Nuggets From Ocean Robbins's Call
Posted by Rahul Brown on Nov 17, 2019
Ocean Robbins is a food revolutionary, author, speaker, and transformational social change leader. Co-founder of the Food Revolution Network, one of the largest communities of healthy eating on the planet, Ocean has touched millions of lives in 190 nations. His mission is to transform the industrialized food culture into one that supports healthy people and a healthy planet, through the two fronts of public policy and encouraging healthy eating habits. “We are everyday food revolutionaries with our knives and forks,” he says. Ocean’s family story is one of transformation. His grandfather co-founded the Baskin-Robbins ice cream empire, while his father forsook the wealth and the company's role in making people unhealthy to move the family to a one-room log cabin, where Ocean was born and spent his first ten years. His family lived simply, grew most of their food, lived on less than $500 per year, and practiced yoga and meditation daily.
Below are some of the nuggets from the call that stood out for me ...
- How his family related food to the inner life: My dad had an ice cream cone shaped swimming pool in the backyard. He was offered at 21 to be groomed to take over the business, and declined. His uncle was dying of heart disease. My father John Robbins took the road less traveled. He moved to an island with his wife, and they named their kid Ocean. We ended up in first in British Columbia, then my family moved to CA. My father soon wrote a best-selling book—‘Diet for a New America’. My grandfather read my father’s book when given to him by his cardiologist. He started eating lot more plant-based foods, and his life and health greatly improved. When we follow the standard American diet, we suffer disease, and when we eat more plants, we thrive across the spectrum. I founded a non-profit when I was 16. We started doing JAMs as a young student. Everyone eats. And we were exporting disease all over the world. Waistlines were expanding, and hospitals were filling. I launched Food Revolution Network with my father. We are all looking for acupuncture points how to make an impact. There are more than 7 billion answers as to how to do that. The same foods that give us better heart health and smaller waistlines as individuals along with a sense of inner peace also give us a healthy and sustainable planet.
- The energetic impact of food: It's my belief that when we eat the products of factory farms, animals that are tortured, we take that energy into our body. A friend of mine is Craig Watts. He worked for Purdue as a chicken farmer. The conditions were horrible in every way, and their lives were full-scale miserable. Craig was doing this but didn’t like it one bit. And one day, he sees Jim Purdue on TV lying about chickens living the good life. He invited Compassion in World Farming to show the misery of the chickens, and the video went viral. Craig had a run-in with Purdue. He now advises factory farmers on how to transform their operations and livelihoods. He exposed the horrific norms for all animals in the food system. As a person of conscience, I do not want to take that kind of misery in my body. I do not want to support that cruelty in the world. When we participate in brutality, that effects our conscience and our sense of security in the world. I want the food I eat to not hurt and poison the earth. In martial arts, there is a concept of being in center. When we are centered with our food, we can hold a space of deep integrity. Each choice we make is a vote. Do we vote for misery, destruction, and torture or vitality?
- How he found his own compass, given a line of accomplished forbears: We all ask, “Who Am I?” In some ways, we’re all a product of centuries. Is a kitten all that different from a wild cat? Humans carry lineages—yet we’re utterly unique. This moment is ever-new. I’ve always been inquiring, what is mine to give, what is mine to do? I always thought I was supposed to do big things. At times it felt like a burden. I did a lot of things at a very young age, so one could say I was very precocious and ambitious. The thing that shifted me most was becoming a father. When I was 27, I became the father to autistic children. My father used to say, “I’d love you just as much if you were autistic.” They are thriving, but I have to ask myself if I ask if I’d love them more if they were normal. Balancing this has been a journey, and I’m growing into true self-love. I’ve made my own self-love conditional, and learned that from my children. If I can love them fully just as they are, then maybe I can do that for myself and for others. We are in a program focusing on building relationships. When our kids were 10, they never really had eye contact with me. My son River was chewing on Barbie feet, and so I joined him and started chewing on his feet. He looked me straight in the eye, and gave me a huge smile for the first time ever. Suddenly River and I were there together in a moment in eternity. He invited me to chew on the feet of his other Barbie. There was a tear rolling down my face. River now makes eye contact every single day. He smiles and beams every single day. When we are together, we are timeless spirits. I am so grateful for that. Recently they spoke on a climate change conference for a 1000 people, and have really gotten out there in remarkable ways. I don’t love him because of what he accomplishes. I love him because I love him, because he’s mine to love. Its part of my purpose on this planet.
- How his way of showing up in the world has become different after 30 years of service: Not everyone else in the world think like I do. They may not be chewing on Barbie feet, but they’re chewing on Big Macs. I talk about respect for everyone, but do I mean it? Do I judge other people, or love them? My kids teach me about unconditional love not just in parenting, but in life. How can I contribute meaningfully to others? I can do this most effectively when I connect with their own innate visions and goals in life, rather than judging them. We see a lot of fundamentalism in the food world. People are entrenched in defensiveness. My intentions are in deep consciousness and deep respect.
- Q: How do you really live this when the going gets tough? How do you embody it? A: Easier said than done. I need compassion for myself even when I get stuck in dogmatism. I have failed so many different ways. I used to be a vegan proselytizer in 2nd grade. I got in a fist fight with my friend Damian because he had a roast beef sandwich. I was preaching non-violence for all life, but getting into a fist fight with my best friend. I learned about respect the hard way. Love the sinner, not the sin. That has been a big lesson for me. Another example, in social justice. I worked with leaders all over the world. Over the course of building bridges, I have come to live into paradox. There are so many refugees who have homes in an ‘enemy territory’, people who can’t go home. I’ve held space for people as they share tears. Sometimes it feels the rights and dignity of one is held against the rights and dignity of others. I ask myself how can we end it. There is some sort of impossible balance to find. We’ll never find a win-win unless we can find a win in ourselves. My own wife felt she needed animal products for her own body after nursing twins for many years. She tried to uphold a vegan-esqe approach, but was not thriving. If I truly love my wife, I needed to support her. She shifted her dietary pattern to consume responsibly raised animals, and she is healthier than ever. She’s thriving. It represented a confrontation with my own sense of morality. I care deeply about my wife and her well-being, so we have a mixed diet household. Its more values aligned to have that harmony within than to be dogmatic about a particular kind of diet.
- Q: I am the oppressed and I am the oppressor. A: Yes, we are all of it. There are so many paradoxes in life. The goal of humanity is not to be perfect.
- Q: You shared a lot about YES. Its played a big role in transforming many lives. Can you share more about this? A: I started out speaking at schools. We were and environmental organization. As I traveled, I saw that environment meant many things to many people. To some it was trees, to others it was concrete. To be an environmentalist, it meant aiming for a healthier environment all around. We shifted our message and framework to include people and planet. In my own development, I went from being a teacher, to being a facilitator and a space-holder. I learned from so many people. I sometimes think of myself as a host. My title is actually CEO and co-host of Food Revolution Network. I’ve never been interested in cookie cutter formulas.
- On the meaning of holding space: It's my belief that the sun shines on everybody regardless of what they did the night before. There is an unconditionality to sunlight. In that light, I want to be a light for growth to happen. Holding space is shining light that helps peoples grow and reflect. We live in a toxic food environment. I want to illuminate for people the cost of the status quo. Heart disease is essentially a preventable disease. Yet I want to be deeply respectful of biochemical individuality. We all respond to everything in very different ways. Learning to listen to your body is key. Making friends with your body, making friends with your microbiome. You are in symbiotic relationship with your whole ecosystem. To be a host is to be in a place to listen. I want to give you the facts, and then help you listen to your self to see what works.
- Q: When we talk about standard American diet, we are talking about processed food. In our community we have so many people who practice awareness of equanimity in their meditation discipline. What about people who don’t have that practice and can’t resist the temptations of foods that are engineered to hijack our equanimity? A: We have a junk food industry that creates addictive products. “Bet you can’t just eat one.” If you open this bag, you will eat the whole thing. There are very smart people who are paid a lot to develop the perfect mouth-feel and tastiness for highest addictive impact. You do have to fight an uphill battle. We’ve all been indoctrinated and to some extent seduced by people trying to capitalize on our natural human instincts. Industry preys on that with added sugars and fats. So many people think cherry flavoring tastes more like cherries than actual cherries do. Reconnecting with your own native wisdom is critically important. What you eat literally becomes you. Become the author of your food life, instead of being at the mercy of market forces regardless of the cost. I want to light a fire—the status quo is a fast track of death for you and a lot of life on this planet. A healthy debate for humans centers around eating real food.
- Q: Your work offers through the model of a business. What questions do you live into? A: I directed a non-profit for a long time. It was difficult to scale. There were lots of paradoxes. I wanted a model where the more good we did, the more we had to give. We offer almost everything we do mostly for free. We offer 'next steps' for a fee. We didn’t want to ask for donations. Food 1.0 is survival. Food 2.0 is about commerce. Food 3.0 is about regeneration.
- About his ecology and eco-community living: We live in an ecovillage that we created. We purchased a piece of land with a couple of houses. There are now 14 people living on this land. Technically we’re landlords but think of ourselves more as stewards. There are a ton of things were doing. I’m interested in experiments with truth, as Gandhi said.
- What drains him: I have very little tolerance for things that drag. One of my big fears when living in community is that we’d be caught in everybody else’s ‘stuff’. I try to live everything in the cleanest way possible. What is in my filed of control vs. what other people think and feel is not my business. Even with my wife, I’ve wasted and spent way too much time even wishing my wife was different. How do I get the best outcome in any situation? Griping about other people’s behaviors don’t change them. They in fact set up the conditions for people to entrench in those behaviors. Inviting accountability and transforming comes from a different approach.
- His current edge of wisdom and capability: Self care. I love what I do. I put so much of myself into. How do I create the conditions for abundant sleep and well-being? I still find myself to patterns of pushing long and hard, even when I see that those aren’t conducive to being my best and highest self.
Lots of gratitude to all the behind-the-scenes volunteers that made this call happen!