Wednesday, October 15, 2008

An Interview with John Robbins (Part 1)

From Supreme Master Television, Episode 179 and 186 (Originally in English)

Today on our show, we have a very special guest. Mr. John Robbins is the bestselling author of "Diet for a New America" and his new book "Healthy at 100." John Robbins is the only son of the founder of the largest ice-cream chain in the world, Baskin Robbins. Instead of inheriting the overwhelming wealth and privilege of this ice-cream empire, Mr. Robbins chose to disavow his inheritance and become a vegan activist. He published his Pulitzer Prize nominated book, "Diet for a New America" in 1987 in order to showcase the problems of factory farming and to encourage others to follow a plant-based diet. Within five years following publication of his book, beef sales in the United States dropped by nearly 20%. Since that time, he has traveled throughout the world speaking and writing about all aspects of healthy living, including writing numerous other bestselling books. We are honored to share with you his inspiring example of healthy living. Mr. Robbins shares with us his profound thoughts and inspiration which followed the publication of his first book, "Diet for a New America." Let's now join Mr. John Robbins.

Interviewer: In "Diet for a New America," you do a very thorough research on the environmental, social and health impacts of animal production for food. Could you speak a little bit about the values in relation to our food choices, and the impact that might have on the people around us?

John: That's a great question. Most often when people buy food at the market, restaurant or the fast food store, they don't really think about it except for how much it costs and how it tastes. Maybe they think a little bit about what it's going to do to their waistlines and that's usually about it. But there are so many more consequences, from the choices we make, on our health that we don't tend to think about, and also the health of the world.

The Impact of Our Food Choices

On the environment, on the people who are involved in food production, there are social implications, there are enormous consequences to the way we as a culture eat, the way we as a community prepare our food, the way we as established individuals share our food; and I've tried to enlarge people's thinking around it, make people more aware that there is an animal involved.

For example, if you're eating meat, drinking milk, eating cheese, or any kind of animal product, there is an animal at one end of the system. What happened to that animal? How was it treated? Because modern meat production has developed in a particular way that makes for profit, for agribusiness, but it makes for enormous suffering for the animals involved. They are confined in what are called intensive conditions that often give the animals no more space than their body requires; they're in cages the size of their bodies. They would actually have more space if you stuffed them into the trunk of a sub-compact car and kept them there. They can't move at all, and that's the point. Because if the animal can't move, it can't, so to speak, waste calories in movement. So it's profitable but it's horribly cruel.

Modern factory farming is unbelievably cruel. It violates the instincts and the needs that are basic to the animal. I'm talking about cows, I'm talking about chickens, I'm talking about turkeys, and I'm talking about pigs, veal calves. All the animals that are involved in modern meat production are treated by large scale animal agriculture as if they had no needs of their own, as if they weren't living beings; they're just commodities in a supply chain. The fact that they have any kind of instinct and need for space, for movement, any kind of social needs, any kind of need, not to be in abject pain, is not part of the equation. So as consumers, we need to grasp that as the reality, and we have to ask, "Is eating products from systems like that in alignment with our values?"

If we are people who want there to be peace on Earth, we want to begin with ourselves. If we are people who want there to be less suffering in the world, then we want our lives to contribute to less suffering. If we are people who want the world to be a thriving, prosperous place for all kinds of creatures, then what are we doing to our bodies, what are we doing to the Earth, and what are we doing to the entire Earth community when we eat food that's produced in that way? I think it's a violation of the human-animal bond, I think it's a violation of our own spirits. I know it's absolutely devastating to the animals that are involved, and I can't ignore them. I can't sit down to eat and think, "Oh, it comes from the butcher," and not remember the eyes of cows I've looked into. Not remember cats and dogs I've loved and thought, "Well, why do we make this interesting distinction?"

In this culture, we tend to do this. We call some animals pets, we love them, we lavish our care on them, and we often experience that they are part of our families; it's quite beautiful actually. But then in another group of animals, we call them dinner; and by virtue of that distinction, we feel that it is acceptable to visit upon those animals any matter of cruelty as long as it lowers the price per pound. What level of distinction are we operating there? Does that line go right through our hearts and split us in two? I think so.

My work has been very much about awakening people to the reality that how animals are treated in meat production and in food production is something we need to consider if we want our food choices to be in integrity with our hearts. If we want our lives to be a statement of compassion, not cruelty, then we need to look at the choices we're making and what really are the consequences.

I: So the thing that was so beautiful about "Diet for a New America" is you presented very thorough research on the environmental impact, and the greater community that many don't think of. Can you speak a little about environmental sustainability relative to food choices because that was a very enlightening thing for me when I first read your book?

Simple Living So Others May Simply Live

J: Thank you! Many people today want to lead more Earth friendly lives or want to create lifestyles that are in harmony with the planet, that don't consume egregious levels of resources, that don't create disastrous levels of pollution. It's becoming ever more obvious that the way we've treated the atmosphere, leading to destabilization of the climate, and in many, many ways our relationship to the Earth as a culture, is completely out of balance. So people are looking for how they can seek to correct that. And it turns out that the food choices that are healthiest for our bodies that lower our cholesterol, that make us the leanest, fittest instruments to operate in, that are kindest to the other animals because they don't have the kind of cruelty that's involved in modern meat production, are also the ones that are environmentally most benign. They consume the least resources. They allow the most of these resources to be available to feed other people. Therefore, they are the most honest and effective answer we have to world hunger issues. And they are ecologically the obvious, virtuous thing to do.

I'll give you an example. It takes sixteen pounds of grain to make the average pound of feed live beef. And virtually all the grain eaten in the United States is feed live beef; and in all modern industrialized countries too. Sixteen pounds of grain to make a pound of beef, that's the feed conversion ratio. Well it only takes one pound of grain to make a pound of whole wheat bread or to prepare a pound of rice. We're wasting the other fifteen pounds. It's just basically going into manure which doesn't get used as a fertilizer because that's how the system has gone out of whack; it just becomes a pollutant in the water table. What happens when you eat lower on the food chain, you eat a more plant-based diet, you move in a vegetarian or vegan direction, you are in effect consuming far less resources, and therefore there is less water pollution, there is less air pollution, there is less soil erosion, there are fewer greenhouse gases involved.

Basically you have a lighter footprint on the planet and you are taking a step with that footprint that leads other people. We are such social creatures around our food, and when you take a step that is honoring the Earth, that's living simply so others may simply live, that's honoring all of our children's right and need to have a livable planet in the future, that's honoring all of our rights and needs to have a stable climate in the future. And you're doing that with a food choice that's also healthy for your body and that is also kinder for the animals. You're in a state of integrity and you're in a state of clarity about who you are and what you want your statement to the world to be through the way you live. And you want that to be a statement of consciousness, conscience, compassion and care. Or do you want to be like unfortunately most people in the modern world and let it be a statement merely of convenience and unfortunately that translates into indifference to the planet, to the animals and in fact, to your own health needs?

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