Commusings: The Journey to Healthy Eating by Ocean Robbins

Apr 16, 2022

Dear Commune Community,

Yesterday, I had the tremendous honor to interview the trauma and addiction expert, Gabor Mate. Gabor articulates how the “tyranny of the past” (thank you, Peter Levine) so often leads to isolation and loneliness. And this alienation from others – and yourself – is directly correlated with chronic and auto-immune disease.

We know that one of the best indicators for health is community. Simply, if you hang out with healthy people, there is a greater probability that you, too, will be healthy. We exercise together. We share ideas. We swap microbes. We hold each other accountable. And – more than anything – we eat together. We commune around life’s table. Protracted, long-table dinners abounding with whole foods are one of the hallmarks of the Blue Zones, the places around the world with the highest concentration of centenarians.

As James Clear writes in his book, Atomic Habits, “You don’t rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” Forming new habits is arduous work, particularly as it pertains to food. Community helps to build systems — transforming words to actions, actions to habits, and habits to values.

Today’s featured essayist, Ocean Robbins, fosters community around healthy food. I am proud to feature him here and support this year’s Food Revolution Summit, which unites more than 300,000 people around a vision for personal, communal and planetary health.

Send me your thoughts directly via email. And find me waxing alternately poetic and pathetic on IG @jeffkrasno.

In love, include me,
Jeff

 • • •

The Journey to Healthy Eating

By Ocean Robbins

 

When I look at the state of the world today, I see tremendous challenges. And while a lot of issues feel like they’re out of our control as individuals, there’s at least one domain in which we can make a huge difference. 

Food. 

As trivial as our daily food choices may seem, they’re actually a powerful force for individual, communal, and planetary health — especially if enough of us join together. In my family, I’ve seen the difference one person can make, and how ripples of individual change can turn into waves of transformation.

My grandpa, Irvine Robbins, founded the Baskin-Robbins ice cream company in 1945. My dad, John, grew up with an ice cream cone-shaped swimming pool in the backyard and 31 flavors of ice cream in the freezer. When he was in his early 20s, he was offered a chance to join his father in running the company, and he said no. 

He walked away from a path that was practically paved with gold (and ice cream!) to, as he jokes, follow his “rocky road.” After renouncing the company that could have been his inheritance, he and my mom moved to a little island off the coast of Canada, where they built a one-room log cabin and grew most of their food. They practiced yoga and meditation for several hours a day and named their kid Ocean. (That would be me.) 

In 1987, my dad published a book, Diet for a New America, that explored the consequences — health, environmental, and ethical — of the standard American diet that had provided so handsomely for his family. His “riches to rags'' story caught on; the media was fascinated with this would-be ice cream heir who gave up a life of immense wealth to pursue a path focused on health for all. They called him the “Rebel without a Cone” and “the Prophet of Non-Profit.” 

Eventually, this rebellious (at least from my family’s point of view) message had a positive impact on Grandpa Irv, too. His brother-in-law and business partner, Burt Baskin, had died of heart disease at the age of 54. A couple decades later, my grandpa was facing serious heart issues at the age of 69. He had high blood pressure and arterial blockages, in addition to diabetes and obesity, thanks in part to the enthusiastic consumption of the family products. 

One of his doctors told him that if he wanted to live, he needed to make some big changes in his diet. And incredibly, the MD gave him a copy of Diet for a New America

The amazing thing here is that my grandpa, who had manufactured and sold more ice cream than any human being who has ever lived, actually read the book and made those big changes. He ended up cutting out sugar and most processed foods. He cut way down on his animal product consumption, gave up ice cream, gave up sugar — and got results. He lost a bunch of weight. He reversed his diabetes and heart disease. He got off a bunch of medications he had been told he would be taking for the rest of his life. His golf game improved seven strokes (!), and he lived 21 more healthy years.

We’ve seen in our family that when you eat the modern industrialized diet, you get the modern industrialized diseases. We’ve also seen that when you make a change, you can get tremendous benefits. Of course, my grandpa's story is not unique. Since co-founding Food Revolution Network with my dad in 2012, we've seen this happen thousands upon thousands of times. Today we hear from people almost every day about how this simple message has changed, and even saved, their lives. 

(Want to join us as we host the largest gathering of food revolutionaries of the past decade at the 2022 Food Revolution Summit? It’s coming up starting April 23. Find out more here.)

It’s not just an issue of individual health. Our food system is also destroying forests, degrading topsoil, and depleting water in our aquifers. And as the climate disaster worsens by the year, we’re still clear-cutting tropical rain forests to graze cattle — udder insanity!

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize we are on a collision course with systemic environmental collapse. We have more and more people on this planet every day — with fewer and fewer natural resources, fewer fish in our oceans, and fewer nutrients in our soil. This can't continue. If we cannot grow food sustainably, then humanity does not have a viable future.

Our food system also contributes to global poverty and social injustice, as the poor are forced from their land and deprived of their regenerative horticultural traditions in order to make room for monocrops used to feed livestock, or for direct export to wealthy countries. And the unspeakable cruelty of factory farming should make us weep as a species for what we do to other sentient beings in the pursuit of scalable profits.

That said, there’s good news here as well. Because if we change how we eat, and what we demand from our food system, it will change in response. When we eat lower on the food chain, we reduce our impact on the world’s shuddering capacity to support us. 

Let’s get specific. When I say eating lower on the food chain I mean fewer animal products (especially from factory farms), and more whole plant foods. I also mean sourcing more organic, more fair trade, more non-GMO, and more natural real foods; more local foods; and foods with fewer pesticides, fewer hormones, fewer antibiotics, less saturated fat, and more phytonutrients.

That’s easy to say, but we all know that changing our diets can be devilishly hard. Habits are deeply ingrained. And food is incredibly personal and intimate. What you eat literally becomes you. Your food is connected to your family, your history, your culture, and your sense of identity as a human. Even the bacteria in your gut have a strong preference for whatever you're feeding them. They're literally sending signals to your brain saying, “Give me more of that.” 

In order to change, we have to choose to put energy into doing things differently. I’m not talking about willpower, about sucking it up and forcing yourself to do the hard thing for the rest of your life. The right use of willpower is short-term and strategic, to help you form new habits that become just as powerfully ingrained as the old ones they’ve replaced. 

​​So right now, wherever you are in your journey, I want to invite you to ask yourself an important question about your food choices: Are you on a path that’s leading you where you want to go? 

If you're not, this might be a moment to reorient, to realign, to recognize that food can be medicine and can be a vote of conscience. Food can be an act of integrity. Food can be a stand for self-love. Food can be a stand for love of your planet. And when you put all that together wisely, consciously, and intentionally, you realize the incredible power you have with every bite you take. You can change your life, and you can change your world. Let’s talk about how.

First, shop and cook in bulk. Make friends with leftovers, so you don’t have to go to a grocery store or restaurant for every meal. Start with a few staples and have them ready to heat and eat. We always have some legumes cooked and stored in the fridge, along with cooked grains. We've always got veggies in the fridge and in the garden. And we often have cooked veggies so you can mix and match, combine different things and make interesting meals. Add steamed vegetables to anything, whether you're making pasta or a casserole. Heck — maybe even oatmeal. 

In fact, my favorite breakfast is savory oatmeal. I cook oatmeal in an instant pot and I'll get it going the night before. I cook it with unsweetened soy milk, chopped-up onions and garlic, some veggies, and add in soy sauce, olive oil, cayenne pepper, and other spices. Once it’s cooked, I mix in chopped roasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds, ground flax or chia seeds, and nutritional yeast. Each batch is enough for four breakfasts, so I only make it a couple times a week at most.

If possible, make food a family or even communal affair. Make extra and share it with friends or neighbors. Get a co-op going, even at work where everybody brings food — three or four people all bring a healthy lunch to share. You can go potluck style, or you can set up a daily rotation, where one person brings a complete lunch each day. That way everyone gets some healthy food. It doesn't take twice as long to make twice as much. That's one of the efficiencies that can kick in when you cook in quantity.

The bottom line with all of this is that you have got to find what works for you. I'm sharing some tips and ideas. They might work for you, they might not. Maybe you hate the idea of savory oatmeal. That's fine. I'm just telling you what I love to do. But, what I am saying is that you can find a way to get on the path that helps you succeed and thrive. Pay attention, be a student, and get curious about what works. There are many ways to add more nutrition to your diet. 

The other half of the equation is to minimize or eliminate the stuff that isn’t good for you or the planet. The most powerful first step in this process is to get it all out of your house. It's a lot easier not to have late-night cookie binges if there aren't cookies in your cupboard. You can send them off to the compost pile, then choose to focus your buying patterns on the healthy foods that help you (and the planet) to thrive. 

The journey to healthy eating is a lifelong endeavor, and it’s not linear. You won’t get it perfectly, and you’ll constantly learn new and better ways of preparing food and making better choices. With that in mind, here are four principles that can serve as guardrails to keep you moving forward when things get hard:

 

  1. Make friends with good recipes, taking one step at a time. As I mentioned earlier, focus on a few bulk recipes or meal concepts that you enjoy and get really good at building them into your routine. 
  2. Don't beat yourself up. If you fall off the “horse,” just pick yourself up and get back on it again. It's what you do day in and day out that shapes your destiny. If you slip occasionally, no big deal. It's what you do 95% of the time that matters the most. 
  3. Don't worry about all the different diets or food trends. If it is a whole food (like a vegetable or fruit or whole grain) you are on the right track. If it has ingredients that sound like something from chemistry class, watch out.
  4. Finally, don’t try to do this alone. Find a supportive community where you can learn, grow, ask for help, fall down and get back up, and share your successes and experiences with others. 


One example that’s dear to my heart is Food Revolution Network. We have created a community that’s over 750,000 strong, and that brings together many of the voices of the food revolution in support of a shared vision. 

Every year we host the largest gathering of food revolutionaries on the planet. My dad and colleague, John Robbins, interviews 25 of the world’s leading food experts. I host the Summit, and we convene 300,000 people who want the latest breaking insights about food and health. The 2022 Food Revolution Summit is coming right up, April 23-May 1. Will you join us? Find out all about it, and claim your spot, right here

 


About Ocean Robbins: 

Ocean is the author of numerous books, including Choices For Our Future, A Generation Rising for Life on Earth, The Power of Partnership, the co-author of Voices of the Food Revolution, and most recently, The 31 Day Food Revolution. In 2012, Ocean founded the Food Revolution Network, which now has more than 500,000 members working for healthy, sustainable, humane and delicious food. 

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