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John Robbins: Life on the Frontlines of the Food Revolution

Author John Robbins talks about the science of soy, meat production, our "disease care system," and how MLK Jr. influenced his work.

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If we're going to create a sustainable way of life -- a thriving, just and sustainable food system -- we are going to have to eat less meat and less dairy products. We are going to have to go back to traditional cultural cuisines in which food from animals played a small part. We've developed the idea that meat and dairy are the rewards of affluence and we have propagated those beliefs to the rest of the world. There are more Baskin Robbins in Tokyo now than there are in Los Angeles and KFC makes more money in China than it does in the United States. We are destroying entire cultures' traditional cuisines and their relationship to the environment and their food.

We're spreading this like a religion -- it's like the Great American Steak religion -- but it's chicken and dairy, too -- around the world. It's not sustainable and it's producing an egregious concentration of greenhouse gases. It's polluting the air and the water everywhere. It's monopolizing food resources that could be used to feed people directly and I would say it is contributing to increasing hunger in the world. We need to reverse these directions. I think the stakes are dire.

TL: One of the things I really loved about your book was getting people to think not just about their relationships to animals, but their relationships to each other and not judging each other about the decisions they make, but really listening to each other and not being closed off by your own beliefs.

JR: That's very important to me. I've been in this business, if you will, for a long time, I've seen too much of what I call "moral vegetarians" and self righteousness. Dr. King -- I worked with him and marched with him in the '60s, he was a mentor to me -- and one of the things I heard him say is "you have no moral authority with anyone who can feel your underlying contempt." And there has been a great deal of that in the health food world and the vegetarian world and in all progressive causes, which are dear to my heart, but at the same time ... the more passionate you are about something, the more you need to remember to be respectful to people who have different beliefs or different lifestyles.

Why don't we create public policy for people to make it easier for them and less expensive for them to make the healthier choice? Right now it's the other way around -- the cheapest calories in every supermarket are the least healthy and that is the result of public policies.

I don't think people always grasp the significance of their food choices. We know one bite tastes better than another, we know the short-term economics of the different choices. Less conspicuous are the longer-term health implications and even less apparent are the environmental realities and social justice realities and global realities. It happens that the food choices that are often healthiest for us are the ones that are the most benign to the environment. I think as citizens of this planet we need to understand the environmental implications of our choices and make those steps that are consistent with our desire to see a better world, a healthier world, and a world that works for as many people as possible.

Tara Lohan is a senior editor at AlterNet and editor of the new book Water Matters: Why We Need to Act Now to Save Our Most Critical Resource . You can follow her on Twitter @TaraLohan.

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