Good nutrition is crucial for everything in our lives — health, energy, and a long lifespan. So, why do we choose to eat the foods we know that are bad for us? Of course, everyone knows that processed junk food isn’t good for them, yet they eat it anyway. Why? As it turns out, there are multiple factors to this. But to sum up: It’s because we live in a food system that incentivizes companies to develop low cost foods (that are highly addictive) while using low quality ingredients. And ultimately, for the consumer, it becomes cheaper, easier (and more pleasurable) to get the foods that are bad for your health. How can we change this? How can we have a Food Revolution, and make it easier for everyone to get access to healthy and good foods?
This week, I am with Ocean Robbins, who has made it his life’s work to reform public policies with regards to health and nutrition. He is the CEO and co-founder of the Food Revolution Network. He is here today to tell you about his 4 keys to good nutrition, why current government policies are making it difficult for many to live a healthy life, and how you can not only transform your health but make the world a better place in the process.
This is a subject near and dear to my heart, so I urge you to listen in!
In this podcast, you’ll learn
- The main reason why you cannot rely on your doctor for nutritional advice
- Why we need a food revolution
- The current prognosis on how our health will develop (why that is scary and how we can stop it)
- The main reason why Coca-Cola is not GMO-free in the US
- Why it is cheaper to purchase processed junk foods than whole fruits and vegetables
- Why it is super expensive to purchase organic foods
- Why conventional health foods can impact negatively on your health
- Ocean Robbins’ take on GMO
- Why low-income families are doomed when it comes to good nutrition (and why this is a major reason why we need a food revolution)
- Ocean’s 4 keys to good nutrition for health
Download or listen on iTunes
Listen outside of iTunes
Ocean Robbins’ Food Revolution Summit │The 4 Keys to Good Nutrition For Health, Energy, and Longevity – Transcript
Ari Whitten: Hey everyone, welcome back to the Energy Blueprint Podcast. I’m Ari Whitten, your host. Today I am with someone who I’m a very big fan of, Ocean Robbins, who is doing just Phenomenal work in the field of reforming public policy, with regards to health, and nutrition. He’s really a thought leader in that. He is the CEO and co-founder of the Food Revolution Network, and he’s the co-host of the Food Revolution Summit. Welcome Ocean Robbins, such a pleasure to finally connect with you.
Ocean Robbins: Well, likewise Ari. I’m thrilled.
Ari Whitten: I’d love to get started by having you talk about your family background because this is just a fascinating story. I knew you for a long time as … I always thought you are the son, or maybe the grandson of the founder of Baskin-Robbins, and it’s such a strange twist that the family went from ice cream owners, to what you’re doing now, which we’re going to talk about. But I would love if you could just tell people about that whole story, and maybe people who are not American are not familiar with all that.
Ocean Robbins: Absolutely. It is an interesting story. My grandfather founded an ice cream company called Baskin-Robbins, 31 Flavors. My dad John, grew up groomed to one day join in running the family enterprise. He grew up with an ice cream cone shaped swimming pool in the backyard, and 31 flavors of ice cream in the freezer. But as he came of age, he was offered the chance to join in running the family company, and he said no. He walked away from a path that was practically paved with gold and ice cream, too, as we jokingly say in our family, to follow his own rocky road. He did so because his own uncle, Burt Baskin, my grandfather’s brother-in-law and business partner, was at the time dying of heart disease. He passed at the age of 54.
Ari Whitten: Wow.
Ocean Robbins: I never knew my dad’s uncle Burt, because he was gone before I was born. But I do know that he was one of the most successful entrepreneurs in American history. He had a family he loved, and he had financial success in abundance. But he didn’t have his health. He ended up leaving his wife a widow, and his kids, my dad’s cousins, fatherless.
My dad took a look at his uncle Burt, and said, “I don’t want to spend my life selling a product that’s going to contribute to more people dying of heart disease.”
Now, an ice cream cone is not going to kill anybody, but my dad was well aware that his uncle had eaten plenty of the family products. Although we didn’t know as much then, as we know now about the relationship between food and health, the truth was starting to emerge even then, that ice cream was no health food. So my dad walked away, and moved with my mom to a little island off the coast of Canada, where they build a one-room log cabin, and grew most of their own food, and lived very simply. They practice yoga and meditation for several hours a day, and they named their kid Ocean. That would be me.
Years later, my dad ended up writing books, exposing the shenanigans of the junk food industry, and the horrors of our factory farming industries, and inspiring people to look at their food choices as a chance to make a difference in the word. What we got very clearly was that people were responsive to his story. The media called him the rebel without a cone. One of the people who responded, as fate would have it, was my grandfather.
See my grandpa, Irving Robbins had always eaten the standard American diet, plus a double scoop of ice cream on top. He wound up with serious heart issues, weight issues, diabetes, all the things you’d expect from somebody.
If you eat the standard American diet, you’re going to get the standard American diseases. That’s what happens my grandpa. But then as fate would have it, his doctor gave him a copy of my dad’s book, Diet for a New America, which was a million-copy bestseller. I just love that. That’s so phenomenal. My grandpa read it, and he followed its advice. He cut way down on his meat consumption, and he gave up sugar. He gave up ice cream. He started eating a lot more whole plant foods, and he got results, big results. He lost 30 pounds, and he got off all his diabetes and blood pressure medications. His golf game improved seven strokes. He was one happy camper. He lived another 19 more healthy years.
Near the end, when he was in his 90s, and on his deathbed, I was with him with my dad. He said, “Thank God some of us have lived long enough to learn a few new things.” He said, “Thank God you followed your own star. I thought you were crazy, but you are right.” I think if my grandpa can change, he was one stubborn cookie, he was used to getting his way with everything, and if he can make a change, given the level of investment he had in the standard American diet, in thinking there’s no connection between food and health, and thinking that ice cream is just fine, then I think there is hope for the rest of us too.
Ari Whitten: Yeah, beautiful, and very well said. I just think it’s so cool that your dad made that decision to not take over the family business when it was just such a golden financial opportunity that was being handed to him.
Why there is a need for a Food Revolution (and food revolution summit)
That’s such a remarkable decision. Then you’re there, continuing that path that he started carving out. It’s just beautiful, I love it. Food revolution, you’re the CEO and co-founder of the Food Revolution Network. You run the Food Revolution Summit. What does this mean, food revolution, and why is there a need for a food revolution?
Ocean Robbins: We hear the word revolution bandied about for everything from a brand of new razor blades to a violent uprising. But what it means to me is fundamental change. That’s all we need. The way I look at, Food 1.0 is about survival. If you can get enough calories to feel your belly, then that’s success.
For a lot of people in the world, that’s where it’s at. There’s a lot of people who are freaking heroes just to keep food in their kid’s bellies every day. But for those of us who have enough to eat, then often the next level is Food 2.0, which is commerce.
The central organizing principle in Food 2.0 is buying and selling goods for the best possible price. It’s a marketplace transaction. It’s brought us 31 flavors of ice cream. It’s brought us an abundance of taste, and texture, and cuisine, from all over the planet.
As expensive as food can be, we spend a lower percentage of our disposable income on it in the industrialized modern world than any people ever have in history. But unfortunately, Food 2.0 is morally bankrupt, because it’s creating foods that are tasty, and are addictive, and are lethal. That’s why I think it’s time for a Food 3.0, which is where we make health the central organizing principle of our food system, health for our bodies, and health for our planet.
There’s plenty of profits to be made in Food 3.0, it’s just that they come from healthy profits, that come from healthy food. I want to see a food revolution because I am sick and tired of a food industry that acts like our health didn’t matter. I’m sick of the health industry that acts like food didn’t matter.
Why you can’t rely on your doctor for good nutrition advise
The average physician, in all their years of medical school, gets 19 hours of nutritional training. Less than a third of the medical schools in the United States has a single required course in nutrition. I think a doctor not knowing about food is kind of like a firefighter not knowing about water.
Ari Whitten: Yeah, I agree with you. That’s such a great way of putting it because I mean, it really truly is insanity that doctors are being educated, and the vast majority of the burden of healthcare is with chronic disease, that are diseases of nutrition and lifestyle. The doctors who are supposed to be treating those conditions are receiving virtually no education whatsoever in nutrition and lifestyle.
Then we hello public who is taught that these are the authorities on health. I need to go talk to my doctor about nutrition. But your doctor, more than likely, unless they’ve self-educated themselves, they know close to nothing about nutrition.
Ocean Robbins: That’s right.
Ari Whitten: I mean, it’s just absolutely insane.
Why we need a food revolution – the normalization of toxic foods
Ocean Robbins: Meanwhile, we’ve got McDonald’s providing nutritional education free of charge to schools. We got McDonald’s setting up cafeteria shops in hospitals. In that context, here’s what it comes down to Ari, I think that good news is that as bad as things are, that’s how much better they can be with the change.
We have normalized something that is toxic.
What that means is, that we can do so much better. As painful as it is to really face what we’re up against, and how many lives are being lost, and how many lives are full of suffering right now, including a lot of the people who are with us right now, you know what I’m talking about.
The current prognosis on how the health will develop in the future
Most of us fear for our well-being and our children’s well-being. Two-thirds of our population are overweight, or obese. A third of our kids are expected to get diabetes in their lifetime. Heart disease is killing 14 million people on the planet this year. Cancer is killing 8 million people on the planet this year. Alzheimer’s and dementia rates are skyrocketing. It’s the third leading cause of death in the US right now, and that’s going to double in the next generation. How many families are being ripped apart? How many lives are being destroyed? How many people think it’s normal to feel like crap and to watch your memory deteriorate? Half of the people over the age of 85 have Alzheimer’s. We can prevent most of that.
The reality is that diabetes, heart disease, cancer, dementia, autoimmune disease, obesity, these are symptoms. If you drive your car into a brick wall, and you die, the death certificate might say the cause of death was brick wall crashing. But you know and I know that that was the symptom.
The cause of death was terrible driving, so as a lifestyle if we’re going to eat this way, we’re going to get the predictable outcome that we see rampant all around us. But the good news is that we know better.
We have thousands of medical studies, and the examples of the healthiest, and longest-lived peoples in the world to learn from, and be inspired by. They tell us clearly, 90% of cases of cancer are caused by diet, lifestyle, and environment, not genetics, not bad luck, not a deficiency of some as yet un-invented drug. ’
By what we’re doing, which is good news, because it means we can do something different. That’s why we need food revolution. That’s why I’m so passionate about sharing this with as many people as possible because too many lives are on the line. Too many lives are being lost and ruined, and we can do something about it.
Why we need a food revolution – The public food policies in America
Ari Whitten: Yeah, beautifully said. There seem to be two prongs to what you’re doing, with regards to this food revolution. One is advancing public policy, and then the other one is speaking directly to the general public, and increasing awareness of how to take better care of yourself, and how to eat properly. Let’s dig into the first one first, and talk about public policy. Granted, this will be biased towards America I’m sure. We can talk about public food policy in America, and how that’s affecting what the general public is ending up putting into their bodies every day.
Ocean Robbins: Sure. You know how to get my blood boiling. Here’s the thing. In the US, we favor. We say we have a free market. We say that consumer is king and that the marketplace responds to consumer demand. But in practice, we have tilted the playing field to subsidize junk food and unhealthy food.
We do that in a number of ways. The most obvious one is that we have a farm bill, while is a taxpayer-funded initiative, that provides tens of billions of dollars a year in subsidies. Now I like the idea of helping farmers out in rough times. Our farmers work hard. They deserve our backing. But most of that money is going to the richest farms that need it the least.
It’s going to commodities growers; corn, soy, cotton, wheat, the so-called staple crops. But not to fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes, which are actually the things we know we should be eating more of.
By subsidizing these foods, we’re also subsidizing their byproducts; high fructose corn syrup, factory farmed animal products. Most of the corn and soy are grown in the world isn’t fed to humans. It’s fed to livestock. So by subsidizing corn and soy, we are subsidizing the factory farming industry, which profits by a cheap source of nutrients, i.e., corn and soy, to feed to cattle, and other livestock.
It makes it so that pasture-raised farmers can’t compete in the marketplace because they’re competing against a subsidized industry.
The truth about Coca-Cola and GMO labeling
When I was in negotiations with Coca-Cola about GMO labeling, they informed me that they are GMO-free in Europe, where they use sugar to sweeten Coke, instead of high fructose corn syrup in the United States. I said, “Why can’t you be GMO-free in the United States?” They said, “Oh, we couldn’t afford to.” I say, “Why?” They say, “Oh, it’s because high fructose corn syrup is subsidized in the US. It’s not in Europe, so we couldn’t compete with other soda companies because they’re using it. We can’t use a non-subsidized product when there’s a subsidized one available.” By subsidizing corn and soy, we are subsidizing cattle feed, and Coca-Cola, instead of supporting the stuff we should be eating more of.
This is ironic. For those of us who can afford to make choices around food, and choose between different options, and go organic, maybe this is annoying. But for a family that is on the edge, that is trying to survive, that can barely make rent, and that’s most people actually today, this is sometimes a life or death situation. What I mean by life or death is that, if all you can afford is the cheapest calories available, then you are essentially condemned to nutritional disaster, because taxpayers are creating an unlevel playing field.
What would happen if that same money went to fruits and vegetables, and nuts and seeds, and legumes, and healthy foods? How would the marketplace shift overnight? How would the poor particularly, be lifted up? Right now it is people of low income, who bear the greatest brunt for our nutritional crisis because their diets tend to be the worst because they are stuck with the worst calories. One of the reasons is subsidies.
Why organic foods cost so much
Now for another example, we have an organic certification program, where those of us who want to, can pay a premium price, for food that was grown without poisons. It’s a pretty good thing to be able to do that if you can afford it. But what about everyone else? What about the people who can’t pay, sometimes double for certified organic food? Why does it cost so much?
Well, one of the big reasons it cost so much more, is because the organic farmers actually have to pay for a certification process. If you go to a farmers market, and you talk to the small growers, some of them aren’t even certified. They say, “We can’t afford those fees.”
If you want to grow a backyard garden, you can’t call it organic, unless you pay somebody to come out and certify you. But what would happen if we made people who were using poisons pay inspectors to come out, and say that they’re doing it okay and if we created a lower regulatory burden for the people who are doing the right thing, who are growing food more safely? What we have now is kind of like you’re being fined for wearing your seatbelt. Again, it creates an economic disincentive to do the right thing for our health and our bodies.
Then we also look at the fact that in a sense, the corporate food industry is completely unaccountable for the health impacts of its choices. They are outsourcing the real cost onto the consumer, through the health crisis we are going to face.
I’m curious what would happen if there was even some visibility if we even had to code on food products, that show how healthy they are or aren’t. If there was some visibility, so people knew what was up. Or if we want to go a step further, what about if, just like we’ve made tobacco companies pay, we’ve put taxes on cigarettes, and then used some of that money to fund saving people from the harm caused by those products, providing medical care, for people who are dying of lung cancer, and then providing education, so people could know what was up, what if we did the same thing with sodas, sugary sodas?
What if we did the same thing with factory farm animal products? What if we did the same thing to Wonder Bread? I mean, with all due respect to these things, I’m a big fan of consumer choice. I think people should be able to eat what they want. But I also think that it shouldn’t be subsidized by taxpayers. We should have the information we need to make informed choices. McDonald’s doesn’t have a monopoly on Happy Meals.
Actually, there’s not a heck of a lot of happiness in not remembering the names of your loved ones, because you have Alzheimer’s. There’s not a lot of happiness from wondering if your spouse is going to survive the year because they have cancer. But this is what we’re creating when we eat these Happy Meals.
I’m interested in policies and practices that will hold companies accountable, and provide consumers with accurate information, and create at least a fair marketplace, is not a marketplace that supports us doing the right thing, because I think that will be of greatest benefit to the people who can least afford to get sick in the first place.
Ari Whitten: Right. Yeah, I think that … You encapsulated this idea of the Fact that poor people are condemned to nutritional disaster, and then end up, even though they can barely afford now to eat the right things, or they can’t afford to eat the right things, so they end up eating a bad diet, well now they’re eating a diet that is going to lead to chronic disease down the road, which is then a huge burden of expense. I mean it’s almost like they’re being forced to pay either way. It’s just whether you’re paying it up front, or you’re paying down the line, and then also, how you pay determines your quality of life, as far as if you can. Or if you decide to pay it up front, then you can hopefully avoid, or greatly delay chronic disease, and extend your lifespan, and improve your quality of life.
But I mean, yeah, it’s very interesting to think about labeling foods in that way, because there’s obviously a huge body of literature on say, sugar-rich beverage consumption, sodas, and things like that. Or various processed foods, and links with specific chronic diseases. We know these links. There are hundreds, and sometimes thousands of studies on these links, so what’s to stop us from putting labels on these things that say, “Hey, this product is … consumption of this type of food is linked to this disease, and this disease, and this disease. Put it right on the label, and force those companies to put it on the label, and pay an extra tax. Pay an extra bit of money when you want to purchase those products, if you want to decide to eat them, so that you are then funding your own healthcare, as a result of consuming those foods regularly.
Ocean Robbins: That’s right, exactly. In Chile, they’ve just put in taxes of 18% on sugary beverages. They’re trying to seriously tackle the obesity epidemic. Now I’m not a fan of taxes for their own right. I think that my interest if we do something like this, is to use that money to help subsidize making healthy food more affordable. We also have experiments where food stamps are made double value for fruits and vegetables. That’s been done in the United States. There are actually about 500,000 people right now who are taking advantage of that. The government isn’t funding that, but private parties are supplementing, and working in tandem with the government to make that happen. It can actually bring down obesity rates in a community. It can uplift the health of the whole population when we make these kinds of changes.
The Food Revolution – How to make it easier to do the right thing
My interest is, how do we make it easier for people to do the right thing? Now what happens is, if you subsidize, if you help make fruits and vegetables more affordable to more people, you don’t just help them, you actually change the marketplace in the community, so there are fresher fruits and vegetables. The stores have more incentive to stock them and to put them up front because they’re selling more of them, which makes everybody have more of them. When they’re fresher, when they get their deliveries every day, instead of every week, then you’re not looking at wilted lettuce and moldy tomatoes. You’re looking at stuff is healthy, and fresh, and vibrant. It changes the whole culture of the community.
This is one of the things that I think is powerful in the food revolution, is more and more people are changing what they’re buying, and that’s changing what companies are selling. As much as we could gripe and complain about the food industry, and how crappy its products are, we really do have to take some responsibility if we’re buying the shit. You know what I mean?
Ari Whitten: Yeah.
Ocean Robbins: At the end of the day, what are we going to choose to support? We have to recognize that we are everyday food revolutionaries, with their own knives and forks, because we’re shifting through the system of supply and demand. We’re shifting what we are demanding. Then we’re shifting what’s going to be supplied.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. I’m curious about talking about lowering the cost of healthier foods, is there research to show that really works? I remember seeing a documentary several years ago. This was maybe eight years ago, or something like that, on an experiment in a small community, in a very urban area, where most people were shopping at the local liquor store for their food. They were getting mostly just processed junk food. I forget exactly the details of it, but they did some kind of thing to make healthier food more accessible, and available in this community. They found that people were still just going to buy the processed junk because they were addicted to it essentially, or it tastes better. It’s more pleasurable to eat. Is there something else that needs to be done, besides making healthier food more available, and cheaper? Is there anything we can do to help people get off of the processed food addiction?
Ocean Robbins: Well absolutely. I mean, we need so many different avenues here. I think it’s a biodiversity of options. We need to shift the subsidy system, so we’re not subsidizing junk. We need to provide education and consumer empowerment, so people know what the impact is. We need ethnically appropriate messaging, so people in different communities can reach out, so that it’s not all white folks talking to communities of color as the experts, because as we have seen through history, sometimes that can be suspect.
We also need to show positive examples. We need to focus on hope. Pain pushes, division pulls. A lot of us are motivated by fear of disease, but a lot of people can also be motivated by knowing what’s possible. More and more celebrities and sports stars are eating more wholesome, healthy foods. I think Tom Brady has been a good example of that because he’s very outspoken in his passion for a plant-based, wholesome diet.
Obviously, he’s got the results to back up. It seems to be working out okay for him. Now more and more of his teammates are jumping onboard. Gronkowski has joined him, who is his star tight end. 11 members of the Tennessee Titans have gone vegan actually, in the last year. We don’t think of football players this way, but there’s a movement. There’s kind of a groundswell of people shifting, as the culture is shifting.
Speaking of which, I tend to stay away from the vegan word, because I’m interested in a big tent approach, but it is worth noting that since 2014, the number of Americans who identify as a vegan has increased sixfold, six times more people. I mean in the UK, it’s three times more people. In Germany, the number of people who are on a low meat diet has gone from 22% to 42% in the same four years. We are, at this moment in history, seeing a pretty massive, seismic shift of people who are moving away from a meat-centered diet, and also away from sugary sodas, breakfast cereal. Sugary breakfast cereal consumption is tanking. Coke sales are going down fast. That something else they were sharing with me that they’re pretty scared about.
That’s because people are sick of being sick. But back to the strategies, we can employ, I do want to say that the Journal of American Medical Association in 2016 published a study. They looked at 10,000 Americans, and what they reported eating. Then they calculated how much of their diets were made up of food that was subsidized by the government. The authors of the study found that more than half of Americans calories came from subsidized foods and that diets full of subsidized food were high in dairy, simple carbs, like sugar and white flour, and factory farmed meat. What they found was that the more subsidized foods people ate, the lower their diets were likely to be in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and overall quality. That poorer and less educated segments of the population were eating vastly higher quantities of these subsidized foods.
In effect, the old adage is beggars can’t be choosers. What we were seeing was that a lot of the poorest people couldn’t be chooser, and this is what they were eating. Compared to people who ate the least subsidized food. Those who ate the most had a 37% risk of being obese. They had a 34% higher risk of having signs of elevated inflammation, and 14% higher risk of having abnormal blood cholesterol levels, so it does matter. It’s not the whole story. But I think it’s safe to say that the subsidies are having an impact on what people are eating.
How food addiction can control what we eat and how we are what we eat
Yes, of course, there are cultural factors, and cultural change needed. A lot of us, quite frankly, are addicted to junk food. I think you know this well. We both are fans of the work of Dr. Susan Pierce Thompson, who is helping us understand the neuroscience of food addiction, and how it really works, and how a lot of us think we’re in charge of our choices, but really the wiring of our brain is dictating what we think and feel.
I will go a step further and say that the bacteria in our gut are playing a largely unseen role in this as well. Most of the genetic diversity in your body is your bacteria, not you. The bacteria in our gut feed off of what we feed them, so if we feed them junk food, we are going to attract bacteria that like junk food. If you feel hunger in your stomach, ask yourself: is it you that’s hungry or is it the bacteria that live in there that are hungry? They’re like, “Oh, give me more.”
When we feed our bacteria healthier foods, with lots of fiber, which is what the good guys like, then we are able … They are producing a lot of the neurotransmitters, that tells our brain we’re happy, and tell us we’re full, that help us sleep well, give us peace. They are digesting a lot of the food and doing the work that helps us get the most nutrients. It’s not just that you are what you eat. It’s, you are what you digest.
Ari Whitten: Yeah, I’ll also add, just on an energy specific point, since this is the Energy Blueprint, and a lot of the listeners are struggling with fatigue, that some of the things that are produced by bacteria, when they feed on fiber, butyric acid, actually impact directly on the brain, and increase the neuropeptide called orexin, which is actually one of the primary things that regulate energy levels, and give us a sense of energy and alertness. There’s actually a very, very direct link between what you’re talking about here, as far as bacteria consuming this fiber, producing a chemical, that then feeds back into the brain, and causes your brain to produce a chemical that gives you energy. That’s just to name one of literally dozens of pathways, and systems of the body that are affected by this.
Ocean Robbins: That’s right. We want to get our brains wired for success. We want to get our bacteria thriving in fact for success. Then we create sustainable, healthy habits. The key isn’t, what do you do at your best when you’re in a peak state of happiness and ease. The key is, what do you do when you’re tired and stressed, and what’s the path of least resistance then? Because that’s where you’re going to end up most of the time.
Unfortunately, in a toxic food culture, the convenience foods, and the fast foods, are also junk foods. Walk into any 7-Eleven, McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, and you see, it’s all crap pretty much. In that context, if you want to take care of yourself, you’ve got to think ahead. You got to plan ahead. You got to build patterns that set you up for success. Similarly, we’ve all been wired in our brains, and in our digestive, bacterial [inaudible], for a lot of junkie patterns.
Creating new pathways is a life work actually. Every day I’m asking myself: where am I carrying patterns and habits, not just with food, but anywhere in life, that doesn’t truly serve what I love, and what I’m alive for? When I become conscious of those, I want to treat it with love, and compassion, not self-judgment. Then I want to wonder, what else is possible? What would be a healthier pattern? Is there a way that I could help to bring that … institutionalize that? The Grand Canyon was carved by water that went in the same place, day after day, year after year, for millennia. Similarly, deep patterns get grooved, but they can change. We get to be the authors of that, so I think the right use of willpower is in creating healthy habits-
Ari Whitten: Absolutely, I think-
Ocean Robbins: … and then the path of least resistance does the job from there.
The 4 keys to good nutrition, health, and energy
Ari Whitten: Yeah, and I think that’s a perfect segue into the other prong of what you do, which is increasing awareness among the general public, as far as the right foods to eat. Let’s dig into that a little bit. I get the impression that you are … I don’t just get the impression, but I know from seeing your videos and seeing your work, that you’re kind of a big picture guy. You’re not really interested in promoting any one specific diet, but you’re interested in the big picture principles of what the overall body of evidence says we need to move towards, as far as nutrition. What does that look like? What are some of the key principles of what it means to eat a healthy diet?
Ocean Robbins: Okay, well I think that the four top principles, I really have four … One is, eat less processed junk; sugar, white flour, things with more than five ingredients on the label generally, chemicals you don’t know how to pronounce. If you couldn’t make it in your kitchen, if it takes a lab to make it, then it’s probably not good for you, because we need to eat more plants and less food that comes from plants, and in factories. That’s number one.
Number two is eat fewer animal products. I know that me is controversial, and there are a lot of different takes on it. There is a high probability that if we ate more pasteurized animal products, we would see different health outcomes than we see from the factory farm stuff. But the preponderance of data from thousands of medical studies, to me, indicates that red meat, in particular, is carcinogenic. It means it causes cancer. It’s linked to heart disease. It’s linked with diabetes, and it’s a link with obesity.
Similarly, in general, dairy products are linked with a lot of problems, from IGF-1 to hormone impacts that are detrimental to human well-being. I mean, they’re a perfect food for a baby cow, but we’re the only species that consumes the milk of another species, or they consumed any milk after infancy. As natural as it seems, we’ve heard it’s nature’s most perfect food, it’s not necessarily best for humans. It’s an acquired taste. So less than all products, and more whole plant foods; fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes. We have so many medical studies showing us that we can prevent so many cases of cancer by eating more whole plant foods.
For seasoning, spicing, using less sugar, salt, and fat for seasoning, and more spices. If you look around the world at different cuisines and cultures, spices are a hallmark of cuisine. From basil and oregano in Italy to chili peppers in Mexico, to the curries, and the turmeric they use in India, and all over the world. In the United States, what are our famous flavors? It’s salt, and sugar, and fat in different forms. Fried, KFC, we fry our chicken. We dump our food full of sugar. I think when we can season our food with spices, we will get their incredible health benefits. We’ll also be less inclined to consume junk food that we know is artery clogging, and cell killing, and health damage.
Then the fourth principle … Again, it’s eating less processed junk, eat fewer animal products, eat more whole plant foods, and then the fourth principle that I stand behind is conscious sourcing. I think that in this day and age, we have to recognize that food is personal, and it’s also political. That it does cast a vote for the world we want.
For example, right now there are over one million kids in the Ivory Coast that are enslaved in the chocolate industry, a million children. Most of us don’t realize that. Hershey, and Nestle, and the other big chocolatiers are sourcing their chocolate from parties that are sourcing their chocolate from parties, that are getting chocolate from destitute farmers, who can’t afford anything more. They need their crops harvested, so they don’t ask too many questions. People and a bunch of people, the lowest priced labor they can get, and it’s a slavery industry.
It’s heartbreaking, but it’s true. At this point, there is no organic chocolate being produced over there. If you go organic, or fair trade certified, you’re going to be getting chocolate from other sources. But if you go with the mainstream chocolate, Ivory Coast, and Ghana, they produce over half the world’s chocolate. If you’re eating mainstream, conventional chocolate, and it’s not fair trade, and it’s not organic, then it’s tied to slavery, and that’s what you’re helping fund.
Ari Whitten: Wow.
The truth about farming in America
Ocean Robbins: I don’t want to be a part of that. I don’t want to be a part of a chemical-dependent agricultural system, where the average farm worker in the United States has a life expectancy of 49 years.
Ari Whitten: Wow.
Ocean Robbins: There are many reasons for that, but one of them is chemical exposure. Rates of cancer are epidemic in the farmworker community. One of the reasons I want to go organic as much as possible is yes, I don’t want to expose my body to all those toxins, and the neurotoxins that are in pesticides, but it’s also because I don’t want farm workers to have to be doing my dirty work, and essentially dying on the job from pesticide poisoning.
I don’t want to support animals being tortured in factory farms, where chickens have their beaks cut off so that when they go crazy and try to peck each other to death, they won’t succeed, because their beaks have been trimmed.
These animals are driven crazy. They never see a blade of grass or the sun in their entire lives. Of course, the product of that system can be toxic to humans, but they’re also toxic to our hearts I think. I don’t think any of us want to see this. We certainly don’t want to fund it. To me, conscious sourcing matters. That’s why fair trade, and organic, and humane, and pasture raised aren’t just nice marketing slogans. They actually mean something to me, and to a lot of people.
Ari Whitten: Yeah, and I love that you’re bringing awareness of that, because a lot of people perceive organic and fair trade as this rich people, and elitists, and foodies, and hipster types choosing to do this thing because it’s trendy, and they think it’s healthy for them, and so on. But really conventional has just as good of health properties as organic, and that’s where the discussion ends. That’s as deep as they think. What you’re saying is there are all these other layers to it. There are ethical and moral layers. There are environmental layers to it. There’s concerns over animal cruelty, concerns over human slavery. I mean, there’s all these things tied to the everyday decisions of what we’re putting into our bodies.
Ocean Robbins: Absolutely. I don’t think there’s anything elitist about wanting the farmers grew your food to have been paid enough so that I can be their own families. I don’t think there’s anything elitist about wanting animals that are being raised for human consumption, to be free from cruelty, and not to have to live lives of torture. I don’t think there’s anything elitist about saying, “Hey, I don’t want kids to be enslaved so that I can eat chocolate.”
Of course, if you can’t afford organic, don’t let that stop you from eating vegetables, for example. I know someone recently who said, “Oh, I can’t afford the organic broccoli, so she went and bought an organic donut.” I was like, “I think somebody is kind of missing the point here.” But there may have been more than economics at play in her decision. But I think that it’s clear that all those medical studies we’ve heard about, where people got great benefits from eating vegetables, did so eating commercially grown vegetables for the most part. It’s not like you should be scared to eat. But it does matter, and there are ripples that go out from it. For those of us who can afford to support a more humane, and a more sustainable, and a more safe food system, I think that it is a privilege to be able to invest in that.
Ocean Robbins’ take on GMOs
Ari Whitten: Yeah. Now What’s your take on GMOs, because this is an area that’s still I think, very controversial. There are a lot of people in the mainstream community, the same people who would say that organic is just a bunch of elitist foodies, and nonsense. A lot of people who identify as skeptics and evidence-based people will say, “Oh, GMOs, they’re proven to be perfectly safe. Anybody doesn’t like GMOs are just people who don’t understand science and are just afraid of the science that they don’t understand. GMOs are great, science-based safe things that are going to help feed the world.” What’s your take on that debate?
Ocean Robbins: First of all, what’s a GMO? Some people think it means God Move Over, but [inaudible] means a Genetically Modified Organism. Monsanto and the biotech industry told us that GMOs would lead to better yields, to feed a hungry world, and more drought-resistant crops. That they would lead to better flavor, and nutritional profiles, and that they would lead to reduced pesticide use. Those are the big five promises, and we hear variations on those trumpeted all the time.
But 25 years into the mass cultivation of genetically modified crops, we haven’t gotten any of those benefits. We do not have better yields, acre for acre. A group of concerned scientists did a report on this. They look at actual yield from GMO crops, versus non-GMO, and they concluded that it had not led to any net increase in food production on planet earth.
We haven’t gotten more drought resistance at all. We haven’t gotten any improvements in flavor or nutrition. We have got a net increase of more than 580 million pounds of pesticides. What are we getting from GMOs? We’re getting two traits. 99% of what’s in cultivation today, provides one, or both of these traits.
One is that they are pesticide producers, the produce BT in every cell of the plant. This is a pesticide that’s been used in organic agriculture for quite some time. It’s generally considered non-toxic to humans. When bugs eat it, their stomachs split open, and they die certain bugs. It’s registered with the EPA as a pesticide. So we’re eating a lot of BT crops. We don’t know what the impact of that is on humans. It may be fine. It may not be so fine.
But the other major one is that they are herbicide tolerant. Historically, if you sprayed crops with herbicides, you’d kill the weeds, but you’d also kill the crop. Now we’ve got this herbicide tolerance, which means the plants can withstand them. Not coincidentally, the same companies that made the herbicide-resistant crops, also made herbicides, to which those crops are resistant, which is a great business move if you think about it. But for the consumer, we are now eating massive quantities of glyphosate, which is the active ingredient in Roundup.
Now glyphosate has been declared a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organization. It’s been declared an endocrine disruptor. Many people don’t know this, but it’s been patented by Monsanto, as an antibiotic.
It can disrupt something called The Shikimate Pathway in the bacterial process, and kill bacteria in the process. But also, The Shikimate Pathway is a process by which bacteria turn our food in our guts into neurotransmitters, so there could be a link between glyphosate consumption, potentially, and leaky gut syndrome, and the bacterial problem that a lot of people are facing in their guts, the digestive problems, and the rates of depression that we are seeing today.
We don’t know this for a fact, but We do know that since GMOs came into widespread cultivation, rates of food allergy hospitalizations for kids have quadrupled. It could be a coincidence. There could be other factors. Correlation isn’t causation, but when you see correlation this strong, it begs a question: what the heck is going on here? And because we are all guinea pigs in an unmonitored GMO experience, because they’ve been introduced rampantly into our food supply, most of our corn, and soy, and cotton, alfalfa, and sugar beets are genetically engineered today. We’re all being exposed on a significant level. A lot of the processed foods, in particular, come from GMO sources.
Are GMOs inherently evil? Are they inherently even dangerous? I’m not so sure. But when you look at what’s being done with them in the hands of these industries, they are making a killing by using these seeds to sell their pesticides, which are being sprayed on our croplands. Now that we have super weeds coming up that are resistant to Roundup, they’re spraying them with 24D, which was one of the active ingredients in Agent Orange. It’s linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It’s not something you want to be eating.
When I look at these facts, I say, “Well, what can we do to avoid these things?” The number one thing you can do is to go non-GMO, particularly with your corn, soy, sugar, and cotton, which is used in cottonseed oil. Most of our animal products are fed GMO feed as well. But one thing a lot of people don’t realize is that glyphosate is being used as a desiccant now on non-GMO crops, to dry them out right before harvest. Monsanto has been pushing this in a big way. Researchers estimate that while a small percentage of the total glyphosate used is used as a desiccant, compared to what’s used as an herbicide, on GM crops, about half of our dietary exposure now comes in that form because it’s done right at the time of harvest.
We’re talking about wheat in particular, but also oats. The US EPA just raised the amount of allowable levels of glyphosate on oats by 300 times, in order to accommodate use of glyphosate as a desiccant. Now nothing about what was safe change. They didn’t have some new study saying, “Hey, this stuff is safe.” In fact, to the contrary, we’re seeing studies showing us it’s not safe. But what did change his industry practice, which led to an EPA, which unfortunately is interested in Monsanto’s interests, more than our health. If you want to avoid glyphosate, you need to not just avoid GMOs, but it’s a really good reason to go organic, especially with staple crops, the grains, and the legumes, because that’s where it’s being used.
What good nutrition for health looks like
Ari Whitten: Excellent. I have one more question for you, which is it seems you’re more towards the, I was a plant-based, vegan end of the spectrum. There’s a lot of people swinging in the opposite direction now, where Paleo, meat-based diet keto diets, that are extremely high in fat, very, very low in carbs, and often very high in animal products, are becoming all the rage. I’m just curious what your take on those is.
Ocean Robbins: Well, I think that obviously, these are all different things. I mean, with the Paleo direction, I have to say a thoughtful vegan approach, and a thoughtful Paleo approach, have more in common than most people realize. I mean, both approaches are against consumption of sugar, and processed, and refined carbs.
Both approaches are actually against industrialized animal products. Both approaches favor a whole lot of whole foods and vegetables. Then where they differ is on the one hand, Paleo doesn’t eat grains and legumes, and on the other hand, vegans don’t eat animal products. But thoughtful Paleo folks often recognize that our ancestors did actually eat some legumes. They certainly have been a part of the human diet for a long time. There’s medical research showing us that whole grains, I’m not talking about white flour, but whole grains in their natural state, are associated with positive health outcomes, in a whole lot of medical studies.
Thoughtful vegans can recognize that some wild salmon, or wild fish, or even wild game can be associated with positive health outcomes for a lot of people. In the blue zones, where people have traditionally lived the longest and healthiest lives … There’s five of them that were identified by Dan Buettner from National Geographic. One of those is mostly vegetarian, Loma Linda California. The other four are low meat, but they’re not vegan. In fact, there have been a lot of actually exclusive vegans in human history, so thoughtful vegans can recognize that it’s an experiment, that it’s an innovation. It may be an improvement, but it’s definitely something new.
If we want to look at history, we can certainly recognize that purely from a health perspective, there’s a case to be made for some thoughtful animal products in the diet. Now ethically, some people may not want to do that. I totally respect that. That’s another matter. But if we’re talking health … Now ketogenic is kind of another story. I think that the ketogenic diet, which is kind of similar to Atkins in a lot of ways if you think about, it’s been around for a while. We know that it can lead to weight loss, at least in the short term. We know that it can cause substantial reductions in blood sugar, and insulin levels, at least in the short term. We know that there are studies showing that for people with seizures, or epilepsy, it can work wonders. If I had epilepsy, or someone in my family did, I would definitely consider it.
But what we also know is that a diet that is very high in fat, and very low in carbohydrates, long-term can lead to quite a number of problems. I don’t think that it is a sustainable way for the planet to feed humanity, to go keto. I also don’t think that it’s sustainable for human beings to go that way, in the long run. Eating a lot of high-fat meats had been linked to heart disease and certain forms of cancer. Going whole grains and legumes are both associated with long-term positive health outcomes. Ketogenic diets are widely thought to be not advisable for pregnant women, and nursing mothers, and [inaudible] indicated for kids. They can be damaging to the kidneys with that high-fat content. They’re associated with digestive problems, and constipation, and fatigue. It’s very hard to get enough fiber on that diet.
Only 5% of the US population gets enough fiber. I’m a fan of anything that works. My ideology, my predisposition is, I also want foods that are healthy for the planet and ethical for animals. I tend to not support factory farms, and industrialized meat production, because I think they are bad for the planet, and for our hearts, as people who care. But if somebody can get real benefit from eating animal products, I’m not going to rob them of that. I’m not going to say they shouldn’t do that. I can respect that. But in the larger picture, I think I support moving toward the world where everyone can have enough to eat, where our climate is stable, where we have enough water, where our topsoil is preserved. Broadly speaking, I think that’s a more organic, and a more plant-based direction.
Ari Whitten: Beautiful-
Ocean Robbins: From a health perspective, I do not think we have any studies, long-term studies, showing benefit from a keto diet. We have short-term studies, but not long-term, and I don’t think we ever will.
The Food Revolution Summit
Ari Whitten: Yeah, beautiful message. I’m 100% on board with what you’re preaching. I know that you have a Food Revolution Summit coming right up here very soon. I would love if you could just finish us up by talking a bit about that. I highly recommend everyone listening join. We’ll have a link to that on the show notes page here, so make sure to check that out. But Ocean, tell us a bit about what this summit is all about. I mean, hopefully, as people have listened to this, they now understand what the food revolution is all about. But what’s going on with this summit?
Ocean Robbins: You can probably tell I’m passionate about this stuff. I’m not alone. I know you join me in this, so do a lot of other people. For the Food Revolution Summit, more than 300,000 people are converging from all over the planet, for an online summit.
My dad and colleague, John Robbins and I, are interviewing 24 of the top food experts on the planet. We’re bringing forth their voices, and their brilliant wisdom. We’re asking them, “What’s really going on with our food system, and what can we do about it, and how can we bring real healing to our bodies, and to our world?”
Where digging in, in real depths with experts like Dale Bredesen, who led the first studying history, documented in medical journals, to show a reversal of Alzheimer’s disease. We’re working with doctors Dean and Ayesha Sherzai from Loma Linda, California, who are telling us we can eliminate 90% of Alzheimer’s cases, just with diet and lifestyle factors. They’re telling us how, and they been researching this for 30 years. We’re talking with Dr. Dean Ornish, and Dr. Neal Barnard, and Joel Fuhrman, and Michael Greger, and Vandana Shiva, on the global impact of our food choices, and The Food Babe, Vani Hari, and the more spiritual side with Anthony William. We’ll have Kris Carr and quite an array.
David Perlmutter and Daniel Amen are joining us, talking about the gut, and the brain, and how this all connects. I’m just thrilled that we get to do this, and bring these voices forward, and share their wisdom. I love hearing my dad interview these folks because he knows just the questions to ask to evoke the heart of their expertise. We bring this all to the world for free. You can sign up, and join in, and catch it all, and I hope you will.
Ari Whitten: Beautiful. Well Ocean, it’s been such a pleasure to have you on the show. I’m really just a huge fan of your work and the message that you’re putting out to the world. It’s been an honor to have you on, and have this conversation, and have you share your wisdom with my audience. I really appreciate it.
Ocean Robbins: My privilege, thank you so much for your beautiful work. We’re doing it together, we really are.
Ari Whitten: Awesome.
Ocean Robbins’ Food Revolution Summit │The 4 Keys to Good Nutrition For Health, Energy, and Longevity – Show Notes
Why there is a need for a Food Revolution (and food revolution summit) (5:40)
Why you can’t rely on your doctor for good nutrition advise (7:56)
Why we need a food revolution – the normalization of toxic foods (8:57)
The current prognosis on how the health will develop in the future (9:46)
Why we need a food revolution – The public food policies in America (11:49)
The truth about Coca-Cola and GMO labeling (14:24)
Why organic foods cost so much (16:22)
The Food Revolution – How to make it easier to do the right thing (21:12)
How food addiction can control what we eat and how we are what we eat (28:02)
The 4 keys to good nutrition, health, and energy (32:01)
The truth about farming in America (37:10)
Ocean Robbins’ take on GMOs (40:53)
What good nutrition for health looks like (47:52)
The Food Revolution Summit (53:12)
Note: Registration for The Food Revolution Summit (which is FREE) opens in on April 16th. We will send out a notice to register on the 16th via email, and post it on this page.