John Robbins has unequivocally bettered more human and animal lives than any other author. For years, I have admired him and his dedication to advocating for compassionate and sustainable living. The first time we met was in 1997, when I first started my company, (then called Allison's Cookies). Today, I am honored to call John a mentor and friend. With our ultra-busy schedules, it took the better part of this year for us to coordinate this interview. It was definitely worth the wait! I'm thrilled to share with you some unique insights into John Robbins.
Allison Rivers Samson: Many people know that your dad was the Robbins of Baskin-Robbins and that you walked away from that empire in a stand for your ethics and integrity. That was a courageous and bold move in the name of love and compassion. Did your parents support you or did they think you were crazy?
John Robbins: My parents indeed thought I was insane, particularly when I told them I did not want any access whatsoever to their money. They weren't supportive at all, in the beginning, and my mother never really came around. But my father developed very serious health problems, and his cardiologist told him to read "Diet For A New America." When he did, he began to make changes in his diet, and he got results. In the long run, he changed his diet considerably, and got substantial health improvements. By the end of his life, he no longer thought I was crazy, and in fact had become exceedingly proud of me. He still never quite got why I left the money, though. Once he said to me, "Do you know what bothers me the most about you, Johnnie? It's that every single other person I know has their price. Except you." I told him that I would take that as a compliment, although I wasn't entirely sure whether it was intended that way.
ARS: I agree that it was a compliment even if unintended. Countless people have been inspired to become vegan by your seminal work. Who was your inspiration? And how did you step onto this compassionate path? Was it gradual or instant?
JR: Seeing the connections, how moving toward a plant-strong diet so often improved people's health, spared animals unconscionable suffering, greatly lowered our carbon footprint and indeed our entire ecological footprint, while freeing up tremendous amounts of food, land and all the resources that make food production possible, so that we might be better able to feed those who are going hungry.
ARS: Growing up, was writing an aspiration of yours? Did you receive any formal training in writing or is it a natural and practiced skill for you? What sparked your creative impulse to write about the great importance of the vegan diet and lifestyle?
JR: Growing up, I ate ice cream for breakfast, and swam in the ice cream cone shaped swimming pool in our backyard. In my family of origin, it was all about inventing new flavors and making money. But despite the tremendous financial success, it all felt empty to me. One day, when I was about 11, I saw a book titled "Books That Changed The World." Just reading the title made me think that perhaps a book could, in fact, change the world, and I began to dedicate myself to one day writing such a book. It was 30 years later that "Diet For A New America" was published.
ARS: I'd say you more than accomplished that dedication! All of your books and especially Diet for a New America, are beloved best-sellers read widely around the globe. What has been the most rewarding aspect of the success of your message and activism?
JR: Seeing so many people get off their meds, lose weight, feel better, have more energy --- and knowing that the nutritional changes that have given them such greater health and well-being, have also spared millions of animals from misery, and helped us all live with more respect for ourselves, each other, and the whole earth community. But I also know how far we have to go, how much there is yet for us to do, if we are ever to create a human presence on this planet that is socially just, ecologically sustainable, spiritually fulfilling, and that reflects the love in our hearts.
ARS: Your website, blog and books address all the aspects of veganism: health, sustainability and the politics of our food choices. Being a solutions-oriented thinker, what are some politically feasible food policies you would suggest to make a difference in today's food system. And what can individuals do to help them become reality?
JR: We need to label GMOs, and ban the use of antibiotics in livestock raising. It's time to tax junk food and meat, and then to use the revenue to subsidize healthy food. At present, twinkies are cheaper per calorie than carrots. We need to change that. I'd like to see us tax pesticides, and use the income from that to lower to cost to the consumer of organic food. I'd like to see us tax meat sales, and channel the money we raise in that fashion to lower the cost of fresh vegetables. I'd like to see far more farmer's markets, CSAs, and I'd like to see us have a Department of Homegrown Security. Individuals can join the Food Revolution Network -- it's free, and we put on Food Revolution Summits that are also free of charge and have been very productive. In the last year-and-a-half, we've put on three Summits, with a total of more than 150,000 participants.
ARS: John Robbins for President! There is a great strength and power in your family, past, present and future. Your wonderful son, Ocean, has been an activist since he was a young boy and shares a heart-opening and enlightening message. What were your guiding principles as a parent? And how is it for you to witness his role as Father? JR: That's a huge topic, of course. I have a most unusual son, Ocean Robbins. I honestly think we won the lottery when we got him. If you ever get a chance to hear him speak or otherwise become exposed to his work, don't miss it. I've never wanted to impose my agendas on him, but rather to support him in being the human being he came to this earth to be.
ARS: As a parent myself, I know what a tremendous endeavor that is. Do you enjoy preparing food or are there others in your family who are more passionate about that? What's your favorite meal, either elaborate or quick and easy?
JR: I love to cook, but I am so busy that I don't get to do so as much as I'd like. My wife, Deo, does more of the cooking, and I do most of the dishwashing and other cleaning up. I actually enjoy very simple food, with lots of fresh veges. I shop mostly at farmer's markets, and we do grow some of our food. When I go to the food store, my basket doesn't look like the others who are shopping. It's full of vegetables and fruits, with hardly a can or package.
That means a lot coming from you, John, it is truly a pleasure! Thank you so much for giving people a reason to make better choices so that I can be someone who offers solutions that support those choices. John, I am deeply honored that you took the time to talk with me, so I can share you with my readers.
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