Editor’s note: John Robbins, the only son of Baskin-Robbins founder Irvine Robbins, walked away from the family fortune in his early 20s to begin a journey toward “unlimited compassion,” according to his website.
He chose to pursue “the deeper American Dream … the dream of a society at peace with its conscience because it respects and lives in harmony with all life forms. A dream of a society that is truly healthy, practicing a wise and compassionate stewardship of a balanced ecosystem.”
He has written several books, including “The New Good Life,” “Diet for a New America” and “The Food Revolution.” Robbins will be discussing factory farming and its impact on sustainability and the earth at Animal Place’s Music in the Meadow event Saturday.
The Union: How do we get from a world rife with diet-caused health issues and farm animal abuse to a place of sound, sustainable nutrition and compassion?
Robbins: One step at a time. One choice at a time. I think it’s helpful to look at your relationship to food as a mirror.
What do you see in that mirror? Do you see self-respect, self-care and a commitment to a healthy life?
Or do you see compromise, indulgence and weakness?
Are your food choices making you stronger and more vital? Or are they leading you down a destructive path?
Are your food choices expressions of your compassion for yourself and all of life, or are they cheapening you?
Much of our food today is hardly deserving of the term “food.”
Our supermarkets are full of “food-like substances” that provide taste sensations and calories but are low in the nutrients your body and mind need for optimum functioning.
You will feel much better if you pass by the processed foods, fast foods and junk foods in favor of foods that nourish you on all levels.
It’s also a very good step to get as many of your nutrients as possible from plant sources, to eat a plant-strong diet.
Most of our meat and dairy products come from animals whose lives have been nightmares of suffering. We don’t need misery on our menus.
It’s hard to eat too many greens — like collards, kale, mustard greens, chard, beet greens and spinach.
Other vegetables, which are great from a nutritional standpoint include broccoli, cabbage, carrots, peppers, many kinds of mushrooms, yams and sweet potatoes.
Whole grains like quinoa, brown rice and buckwheat are good. Legumes are terrific — like split peas, lentils and all kinds of beans.
The Union: What are some steps people can take today to make a difference in own their lives, in the world?
Robbins: Laugh often and cry when necessary.
Love the people you love with your whole heart.
Learn from everyone, everything, and most of all, from nature.
Align your life with your highest vision for yourself.
Awaken from the cultural trance and follow your deepest wisdom.
The Union: Taking a stand for compassion: What does that mean to you? How do organizations such as Animal Place fit into that philosophy?
Robbins: We tolerate a level of abuse of animals in meat and dairy production that is a violation of the human-animal bond.
We treat farmed animals with a level of contempt and disdain that is utterly devoid of compassion.
To me, taking a stand for compassion means not supporting these systems of food production in any way, and working to expose them, to get laws changed so that we forbid cruelty to livestock in the same way we do cruelty to dogs and cats.
Every one of the 50 states has legislation restricting cruelty to animals.
But each of the states exempts from that legislation animals who are destined for human consumption, as long as the practices are considered “customary” farming practices.
The result is that you can treat a cow or a pig or a chicken with almost any manner of cruelty as long as it lowers the price per pound.
Every day, hundreds of millions of animals are routinely treated in ways that if you did that to a dog or a cat, you’d be guilty of a felony and put in prison.
We have a way of going unconscious, of being in denial, in which we don’t think of cows or pigs or chickens or rabbits or turkeys as beings who draw breath from the same source as we do, who belong in our circle of compassion if we are to be fully human.
Animal Place is a shining example of helping you to reconnect with these animals, and with your own feelings of humanity.
Animal Place is an exciting place to be, because you get to meet and enjoy and appreciate these animals, to befriend them even, and to see what remarkable and interesting beings they actually are.
The Union: Why did you write “No Happy Cows: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the Food Revolution”? What are the most important things you hope readers take away from it?
Robbins: We have the distinction of having become the fattest major nation in the history of the world, and with each passing year, we are becoming noticeably fatter.
In 1996, the U.S. already had the highest rate of obesity in the world, but not a single state had an obesity rate higher than 20 percent.
Now there is not a single state with an obesity rate lower than 20 percent.
Meanwhile, we spend far more on health care than any other nation. No one else even comes close.
Per capita, we spend double the amount spent in those countries who, other than us, spend the most (Germany, Canada, Denmark and France).
Health care spending is so far out of control that every 30 seconds, someone in the U.S. files for bankruptcy due to the costs of treating a health problem.
It’s not only individuals and families, but the entire economy that is buckling under the strain.
The chairman of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, says his company spends more money on health insurance for its employees than it spends on coffee.
I keep noticing that in all the heated debate about health care reform, one basic fact is rarely discussed, and that is the one thing that could dramatically bring down the costs of health care while improving the health of our people.
The Centers for Disease Control estimate that 75 percent of U.S. health care spending goes to treat chronic diseases, most of which are preventable and linked to the food we eat.
This includes heart disease, stroke, type-2 diabetes, obesity, and possibly a third of all cancers. Many studies have shown that the single most effective step most people can take to improve their health is to eat a healthier diet.
The Union: Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Robbins: I live from the belief that we can yet break through the control that companies like Monsanto are exerting over our food systems, and bring our agriculture policies back into alignment with the greatest good of our people and the earth.
I live from the conviction that what the Constitution of the United States calls “the general welfare” is more important than the short-term profits of companies whose products are nutritional and environmental disasters.