The Urban Monk – Food and the State of the Planet with Guest Ocean Robbins
The revolution begins in your home – more specifically, your kitchen. Ocean Robbins, creator and organizer of the Food Revolution Summit, says that it’s time to start a revolution, The Food Revolution.
It’s as simple as starting in your kitchen. There are seemingly insurmountable problems in the world. We feel like our lives are out of control. Joining the Movement Robbins is talking about, provides us with hope and an opportunity to change things for the better.
Do you buy organic? Do you do most of your shopping at the farmer’s market? When you choose where you buy your food, the kind of food you buy, and how you prepare it, you are taking a stand. Buying local food and seasonal eating strengthen our connections to the sources of our food and improve the relationships we have with one another.
It’s a stand against GMOs, the overuse of antibiotics in our food supply, and the damage done by overly-processed foods and sugary soda. It’s also a way to fight back against the increase in rates of cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Whether it’s purchasing organic produce, or being a part of the farm-to-table movement, we have more control than we realize. While no one individual can successfully take on the problem of world hunger, each of us can make a dent. We have to educate ourselves about the issues around not just caloric deprivation, but nutritional deprivation as well. How can we create a sustainable agricultural model and improve the soil?
People like Ron Finley, the Los Angeles Guerrilla Gardener, and the caretakers of community gardens around the country are part of the vanguard.
Voting with your wallet, deciding what foods you will prepare and how you will prepare them, and advocacy that includes conversations with your elected representatives and voting, all make a difference.
There is a final component in this movement that should not be overlooked, and that is cultivating our “attitude of gratitude.” Starting off your day by writing down just a few things you’re grateful for, can have a tremendous impact on both your physical and spiritual health.
Here are the interview notes for the show:
Welcome back to the Urban Monk, Dr. Pedram Shojai here today with Ocean Robbins. This guy’s a hero. He has been doing advocacy stuff to make the planet better since he was a little kid. When I was off throwing footballs and doing things that were completely knucklehead, he was already trying to make the world a better place. He’s been at this for a very long time, and he’s leading a revolution in food, the Food Revolution Network. Very interesting to see what he’s doing, very interesting to see how they’re going after a lot of these big companies and making a difference.
Just before I get into it, next week, I have my Kung Fu grandmaster, Carl Totton on the show. It’s an honor to have him. We start talking about the real nuts and bolts of the martial arts, what they mean philosophically. Amazing show as well, so make sure you know that that’s coming. Tune in next week. Right now, enjoy Ocean Robbins. He’s amazing, and I’ll see you on the other side, and we’ll talk about it in the threads.
What is going on out there, man? It’s been so crazy watching how this ebb and flow of legislation, and we won this one, we lost that one. You got your finger on the pulse, so I’d love to hear from you what’s happening.
What’s Happening In The Food Industry Right Now?
What’s happening is that people are completely fed up with the status quo. That’s the big headline, is that McDonald’s closed 700 restaurants last year, that sales of organic food, non-GMO certified food, farmer’s market sales, community supported agriculture sales, are all skyrocketing. People are more and more interested in real food, and we’re realizing that the status quo isn’t good enough, and that actually … I think the American consumer has lost trust in the food industry. What’s happening from there is that we’re seeing this radical shift in how people are thinking and what they’re wanting to buy.
The same practices that made the food industry companies giants of the twentieth century will make them dinosaurs this century, if they don’t radically change their course. Legislatively, we’re seeing some powerful shifts in terms of GMO labeling is a really hot issue. 90% of the American public wants GMOs labeled. We’re seeing a lot of interest in factory farms banning routine use of antibiotics, and many other powerful changes taking place.
We lost the Oregon vote and everyone’s like, “See, big business won again,” looking at who did it, but we learned so much in that process, and we learned who was funding the other side. We really learned what their practices are. I’d love to see you unpack that a little bit.
The Latest On GMO Labelling
Absolutely. Let’s talk about GMO labeling for a little bit, because that’s one of the really hot issues of our times. Again, just to give a little context for people, GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism, and most of the corn and soybeans, and sugar beets in the United States today, as well as our canola oil, have been genetically modified. They’ve been modified to be resistant to herbicides, which means they can be sprayed with herbicides, many of which are classified as probable carcinogens by the World Health Organization, or else they’ve been engineered to produce their own pesticides. These plants are literally registered with the EPA as pesticides. They’re living pesticide factories.
That’s what GMO agriculture has brought us. It hasn’t brought us better yields or more drought resistance or better flavor or better nutrition, it’s brought us more pesticides and more herbicides. Given that reality, a lot of people are saying, “Hey, I want to know if I’m eating GMOs.” 90% of the American public wants that, and yet the food industry has been staunchly opposed, because they’re afraid that if people saw GMO labeling, as they have it throughout Europe, as they have it in 64 other countries around the world, including China and Russia and many other places, if we had that then consumers might actually make different choices.
The reality is, I think that should be up to the consumers to decide, and the food industry doesn’t have a stake in Monsanto’s business, they just want to sell what the consumer wants, right? That’s how it should work. We’re trying to say to a lot of food industry folks, “Look, stop fighting this, get on the right side of history.” A lot of valid initiatives have come up in different states for GMO labeling on a state level. The food industry has been very opposed to this, particularly because they say, “Hey, we can’t have a patchwork quilt of different laws in different states. We want a federal, uniform standard.”
What we’ve seen is that federally it’s been a no-win game, because the federal government is totally controlled by corporate interests. There is no way to do a valid initiative on a national scale. We can’t have a national referendum on the topic. Our political system in the United States doesn’t allow for that. Throughout history, states have been often the champions, whether it was on women’s right to vote, on gay marriage, on cannabis legalization, or medical marijuana, on all kinds of issues. Whatever side of them you are on these issues, the reality is that states have often been the harbingers or the pioneers of new ways of thinking, and new ways of practicing, obviously, again getting rid of slavery as well.
They’ve been the harbingers, and in time, things have become national and accepted as normal, but it often started at the state level. A lot of activists have said, ‘Hey, let’s focus on ballot initiatives at the state level.” What has happened in every state this has happened in, and we’ve had major initiatives in California, Washington, and Oregon, is that Monsanto was joined by the junk food industry in spending massive amounts of money, record shattering tens of millions of dollars burying the state in a bunch of misleading ads, and ultimately by the narrowest of margins in each of those cases, GMO labeling lost. In many cases, people were for labeling. They just were duped into thinking this was a bad bill.
Oregon GMO Labelling
What happened in Oregon, which was very interesting, is that the Grocery Manufacturers Association, was the largest single funder of the anti-labeling side, was putting in about $20 million, and their donors were concealed. They just said it was from them. They didn’t say where they got the money. Now, Oregon happens to have a campaign finance law that makes that practice illegal, so the state Attorney General wound up suing the Grocery Manufacturers Association. There’s still an ongoing lawsuit going on because they basically swung the election by doing this, but they ended up having to reveal their donors.
What we found out is that their donors were companies like Pepsi and Coca Cola, and other big junk food companies.
What that told us at the Food Revolution Network, was that that those companies didn’t really want to be seen for fighting GMO labeling. They say that they support consumer empowerment and transparency, but here they were actually secretly and illegally funding a campaign against transparency and consumer empowerment. We got that they felt vulnerable, so we decided that, as an organization wanting to change this, we can have the most leverage by focusing on them, and bringing a lot of attention to this issue. We started the campaign called cokeboycott.com, and we went straight to Coca Cola. We said, “Hey look, you say that you support transparency and consumer empowerment, but look at what you’re doing, and so we’re going to boycott you, and we’re going to focus on the natural brands that you own.”
See, here’s the interesting side of the story, Pedram, is that the big food industry is buying an awful lot of natural brands. 80% of the natural products that you see in whole food products are owned by big corporate food giants. While some people decry this and say that we’re losing the integrity of the natural food sector, and that there’s a legitimate argument there, the other side of it is that the junk food industry or big food, if you want to say it that way, has now a vested interest in the success of the natural brands they own.
We said, “Hey, Honest Tea is actually one of Coca Cola’s profit centers.” This is a company that was founded as visionary company. They believe in fair trade. They’re all organic. They’re all non GMO. They’re among the founders of the ‘Just Label It,’ campaign in the United States. Then they got bought by Coca Cola, so we decided to focus on Honest Tea particularly. That’s gone and led us into a very interesting dialog that’s still ongoing with the company and other companies in the food industry.
What I want to say is, as consumers, we have a lot of power, and that big food is actually feeling nervous, because we want the right to know what’s in our food. We want to know if our food’s genetically modified, and we can hold them accountable. By choosing to focus on some of these natural brands, we can perhaps have a bigger impact. Not a lot of people I know are drinking a ton of Coca Cola, but a lot of them are drinking a lot of Honest Tea, or Odwalla, or ZICO coconut water, or Dasani bottled water. When we shift our focus around those products, we also can have a big impact.
Yeah. There’s a couple things. One is the green washing where you all say Tom’s Toothpaste, where it’s like, “I stand for this thing,’ then he sells out, and all of a sudden, ingredients start to get swapped. Honest Tea might not have the same fair trade supply chain, and so then there’s this de-evolution of the natural foods industry. Some of them have been left alone, and to the credit of the big patrons, big companies, they said, “Look, something’s right here. Let’s just go with it.” It’s starting to ripple through the industry, but it’s not all clean.
It’s not like all companies are evil and distorting the supply chain, and then the other way around, but as a consumer then, because we have a couple ways of voting. One is we have these ballot initiatives, and absolutely it’s how democracy works. We go in there. We push to get the legislation to make things right, but I can choose every time I go down a whole foods, or wherever I do my grocery shopping as well. I can elect to not purchase, so when you’re talking about a boycott, you’re boycotting this thing and saying, “Well, just don’t drink their tea, and hit them in the pocketbooks.” I’d love to unpack that a little more in terms of how that can empower a huge shift.
How Can I Help Improve Food Quality And My Health?
Yeah, absolutely. The power of the purse is a pretty powerful one. Here’s what I want to say about this. You just touched on it, that you can be a food revolutionary every single day of your life. Being a food revolutionary has, I think, fundamentally two dimensions. One is what you choose to stand for, for your own life. How do you want to take care of your health? What do you want to take into your body? Your food is very personal. It’s very intimate. What you ear literally becomes you, so when you eat food that’s toxic, that’s been adulterated and processed, and that’s full of added sugar, and added chemicals, and pesticides, and hormones and antibiotics, then that’s going to have an impact.
It’s going to impact on your health, on your survival, on whether or not you get cancer or heart disease. It may impact your weight. It’s going to impact how you feel, how you sleep, your sex life, everything. At the same time, it’s also very political. When you choose to vote with your food choices for integrity, for your own health and wellness, and also for the world that you want, then it’s one of the most powerful steps you can take in terms of standing up for a healthy future.
What I think is beautiful about this, is that this is one of those places in life where you actually don’t have to make a tradeoff between your own wellbeing, and your political values. Because it turns out that the same food choices that are best for you, that are non-toxic, that are natural, that are going to help you to thrive, are also going to help to build a more sustainable, and fair, and just, and healthy, and vibrant future for our planet.
Yeah, and the supply chains that you’re supporting do the better things, are cleaner companies. They’re making the world a better place. It’s a really interesting time that we’re in, because it actually gives us a lot of cause for enthusiasm. It’s really easy to say, “Oh, the world’s going to hell in a hand basket,” but there are lots of ways that we can nudge things in the right direction every single day, with every single purchase. That’s great.
The True Cost Of Eating Toxic Food
It’s true, and if that, as things are with our food system, that’s how much better they can be with a change. The great news about that is that levels of sickness, and misery, and suffering that we have come to take as normal, are actually not necessary. A recent major study concluded that more Americans died last year from toxic food than from any other source, more than smoking, and more than died in all of World War 2, the Vietnam War, the Iraq War, the Afghanistan War combined.
In one single year. We’re talking 700,000 or so deaths, or died last year. What that means is … I mean, yes, that’s sobering. It’s disturbing. It’s painful. It’s heart wrenching when you see 1 out of 3 kids expected to get diabetes, when you see obesity and overweight issues now impacting 2/3 plus of our population, when you see families torn apart. When you see kids losing their dads, when you see spouses losing their husbands or wives, it’s heartbreaking, but what’s also beautiful is that we can do better.
We can do vastly better, and I think that’s a source of immense help, because there’s a lot of problems in this world that can feel totally overwhelming. When we look at war and violence, and violence in the Middle East, we look at what’s going on with Syrian refugees, we look at the climate crisis, we can feel overwhelmed and lost, and say, “Is it even possible that there’s hope for our species?” Those are totally legitimate questions. At the same time, I think what we are seeing in the Food Revolution Network is yes. Yes, it is possible. There’s hope. In the area of food, it’s not just possible, it’s a certainty. It’s not just hope, it’s actually opportunity.
We don’t have to just sit on the sidelines, and hope and pray for something. We can actually live it, and when we do, the results are predictable. When you choose to take more healthy food into your body, you will be healthier. Obviously everyone is going to have their own unique journey. Some people I know eat toxic food their whole life, they make a shift, and then they get sick, and they’re like, “Oh, it doesn’t work.” Well no, it takes time. It takes energy.
Obviously there’s no cure all miracle for everything, but the bottom line is that the more you eat, enough fiber, enough phytonutrients, enough antioxidants, the more you eat enough of the basic nutrients you need to thrive, the less you eat the toxic oils, and the junk foods and the chemicals and the added sugars, the healthier you’re going to be. Long term, statistically, it’s predictable. The beautiful thing there is, you actually have the opportunity to take your life and your health more fully into your own hands without being dependent on doctors and medicine, or luck.
I’m excited about that. I’m excited to share that because I want to help people to be thriving, and healthy, and alive, and vital, and in food, we have that opportunity.
Advances In Availability of and Access to Healthy Foods
We’re seeing it in some interesting places, right? There’s all this farm to table. There’s these amazing blossoming communities around organic and local organic, and how the organic supply chains are getting shifted, where’s there’s warehouses in Detroit, to inner city hubs in Atlanta. There’s a lot of stories that land on my desk and yours about hope, and so I’d love for you to share some of that from your side, because you see a lot of this. Our average listener or viewer is maybe siloed in their universe, maybe only getting bad news, and so let’s share some of the good news.
Yeah, absolutely. Well first, meta statistics … Okay, since the year 2000, we’ve seen a four-fold increase in sales of organic foods. In the last 5 years, we’ve seen certified non GMO products go from nothing to over $7 billion in sales. Whole Foods has reported that when a product, the same product gets certified non GMO, their sales uptake in the whole foods market is 20%.
Consumers care. We’ve also seen a massive increase in fair trade certified foods, which is giving farmers a living wage, which is helping them to survive, and in some cases, even to thrive, to send their kids to school, and to have a fighting chance at a healthier life for the next generation. This is huge stuff, and American consumers are driving it. Also, community supported agriculture is growing fast.
A few success stories. I’m inspired by Ron Finley, the guerrilla gardener in South Central Los Angeles, who talks about how the drive-throughs are killing more people than the drive-bys. He talks about how … He said, “We don’t live in a food desert. We live in a food prison, because you’ve got to break out in order to get real food.” He’s in a community where there’s liquor stores, and there’s junk food everywhere, that you’ve got to travel outside the community to a whole other neighborhood where it’s dangerous for people with his skin color to even be in order to get real food.
What he’s doing in that context is, he’s taking the space in front of front yards that’s owned by the city, but that’s actually something that tenants are allowed to cultivate as they wish, and he’s growing food there, and making gardens. He uses rainwater catchment from his own roof and roofs of his neighbors. They catch rainwater, and they water using that, and the food is free. People walk by in the neighborhood, homeless folks come through, they can just eat it. He’s just growing it. He says, “I want these people to eat it,” and he sees someone trying to sneak something, he shouts out to them, “Hey, you’re not stealing, man, this is for everybody.”
The Growth Of Urban Gardens
People get excited. They get touched, and then they start wanting to help, and they want to help care for the garden, and grow food in the neighborhood. He’s trying to start a revolution in South Central Los Angeles with his gardening movement, and I think that’s one beautiful thing, literally bringing food and the growing of food to the people.
We see other examples of this in the growth of community gardens which are massively increasing. You know what city in the United States has the highest number of community gardens per capita is Detroit. This is a city that’s been devastated by economic catastrophe. The average home sale price in Detroit is about $15,000. It’s lost half of its population in the last generation, and so there’s tons of vacant lots. One thing they’ve got is a lot of unemployed people and a lot of vacant lots with nothing going on. Then they combine those two resources, and people are taking some of the time they have when they’re not working, and some of the land that’s available that no one’s living on, and they’re growing food.
This is an example, to me, of how human beings can respond to crises with creativity and innovation, and find solutions. We’re seeing that, I think, in the food movement today all over the place. Whatever community you live in, whatever economic context you’re in, you have an opportunity to take steps, to make choices, and to reap the benefits.
It’s such a fascinating, full circle story with Detroit as well, because Detroit was the flagship city of American industry, and as that all changed, it was like the original conversation between Madisons, industrialists, and then Jefferson, which the Jeffersonian version of America was having a much more agrarian local base. The fact that Detroit is shifting from GM and auto capital to home grown agrarian, is such a poetic story of where this country’s gone and returned to. It’s a really interesting one to watch. Look, it’s not like California where you throw seed down on the ground and it grows. It’s cold, so we’re doing things in climates that are not ideal for farming, and it’s still working.
Yeah, absolutely. If you’re growing food, obviously you relate to the seasons, and you find out what works in your community. There are things that need cold winters to grow. Now, I live in California, and there’s stuff we can’t grow, all kinds of peaches and nectarines, and certain types of apples and blueberries that just don’t do very well here, because we don’t have enough cold winters. I think there’s something beautiful about that, and it’s something about the biodiversity of this planet, and the biodiversity of our ecosystems, that every location has what it’s best for.
If you can find that, then the odds are, if you live there long enough, that the nutrients that you get from your own ecosystem are probably, I think going to be beneficial to you as well. That’s something about eating seasonally as well, because I actually believe that when you eat food that’s from your community and that’s linked to the season you’re in, you’re more connected to the natural biorhythms of where you are. In a time where so many people feel lost, feel alone, feel disconnected, feel some sense of isolation and loneliness, I think that restoring a sense of place, and a sense of relationship to our experience of food can actually be very restorative to the human spirit.
Amen, people who start eating right start feeling better. They don’t fall into the trap of the $3 trillion medical industry. They pretty much just tease off on chronic disease from lifestyle issues that come from eating garbage, and then they start making better decisions. They get more clarity. They become better, more agency and stakeholders in this planet, and so it obviously is working, which is really good news. Now the question is where do we take it from here? Do we go after and shame Pepsi and Coke, and go after them for those practices, or do we reward them for moving over? There’s a lot of approaches that are being talked about out there.
What Can I Do To Help The Food Revolution?
Sure, absolutely. Well, we need all of it, to be honest with you. I think we need a biodiversity of tactics for the food revolution. We need the farmers. We need the radical folks who are saying organic isn’t good enough. We need to keep organic meaning something. We need regenerative agriculture. We don’t need organic incorporated, and we also need the folks who are mainstream-izing stuff. We need the fact that Wal-Mart’s selling organic food, something that’s a step in the right direction.
It doesn’t mean that I want us to pull Wal-Mart, but I appreciate that they can take a step like that. I appreciate the consumers who were going to reward them financially for taking that step, because you know what? At the end of the day, there’s going to be less pesticides on this planet. There’s going to be less people dying of cancer. There’s going to be less animals treated horribly. There’s going to be less people suffering because they’re eating toxic food, if we move in that direction.
At the same time, it’s not necessarily good enough to produce something that is missing certain chemicals or toxins, but is full of other chemicals and toxins. Any time you see what food isn’t on the package, you have to wonder what it is. If it’s low fat, we found out that low fat generally translates into high sugar. If it says sugar free, that might mean that it’s got some artificial sweetener in it, and that can trick our brain and do crazy things to our bodies. Ultimately, I’m much more interested in food that doesn’t have a lot of packages. Each person has got to find out where you are, and from where you are, the question isn’t what’s the perfect, pristine place to be, the question is, how do you move in a good direction.
I don’t think healthy food is a destination. I think it’s a movement. I think it’s a journey. I think that what’s right for you at any stage of your life is going to depend tremendously on your ecosystem, on your background, on your life history, on your values, on your integrity, on your sense of ethics, on how healthy where you are, on your weight level, on your metabolism, and on your life stage. There’s no cookie cutter, one size fits all recipe, that this is what everyone should do.
What there is, is a general sense of guiding principle, and a movement growing of people who are completely fed up with the status quo, who are saying, “You know what? The American diet almost couldn’t have been more detrimental to our health if it was designed to cause heart disease, and cancer, and diabetes.” We can do so much better, and what better means for you specifically is something each person’s got to explore and discover, but I want to light the flame of saying yes to that path of discovery, to that path of curiosity, and to everyone knowing they can play that part.
In terms of the policy level, I think the biggest low hanging fruit that I see is GMO labeling supported by 92% of the American public. That’s number one. If we had GMO labeling by the way, we might see some different practices around the use of GMOs, because consumers would vote with their dollars more intelligently. If that’s the case, then so be it. I don’t know if the food industry is going to have to change practices or not, but I do know that an educated consumer is a more intelligent consumer in terms of the choices that they make, and the industry needs to be accountable to that.
Number two is getting routine use of antibiotics out of factory farms. You know how antibiotics are fast losing their efficacy. More than 20,000 Americans died last year from diseases that were caused by antibiotic resistant bacteria.
Yeah, and that number’s going to rise
The Dangers Of Antibiotics And Our Food
Now, 80% of antibiotics are being used in factory farms. They’re not being used on humans. There’s a lot of workers in medicine that say, “Hey, we’ve been overusing these things. We’ve been over prescribing them, and we’re jeopardizing their viability for the next generation by doing so.” Rightfully so, a lot of doctors are now being more judicious in prescribing antibiotics for humans, but 80% of antibiotic use is on animals. That’s where we really have to look if we want to preserve these medicines for future generations, and they’re not even given to sick animals. They’re given to make them gain weight faster, and to keep them alive in sick conditions.
By eliminating their routine use in our factory farms, we set the ship for factory farming system, so it needs to move in a more humane direction. That’s another one that I think is critical. Then I also want to see us moving towards some taxes on soda. Sugary soda is implicated in a tremendous number of deaths, and quite frankly, I think we should take a page out of the cigarette industry playbook, and look at what happened that we reduced cigarette smoking in the US by over 50% in just one generation. That we could do the exact same thing to sugary soda, and we would see probably hundreds of thousands of lives spared, and massive savings in medical costs.
The simple thing already known, if you tax it, you use that tax money to help fund education programs, and obesity prevention programs, and then you put some kind of warning label on there. Then you restrict where it’s sold and how it’s advertised so that it’s notable to target kids. Just by making those simple changes, we could make a huge impact. Now, obviously the soda industry is not going to like it, but when we ultimately look at what we should be standing up for, what’s more important, the profits of a few companies, or the health and well being of our entire population?
Yeah, capitalism took an interesting turn, and so suddenly the … I can’t believe we’re even having to have this conversation, which is the hard part. Okay, let’s just say there’s some top hat wearing, cigar smoking, sociopath bad guys that are doing this thing with their fingers, and talking about how to destroy the world in some corner. Then there’s the people … I’m being a little flippant obviously because there’s very few of those. Then there’s the people that are like, “Dude, I’ve been working in Angola, in Somalia, and global hunger is such a big deal, and I’m convinced that we need to mess with the food in order to get the yields that we need to feed a starving population.”
What’s the answer to that, because America has this other problem, right? We’re not starving. We’re exploding, but then the rest of the world has all sorts of crises that we’re also trying to be resolute on, and so there’s just weird, conflicting conversations happening around this.
The Difference Between Hunger And Nutritional Deprivation
I think we need to redefine hunger. Conventionally hunger is defined as calorific deprivation, but you know, and I know that not all calories are created equal.
That people aren’t actually dying … On one level, sure, they’re dying because they straight up don’t have enough calories, but I think we need to define it as nutritional deprivation, because that’s … I think of it as lethal as caloric deprivation. There’s about 750 million people on the planet who are calorically deprived. They’re chronically hungry, but there’s about 1½ billion people on the planet who are nutritionally deprived, or are not getting the basic nutrients they need to survive.
International aid agencies have traditionally measured their success in their ability to bring down the number of calorically deprived people, but they do so often by finding the cheapest measures available which are gifting surplus commodities to the poorest people in the world. Then they end up having their high fructose corn syrup and their white flour and their toxic products, and these people, yes, they live, but they’re not getting the basic nutrients they need to sustain and thrive. They’re coming down with illness. They’re suffering, and they’re dying nonetheless.
In the United States, we don’t have that many people … although sadly we do have quite a few who are calorically deprived, but we have a lot more who are nutritionally deprived. Some of the people who are very overweight are actually starving. They feel hungry all the time, because they’re starving for real nutrients, for the real food, but their neurology has been wired through a lifetime of eating certain foods, to think that hunger is satiated by eating the sugar and the fats, and the nutrients that they’re used to. Unfortunately those foods are depriving them of some of the fiber, and some of the antioxidants, and some of the basic nutrients that they actually need, that their body is crying out for.
If we could shift the thinking of it from a nutritional standpoint, then we have a much better metric for how we actually care for the wellbeing and health of the world’s people. That said, we absolutely need to grow enough foods for the world’s folks, right? There’s no question, I want to see an end to hunger. I’m not some altruistic, high minded … I’m not so altruistic and high minded that I’m going to lose the basic, fundamental reality that I want to take care of people. I think that that’s basic, and so I want to grow enough food.
What I want to say though, that organic agriculture, just to be straight up about it here, has been found to be about 10% less yield producing per acre than conventional agriculture. That’s one of the biggest arguments against it, but what we also know is that there have been billions of dollars spent on research and development for how to make conventional agriculture more productive per acre. We haven’t invested nearly that kind of thought, attention, resources, in looking at how to compost properly, how to use manure properly, how to build up the soil, how to make it more sustainable and regenerative.
We absolutely know that organic agriculture, when it’s done right, leads to more topsoil, not less topsoil. It leads to better nutrients in the food. It leads to plants that are more resistant to droughts, more resistant to floods, more resistant to bugs coming in that can wipe out an entire crop. That it’s actually more sustainable, and it’s an investment in the future. If we apply serious commitment to looking at how we do organic agriculture right, I have no doubt that within a generation, we could have yields going up significantly in this method.
Let’s be very clear that GMO agriculture hasn’t brought any increased yields. In fact, it’s brought reduced yields on a per acre basis, so this is entirely about increasing company profits and adding more pesticides into the system it is not about increasing yield.
Yeah, so using petroleum based fertilizers and just giving the plants the very minimum they need in order to produce isn’t actually doing what is the promise of the nutritional piece of that, which is extracting the minerals through the roots, through the topsoil that actually has life in abundance living in there. One of the important pieces to this that has been really … We just did a couple of stories on this. It’s blown my mind, is that we can actually sequester a lot of the carbon in our atmosphere back into the soil, and support global hunger, and support dot, dot, dot, by doing this right.
I think the point that you bring up is really clear. Look, we’re not going to solve Africa’s starvation problems because of climate, and because of warlords, and all sorts of crazy stuff that’s happening all over the place, but the money that’s going into the research has been petroleum based products. It’s been chemicals that are dumping into the soil and making us sicker. Putting a little of that money into organic innovation, like the Rodale Institute has some great stuff happening, it carries a lot of promise. Our tax dollars are just heading in the wrong direction, so I’d love to see a little bit more of that.
Look, I know you guys do a ton of advocacy. You’re such a busy guy, and you’ve been at this for a while. You don’t have to do what you’re doing. You’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do. Technically, I guess you do have to do what you’re doing, but most people don’t see it that way because they just go to Macy’s. Oh wait, Macy’s out of business. It’s like everything’s crumbling around. Everyone’s wondering what’s wrong with the world. It’s like, well, start with your kitchen, start with what you do.
What can we do, other than buy the right stuff, in terms of legislative nudging, to create that groundswell? Because the sentiment that needs to be overwhelming, to drive the political will is fragmented. We’re being outspent and outhustled by their media, so what do we need to do there?
How Can I Tell The Food Industry I Want Healthier Food?
I want to let you know that in the US … I know not everyone who’s watching right now is in the US, but in our system, one of the things we have is the opportunity to actually interact with our elected officials, and you actually can go to set up a meeting with your member of congress. You can do that, and they will give you 15 minutes on the calendar, and you can certainly do it in Washington, DC. You can also do it in your own community, and it’s a constituency visit. Give them some lead time, tell them why you want to meet with them, and represent your issue. You’ll find out where they stand on it, and you give them a piece of your mind.
If more people did that, you’d be amazed. These big food industry people have a ton of lobbyists. There’s about 20 lobbyists in Washington, DC for every elected official, and these people’s full time jobs is to try to influence policy, but we the people can also meet with people, and get in the door, and have a conversation, talk about it. Get to know it, and decide whether your official represents you or not, so that’s one piece of democracy in action. Obviously voting, obviously organizing, obviously getting involved in ballot measures.
There’s all kinds of ways we can vote, but talking to people is a political act. Obviously choosing what you eat, and where you spend your money, choosing where you shop, choosing what you buy, and frankly, choosing how you prepare your food is all powerful. I think that food is really a place where the personal and the political meet. Having conversations about food, sharing real food, I think actually cooking for people that you love good healthy food, may be one of the most powerful political acts you can take, because you are contagiously sharing something wonderful with them. It’s going to influence how they think about healthy food, and it’s not just one meal, it’s an introduction. It’s a gateway drug, if you want to think about it that way in the best possible way.
I’m a big fan of bringing joy, and beauty, and nourishment to our relationship with food, and looking at that as also an expression of our political commitments, and our policy goals. All that said, I guess I want to add another piece which ties in so deeply to your work with the Urban Monk. It’s the power of gratitude. There’s been a lot of science done on the neuroscience of gratitude, and what we’re finding is, it’s pretty intuitively obvious that when you think positive thoughts, you’re going to feel happier, because your positive thoughts are going to put you in a positive mindset, right?
What isn’t so obvious is that things just don’t feel better when you’re grateful. They actually get better. Gratitude is statistically correlated with lower rates of disease, higher life expectancy, better sleep, more happiness. I’m talking like just spending 5 minutes a day just journaling things you’re grateful for, or once a week, having a conversation with somebody were you go back and forth saying things you’re grateful for, or saying grace around the dinner table with your family every other day. These things are statistically correlated with all kinds of positive health benefits, as well as psychological.
My point here is that gratitude can be restorative. It can be a rejuvenative, and it’s a beautiful way to bring people together around the dinner table. I’m so grateful, I have to say, for having real food to eat, for having food at all. I’m grateful for the farm workers and all the people that made it possible. I’m grateful that people that prepared the food, shopped for it, brought it into my world. People who trucked it and shipped it, the earth, the water, the rain, everything that it took to bring bite of food into my life is honestly something I’m grateful for.
I would not be alive without it, so feeling that gratitude and living into, I know is good for me. It’s also good for my social life. When we’re more grateful, we tend to … Almost every relationship I know of, people want their spouse to appreciate them more. What better way to start that cycle of gratitude going than just by expressing it and feeling it? I’m really big on that because I think food can be an opportunity to restore the sacred into our lives, to restore the sense of community and the blood of life into our most intimate experience of what we take into our bodies.
It’s amazing that most people are complaining about weight gain, and how they have such a terrible relationship with food. What you’re saying here to me is also, a very important place to heal your relationship with your body and your self-image is how you ingest the food. If you are what you eat, and if come to that with gratitude, then you assimilate your food in a very different way. It’s also very powerful. It’s very spiritual, and it’s very uplifting. I love it, man.
Ocean, you are hustling out there. You’re working really hard. I know you have your food revolution annually. Where could people connect with you and be able to lock arms with you, and get involved in some of this stuff?
What Is The Food Revolution Summit?
Well, we produce the Food Revolution Summit every year, and it’s an incredible convergence of some of the top food experts on the planet. I work directly with my dad, bestselling author John Robbins. It’s an incredible joy to work with him. We interview food experts and leaders, and we share their inspiring messages with the world. It’s a free online summit, so people can sign up to that. Even if we don’t have a summit coming up right at this moment, you can always sign up and learn about last year’s summit, and get some of the interviews from it, and then be on the list so that when we have our next summit, you’re ready to go. That’s foodrevolutionsummit.org is the place for joining in for that.
You can also find us at foodrevolution.org, where we’ve got a ton of blog articles, and resources, and tools to help support your food revolutionary journey. What else I want to say though, Pedram, is that a lot of times people are pitching an organization or a cause, and that’s great. We need organizations and causes to help us on the path, but most of all, what I’m standing for is something bigger than any one organization, including our own. Food revolution to me is a lot bigger than the Food Revolution Network. It’s a movement, and you’re part of that revolution, and all of the listeners are part of the revolution.
Every time we choose real food over processed junk, every time we choose to eat food that isn’t saturated in pesticides and hormones and antibiotics, and that’s giving us the life giving nutrients we need to thrive, we are food revolutionaries. I just want to welcome everybody. You are a member of the food revolution whether you join our network or not. Of course, we’d like to have as many people as possible joining in our free summit, and signing up for our list, checking out our blog articles, because obviously we make this all available because we want to get it out to people, and help people.
Yeah, and you do a great job, and you get the biggest names in the industry. You are one of the hardest working guys in the business, and it’s all about getting information in the right hands. I mean, I’ll start with the revolutionary food act of eating some broccoli after this, you know what I mean?
One bite at a time, so Ocean, man, I love you. Thank you so much for doing what you do, and I’m going to keep pestering you because you’ve got your finger on the pulse of a lot of stuff out there. I love having you on the ream, man. We’re all doing this for our children’s children.
We are. Thank you so much, Pedram.