I’m excited to introduce to you one of my all-time heroes who has really made an impact on how we eat and how we walk on the earth, John Robbins. He is the author of several bestsellers including Diet for a New America and The Food Revolution. He’s the director of a few non-profit organizations related to the environment, health, world hunger, genetic engineering, and the welfare of animals. He runs the very popular summit, The Food Revolution. Today you’ll hear his amazing story of how he walked away from the Baskin Robbins Empire to become a renown wellness influencer.
LINKS AND RESOURCES:
Learn more about John Robbins and his mission: https://www.johnrobbins.info/
Check out his bestselling book: The Food Revolution
Robyn: Hi, and welcome. It’s Robyn Openshaw and I’m so excited to introduce you to one my all-time heroes who has really impacted my life for the better and, whether my children know it or not, has made an impact on how we eat and how we walk on the earth.
John Robbins is the author of several bestsellers including Diet for a New America and the Food Revolution. He’s a director of quite a few nonprofit organizations related to the environment, health, world hunger, genetic engineering, and the welfare of animals and all species. He runs with his son, Ocean, the very popular summit the Food Revolution.
I want you to hear from John himself the amazing story of how he walked away from the Baskin Robbins Empire.
John, thanks so much for being with us today.
John: My pleasure.
Robyn: I cannot wait to have you say this yourself. As a long time John Robbins fan, you’ve so influenced my life. I know the story of your family, but for the sake of my readers this is just something you’re never going to forget when you hear John Robbins tell us the story of his family and tell us why you said no to taking over the family business, and why you chose a really different career?
John: Well, I became a parent in my life and a grandparent that when we’re parents we often have ideas. If our vision for what we think would be best for our youngsters is coherent with their soul’s purpose, for being alive, contract with life. Then, we can be in alignment with them and we can work. Usually, there’s a compatibility. Sometimes there’s not that compatibility. Sometimes the parent has an idea and a vision. That’s not what they’re here for. Then you have a more challenging situation and in my childhood, it was more the latter than the former.
My dad, as most people know, founded Baskin Robbins. He was the owner of it. My Uncle Bert Baskin joined him a couple years later. Then the two of them owned it and ran it. My father had two daughters and a son, I’m his only son. He was of the belief system that women shouldn’t work. That’s his old-fashioned, patriarchal thinking that women should be taken care of by their husbands and owned by them, and controlled by them, really. I mean, it’s really old fashion, but that’s where he was.
All of the weight of his expectations for the business were on me. He groomed me to succeed him and it started really young. When I was five years old, literally, I was sweeping the floor in his office, emptying the waste baskets and then gradually learning the business from the inside out. I invented flavors and I loved ice cream and ate a ton of it. I swam in an ice cream cone-shaped swimming pool on our backyard and the company was immensely successful in financial terms. I was the heir apparent. I was being groomed to take over.
I actually loved it. I loved ice cream. I loved in any flavors. One of my favorite flavors that I eat, I had a major hand in inventing the Jamoca Almond Fudge. Some of the people listening probably know that flavor. It was very successful flavor. As a kid’s dream in some respects, unlimited amounts of ice cream. I sometimes ate ice cream for breakfast, but, but, but, but, there’s a lot of buts. One of them is that when my Uncle Bert Baskin was 54 he died of a heart attack. He was a very big man. He ate a lot of ice cream, he’s very big. When he died I asked my dad, “Do you think there could be a connection between the amount of ice cream he would eat and his fatal heart attack?” My father glowered at me and said, “No. No connection. His ticker just got tired and stopped working.”
Then there was an expression on his face. There’s a way he was looking at me that basically communicated don’t you ever ask that question again. John Bradshaw, the famous psychologist used to talk about there being no talk rules in families. Subjects that just cannot be mentioned because they are so challenging in some way of the structure of the family.
Well, in my family of origin, to bring up the possibility that ice cream might be connected to heart disease. In fact, that food might be connected to health was taboo. I couldn’t talk about it with my dad, but I began to think I needed to look into this and think about it seriously. While I was doing that, there was another thing that happened. I was with my dad. We went to one of the really large dairies in the Central Valley of California. I grew up in Southern California. Baskin Robbins was headquartered in Southern California. We got a lot of our dairy products from huge dairies in the Central Valley. One day my dad and I went to one of those dairies for some business reason. It was the first time I’d ever been to one of them actually. On the walls, in those days, behind the counters in all the Baskin Robbins stores, there were these photographs, sepia toned, beautiful pictures of Guernsey and Holstein, mostly Guernsey dairy cows, grazing in beautiful pastureland. It turns out those photographs were taken in Wisconsin.
The image was conveyed by those photos to all the customers who came into the stores that the ice cream was made from milk from cows who grazed in beautiful meadows. I sort of had believed that because I hadn’t seen anything to oppose it or heard anything to oppose it. Then this day, this was my first time ever going to the actual dairy and it was horrible. The cows were … It was a feedlot. There was not a blade of grass in sight. There were thousands and thousands of cows. I went up to one. I was at the time a teenager and I went up to one of them, one of the cows, and she flinched, she winced. She was frightened of me even though I meant her no harm. It occurred to me what has happened to this cow. What has she had to endure at the hands of human beings that a young boy approaching her with an open heart frightens her?
I looked around and the conditions were just so unnatural and so restrictive of movement for the cows and just so different from what the things that had been on the photos in the stores. That that was wakeup call for me. That’s two, my uncle’s death and that. Then the third was, I was working in the advertising department that year and we came out with … I should say we, the company came out with a slogan that was the basis for the advertising that year and it was we make people happy. That was using all the radio jingles and all the ads on TV and billboards, everything. I didn’t like it.
I told my dad, “We don’t make people happy. We sell ice cream. It provides momentary pleasure. Human happiness,” I said, “is just too challenging and real a human problem issue to trivialize like that, to commercialize. It’s not something that you can sell. It’s not something you can buy. It’s a product of how we treat ourselves and each other, how we live.” He stopped me and he said, “It’s an advertising slogan, John. Its purpose is to sell ice cream.” I said, “Well, that’s what we do, we sell ice cream, we don’t make people happy.” He said, “Stop being a philosopher.”
I realized we really weren’t on the same page and I had known that anyway but this moment crystallized it for me. At a certain point I told him I wasn’t going to follow in his footsteps. I didn’t want to do this with my life for a bunch of reasons. I didn’t know then that I would one day write books and so forth. I didn’t know what my life would become but I did know this. In order to be in integrity with my choice to not do what he wanted, I needed to walk away not just from working there but also from the money.
I told him I didn’t want a trust fund, I didn’t want any access to his money, his fortune which was by then considerable. It was a billion dollar company. If I’m not going to do what he wants, if I’m not going to be part of the ice cream company, I don’t think I should live off its income. I should find my own way I life and I did. He then decided I was crazy. He worked really hard in his whole life. He’s a hard working guy. Many, many hours and he had achieved a level of financial success frankly that most people could only dream about and he’s offering it to his only son. He probably thought he got the only kid in the country that would say no to that. I mean, it wasn’t like we were manufacturing plutonian triggers for nuclear weapons. It was ice cream and whether it made people happy, it did in the short term make people happy. It did provide a lot of pleasure for people.
I just felt it wasn’t my path. I just felt I didn’t want to be part of selling a product that might undermine people’s health. I didn’t think ice cream cone would hurt anybody or kill anybody. If you’re in the business, you want people to eat as much as possible. You want them to buy as much as possible. That is the business model and the more people eat, the more likely they are to have a heart attack like killed my uncle. The more likely they are to be obese. The more like they are to have diabetes, which my father developed a serious form of diabetes. It almost killed him.
That’s why I said no. I didn’t know yet what I was saying yes to. At that time I only knew this wasn’t for me. It was painful with my dad. He wanted me so much to follow him in his footsteps. I was his only son and he has patriarchal thinking. That’s how it went and it was painful between us, sadly to say. Over time, as the years unfolded, as the decades unfolded, we did have a rapprochement. He did become actually proud of me for what I actually did. In fact, my work ended up saving his life and giving him about 20 more healthy years than he would have had otherwise. That was the kind of joy that I had for that and I was also able to tell him that I loved him even though I was not living off his money and that was very important too.
Robyn: So many things about your story are interesting and they go far beyond the divide between you and your father when it came to food because of course you started life swimming in the ice cream cone-shaped swimming pool and eating ice cream for breakfast. Slowly, over time, it sounds like there’s just dissonant energies between your dad’s career, which was your chosen career, you’re the heir apparent, and what he wanted for you. I just have a lot of compassion for both him wanting you to be proud of him. I mean, we want our children to be proud us as much as we want our parents to be proud of us.
I’m so glad there was a rapprochement because you were so instrumental in helping him when he was diagnosed with advanced diabetes to turn that around and not have the outcome that your uncle had. I really just want to say that I think you’re a great American hero. Not just because you’ve turned down the opportunity to run a billion-dollar company that is an American icon, that you could of easily just bought into it and believed that it was creating happiness. If you just sort of blunt some of what your heart and soul are telling you can probably go along with that. Like you said, you weren’t making nukes to send to kill babies in China. You were making ice cream. Good for you for being such a thinker but it must have been really scary to have it dawn on your dad over time that ice cream was related to health and to poor health.
Thank you for your work because you weren’t just instrumental in saving your own father. I just want you to know that the reason I asked you to do this call with me today is that I was an obese, very sick person, 21 different diagnosed diseases. I had a baby dying, a failure to thrive, in and out hospitals, and because we ditched the dairy and the sugar, primarily. That’s the very first thing to go and we started eating lots of plants, eventually for me at least all plants and lots of raw plants, and lots of greens in the blender and that’s how our little site started.
Not only did my son grow up to be a state level athlete and a six foot three MVP hitting grand slams in the state playoffs and carried off the field by the team kind of kid who had started life as failure to thrive. I believe my career is possible because of yours and your early work. I mean, I’d love to have you tell us how old you are and what’s life like for you now because I think that’s going to be really inspiring because I think at your age most people are in the La-Z-Boy and they keep on eating ice cream. At that point, there’s not much left for you besides the La-Z-Boy and watching TV and managing symptoms.
I just want to tell you, thank you because then I raised four children after the first one coming into this world and being weaned onto the standard American diet. Reading Diet for a New America and reading the Food Revolution was an absolute mind-blowing adventure for me and it’s taken me places that now it’s my career as well to teach people about eating more plants and how it’s really key in living a high-vibration life.
If you feel like it, you can tell us how old you are. Tell us a little about what life is like for you now. Now, you lead the Food Revolution in its sixth year, there’s a quarter million people listening right now as we’re recording this. I’m just so pleased that your son, Ocean, who I just think the world of, is following in your footsteps and furthering this incredible mission. You’re an absolute inspiration how you champion animal rights and especially the health of beings everywhere after coming from a background of that probably not being very probable.
Tell us about your life now and then tell us what the most important factors are about what to eat, what you’ve discovered in all of your years to be healthy and mentally sharp at any age and at your optimal weight until you’re really old.
John: Well, first of all, thank you for sharing your journey and that’s very moving. There you were with a failure to thrive first born and you were yourself overweight and you weren’t thriving, really. Something awoken you. Somehow you were able to see your way to a whole different way of life and now you teach it. You raised four kids I understand. All of whom were athletes and all of whom thrive. These are actually predictable. When people eat healthy diets and live healthy lifestyles in general, the quality of energy that they experience in their bodies and minds is so different than when they numb out and shut down and eat toxic food and go conform to cultural norm.
We normalized in this culture that is so bad for our body and our minds that there is most people my age are in fact La-Z-Boyers or dead already at 70. I became a marathon runner and triathlete. I now at 68 I made it a goal the bench press my weight 30 times and I did. I’ve made it a goal for my 70th birthday which is coming up in a couple of months to do 50 pull ups. I’ll do it. I’m in training for it now. I’ll get there. I’m very close.
There are very few men in my age in the country who can do five and most can’t do any. To be strong and lean, and fit and, vibrant, and full of energy at 70, at any age is a privilege. Then I think when we have a lot of energy, when we have health, how are we going to use it, to what end will we put it? Is there a way to serve others with it? That I think is what really gels everything. Is when you understand what your contract with life is where your service is, how you can best bring out the health or the joy, or the beauty, or the love and the people that you interact with. How you can best bring out the good and the best in them and in yourself. How you can live with respect for yourself and others.
In my case when I think of the others I think of the whole web of life. I think of living with respect for animals, living with respect for the entire earth community and not taking it for granted, and not seeing it as a resource to exploit or not seeing as a commodity to turn into revenue, but to see it as a living community of life. The earth community to me is a blessing and something we as human beings need to take responsibility for our relationship too. If we exploit, if we devour, if we harm, we will undermine the foundation for our own wellbeing. In fact, if you look at the larger picture today, if you look at the ecological reality, we are doing that. The result is species extinction and the destabilization of the climate and pollution in so many ways.
Under such circumstances I think to try to live a life that’s healthy, that’s balanced with a clear mind and a heart that’s open to the pain and to the joy is a challenge that I want to meet, and I want to help others to meet too if I possibly can. That’s my service.
Robyn: I’m going to make back to … I’m going to get really basic because I’m sure that our audience wants to know what do you eat each day, We’ll ask that question in a quick minute. You’re always quick to go to the global issues, which I think are so critically important. I talk all the time about know what the genetically modified foods are and stop buying them. Start buying organics. Spend a little bit more money and we’ll just bring the cost down because it’s all supply and demand, and when there’s more demand, there’s more supply and the cost comes down. What do you think though? That’s just a pet theme of mine. What do you think are the two or three issues that we us consumers can influence that are going on? The terrifying things going on in the food economy that you hope that we can make an impact on, what can we do?
John: When we eat plants instead of animals, basically, or mostly plants and few animals then our health improves. We live longer lives, higher quality lives. I think there’s a higher frequency then to our energy or to our vibration, to our quality of life.
Also, our ecological footprint and our carbon footprint are lessened. We are lighter on the earth. To me, that is a big thing. That is an important thing. It’s not just a question of personal virtue. To me it’s a question of social responsibility. I want to live a life that’s in alignment with the highest good for all beings as much as I can. Now, that is not what our culture is about. Our culture is about selfishness and greed and every man for himself and dog eat dog. The truth is even dogs don’t eat dogs.
We have in us a capacity to compete. We have in us a capacity to cooperate. When those two capacities are expressed in a balanced way, we thrive. Some things happened I think in our society that rewards the competitive part of us, doesn’t reward, doesn’t acknowledge, doesn’t honor the capacities that we have to cooperate and to nurture and to befriend each other. The result is we’re very lonely people, we’re isolated people, we’re alienated people and we’re trying to conquer instead of trying to live and it cost us dearly.
Now, food, I’ll come back to that, what do I eat? I don’t eat genetically engineered foods ever. I eat as much organic as I can. I’m veganesque. I used to be, I think, for 30 something years I was a total vegan exclusively and hardcore at it. On the last few years, I feel better eating some wild fish, in particular salmon, but with that exception, I’m vegan. I eat a lot of … but you can be vegan and eat unhealthy diet. I did at one point but I’ve grown out of that and I eat a lot of plants. I eat a lot of vegetable. I eat a lot of fresh fruits. I eat some whole grains, but they are low glycemic ones, quinoa and buckwheat primarily.
I eat some bread but it’s only made … The only breads I eat are made from organic sprouted grains. I don’t eat flour. I don’t eat sugar. Added sugar because there are sugars naturally inherent in all foods really, in many fruits. I do enjoy fresh fruit.
I eat an awful lot of produce. When I check out at the store, my basket is full of vegetables and fruits and not very many packages. People always comment on the checkout stand and they can’t believe that of course, I’m buying for my family. I like to shop like once a week because I don’t like driving and going to the store too much. I get a lot and it sometimes baffles the checkout people and particularly greens, I buy tons and tons of kale and collards and arugula and broccoli, and mustard greens, and all kinds of dark green leafy vegetables, because I love them and I eat them every day.
I have smoothies most mornings where I blend kale leaves or collard leaves and maybe an apple and maybe carrot and a cucumber. I also grind in a little coffee grinder that I have set aside for this purpose flax seeds and chia seeds and I grind them up and put them in the smoothie along with the fresh veggies, and sometimes an apple, and water, and blend it up. I have that first thing in the morning, or not first thing, but that’s the first thing that I eat. Then throughout the day I eat salads and steamed veggies. I’m a vegetarian that eats vegetables. I really am a vegetabletarian. I love them. I love the colors and the flavors.
I have to say, when I was an ice creamaterian and I think I was really.
Robyn: Well, you had a lot of flavors to choose from.
John: The amount of sugar, the amount of fat were so intense that I couldn’t taste anything else. Everything else was bland for me. When I stopped eating high-salt foods, high-fat foods, high-sugar foods, ice cream in particular, when I stopped eating those kinds of foods, I started to develop my taste buds for the first time and I started to be able to taste real food. Then I noticed that a simple baked potato tasted better to me than a baked potato used to taste when it was smothered with sour cream and other kinds of gravies and things because I could taste now and I began to be able to actually taste life.
To be able to sense my own feelings and to be aware of my thoughts and to be aware of other people’s feelings and thoughts in ways that I hadn’t before when I was basically numbed out by food that was so overpowering and overwhelming to my senses that it basically high-jacked my taste buds and high-jacked my brain in some sense. I began to think differently when I changed the way I ate and I began to relate differently with people in a much more empathic way and a much more understanding way. That was one of the great rewards and joys as well as physical health making those shifts.
Robyn: The last couple of years my passion has moved from teaching people green smoothies to 450 city lecture tour on that for years. This all started when there are 50 searches a month worldwide on Google for the term green smoothie and I’m really pleased now that it’s a household term. Lately, my research-
Robyn: Yeah. The last couple years, my research has kind of shifted into how the diet industry has wanted us to think in terms of calories and they’ve wanted us to think in terms of slicing and dicing proteins, fats and carbs and obsessing about this little shell game of how many grams of proteins, fats and carbs that we eat. You know what, I’ve discovered the very same thing you’re talking about, John, is that in so many of the folks who came to my lecture tour who write us emails say, “Well, how is it going to taste?” I don’t like the taste of that and I tell the same story that and the way I explain it is where I’m really attracted these days is to energies and how Einstein and Tesla talked about how everything in life is vibration, everything is energetic and how dead cows or chickens have a vibration of 2 megahertz.
The thing is we resonate it like 62 to 68 hertz. When we eat a 2 hertz energetic food like chicken or beef, we are energetically harmed by that and our vibrations brought lower. I really want to connect that to what you said about, you’re your food changed it’s not that you just felt better. It’s also that you literally energetically vibrate higher. When you drink a green juice which is 75 hertz obviously, that’s going to raise you that law of physics that a substance of a higher frequency can cause a substance of a lower frequency to increase just by us drinking it, just by us literally being in its presence.
If you are in my energy field and you’re a high vibration person, I’m going to live better for it. I’m going to literally live higher vibration. One of the things that I notice that I see you confirming is that as I built my cells out of higher vibration materials, I started to attract higher vibration people. I started to attract higher vibration opportunities and higher vibration foods were interesting to me. They tasted delicious to me. Instead of salivating over, sorry to the Baskin-Robbins family, but Ben & Jerry’s which is a big feature of my 20s, I salivate thinking about an avocado or a red pepper.
Could you relate to that?
John: Totally. Totally. When I first started changing my diet, the idea of salivating over a red pepper or an avocado would have been very fun to me because I only have salivated over mint chocolate chip, these very, very sweet, very, very rich desserts. It took a while. There was a transition for me anyway but what I did find is exactly what you said that I began to draw to me different kinds of opportunities and different kinds of people. I begin to see differently. I begin to see the good in people whereas before I was cynical and resigned and had a pretty pessimistic outlook frankly and I was guarded. Now I started to be less defended and more friendly towards life. See the opportunities more. The danger is less, still aware of them but not fixated on them and so less fearful.
I began to appreciate subtler experiences. Now, if I were to drink a Coca-Cola, I wouldn’t like it at all. It would burn. I did have this experience, I haven’t drink a Coke many, many decades, but one was served to me, I didn’t realize what it was, it was in a cup at a gathering and I had a sip of it not knowing actually what it was and I put it down. “What is this? It’s terrible. This tastes like … I don’t like it at all.” Then somebody said, “Well, it’s just a Coke.” I thought, well, okay. I don’t like it.
It’s fascinating to go through that shift in what you like and what you attract and how you respond to life because then when you become more creative, you become more of a force of nature, you’re more energized, you’re more determined, you’re more committed, you’re more capable of your commitments of following through and completing. You’re more capable of being the human being that you want to be and that you’re here to be.
That’s the real secret of all this. Yes, you lower your rates of heart disease and cancer, you really do. Yes, you dramatically lower your risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia as you age, absolutely. Yes, your joints will feel better, you won’t develop arthritis. All kinds of things that are physical are better but it’s not just physical, it is also emotional and psychic and spiritual. I think that we are whole human beings and we occupy life in many different ways and we live on many different levels and dimensions.
Our hearts on one level are these pumps in our chest that distribute blood throughout our body but on another level, our hearts are our way of loving and being loved and recognizing the beauty in life and in each other and in ourselves. When we eat a heart-healthy diet, we have far lower rates of cardiovascular disease. Our arteries are much more open and blood flows better at every organ and system in our body with all the advantages that brings but also our hearts are more open. There is a sense that we have more trust and less fear in our lives and I think that’s an accomplishment worth mentioning.
Robyn: I was anticipating that this whole interview would really be about food and I’ve been just delighted that I wanted to ask you, what are some of the life lessons you’ve learned beyond just food? You’ve made a career out of teaching people about food and the impact of their food choices on the whole globe and on each other and I wanted to ask you what you’ve learned to be emotionally and mentally healthy as well as physically. I really felt like you went there without me having to ask you. I have a little bit more specific question that I think that my audience who are detoxing with us, we have a few thousand folks detoxing with us and they’re being given this interview as a gift because I want them to hear from one of my heroes who influenced by life and you play such a role in why I have four beautifully healthy children.
I just watched my youngest son, I told you about the oldest son, but I just watched the youngest son last night pitch a shutout for the same high school and he’s 6 foot 4. I really think all the time about where we were going had we stayed on our standard American diet path. I have the little phases of being a Doritos and Diet Coke vegetarian.
It sounds like you and I have been through a lot of different phases but you’ve shared a lot with this, I think, about other life lessons beyond just food or the impact that eating at a higher vibration place brings you to states of spiritual and intellectual abilities and relationship connection that aren’t really possible when we’re just fighting symptoms and just fighting with our low vibrations every day.
Let me as you this, because I am pretty fascinated by the relationship you had with your father and how hard that must have been for both of you and him to have that divide between you, right, as you were coming of age and you’re the man. You’re going to be the second generation taking over this amazing billion dollar legacy that he gave so much of his life to. How did you achieve that? How did you achieve that? I think those are the greatest stories of forgiveness and redemption. I mean I was an English major in college, so I love them. How did you achieve that healing with your father and that coming back together? How did that happened? What would you tell us about what we can achieve in our life that way?
John: It wasn’t easy. After I made the decision to walk away from the business, he was angry. He had ways of expressing his anger that were dysfunctional and we ended up having a lot of distance between us for a number of years. When I wrote Diet for a new America, I sent him a copy, an autographed copy, but he didn’t read it but around that same time, his own health was deteriorating. I mentioned, he had diabetes, it was pretty severe. The prognosis was potentially blindness and potentially an amputation of the foot or even the leg. The circulation to his eyes and his extremities was very impaired.
He was very badly overweight and his heart problems were serious. One day, he went to his cardiologist who was at the time the highest priced cardiologist in the country possibly and the guy leveled with him and said, “Mr. Robbins, you’re a very sick man and the best we can do is try to juggle your medications, try to control some of the side effects that are bothering you and try to make your few remaining years a little more comfortable. Unless, you’re willing to make really major changes in the way you live and in what you eat.”
My father looked at him and said, “What kind of changes are you talking about?” He said, “Well, there’s this book you should read.
John: He handed him a copy of “Diet for a new America” my book. The astounding thing is this physician did not know that the John Robbins who’d written the book was related to the Irv Robbins, to my dad, who was his patient. I barely mentioned it in “Diet for New America” in the introduction, just once who my dad was. He hadn’t seen that but the book had been very well-reviewed in the American Journal of Cardiology and he’d read it, he loved it. He was a rare cardiologist back in those days who saw the connection with diet and health and he gave the book to my father.
My poor dad, this was a collision of karmic drama. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall and seen his face. It must have been really something, because from his point of view, this is the high priest of western medicine telling him, you should read a book written by his maverick son who rejected his life work. That is difficult. To his credit, I think it’s to his credit, he began to read the book slowly. He read the copy that the doctor gave him, I’m sure, the one that had been blessed by the high priest of western medicine, but he did read it and he did make some changes and he got some results and then he made more changes and he got more results and he made more changes and he got more results.
Then he got off his blood pressure medication that he’d been told he’d have to take for the rest of his life. His diabetes went into remission. He didn’t need insulin shots anymore. He didn’t even need diabetic pills anymore. He lost a lot weight that he needed to lose. His blood markers, his biomarkers came into the normal range where they had been way bad before. His golf game improved about eight strokes, everything was humming and at that point, this took place over a course of about two years that he was making these changes and getting his results and then he called me. I didn’t know any of this was happening. He called me on the phone and he said, “Johnny, something has happened.” I thought at first, oh my god, has there been a death? Because my dad didn’t call me very much in those days. He said, “You won’t believe this. It’s unbelievable. It’s just incredible Johnny. It’s just unbelievable.” I said, “What dad? He said, “Well, it turns out you were right.”
“About what?” I said. He said and he told me the story of his meeting with the cardiologist and all these changes he’d made and all the results he’d gone. Then, from then on over the next 20 years of his life, because he lived 20 more healthy years, we had a lot of good connections. He, at one point said, “Thank God, you had the courage to follow your own star even when I put every obstacle I could in your way.” To me, I admire my father’s business achievements, they’re prodigious but honestly, I admire him even more for his ability to make the shifts he did and make the changes he did. I mean he was Mr. Ice Cream. He stopped eating ice cream and he became what he called … he told me, “I’m not a cart carrying vegetarian.”
He had no meat in the home. He ate a really healthy diet and he lived 20 more healthy years and he came to respect and appreciate what I have done with my life in a very substantial way and I gave him credit for that. For a man as invested as he was, as identified as he was with ice cream and business success, to make these kinds of changes and then to have respect for the son who did reject your life work and who wrote books exposing the downside, the dark side of the industry that you made your career in and your identity in, I think I admire him more for that because that’s a power of the heart.
The ability to forgive that he manifested towards me is something I just am so grateful for and I’m so humble in the face of and feel so blessed by. That I was able, in the long run, I think, to give him something more important that I would have if I followed in his footsteps and done the obvious things and met his expectations but as it turned out I was able to help him have 20 more healthy years and a reconciliation with me. I think our relationship was more beautiful and real than it would have been if I had done what he wanted.
It was harder for a long time, but in the end I think it was much more beautiful, much more loving, much more real and I’m grateful for it.
Robyn: What a beautiful tribute to him. A few things strike me about that and then I have one more question for you. One is, I have to try not to laugh, but we’re never a profit in our own land. My children are raised with all these crazy earthy crunchy stuff and lots of jokes made about it. They’ve gone off in their own and they take their zigzaggy path and each one of them has had people say, come up to them and say, your mother’s work has impacted my life so much and I would just want to hug you because you’re her child. Those things make my children turn and look at my work differently and I’m patient, I can wait.
Your story makes me patient for the healing that takes place when we are so far apart. Life is long and we got lots of chances and what a beautiful story about your dad.
You never profit in your own land, you have to have your cardiologist hand you your son’s book before you actually read it and believe it. Another thing that strikes me about your story is that it doesn’t matter how rich you are, you can’t buy your health. Your father could buy the most expensive cardiologist there is and what does he want you to do? He wants you to eat foods that don’t have a mother. That’s awesome.
Finally, I want to point out, just because it strikes me. It’s been many, many years since I read your books and I still refer back to them, I quote them in blog posts, but I want to say that “Diet for New America” and the “Food Revolution” the reason they got to me whereas many other wellness books didn’t is that you were so meticulous, John, in documenting back then hundreds and hundreds of references about what is in the literature, the scientific literature and what is actually known about the power of eating more plants. That’s really what was so compelling to me because I was one of those snobs who said, “You have to prove it to me. I want to see the science.” Now I know far more about how things actually get published in a medical journal and how much of science is really industry driven.
You were the first one to take the time to nail it all down and document it and I believe that is why a cardiologist was handing your book out to his patients and so Kudos on that. I just want to ask you one more question before we let you go. You have this huge body of work, you put on the food revolution summit every year for six years. This is my first year telling my audience about it. I’m so enjoying hearing from a lot of my heroes. You really are able to, because you are so well known in the field of wellness. You’re able to choose the 24 most interesting, most credentialed, most cutting-edge in terms of the information they’re delivering, people who are changing the world in the food revolution.
With all that going on, this should be a good answer here. What’s the thing you are most excited about coming up in your career or what’s next for John Robbins?
John: We’re right in the middle of the summit right now and I must say I’m quite occupied by it and with it. I think when it’s done I’m looking forward to a few days off. I haven’t had a day off in about two months and I am looking forward to just getting a little more balance in my life because I’ve been working pretty hard but it’s work I love. I don’t know what the next iteration will be. We’ll continue to do summits. We’re creating a course, Plant-Powered and thriving to take people on the how to do it and that’s something that, I’ve written books that have been bestsellers and I’ve influenced a lot of people’s lives and that’s thrilling, frankly, and humbling but I haven’t been able to create a course before.
We’ve done this course before but we’re still protecting it, we’re still refining it. It isn’t really there yet. By there, I mean where I want it to be. Where it really takes people who are new to this way of eating and helps them become masters in six weeks. Maybe that’s asking too much but I think we can do it and that’s exciting to me.
I’m also excited by what I see as, in young people, a sense that we have to take care of the environment. We have to. It’s not an option because if we don’t, if we don’t learn how to do it, if we don’t shift our economy, if we don’t shift our way of life so that we do take care of the environment, the alternative is disaster. The alternative is catastrophe. That urgency, it’s like maybe we’re hitting bottom. They talk about hitting bottom, when an alcoholic just realizes that they’re killing themselves and that if they keep doing what they’re doing, they’re going to be dead and somehow reaches out for help and is willing to surrender to a higher power however they think of that or conceive of that or understand that.
Something greater than themselves can then take place in their heart and their lives and start to guide them and they can stop drinking or stop their addiction to drugs or whatever it is that’s destroying their life. In our case, it’s, I think, what excites me is the possibility what we’re hitting bottom. In terms of the destructive activities that have gone rewarded financially in our society to which we’ve given so much energy. I’d love to see us become a nonpolluting society. I’d love to see us use energy that’s renewable and I’d love to see us use energy to fuel our bodies that’s renewable that doesn’t take such a huge chunk out of the life support systems of the planet.
The fact that the food choices that are healthiest for us personally, that give us the strongest immune system and therefore the greatest ability to ward off infectious disease, that give us the lowest rates of cancer, the lowest rates of heart disease, the lowest rates of dementia that allow us to live the most vibrant and vital and powerful lives that we can are also these plant-based food choices, plant strong food choices are also the kindest to the other animals.
To me, that’s a win-win, win-win and that’s good for us. To me, what’s exciting is all the people who are seeing this understanding it and acting on it and I get to be part of that and that’s really exciting for me too.
Robyn: Congratulations on all that. I hope you never stop using your influence for good. You’ve been out there pioneering and talking about these issues like genetically modified organisms and helping people eat more plants long before there were … really before anybody else was out in the mainstream. Now there are a lot of us but you led the way and so I’m really excited that I hear, I get to come and hang out with you for a day at a mastermind of people who are championing the whole foods causes. I’m really excited about that.
Thank you and thank you so much John Robbins and your son Ocean Robbins who is also leading the way and a tremendous leader and a force for good. Thank you so much for being with us on this call today.
John: Thank you Robyn and thank you for all the work you’re doing and all the lives you’re touching. Your students are fortunate indeed.
Robyn: I hope you enjoyed that interview as much as I did. You’re basically listening to me talking to a legend and one of my heroes. I hope that if you aren’t yet listening to my podcast, it’s on iTunes, it’s called Your High Vibration Life. On it, I do a lot of really spectacular interviews with people who are changing the world and people who can teach us something about living at higher vibrations so I hope to see you over there.