John Robbins, the son of Baskin-Robbins founder Irv Robbins, decided to put something other than ice cream on his father’s iconic pink tasting spoon. His 1987 ground-breaking book, Diet for a New America, widely considered the “Vegetarian Bible,” forever changed the way people view their health, the environment, and eating animals. Twenty-five years later, Mr. Robbins agreed to an interview for Kirschner’s Korner to share some of his experiences and advice.
In Diet for a New America, you discuss the moral imperative of eating plant-based foods. How do you recommend people effectively communicate this message to others? How did your family react to your decision? What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned in your own advocacy?
My family of origin at first reacted defensively. My mother proclaimed that my only motive in writing Diet for A New America was to hurt my father and her. When I stayed with them, she refused to prepare any meals that weren’t meat-based. When I offered to make my own dinner, she announced: “You will not cook tofu in my kitchen.”
But in time they came around a good deal, in no small part because my father developed serious health problems and his cardiologist told him he should read my book.
In communicating with others, I think it’s crucial to remember something that Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: “You have no moral authority with those who can feel your underlying contempt.”
At the same time, I’ve learned not to waste my effort with those who are determined not to hear. Some people aren’t ready. It’s discernment to notice that, and to apply your efforts where they will be more readily received.
In The Food Revolution, you discuss the inhumane conditions animals endure on factory farms. Recently, legislators passed laws further restricting access to factory farms to prevent the filming of undercover videos documenting abuse. How do we solve the problem of factory farming?
People are waking up to what is being done to farmed animals. Very few people condone what is being done, but the industry does everything it can to cover it up. There are some wonderful sanctuaries for animals who have been rescued from factory farms. Often, when people visit them, they are changed, and motivated thereafter in new and important ways.
In No Happy Cows, you discuss the negative impact of factory farms on people, the environment, and animals. Specifically, you suggest our government should subsidize healthy foods instead of unhealthy ones. What can people do to hold our government and these companies accountable to achieve this important objective?
Keep reading and learning about what is actually taking place. The more informed you are, the better able you will be to speak about what is happening in ways that people will respect.
Many environmentalists, vegans, and animal rights activists often get discouraged by the negative impact of factory farming on the planet, human health, and the lives of animals. Can you share any progress in these areas that will give them hope that their advocacy makes a difference?
I don’t do it because I hope it will make a difference. I do it because I feel a moral imperative to do so. If I had to achieve results to know I was on track, I wouldn’t be listening to my inner compass, but would be a creature of what is popular in the moment.
You have to be willing to be out of step with public opinion. This was true of the founders of the U.S. – most colonists were content with dependence on England. It was true of Abraham Lincoln – most Northerners didn’t want black to be free or equal. It was true of Susan B. Anthony – even most women at the time weren’t in favor of women voting. And it is true today. If you are going to be a voice for the great heart, you can’t be a creature of the current fads.
Seldom do we see so much experience and advice so succinctly and sagely presented. It reminds us why John Robbins is John Robbins–a legendary humanitarian, hero to millions of people, and eminently respected pioneer in the animal advocacy movement. Learn more from Mr. Robbins on why he became a vegetarian and how you can take a stand for compassion. You might also be interested in volunteering for his non-profit organization, Earth Save, created to help people make healthy food choices.
“Your life does matter. It always matters whether you reach out in friendship or lash out in anger. It always matters whether you live with compassion and awareness or whether you succumb to distractions and trivia. It always matters how you treat other people, how you treat animals, and how you treat yourself. It always matters what you do. It always matters what you say. And it always matters what you eat.” ― John Robbins, The Food Revolution: How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and Our World