Commusings: The Transformative Power of Food by Ocean Robbins

Apr 19, 2024

Dear Commune Community,

In reading today’s essay about Ocean’s grandfather – the founder of Baskin-Robbins – I was reminded of my own Papa. We celebrated our birthdays together for decades. He lived in the other Hollywood … in Southern Florida. The year we observed eight and 60 orbits respectively, we drove his old Cutlass down A1A to the local Baskin-Robbins parlor. They had a special on offer: 31 individual cups of scrumptious ice cream featuring every one of their signature flavors (plus one).

Excitedly, I carried the plastic tray of frozen milk and sugar into the hot Florida sun. Drooling with anticipation, we jumped back into Papa’s silver Oldsmobile and headed home. We barely got out of the parking lot when steam began billowing out from under the hood. The car limped back into the lot.

This unfortunate circumstance took place well before the era of cell phones. So, we decided to walk back to Papa’s apartment building. It didn’t take but five minutes before my beloved birthday treat of 31 flavors melted into a soup of one. Papa and I tried in vain to slurp it as we walked. Despite our misadventure, we laughed at our predicament and the story became family folklore. I miss Papa.

Despite this nostalgic memory, it is unsettling that every juvenile celebration is punctuated by sugar. Halloween, Easter, birthdays … they all have their syrupy signature. We also salve our lowest moments – our injuries both physical and emotional – with candy, cookies, and cake. And then we become adults and replace sugar with alcohol.

Now, I’ve replaced 31 flavors of ice cream with 30 different vegetables per week. I look and feel better – and it’s just as colorful.

Here at [email protected] and I scream on IG @jeffkrasno.

In love, include me,

P.S. Join my new Commune course, Good Stress, where I unpack the benefits and protocols of doing hard things like fasting, cold & heat therapy, resistance training, light therapy and even … eating “stressed” plants.

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The Transformative Power of Food:

A Journey from Ice Cream to Health and Happiness

By Ocean Robbins

Can food truly make us happy?

We all know that in the long run, vegetables are good for us, and burgers probably are not.

But most of us don’t especially like this fact. Because the honest truth is donuts taste better than dandelion greens.

My family has an interesting take on this. And for me, the story starts with my Grandpa Irv.

Just before my dad was born, Grandpa Irv cofounded an ice cream company called Baskin-Robbins. The company was successful, and my Grandpa groomed my dad from childhood to join in running it one day. But everything changed when my dad’s uncle Burt Baskin, my Grandpa’s brother-in-law and business partner, was diagnosed with heart disease. Burt ended up passing at the age of 54, leaving his wife a widow and his kids — my dad’s cousins — fatherless.

As you can imagine, my great uncle Burt’s death hit everyone in the family hard. When my dad was invited to join his father and take a place in the family business, he decided he didn’t want to spend his life selling a product that might contribute to making people, like his uncle, get sick. So he said no, and he walked away from the family company and the financial security it represented.

My Grandpa felt hurt and angry. He’d spent his life building a business, and he wanted to share it with his only son. But my dad had to follow his own star. So he moved with my mom to a little island off the coast of Canada, where they got super healthy as back-to-the-lander hippies. They built a one-room log cabin, grew most of their own food, and named their kid Ocean. They almost named me Kale — way before kale was cool.

I guess I should count my blessings that they made the MORE conservative choice. But… we DID eat a lot of kale — and other veggies from the garden. Our diet was simple and based around beans, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and lots of sprouts. Even without sugars or processed or fried foods, I grew up LOVING to eat.

My dad grew up with lots of ice cream in the freezer. I grew up with lots of seeds in the sprouting jar. My dad grew up pretty sick, with asthma, acne, and constant colds. I grew up pretty healthy. I ran my first marathon when I was 10. My dad sometimes had ice cream cake for breakfast. I sometimes had a teaspoon of blackstrap molasses on my oatmeal.

So, when we’d visit my grandparents, it was a culture shock. For one thing, there was a lot of ice cream. Which, I’ll be honest, I liked. Especially mint chocolate chip. As I got a bit older, I couldn’t help but notice that my grandparents were struggling with their health. I could see their energy levels dropping from one year to the next. My grandpa was still mad about my dad’s choice to leave the ice cream business. But we were family, and there was love, which, we learned, is even thicker than ice cream.

When I was 10, my parents and I moved to California. A few years later, my dad came out with a book called Diet for a New America. It challenged the status quo on how our food choices affect our health, happiness, and the future of life on earth. The book became a runaway best-seller.

One of my dad’s readers ended up being my Grandpa Irv, who, in 1989, was suffering serious weight issues, heart disease, and diabetes. His doctors told him that if something didn’t change, he was likely to lose an arm or a leg to his diabetes — if a heart attack didn’t kill him first. And then, without knowing about the connection to my dad, they told him that if he wanted to get well, he should read a book called Diet for a New America and follow its advice. Amazingly enough, Grandpa Irv read the book written by his renegade son. And then, he started eating less processed foods and less meat. He gave up sugar, and he eventually even gave up ice cream. He started eating a lot more vegetables and other whole plant foods.

And Grandpa Irv got results. He lost a bunch of weight. He got off all of his diabetes and blood pressure medications because he no longer needed them. His favorite part was that his golf game improved by seven strokes. My favorite part was that he ended up living 19 more healthy years. And that for the first time in my life, I thought he seemed happy.

An old saying goes, “A person with their health has a thousand dreams, but a person without it has just one dream: to get it back.” This rings true considering the staggering statistics from the United Nations, which report that preventable, chronic illnesses claim over 41 million lives annually. These diseases, often lifestyle-related, are largely preventable. Research shows that with a healthy diet and lifestyle, we can prevent at least 80% of cardiovascular disease and 90% of type 2 diabetes. The MIND Diet, for instance, has been shown to reduce Alzheimer’s rates by 53%.

Now you might be thinking, Ocean, come on… We’re going to die of something anyway. Is it really so bad to die a little sooner if we have some fun and eat some ice cream and cheeseburgers along the way?

It’s a fair question. But what about the quality of our lives? More and more people are not only dying from chronic disease, they’re also living chronically disabled.

How many people do you know who are suffering right now from diseases that could be prevented, maybe even reversed, with a healthier diet?

How much of the pain that most of us think is normal is actually something we could avoid?

We tend to externalize this. So, let me ask you: How do YOU want to feel in your body? How do YOU want to age? And what legacy do you want to leave for YOUR loved ones?

My guess is you’d like to do more than just break your record for the number of consecutive days you’ve woken up above ground.

That’s why I teamed up with my dad — I went into the other family business — to start Food Revolution Network. And now, I get to hear from our more than one million members almost every day with their stories. Stories of hope and transformation. Stories of people who changed what they eat and got their health back. Many of them are not just living longer. They’re also feeling better.

The same food choices that can help prevent cardiovascular disease can also give you better circulation, which could mean that you can have more energy.

The same food choices that reduce your risk of diabetes give you more balanced blood sugar, helping you feel more peace and more resilience.

The same food choices that help prevent Alzheimer’s disease can also help you have a clearer mind and more ability to remember the things that matter most.

And when you get the nutrients you need, it’s possible to reduce your risk of depression and other mental health challenges.

When you give your body the right fuel, you can have more energy, deeper sleep, a clearer mind, and — this is something a lot of folks are especially excited about — better sex.

Food shapes not only how long you live but how alive you feel.

And it might also affect how you feel about your place in the world. You see, food impacts people, communities, and ecosystems around the globe. If you stop giving your money to companies whose practices you don’t agree with, if you start supporting foods and farms that align with your values, maybe contributing to things like a healthier, more ethical, more sustainable future… it can feel really good to know you’re part of the solution.

There are so many ways that healthy food can lead to more happiness.

So when to begin?

Well, every bite we take matters.

The good news is it’s never too late to make a shift and start reaping benefits. In fact, a recent meta-analysis found that shifting from a typical diet to an optimal diet — even as late as age 60 — can still add eight healthy years of life. And if you start earlier, you add even more.

So, I want to invite you to get curious about how your food choices are impacting your health and your happiness. The optimal diet for you may be as unique as your fingerprints. But there is no doubt that food matters. If the food you’re eating is really giving you what you want, then fantastic. If not, then just maybe, today could be a turning point.

In the 1950s, my Grandpa and his team at Baskin-Robbins came up with one of the world’s most iconic slogans. It was, “We make people happy.” Now, 70 years later, that slogan is still being used to sell ice cream all around the world.

There’s no doubt that ice cream has brought a lot of smiles to a lot of faces. And yet, I think we're learning, today, that there’s more happiness in health than in sickness.

Everyone deserves happiness. YOU deserve to be happy and to love your life.

What if we asked not, “What do I want now?” but, “What do I want most?”

Every bite we take is a step. Over time, those steps add up — and they can literally determine whether we end up in a nursing home waiting for death or climbing mountains.

The truth is clear. Food can hurt us. Food can heal us.

And yes, I do believe that food can make us happy.


This article is based on Ocean Robbins’ 2023 TEDx talk, Eating Your Way To Happiness.

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