July 2, 2020
Food Revolution Network co-founder Ocean Robbins shares his vision and recent observations about our world, including:
The complexity and ingenuity within us and all forms of life, to support resilience and the ability to face challenges in creative ways that none of us could have imagined.
Recall as much joy, love and beauty as possible in our world, in a wider context of awe, respect and reverence.
Recognize our moral obligation to be on the right side of history and bring our lives in line with our values.
The learning potential in this current great mass cooperation experiment, including for climate change action.
The challenge of food justice and lifestyle-induced diseases, with links to poverty and race.
The positive benefits for health and food safety since the rebirth in gardening in the courtyard and in the "Victoria Gardens" during the pandemic.
Vicki Robin: Hi, I'm Vicki Robin. In collaboration with the Post Carbon Institute, I am organizing short conversations with various cultural scouts, asking each one the same question: what could be fine? The invitation is to see through these wise eyes what is opening up in the present moment, as normal as it is finished and the next is not at all clear. These conversations were recorded several months after the pandemic and in the weeks following the assassination of George Floyd. Let's see what guests say today.
Vicki Robin: Welcome to our project, "What could be okay?" We ask cultural scouts to actually let us see through their eyes the confusion and complexity of this moment. So consider that you are in a circle of people who are truly interested in acting, not analyzing what went wrong, or the idealized future, but hope now. So I just want to tell the assembled people that I'm with Ocean Robbins, a dear, dear friend for many, many years. In addition, he is co-founder and CEO of 500,000 members, Food Revolution Network and the author of the 31-day Food Revolution. So just to settle down, Ocean: where are you? And how are you?
Ocean Robbins: Hmm. Well, I'm in Santa Cruz, California, at my house. Many of us are in our homes these days, apparently. I'm fine, although I understand everything well, you know. I think what interests me is to be friends with what is like this, rather than to fight it, because you cannot argue with what is true; with what it is. Either go with the program, or die trying, or fight against every step of the way. I believe that willpower is best used when we align with reality and then recognize that part of what is so is our ability to respond.
Vicki Robin: Wow, well, it could have been enough, but we'll continue. Yes, so I'm here on Whidbey Island. Safe and sound; so safe and sound that it seems almost unnerving; at least safe and sound when the world explodes. But I am proud of my small village of 1000 people, which we have witnessed many different types of demonstrations in the last week. So it's encouraging. It is encouraging. So here we are looking through Ocean's eyes around this question of "What could be okay?" Take it away, Ocean.
Ocean Robbins: Well, it's an exquisite question. In a sense, there are as many answers as there are life forms because for each of us that answer emerges creatively. But here's the thing I know. Each cell of our body carries within it the life and DNA of life and the ability, therefore, not only to learn from our history, from all that our ancestors have undergone, that collective wisdom of how to respond to every crisis, every challenge, every pestilence, every violation and go ahead and somehow find a way is within us. But we also have this phenomenal ability, this phenomenal intelligence to learn and discover again; to respond creatively and effectively to what is happening now. So your body can develop antibodies to a virus that has never been before, because it will literally invent in real time. As he learns to understand, he will invent a healthy, creative and effective response. I believe the same principle is true. Recently, I had a bicycle accident and had some arm cuts. I looked at my arm and thought about myself, my body knows how to cure it. He will literally know how to make the layers of the skin and make the crust and I have looked at them every day with awe, since my body knows what to do. I mean, what will happen next, oh my god, now it's getting a little wet. Now it is drying up. Now, it's like cracky and eventually the crust is about to come off, but not until it's time. It will come out when there is enough layer of skin underneath. I have a somewhat small understanding of medical knowledge of what's going on. But above all I am panting; I'm thinking, oh my god, my body knows how to do it. He knows how to regrow the arm cells, rather than the scalp cells of the head, you know, because every part of the body works in sync. If you break a bone, your body knows how to create stem cells to trigger the reconnection process. All of this happens in exquisite harmony. There are in your body right now, millions of processes are happening right now of which you have no intellectual knowledge, but they are happening anyway. So life is bright. He is extraordinarily complex and magnificent in his ingenuity, and has the ability to face the challenges we face in creative ways that none of us could have imagined.
Ocean Robbins: So what could be fine? Well, here I will say that your mind may be the last to know. But there is in your life form, in all our life forms, the ability to respond creatively, brilliantly and effectively. I think the correct use of our minds is to have a curiosity and wonder, and our humility to learn and discover from the power, vitality, creative ingenuity of life itself. Within this, our minds can be breathless. They can learn and occasionally they can make small changes that help us improve; as a surgeon will come in there, if you break a bone and it doesn't heal well enough and you get it modeled well, and then your body knows what to do from there. So there is a place for surgery. There is a place for strategy, but it exists within a deep context of humility. We become participants in life.
So how does it relate to the many crises we face in the world right now; from economic crises, social crises, racist crises, health crises, ecological crises, which are aggravating and facing us. Well, here's the thing. Our minds don't know how to solve this. I gave up a long time ago thinking I could understand it. But I believe that life has answers. I believe the same life force that led us to be against all odds … We are uninterrupted. We are part of an unbroken chain of ancestors who live long enough to reproduce against all odds sometimes when one in 15 children has survived. We come from the line of what created it, right, and here we are. The chances of you alive right now are infinitely small. But here you are, here we are, and here we are.
So, for me, what might be fine is finding out how life and its creative and magnificent splendor act through us to respond to the crises of our times. I don't think it's the nature of life that goes wild without pain, without suffering or without death. If you look back, we have a good experience of seeing that there has been a lot of death in our history. There has been a lot of pain and suffering. Sometimes we learn things, we quote, the hard way. But if we are present, if we are willing, then we can learn. And personally, I'm interested as an egoistic creature with an ego and preferences. I am interested in having as much joy, love and beauty as possible; and the least pain and suffering possible. I believe that life will have its way with us. There is the old saying: "She who will do it, destinies lead; she who will not do it, drag." So let's take a trip. We are here in this form in this life, and if we are willing, perhaps we can be guided. We will still end up in the same place and frankly, physically, we will all die. But along the way, maybe we can bring some beauty. Maybe we can bring some love, maybe we can bring some of peace, maybe we can give a little justice to this crazy world of ours. This is my intention, with every cell in my body. I want to bring more love, more beauty, more justice, more peace, more alignment, more integrity, between my values and my actions, and it's all in a wider context of fear and respect, reverence and wonder.
Ocean Robbins: So maybe I'm too meta for you, because you're "it's so meta", right? Kind of like, "Okay, if this is the one million foot level, what is the 30,000 foot level of that?" So, I think we are seeing … I work in the movement of food, you also do some of it. We are witnessing an explosion of interest in local organic natural foods, just because so many people are sick. Many people are saying: How can we do better? There is now a growing interest in food justice. They are looking at the reality that there is this huge gap and statistically, the poorer you are and the darker your skin color is, statistically, the more likely you are to depend for most calories on unhealthy toxic foods; and the more likely you are to suffer the consequences of lifestyle-induced disease, with epidemic rates of heart disease and cancer and type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer's and autoimmune disorders and all other lifestyle disorders.
So, in fact, when we look at the opportunity gap we face today, one of the great forms it takes is health. What I'm seeing is that right now there is an explosion of interest in that too. We are seeing more and more community gardens. We are witnessing pilot programs where meal ticket dollars are doubled for fruit and vegetables. We are seeing schools trying to serve healthier meals. We are seeing programs like Feeding America, which is providing food aid for 50 million Americans right now, trying to bring healthier food into their food pantry network. So as this happens, we can begin to see how powerful it is. We can reduce the costs of health care, reduce the costs of health insurance. We can, by reducing the burden that hospitals have to pay to treat people who don't have insurance, who suffer from lifestyle-induced diseases, which has an impact on all of us. So it is a huge cost savings to provide healthier food to low-income communities.
I think there is a growing awareness of this; there is a growing awareness of the ecological impact of our choices. More and more people are choosing to put solar panels on their roofs and more and more people are choosing to buy electric cars. More and more people are trying to consume less, fly less, lighten their impact, eat lower in the food chain. In one study, 25% of teenagers are vegan or want to be vegan, for example, in the United States right now. In Germany, 30% of the population is on a poor or meatless diet. This is largely fueled by ecological concerns, particularly by people concerned about the human environmental impact of farms. For me this is encouraging and for me this is how life responds, in a resilient and creative way through human beings. We must make sure that we are to the best of our ability, bringing our lives in line with our values. This is a difficult thing in a toxic culture.
But step by step, I see many people asking, what can I do? And the truth is, you don't just serve the world because the world needs it. Serve the world because it makes you feel good, aligned and integrated. Who wants to contribute to the destruction on planet Earth? What does this do to our self-esteem, our sense of dignity, our sense of position on the planet? So I believe that for personal interest, we all have a moral obligation to be on the right side of history, wherever we work, wherever we come, whatever resources we have at our disposal. What I'm seeing probably going well is more and more people who recognize our interconnection; recognizing how connected we are. With the entire COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen the largest mass cooperation experiment unfold in the history of the world. Because humans all over the planet have chosen to stay home, they have forgotten their livelihood. In some cases, people were unable to feed their families or pay rent because they were at home to flatten the curve, to slow down the spread. For some people, it was because they don't want to get sick and die, obviously, but for many people, it's because they don't want to spread to other people. For me, this shows that we are in this together. While we can respond to crises and the pandemic by isolating and separating, let's not forget that we have also collaborated in an extraordinary way and we have seen that what happens in one part of the world spreads everywhere on Earth. So I say, love too. Even cooperation. The same goes for integrity. When humanity recognizes and identifies a shared common problem and realizes that the research is clear, we are able, we have seen, to say that human life is more important than the economy. Human life is more important than business as usual. If we can do it with COVID, maybe we can also do it with climate change, once we really face the reality of what we are facing and realize how urgent it is.
So what could be fine? Maybe humans will find new ways to cooperate. Perhaps humans will find new ways to respond to the crisis. The danger with climate change, unfortunately, is that it is such a long game in human terms, because it can take decades for the impact of our current actions to manifest. When we really see millions and millions of people inundated with their homes, when we see our inability to grow food, when we see large areas of human-inhabited areas turning into deserts, it may be too late to turn things around. But my hope is that we are learning, that we are growing, that we are evolving; not without pain, obviously, not without suffering, obviously, that perhaps we can make something more beautiful from everything.
Vicki Robin: Yes, wow. Well, now I'm going to ask you to go to the roof with binoculars, looking a little more at the chaos of the moment. And in this, as you watch, and I think you may have said it, but I will only ask for another number of clarity. Where do you see in the middle of this pandemic, in addition to what we are collaborating all over the world … Where do you see it, given your background, food and health, etc. Where do you see the green shoots of things that we could really strengthen now because they are already on the move.
Ocean Robbins: people grow more gardens than ever. Here's the thing many people don't know; about 100 years ago, we had a flu pandemic around the world. 1918, 1919; it arrived immediately after the first world war and killed 50 million people worldwide. It killed 650,000 Americans and the world population was much smaller than then. It is sometimes called the Spanish flu pandemic, although it didn't actually start in Spain. It potentially started in Kansas, but regardless, we call it the Spanish flu pandemic because Spain was a country that was willing to report numbers and everyone else denied existence. So we thought he was born there, but it's not like that. In any case, this is one side, but it has sparked the enormous amount of social distance. In fact, people stayed home not to get sick and this catalyzed … there was also a huge interruption in food supplies. The food system was not as complex as it is today but even then, food has moved many kilometers from person to person and from place to place. Much of this broke and therefore what many people started doing was cultivating gardens in the courtyard, for their survival, for their ability to eat. This continued through the Great Depression, when unemployment was high and poverty was high, and people still cultivated many gardens in the back. Then it continued until the Second World War and the concept of Victory Gardens. While the soldiers were fighting, they were unable to deal with the fields. Furthermore, while the Japanese were forced into internment camps, many of them worked in the camps, but could no longer do so. So there is also a kind of racist dark side. But the bottom line is that the Victoria Gardens were shapes as a way to eat and at some point, about 40% of the fruit and vegetables in America grew in the backyard gardens. Interestingly, in the past few months since COVID-19 hit the United States, we have been witnessing a wave of backyard gardening. People are planting seeds. People buy seeds. Online seed suppliers are running out of supply. Many people are growing food right now. They are growing it because it is the safest food available because they know it will not be contaminated with viruses. They are growing because it prevents them from going to the store and we have seen that supply chains can be broken. They are growing because they may not have much money. And maybe some of them have more time because they are more at home or unemployed. So there are all these converging factors that inspire people. So some people are cultivating it because it's healthier.
And here's the thing: there are all sorts of side benefits in growing more food. Not only does it give you food security, but there are also studies showing that people who grow more vegetables eat more vegetables; and if you eat more vegetables, it's good for your health. This helps to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer and type 2 diabetes, autoimmune disorders and all sorts of other ailments, because you are taking more antioxidants and other phytonutrients; because you are saturating your body with fiber and all sorts of good things that help you thrive. There are tens of thousands of studies published in peer-reviewed medical journals that tell us that eating more vegetables is good for us. So now we are finally doing it and one of the ways that inspires us to do it is to grow those vegetables right in our backyards. I think it's really a beautiful thing and I hope I can grow the gardening movement in the backyard dramatically for years to come, no matter what happens with the pandemics. The fact is that if we took the meadows of America and turned them all into back gardens, we would grow about four times the amount of fruit and vegetables we currently consume. So we could totally transform our food system simply by transforming lawns into gardens. I find it inspiring and I think it's one of the things that are emerging right now that gives me a lot of hope.
Another thing that is emerging right now is that we are discovering that we can do without flying so much. Personally, I flew a lot, like every week or two, I went somewhere. Now suddenly, for the past few months, I've been home. I am finding that I have much more free time when I am not traveling and that my mental space and emotional space are clear because I am here and I am having more time with my family. And I have more time, honestly, more time to work, because I work online, so I am able to do it and my company continues to grow and respond to the times in the best possible way. I am so grateful for this learning, that perhaps all this buzz is not necessary and perhaps we can do very well by staying in place more. From a climatic point of view, it is a big problem.
Vicki Robin: Absolutely. Well, you know I'm 100% on the same page with not flying. I am so happy not to be on the plane and even in the garden gardening; you don't even have to deal with the farm bill. It is a great disintermediation. It is a fantastic way for people to regain their power. It is so direct. There are so many things we can support in this. I just want to thank you, Ocean, for this incredibly profound reflection on this simple question of: What could be fine? So, blessings, my friend, and thank you.
Ocean Robbins: Thanks a lot, Vicki. What a good question. How nice to be, I'm so grateful. We are all so lucky, everyone who is here right now. Thank you for being part of one of the most important conversations that are going on right now. How can we bring something beautiful out of the pain and suffering of our times? How can we make something worthy of it, that pain is not in vain, that suffering is not in vain, and no one who dies, his death must be in vain. We all learn. We all grow up. We all do something. And we, you know, is what's going on. So thank you for your part, Vicki. Thank you for your brilliant, exquisite, intelligent and creative leadership and for helping us all do our part.
Vicki Robin: Thanks.