Season 3 is officially here!!!
Starting off strong with the incredible true story of two boys that crawled out of the rugged British Columbia wilderness and turned a sleepy town on its head with their tales of being raised in isolation. When the boy's story starts to fall apart, the town's good ol’ Canadian hospitality quickly disappears...
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This episode discusses disordered eating patterns including orthorexia. If you or someone you know are struggling with food, the following links will connect you with support.
United States: nationaleatingdisorders.org
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This podcast was produced and edited by the incredible Geoff Devine, @geoffdevinesound on Instagram.
Thanks for listening!
DerSarkissian, C. (2022). Orthorexia. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/eating-disorders/what-is-orthorexia#:~:text=Orthorexia%20is%20an%20unhealthy%20focus,coined%20the%20term%20in%201996.
Horn, R. (2022) Roen Horn’s Tumblr page. Accessed June 2022. https://roenhorn.tumblr.com/
Horn, R. (2022). Roen Horn’s YouTube page. Accessed June 2022. https://www.youtube.com/c/RoenHorn
Lucas, G. & Taylor, M. (2004). 'Wild boys' saga turns out to be hoax by 2 brothers Urban brothers spin tales of wilderness life. SFGate. https://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Wild-boys-saga-turns-out-to-be-hoax-by-2-2799402.php
Mullins, S. (Host). (2022, July 7). Wild Boys (Episodes 1-9) [Audio podcast series]. In Chameleon. Campside Media. https://www.campsidemedia.com/shows/wild-boys
Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.
Hello everyone! I’m Sarah.
And I’m Becca, and you’re listening to Unsavory.
S: Season 3 of Unsavory! Yes, we are back with a brand new season filled with scandal and crime and fraud, and of course, lots of food. And best of all - a consistent positing schedule. Yes, you heard us right, every two weeks you will get a new episode of Unsavory. We’re saying it here and now, live on the air.
B: Geoff, edit that out. Just kidding, actually play the Rocky soundtrack, because we’ve been preparing, training if you will, flexing our podcast muscles and we’re ready to bring you the best season of Unsavory yet!
S: And we’re starting it off with an amazing story for today’s episode. It involves fruitarianism, orthorexia, fraud, the Canadian wilderness, and most importantly, good old Canadian hospitality. You ready?
B: So ready! Let’s do this.
S: Okay! A couple of shoutouts right off the top. I had never heard of this story before, and one of our listeners and colleagues, Ken Mullock, (@ken.dietitian on Instagram) reached out and was like you have to listen to this podcast called Wild Boys, it’s an amazing, Canadian-produced podcast that has an interesting food twist that would work really well with Unsavory, you guys should cover it. And so I searched Wild Boys on Spotify, and it’s actually season 3 of a podcast called Chameleon which is all about cons and frauds, and I started listening, and was IMMEDIATELY hooked. The Wild Boys season is also my primary source for this episode, because it covers what happened in such amazing detail from someone who actually lived in the town at the time - the host, Sam Mullins, was growing up in Vernon, BC during this period, and he’s actually able to go back and interview a lot of the major players in this story 20 years after it happened to get their perspective. So, after listening to this episode, I highly recommend you go check out Chameleon season 3: Wild Boys and we’ll have the details in our shownotes.
This story starts in Vernon, British Coloumbia. Have you ever been?
I drove through it once on the way to Penticton. I don’t remember too much about it, honestly, I had wine tours on the brain and all of BC is so gorgeous that it all kind of blends together, but it’s in the hot, dry interior of the Okanagan Valley, nestled half way between Vancouver and Calgary.
Like most of Canada, Vernon gets some pretty chilly winters, but they also have this long, hot summer that is perfect for growing fruit - cherries, peaches, grapes, you name it! They have wineries and farmers markets all over, it really is the fruit basket of Canada. So back in August, 2003, peak fruit harvest time I might add, when these two tall, scraggly, and hungry boys wandered out of the woods and into the Kalamalka lake area in Vernon, BC - they thought they were in paradise! The fruits were ripe and plentiful. The two boys had never seen a tv before, had a birthday party, or used electricity, or been to a doctor, but they had definitely seen fruit before. In fact, they really liked fruit, but more on that later.
Vernon, BC is a town of just over 40,000, filled with young families and retirees. So when the bush boys, both over 6ft tall and very thin, started hanging around the local general store and visiting the local health food store to stock up on fruit, people started to take notice. The boys were quiet, kept to themselves, and when they did speak, it was the older one who did most of the talking. The younger one was much quieter, but he was the one that really captured the towns attention. His clothes hung off his 6ft frame and he looked so thin and frail that people were seriously concerned - it looked like he might collapse at any moment. And so the local police and the RCMP started getting calls about the strange boys, but they weren’t actually doing anything illegal and so at this point, there wasn’t much the police could do.
Enter the hero of the story: Tami Ryder. I cannot pump Tami up enough - she’s an angel. Tami is the sweetest, most kind and genuine person and really, there wouldn’t even really be a story here if it wasn’t for Tami! At the time, Tami was a busy full-time hockey mom of 3. She had seen the boys around town and like many had been shocked by the appearance of the younger boy, and unlike many, she knew she had to do something - and so she did. She had heard that the boys hung out behind the Kalamalka General Store, and so her and her husband went there looking for the boys. In the area behind the store, they found the boys tent and camping area scattered with avocado rinds and so… she left them a note and a couple of quarters so the boys could use the pay phone to call her. Remember this is 2003. And the very next day, much to her surprise, she got a call from the boys, Will and Tom Green.
B: Tom Green?
Yes, the same name as Canadian comedian Tom Green. In 2003, Tom Green was really famous. Afterall, he had just gotten married to Drew Barrymore, who co-starred with him in Charlie's Angels and Freddy Got Fingered (which I distinctly remember my parents would not let me see in theatres because I was 13). So an odd coincidence that this kid had the same name, but not impossible.
Tami told the boys that she wanted to help them and they boys said yes. Winter was coming and they needed it. But it wouldn’t be long before Tami would realize she might have bitten off more than she anticipated. Step 1 to helping the boys was to try and seek some support from the government to get the boys some housing, but he boys had no identification. No ID whatsoever - no birth certificate, license, health card, passport. No proof that they actually exist becuase as far as the Canadian government was concerned - they didn’t.
The story started to come out - the boys told Tami that they had been raised by reclusive parents deep in the rugged wilderness about an hour outside of Revelstoke, BC. They grew up with no electricity, no computer or TV, no school, no doctors. Their parents, Mary & Joseph (red flag #2), had kicked them out after the boys had decided to go vegetarian, and that’s how the boys had found themselves in camping out in the area behind Kal’s General Store. It was either a sociologists dream, a 16 and 20 year old pair of brothers that were having their very first contact with society - or a total crock of bullsh*t.
But either way, nothing lights up a small town like a sensational story, and the boys tale had everything from rugged wilderness and biblical names to possible child neglect. Fueled by the excitement of this fascinating story, the good people of Vernon (led by Tami) rallied around the boys to ensure they would have everything they needed. Food, shelter, winter coats and clothing, grocery cards, and one citizen even got them a private credit card that they paid off for them every month (I don’t know what the limit was, but I am curious). Life was looking pretty good for Will and Tom Green, the wild bush boys born to Mary & Joseph… except it wasn’t, because Will Green, the younger boy, was becoming sicker by the day.
By this point, Will and Tom had been put up at a local hostel where they spent most of their time holed up in a room that smelled like rotting fruit and was filled with books about nutrition from the local library.
Have you ever stayed at a hostel?
B: story time (I’m sure you have a hostel story from all your travels lol)
Hostels are where free spirits and lonely travellers come to gather. They usually attract a 20-something crowd that is looking to connect, and so you’d think it would be the perfect place for some boys to make friends with a non-judgemental, fun crowd. But Will & Tom weren’t really mingling with the others -in fact, the only time they did leave their room was to visit the health food store to buy more fruit. For those nearest to the boys at the time, it was becoming clear that their relationship with food was a little different, especially for Will - the younger brother. Will only ate fruits and things that they considered “pure” - so that included mostly fruits and avocados.
The boys were certainly starting to cause a buzz around Vernon. Sam Mullins, the host of Wild Boys, said “Prior to this story, the biggest news story to come from Vernon was that someone from Vernon went on to become Winston Churchill’s secretary.” The boys story was about to create a buzz around the town like they had never seen before. The first news article about the boys showed up in November 2003, only about 2 months after they first appeared in Vernon, and right away the public was hooked. The story spread nationally and then internationally, and with more attention, the cracks in the story slowly started to show. What started as a story about two boys that had never seen civilization, became two boys that had gone into Revelstoke once a year with their parents. Two boys that had never seen a tv, soon became two boys that had watched a handful of movies throughout their childhood. As the story became bigger and bigger, the little inconsistencies started to become more obvious. Plus, the more Tami spent time with the boys, they noticed that their vocabularies were actually really well developed, almost like they’d been to school, and they seemed pretty comfortable the computers available at the hostel… almost like they’d used them before. But even with the cracks in the story starting to show, there was still one thing that seemed to take precedence above all else - the health of the younger brother Will.
Behind the scenes of the media frenzy, Tami’s mom instincts were kicking in. Will needed help, yesterday.She tried talking to Tom about Will’s eating habits, but Tom seemed to shrug it off. It would later be revealed that behind closed doors, Tom was telling Will a lot of the same things that Tami and other people were telling him - why don’t you eat this? You have to gain weight, you’re too thin, etc. But it was useless. By this point in time, Will was so deep into the throws of his illness, that he wasn’t thinking clearly.
Someone else had noticed Will’s weight loss as well - Corporal Henry Proce (Prosay) from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Proce had been involved in the boys story right from the start, not as a supporter like Tami, but as the boys biggest skeptic. He had spoked to the boys a couple of times before and found them to be odd - and not in the “raised in a bush” kind of way. They were uncooperative. He could tell that they didn’t like the police, and it was clear that he wasn’t going to get any information from them. So he started asking his colleagues in Revelstoke if they had ever seen a bush family in the woods nearby, and turns out, they had not.
At the start of the story, Tami and Corporal Proce were on different teams. Tami believed the boys and wanted to support them, and Proce was the skeptic, wanting to uncover the real story behind where these boys came from. But one things the two were united on as the months dragged on, was the urgent need to get Will help. It was clear that Will was becoming a danger to himself, his 6’1 frame held only 84lbs, and so Proce decided to invoke Canada’s mental health act and apprehend Will. Will was on his regular walk to the health food store when Proce caught up with him, and by this point Will was too weak to run or fight back, he went along with Proce willingly. Proce brought Will to the hospital where he was admitted as a patient.
It was in this Canadian hospital that Will would be diagnosed with something called Orthorexia. Now, orthorexia is not an official diagnosis because it’s actually not recognized as a real eating disorder in the DSM-5, but it is recognized by many health professionals as a state that can have a significant impact on ones health and wellbeing. Orthorexia is defined as an unhealthy focus on eating in a “healthy” or “pure” way. Of course, eating nutritious foods is health-promoting and important, but in Orthorexia it is taken to the extreme in a way that often leads to social isolation, guilt, and anxiety. Some signs of orthorexia include worrying about food quality, avoiding eating out of the house or foods prepared by others, being fearful of getting sick or developing a chronic disease, obsessing over food research, refusing to eat a wide variety of foods, and being overly critical of others food choices. And if any of those points resonated with you, we do have some eating disorder help lines in our shownotes.
In the hospital, Will was able to work with healthcare professionals and find ways to optimize his diet to make sure he was meeting his needs. The thing was that Will actually ate a lot… of fruit. But he was missing out on a lot of key nutrients that his all fruit diet didn’t provide. He was on the path to recovery, when something happened that would bring it all crashing down… his older brother Tom decided to do a media interview. The boys were notorious for keeping to themselves and not speaking to the media, but when a journalist reached out for them to do a piece for CBC Disclosure (investigative journalism television program that went off air in 2004), Tom thought this might be his perfect opportunity to convince the Canadian government to give him an ID. So Tom did the interview, and he even brought a camera into Will’s hotel room and filmed them playing cards together.
And when the Disclosure Interview aired, it was everywhere. What’s really annoying about this clip - and it is still available on YouTube, I linked it in our shownotes, is that really seems like Tom is in on an inside joke with himself - he has this perpetual little smirk that someone keeping a secret would have. But thanks to this Disclosure piece, the secret wouldn’t be a secret for long.
Shortly after the Disclosure episode aired, the journalist at CBC got an email saying - those are my brothers. Not long after that, they got a call from a women saying those are my boys! I’m their mother! It was Dianne Horn, a mother of 4 from the beautiful suburbs Roseville, California. Sure enough, once the journalists looked up the names Diane Horn had given them - Kyle and Roen Horn - they saw the faces of Will and Tom Green staring back at them from missing persons websites. To be 100% sure, Diane tells the journalists that they can verify Roen’s identify by checking for a scar on his abdomen from when he had his spleen removed.
Tom aka KYLE - confirmed that Will aka ROEN - did in fact have a scar there, and there it was - the truth was finally out. The two Canadian wild bush boys that had captures the hearts of Canadians and sparked imaginations worldwide, were actually two boys from a loving, supportive home in California that had been taking advantage of the generosity of Vernonites. The worst part of all this? Tami was so sweet and supportive and she had really been a champion for the boys, and this experience hurt her. She had taken time away from her family and she had rallied the whole community to help take care of these boys, and was publically crushed. No matter what you think of this story, I’m 100% Team Tami.
Kyle and his parents travelled back to California. Roen was able to stay until he was more stable, and by the time he left he had wracked up about $68,000 worth of medical bills and left a lingering, sour taste in the mouths of the good people of Vernon, BC.
So why did the boys run away and end up in Vernon in the first place? Well turns out - this is the part of their story where there actually is some truth!
Roen (formerly known as Will) had become extremely into nutrition and adopted a highly restrictive mostly raw fruit diet, and his mom had been worried about him, so she brought him to the doctor. Roen was terrified of having to rely on enteral nutrition - something his orthorexic brain frequently describes as being forcefed “garbage” or “poison” (which it is not - it is a lifesaving form of nutrition for many people). Roen was not responding well to the local doctors treatment plans (aka. Refusing to eat the hospital food) and so there were discussions about putting him into an inpatient mental health unit. Roen’s mom, Diane, didn’t want this to happen and so Child Protective Services actually became involved and were going to take custody of Roen. This sounds really dramatic and like maybe the Horn’s could be endangering their child, but you kind of have to understand who the Horn’s are as people to understand how they got to this point. Diane and Roger Horn raised their children to question everything - they were religious, but don’t really prescribe to a specific religion, they love conspiracy theories (big food, 9/11, the moonlanding, flatearthers, and you guessed it - vaccine conspiracies), and they really, really, really believe in personal freedom and choice. So when the doctors wanted to give Roen enteral nutrition to help him gain some weight, Roen was strongly opposed and his parents also thought “surely there must be another way”.
To understand how Roen got to this point - of being so fearful of hospitalization that he illegally crossed a border and set up camp in Vernon to avoid getting enteral nutrition - it helps to understand his background a little bit. When Roen was 9, he was riding his bike and ruptured his spleen and he had to get it removed. Now, a person without a spleen is more vulnerable to getting sick and has a compromised immune system - and this is HEAVY information for a 9 year old boy to carry. The doctor’s wanted to give him vaccines to protect him from certain illnesses, but Roen declined and instead resolved to eat the healthiest diet possible to treat his anxiety around his fear of death. He wanted to be in control of whether he got sick or not, and his ticket to a long and healthy life was going to be the “perfect” diet.
Then, in his preteen years, he started to struggle with acne and his self-esteem plummeted. So Roen turns to the internet, the early internet, and finds all sorts of forums filled with personal testimonies that suggest his acne is caused by diet. I can just see the lightbulbs going off in Roen’s young brain as he latches even further onto this idea that diet is what will keep him safe and also what will cure his acne, and bonus, he has full control over what he puts in his body. Then, Roen discovers fruitarianism. If you’ve never done a search for fruitarianism, I encourage you to put your skeptical goggles on and do a quick search but be warned you that you’ll see a lot of white people with dreadlocks living in places like Hawaii and swearing that all you need to eat is fruit to cure… everything. Spoiler alert: it’s not sustainable and not healthy. Fruitarian diets run an extremely high risk of deficiencies for fat, protein, and many vitamins. Steve Jobs actually dabbled in fruitarianism, and if Steve Jobs can get sucked into the very convincing diet hype online, anyone can.
It was this fruitarian diet that finally pushed his mom Diane over the edge of worry and prompted her to seek the help of the medical system, but that hadn’t gone as planned and now Child Protective Services was looking for Roen. One day, they got a knock at the door and Diane answered. Roen could hear that it was CPS and so he snuck out a back window and made a run for it. He hopped their back fence and hid out in a nature area near their house.
Later on, he returned to seek the help of his highly trustworthy brother Kyle. Kyle also spent a lot of time on the corners of the early internet, but he was more focused on living off-grid and the end-days (among other things). Kyle had been planning a trip to the Canadian wilderness for years, but the timing just hadn’t seemed right. But now his little brother was looking to him for help, and Kyle is nothing if not a strong believer in ones personal freedom. He grabbed some camping gear, called his cousin, and Kyle and Roen headed to the Canadian border. Now, this is 2003 - 2 years after 9/11. Border security was pretty tight around this time, but somehow, these two boys were able to waltz across the border into Canada without passports or identification. Definitely wouldn’t happen today.
But the boys walked through the Canadian border in search of a place to pitch their tent, and when they saw Kalamalka Lake, and most importantly, Kal General Store, they knew they had found an amazing place. So, in the pre-Tami days, the boys arrived in Canada with less than $500 to live off of. So it wasn’t long before their money started to run out, and they had to get creative. The boys would offer to bring peoples grocery carts back for them in the grocery store parking lot so that they could collect the quarters, and they would also make sandwiches and sell them on the beach. I don’t know about you, but I would never by a random sandwich from a kid on the beach.
As the months went by, people really started to take notice of these strange boys, mostly because of Will/Roen’s emaciated appearance, but also because the boys were both over 6 feet tall - they just stood out. The weather was starting to get colder and the boys knew that winter was coming but they were running out of money, and they didn’t have winter jackets, and they certainly couldn’t spend the Canadian winter in a tent. And just when the boys were seriously considering packing things up and heading back to California, the infamous note and quarters from Tami showed up and the rest is history.
I love this story and I think it’s a perfect way to start season 3 because it’s kind of a fun one, and it emcompasses a lot of important themes that we discussed throughout the season and has some nice teachable moments. I love how it showcases some of the risk factors that can lead to the development of an eating disorder - we have a boy who experiences a major health scare at a really young age and has a lot of health anxiety around that, and then his self-esteem takes a hit with his teenage acne (which I also struggled with big time and it was rough) and you see how he was perfectly primed to develop an eating disorder, but then he was also raised in this kind of counter-culture household that led to a distrust of conventional medicine and there you have it, the perfect storm. Then you add in the early days of the internet and the fruitarian echochamber Roen found in forums filled with personal testimonies from fruitarians, and that’s the thing about EDs is that there usually isn’t just one moment or one thing that causes them, it’s often multifactorial and can develop over a really long period of time. Which is also why recovery can take so long, but it’s so important.
B: In Roen’s case, his motivations weren’t even weight loss focused, they were stemming largely from health anxiety and this idea that if he only put the right things in his body, he could possibly keep himself healthy and live forever.
Which sets the stage perfectly for where Roen is today. Turns out, despite seeking treatment for his Orthorexia, he still believes that he can live forever. According to his LinkedIn, today Roen is the founder of the Eternal Life Fan Club. His Tumblr page says “Basically, I'm trying to live forever because death makes life meaningless.” and he shares a lot of anti-GMO stuff that… this is our final episode… we’re not going to open that can of worms! At least, not in this episode.
So that is it for today’s story! If you want to hear even more detail and all the live footage from the Wild Boys story, I highly recommend checking out season 3 of Chameleon, you even get to hear Roen and Kyle tell their stories in their own words 20 years after the fact. And Kyle may or may not be working at a Gerbil farm…