating healthy food is a way of being kind to ourselves and creating a mutually beneficial relationship between our food and our bodies. Different people are motivated in different ways, so I am in favor of speaking about all issues related to food, animals (including humans), and the earth. I came to veganism because I didn’t want to support the abuses of factory farming and slaughter, but other people stop eating animal products for health or other reasons. I don’t think the animals care why we stop killing and eating them—they just don’t want to be abused, killed and eaten.

In recent years, I’ve become more aware of the health benefits of eating plants and have started eating more whole, fresh foods. I also know people who stopped eating animal products to improve their health, and over time, they have grown increasingly aware and concerned about the abuses animals experience to produce meat, milk, and eggs. I believe many issues are relevant and interconnected, and should be part of the conversation and process.

Many of the attendees in the group have been practicing a vegan lifestyle for many years now and enjoy attending the cruise because they don’t have to worry about food choices and can hear from many speakers whom they admire. Some guests, on the other hand, have only just recently adopted a vegan diet and the cruise is helping them reinforce their decision. They’re newer to the movement. In terms of the lectures you’ll be giving at Holistic Holiday at Sea, what do you most look forward to sharing with both of these groups about the impact of food choices?

I am excited to meet both long time vegans and those who are just starting to learn about this lifestyle, and I look forward to learning about their experiences and motivations. I believe that eating mindfully, and eating plants instead of animals is empowering and improves our lives, both physically and emotionally. It is liberating to eat food that improves our health instead of making us sick. It also feels good to consciously lessen the amount of suffering and violence in the world, and to eschew some of our planet’s most significant ecological threats. Being vegan is good for animals, the earth, and us. It’s a win, win, win.

Join Gene at HHAS

Inspired by Gene’s words and actions? Book your spot aboard Holistic Holiday at Sea today! Click here to view a full program schedule and explore our wonderful line-up of influencers and experts on plant-based living.

Olympian Kendrick Farris & His Vegan Lifestyle

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Kendrick Farris at Olympics

(Photo courtesy of Kendrick Farris)

UPDATE 12/2/16: Due to his competition schedule, Kendrick will be unable to attend the 2017 Holistic Holiday at Sea cruise. 

Adopting a vegan diet can have a profound impact on your mind and body. And if you’re active in sports or physical activities, that change can make a huge difference to your level of performance. Athletes who exclusively eat plant-based meals report that they think more clearly and truly see an improvement in their abilities. Over the years, Holistic Holiday at Sea has welcomed many athletes and bodybuilders to our special lineup of panelists and presenters. For the 2017 Holistic Holiday at Sea, March 11–18, we are excited to announce that three-time Olympian Kendrick Farris will be joining us.

Weightlifting Since Age 11


Growing up in Shreveport, Louisiana, Kendrick (now 30) began weightlifting at age 11 and competing at age 12. He says he got serious about it during his senior year of high school.

After earning national titles in 2006 and 2007, Kendrick went on to take home first place titles in 2010 and 2016 Pan-American Championships. He also won first in the 2015 Pan-American Games. He placed 8th in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and 10th in the 2008 Summer Olympics in London. Most recently, Kendrick competed in the 2016 Summer Olympics as the only male weightlifter on the US team.

While vegan weightlifters often make headlines for this seemingly surprising combination, the two lifestyles are actually very complementary. For Kendrick, going vegan wasn’t a tough decision to make.

Veganism Helps Promote a Healthier, Longer Life

In 2014, shortly after his second son Kingsley was born, Kendrick decided to go vegan. He shares, “My son’s birth gave me a new perspective on life. I wanted to make sure I was around to see him grow up, get married, have kids, etc. and the vegan lifestyle was the healthiest thing I could do for my body.”

Since then, Kendrick says, “I just feel better overall—spiritually, physically, and mentally.” Kendrick doesn’t adhere to a super strict diet or overthink it. “I just eat what I want. I am not one that counts calories and I am not extremely strict. I eat when I’m hungry, because meals are used for fuel for the body. I just make sure I know all the ingredients in the food I buy or ask questions if I am out to eat.”

Homemade Goodness

His wife Katrina cooks vegan meals at home every day. She says, “I don’t use vegan cookbooks necessarily. I mostly find vegetarian recipes from some of my favorite blogs and/or use family recipes and tweak them so they are vegan. For example, I would substitute bananas for butter called for in a baking recipe or plant-based cheese when cheese is called for.” Katrina’s favorite recipe of avocado quesadillas is coincidentally Kendrick’s favorite dish as well.

With food as his fuel, Kendrick spends 3–5 hours on his workout routine daily. On a typical day, Kendrick says his schedule is to wake up, pray, eat breakfast, take his son to school, go outside, read and meditate, workout, pick up his son, share dinner with his family, spend time with them after dinner, pray, and then go to bed.

When asked about what’s next, Kendrick says he wants to take care of his family. “I’m not sure where my journey will take me next, maybe to my 4th Olympic team and maybe another route. I’m not sure. Right now I’m just enjoying and making up for lost time with my friends and family. I will begin competing again in 2017 as this is the off-season for us right now, and I do not have any competitions scheduled.”

UPDATE 12/2/16: Due to his competition schedule, Kendrick will be unable to attend the 2017 Holistic Holiday at Sea cruise. 

An Interview with Shred It! Author & Vegan Athlete Robert Cheeke

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Vegan bodybuilder, motivational speaker and author, Robert Cheeke, has been considered one of VegNews Magazine’s most influential vegan athletes. A two-time natural bodybuilding champion, Robert lives in Austin, Texas, is the voice behind VeganBodybuilding.com, and will be joining us again on the March 2015 cruise. He’s also an Amazon.com best-selling author of the book Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness – The Complete Guide to Building Your Body on a Plant-Based Diet and has a new book out now called Shred It! Your Step-by-Step Guide to Burning Fat and Building Muscle on a Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diet (also available as an ebook). The book is a dynamic mix of profiles, recipes, nutritional information, and, of course, exercises. We asked Robert a few questions about Shred It!

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Featured Presenter: Jessica Porter

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We’re honored by the many experts, teachers, and speakers that will be joining us for the March 2015 cruise. To celebrate those voices, we’ll be running a short series of presenter interviews. A returning presenter on the 2015 cruise, Jessica Porter is the author of The MILF Diet and The Hip Chick’s Guide to Macrobiotics. She also collaborated with Alicia Silverstone on the New York Times number one bestseller, The Kind Diet. Jessica has been practicing macrobiotics since 1991, managed the Way to Health Program at the Kushi Institute in the mid-nineties, and has worked as a traveling macrobiotic cook. She is also a hypnotherapist and has created two hypnosis CDs for people practicing macrobiotics and one called HypnoParenting for the HypnoBirthing Institute.

jessica-porter

Find out more about Jessica’s presentations on the 2015 Holistic Holiday at Sea Cruise.

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