Today we meet Susan Schenck, author of two books: The Live Food Factor: The Comprehensive Guide to the Ultimate Diet for Body, Mind, Spirit, & Planet—and Beyond Broccoli: Creating a Biologically Balanced Diet When a Vegetarian Diet Doesn’t Work. Here she tells us what motivated her to move to Cuenca in Mexico, why all expats living there need to attend “gringo nights” and why you may want to think twice before purchasing your latest iPad from an electronics store in this area of the world.
Can you please tell us a little about your background. Where are you originally from and why did you decide to relocate to Ecuador?
After writing and publishing two nutrition books, I gained some income and limelight. I longed to have more free time to focus on writing, marketing the books, and just enjoying life.
Since I was also a teacher for 16 years, I was able to retire on a very small pension at age 55. I found it’s possible to live in Ecuador on about 20% what I did in San Diego, CA, where I lived for 23 years before migrating to South America. When the housing boom caused most of us to foreclose, I realized the USA wasn’t a viable place for me to live any more. I knew for the past 10 years or so that I’d likely retire in South America for financial reasons. I was already fluent in Spanish, having studied it in high school and college, and having taught English at a university in Guadalajara, Mexico. My husband agreed reluctantly to give it a try. I knew I couldn’t go back to the USA where I would be basically a slave to rent or mortgage and food.
What were your first impressions of life in the Ecuador? Did you suffer from culture shock? How did you deal with your initial emotions?
Having lived in Mexico, Saudi Arabia, India, Brazil, and Malaysia, there was no shock. If anything I was shocked by how clean it was! I had never been in a city in a so-called third world that was so clean. I was surprised they actually had trash cans every few blocks! If you go to the beaches even in LA, they are littered with trash! The cleanliness of Cuenca makes expats feel right at home!
What are your favorite things about living in the Ecuador?
The traditional things are known as the 3 C’s: culture, climate, and cost of living. This draws many people here, especially to Cuenca (another C!). There are concerts (many for free), theaters, 2 malls, and much to do even if you don’t mingle with expats. The four seasons are experienced in one day here in the mountains, while the beaches (largely under populated!) are like Miami and sometimes even hotter. I add a fourth C: community. Supposedly four years ago there were only 400 expats here, and now there are 4,000. This is largely because of two newsletters and also some sites touting Cuenca as the best place to retire.
I love the fact that I have time to socialize. In CA all my friends and I were too busy. I saw my best friend once a month for coffee! Another friend I’d see once a week for a movie, and another a couple of times a month for a walk. That was it. We were all too busy. Here I attend more parties in one month than I did in a year in San Diego. And some people attend a party a week, or even more!
What things do you least enjoy?
The electronics suck. This is known as a dumping ground of “seconds” or flawed electronics made in China and Germany. I learned the hard way to only go to stores that offer a two-year warranty for a fee—or pay the import duty (which is double the cost plus shipping)!
Also, you can’t get the variety of supplements and English books you find in the US, so I just pay shipping.
What are the three biggest lessons you have learned from your expat life?
You really have to research the laws about things. We are not in Kansas anymore. You should attend “gringo nights” and get info from others who’ve been here. For example, most Americans hiring maids are CLUELESS that they could go to prison for not paying social security! Also you need to pay local taxes if you have a business here.
I also learned that most maids steal. Mine was highly recommended by other gringos. She stole hundreds of dollars from me before I caught on. Poverty compels them. Lock things up!
I learned that as a pedestrian we have to walk defensively. We are not in California anymore! You can be crossing the street and suddenly a car turns inches away from you, right in front of you!
Don’t expect customer service to be like in the USA where things are so competitive. Also, we are not in the consumer capital of the world any more, so don’t expect to be able to find all the items you could in the USA (though MOST is available, for a price).
What advice would you give to someone who was relocating to an Ecuador for the first time?
Research, research, research – asking other expats and reading websites and blogs by Americans—to find the best and most reliable residency lawyer, the best place to live, and the local laws. I know people who found the most ideal place and inexpensive to live because they spent 8 months looking—$300 a month which would cost $3000 a month in California! Also, don’t build. I know so many who thought they’d save money by building and they went through hell—so many headaches. People don’t show up for work like they do in the USA. Customer service is not competitive. Get used to it!
You have written several books on healthy eating. Please tell us more about the content of your latest book.
Beyond Broccoli was developed as a result of my own journey through raw vegetarianism, which culminated with the reintroduction of just a bit of raw and lightly cooked meat. While I knew that going raw had originally proved to offer many benefits, as I had documented in my previous book, The Live Food Factor, after a few years of veganism, I began to exhibit health concerns: deficiencies of vitamin B12, memory problems, muscle tissue loss, bloatedness, irritability, and cravings.
After completing further research, spurred on by Dr. Stanley Bass, I concluded that the lack of vital nutrients found only in animal products had been causing me problems. The book begins by explaining why I resumed eating a bit of animal products and how I manage to stay mostly raw even so. It also includes a chapter on other vegans and vegetarians (some who eat raw, others who eat cooked) who made this decision for their own health reasons.
This book addresses the following issues: vegetarian myths; why human’s brains have shrunk 11% in the last 11,000 years; the importance of animal foods for pregnant and lactating women; man’s dietary history of eating meat for 2.6 million years; how the vegan diet affects the brain and emotions; critical nutrients found only in meat, eggs, and dairy, as well as some found only in meat; the difficulty of getting enough healthful protein on a vegan diet, especially raw; the dangers of soy; the different metabolic types, which explain why some succeed on veg diets while others fail; the dangers of overeating animal protein; how to eat meat so that it is not dangerous; the benefits of eating raw or lightly cooked meat and how to do it safely and make it taste good; spiritual, moral, and environmental issues with meat eating; the importance of eating clean meat from compassionately raised animals; eating a high raw Paleo diet, which is what we evolved eating; the importance of eating raw; flaws in the China Study; the benefits of a low-glycemic diet; important foods if you choose to be a vegan or vegetarian; and more.
The book also addresses issues such as the fact that not everyone can efficiently convert plant nutrients to the critical nutrients needed by the body: omega-3 fats into DHA and EPA needed by the brain; beta-carotene into true vitamin A; essential amino acids into nonessential ones; vitamin D2 into D3; and vitamin K1 into K2.
Not everyone has the metabolic type to go veg either. A resource section with related websites and doctors who approve of raw, nonvegan diets is located in the back of the book.
What prompted you to write it?
After being a strict vegan for 6 years, I got some pretty severe deficiencies: DHA (needed for intelligence, a component of the brain) and B-12 were examples. I also saw vegan children and babies suffering—not ALL, but enough that I knew there was a real lack of awareness in the vegan community! It’s a lot of idealism not grounded in the historical diet of man. So I felt the need to warn others. Most don’t even do well on a VEGETARIAN diet (which includes eggs and dairy—but no meat or fish). So, in writing this book I hoped to help others gain awareness.
I also discuss the Paleo diet. Most Paleo dieters, who have grown in numbers lately, are unaware though that they are eating toxic stuff when they overcook the meat. I discuss the importance of eating high raw, and if you must cook meat, steam or sautee it, or bake it under 250 F to prevent heterocyclic amines from forming. These are carcinogenic byproducts. Also, avoid factory farmed meat at all costs. Pay more, but compensate by eating half as much. We don’t need that much meat! Americans eat an average of 9 oz a day when we need only 3 or 4 oz.
Here in Ecuador I’m in meat heaven since they really don’t do factory farming. Cows are grass fed, which means I get omega 3 fats instead of omega 6 from the grain fed cattle. Chickens are a tiny bit farmed, but I have a local market where I can easily find the truly truly free range and hormone-free chickens and their eggs.
How did you publish your book? Did you find an agent, a publisher or did you publish it yourself? Please describe your process and tell us how you found the experience.
Actually I didn’t even try. Today it is so easy to self publish with print on demand. Why let the agents and the publishing company get all the money, while you get a mere dollar a book for your years of research? I spent SIX YEARS writing The Live Food Factor and three writing Beyond Broccoli. Now I have a residual income! It is wonderful.
What tips can you offer to expatriates who are considering writing their own books?
Wow, what a loaded question! I actually present an entire workshop on this. The key is marketing. You think writing a book is hard? That’s the easy part. Marketing is the real work. But I say, go for it! Follow your heart and write that book! Even if only 100 people including family and friends read it, it’s your legacy! Now we can all be authors! Being an author was the absolute best thing that ever happened to me. I received so many emails from people thanking me.
What’s next for you?
I am currently writing a book on nonduality, the most direct spiritual path to enlightenment. I always thought it was too hard to “wake up.” Now, suddenly, I have four close friends that are enlightened or awakened. So I am interviewing them all for a new book. Every time I write, I do it without any expectations of where the book will go. I do it for the joy of the journey, because guess who learns and profits most from my research? That’s right, I do! So even if I don’t get a bestseller, I am a winner.
And finally, where can people buy your book?
Amazon, including Kindle, as well as B & N nook.