Donna Quesada: So, we have the reason, concerning our health, and the reason concerning our environment…
Of course, my personal reason for making the plant-based diet choice many years ago, was for the animals.
Ocean Robbins: Absolutely. I wrote a book called 31 Day Food Revolution. It came out early in 2019, and as I was researching it, I got to spend some time with a man named Craig Watts. He was a chicken farmer in North Carolina. Craig had inherited some land out there, and he turned it over to become a big Purdue Chicken Pharma operation. And he was an award-winning producer.
Over 20,000 birds in a couple of barns. And he followed all the rules. He did exactly what Purdue said to do. They provided him with the feed, the technology, the instructions. The baby chicklets. He raised them and then sold the meat to Purdue. He had to do some pretty dreadful things. He was forbidden by contract from ever opening the windows. From ever letting the chickens see any natural light. Because fresh air or natural light could stimulate them to move more and that would be bad for the feed conversion ratio. They were given about the amount of space as a laptop screen. A little less per bird. There are birds that have a natural wingspan of three feet. None of them could even spread their wings as they got older. And they were bred to be morbidly obese. So much so, that they couldn’t even walk. Like, if you took a human infant, and by six months, they would weigh 600 pounds. That’s the ratio on which these birds have been bred. Massively overweight.
So, they couldn’t walk and they would sit in their own feces…. and the feces of generations of birds before them. It’s only cleaned after every few generations of chickens. So, they are sitting in poop. They have developed sores. Their feathers fall off. Five percent of the birds were dead before it was time to kill them. So, there’s dead bodies around these warehouses. The place absolutely stinks. They all have sores. They are losing feathers and they are morbidly obese. And this is where our meat is coming from.
So, Craig felt terrible about having to do this. But he was trying to stay afloat and make a living in a cut throat industry. And then he sees Jim Purdue of the Purdue Family on television in an ad, saying “We take good care of our birds and they are happy and they are healthy because that makes good meat.” Craig said “Oh my gosh. I’m no doctor and I’m no vet but I can tell you one thing… these birds are not healthy… And I’m not a psychologist, but they are not happy… And I’ll tell you a third thing… ‘I’m no liar.’ And if I don’t say something, then I am lying by letting this ad go out.”
So, he invited Compassion in World Farming, which is an animal rights group, to come on in and bring cameras and film his operation. His award-winning operation, which was inspected by Purdue every single week, by the way. This wasn’t the case of an undercover operation documenting a few bad apples. This was an award-winning producer inviting the cameras in, to see how his farm operates. And the video went viral, and got millions of views, and it ended up being shown on National Television.
And he picked up the birds and he showed the situation. He showed the misery. Of course, he couldn’t show the smell, but we can imagine. And it ended up not making Purdue too happy. They tried to punish him in a bunch of different ways. Within a year, he ended up selling his operation, and getting rid of all the chicken farms, instead. Now, he grows crops on his land. He’s had a career change. Craig Watts now coaches factory farmers to be able to transition to healthier and more sustainable methods. Whether it’s healthier ways of producing animal products, or transitioning, as he did, away from meat all together. This is an extraordinary man with extraordinary courage, who risked his livelihood and his life and the only career he ever had, to take a stand for his principles and his values… and to share the truth with all of us. He’s one of my heroes.
And Craig is just one of many in this industry who are sick and tired of the status quo… who are saying they don’t want to participate in this cruelty, though many of them have to. But, as consumers… we absolutely have to recognize that our food choices have an immense impact, not just on our health, not just on our planet, but also on animals. And being human, I think being humane is part of our very nature and our very DNA. No one likes to see animals being raised for food, tortured. And yet, that’s what we have today. So, my passion is sharing this truth and that, it’s another profound reason. As you mention for you, it’s the primary reason that you may want to avoid the consumption of animal products.
DONNA: You know, Howard Lyman comes to mind. I don’t know if you know his story. Mad Cowboy, or something like that, was the name of his book. He was a cattle farmer and ended up taking a similar path. He became disgusted with what he witnessed, and if memory serves me correctly, Oprah had him on her show. But the cattle farmers sued because of the taboo about having this kind of conversation. I don’t know if you remember that story…
OCEAN: I do. Absolutely. I do. Howard was a friend of mine and they did sue and they sued Oprah for 20 million dollars which was a lot of money at that time. She could have just paid it off and been done with it. She said, “No, I’m going to fight this in court,” and she moved her show to Amarillo, Texas, for several months.
Unfortunately, there was a gag order, so we still don’t know a lot of what happened in that courtroom. But we do know that in the end, Oprah and Howard Lyman won. Because Oprah had said on her show that she was never going to eat another burger after hearing some of the things Howard had to say. He was a former cattle rancher. They called it food disparagement. The value of beef futures dropped a bunch after the show. So, these folks in the cattle industry said Oprah was to blame. When she came out on the court house steps after the trail was over, she said, “free speech not only lives, it rocks.” So, I think we can be really grateful that Oprah took that step.
We also recognize that for someone who does not have her level of financial resources, it can be very difficult to stand up to these industries. Because they are powerful and they are entrenched. They have tentacles throughout our entire political world. It’s no accident that it’s Iowa where the entire political process starts for every presidential election. It’s dominated by the factory farm industry. And so, we have government subsidies in place. Tens of billions of dollars of tax payer money that’s going to subsidizing, essentially, high fructose corn syrup, factory farmed animals, Wonder bread, Twinkies… had 14 subsidized ingredients, courtesy of the U.S. tax payer. And then we wonder why it costs so much to eat healthy wholesome foods. Well, guess what folks… it’s because junk foods are being subsidized by us and we’ve got to change that. It’s like you get fined for wearing a seatbelt.
DONNA: Have things changed since your father was first… and for those who may not be aware, your father is John Robbins, Diet for A New America. Have things changed? You are dealing with a younger crowd now. You are dealing with schools; you are dealing with new millennials. What have you seen, in terms of a kind of mood change? Is there a mood of welcoming this kind of shift? Or is there still a taboo about talking about it?
OCEAN: I’m seeing a lot change around food. All over the world, people are sick of being sick. Fed up with toxic food and they are hungry for a change. And they are participating in that change. It can make big things happen very quickly. I find that really exciting. In the last five years we have seen a five-fold increase in the sales of organic foods. Five-fold increase in the natural food sector as a market presence. We’ve seen non-GMO certified foods go from nothing to over 30 billion dollars in sales in the last eight years. Farmers Markets have tripled. Agriculture programs have tripled. More and more people care about where their food comes from… how it’s produced. Americans who identify as vegan have increased four-fold in the last decade. The number of Germans saying they are on a low or no meat diet is at 22%.
All over the world, people are making changes and they care and they are taking action. I think we are just getting started. But there is no question that the younger you are, the more open you are to bold changes in relationship to food. Because we see the status quo is toxic. I think the corporate food industry has lost the trust of the American consumer. I think that people don’t trust even some of the most treasured brands anymore…General Mills, Coca Cola, McDonalds…. These are increasingly seen as maybe unhealthy splurges. People still like them. They like the taste, but they feel a little bit guilty when they are eating there. Whereas, there used to be that there was none of that guilt.
Now, I’m not a fan of guilt. I’m not trying to make anybody feel guilty, but I do think we need knowledge, so that we can make wise choices. And I’m excited about how the spread of knowledge is empowering more and more people. There is that old science experiment. If you put a frog in boiling water it jumps out. If you put a frog in luke warm water, and heat it up, it will stay there until you save it. And I think young people are more like frogs that have been dropped into the boiling water. And typically, are more passionate… more disturbed by the status quo. They are more willing to make bold and radical changes. They are less invested in the ways of eating, and living, and thinking, that have gotten them this far. That said, pain pushes and vision pulls. And for a lot of older folks, it is the pain of the standard American diet bringing about the standard American diseases that is pushing people to make bold changes.
So, I find that younger people are more passionate about the welfare of animals and the future of our planet’s survival. And older folks are more concerned about their own health and their own survival. That kind of makes sense, of course. Because young people think they are going to live forever. And older folks know they won’t. And it’s the reality that more teens or twenty somethings aren’t really worried about things like cancer and heart disease. They may be worried about weight issues because tragically weight issues are impacting people at younger and younger ages. Sometimes, even in Kindergarten. But a lot of the health ailments take time to set in. And so, we are, more and more, seeing younger folks getting passionate about changing the world. And older folks getting passionate about saving their lives.
DONNA: Two of the counter arguments that I have gotten throughout the years, when I used to cover these issues more in my own classes, have to do with over population. How can we ever compete? The more people become vegetarian… they say it doesn’t compare with the number of people being born. Countries that don’t have the where withal to educate on these issues. So, how can we compete with that? We’ll never keep up with the growing numbers. What do you say to that?
OCEAN: Well, feeding the world is one of the most paramount challenges before us and it’s going to get worse, in some respects. The human population is expanding, but our arable farm land and our stores of underground water are also shrinking. And this creates an alarming collision course, especially when you consider that it’s exacerbated by the growing threat of climate change. So, just to give one really chilling statistic, according to United Nations researchers, the amount of arable farmland on planet earth, between 1955 and 2050 is estimated to be reduced by 50%.
So, we are on course for having lost half of our farm land in the course of just one century. And we are more than halfway there. And what does that mean for future generations?Well, it’s alarming. And you add to that all of the people that are dependent on water to grow food, who don’t get enough rain in their climate… they need to pump it from the ground. And you look at the fact that over a billion people are dependent every day for their water, on aquifers that are seriously being depleted faster than they are replenishing. And another billion people are dependent on Himalayan run off from glaciers which are melting and may not be around in a couple of decades. So, this is pretty concerning stuff.
And you add the threats of climate change and droughts and floods that are being precipitated by it. And we face some serious concerns. We could be looking at a world where billions of people are going hungry in the next generation or two. So, what do we do about that? Which is always my point. We have to face the facts, but we also have to create possibility, right? And the biggest thing we can do by far, is to eat further down the food chain. And let me explain why…
Recently a group of scientists studied a group of 110,000 farms in 114 countries around the world. They looked at all their growing practices, and inputs and outputs, They ended up concluding that meat production is using up over 80% of agricultural land on the planet. They concluded that just theoretically, if the entire world went vegan, we would save as much land as the entire land mass of the United States, China, India, The European Union and Australia, combined. That’s how much land we would free up just by making that one pivot from the modern standard diet to being vegan. Now, you don’t have to go vegan to move in that direction and make a profound difference. The reality is that any time you move up the food chain. You have a lot of waste because cows eat grain, soy beans or even grass. And they don’t just turn them into calories that we can eat. They turn it into hood and hide and bones and manure and energy that they use to live. And all of that represents waste in the food supply.
So, it takes about 12 pounds of grain or soy to create one pound of beef in the United States. It takes vast amounts of acreage. When you put all that together, you realize that livestock are devouring the planet, essentially. And we’re feeding it to them. And then when we eat them, we are at the top of a food chain that is leaving a trail of devastation in its wake. In the state of California, where I live, we have drought issues. We had some rain recently, but you never know when the next drought will come. We have 38 Million people and we don’t have that much water here. Turns out we use more water in animal agriculture than all of the cities and governments and businesses. All the civilian uses combined. In fact, we even export more water every year, in the form of alfalfa, that we send off to China for their livestock, than the entire city of San Francisco uses.
If you are interested in saving water… yes, you can take shorter showers, and you can turn off the water when you are brushing your teeth. And you can not wash your hair, and those are all lovely things that help, but the biggest thing you can do by far, is to eat less meat. It takes about 2000 gallons of water to produce one pound of feed lot beef in the United States, today. That’s a stack of gallon jugs almost half a mile high just to produce one pound of feed lot beef. Newsweek said that the amount of water that would go into a fully-grown steer would float a naval destroyer. So, when you look at these facts, you realize that if you care about water… if you care about soil… if you care about the preservation of agricultural land… the ability to feed future generations… there are all wonderful reasons to eat lower on the food chain.
DONNA: What stops us? Is it psychological? Political? All of the above. Social?
OCEAN: Well, there is a lot of habit going on. When you’ve always done things a certain way, it’s very familiar and easy. The path of least resistance. So often, it’s what’s familiar. Which is why I think we need to rewire our brains to love healthy foods. We need to love foods that love us. It’s not just about animal products, by the way. It’s also about sugar and processed foods. If you’ve ever been on the wrong end of a bag of cookies or potato chips… if you have ever found yourself obsessing about food or thinking about it… you might actually have a food addiction. This is a bio-chemical reality. It’s why over two-thirds of our population is over-weight or obese. Not because people aren’t concerned about how they look. We have an appearance obsessed culture. It’s because people are literally not the master of their own food lives.
Most of us actually don’t author our own food choices. They are authored for us by habit and the junk food industry that has become masterful at hooking us on a lifetime of addiction to processed food products. The good news is, you can change that. When it rains, water flows into grooves. And over time they become gullies and creeks and eventually river beds. Eventually you can get something like the Grand Canyon, but it didn’t start out like that.
Any time you want to form a new habit, the key is to form a new groove. A pathway for success. And what will ultimately shape your destiny isn’t your willpower. It’s your habits. It’s what you do when you are on auto-pilot. When you are not thinking. When you are not trying. We only get a relatively small amount of will power a day. And how we use that will power best, I think, is not to fight bad habits. It’s to create new ones.
The best time to repair a roof is when the sun is shining. The best time to forge new habits is not when you are stressed out and feeling hungry at the end of a long day. It’s when you have a little extra gas in the tank. It’s on the weekend. It’s when you have some extra space. That’s the time to do your shopping. That’s the time to get your shopping list together. That’s the time to cook in quantity, and get a big pot of legumes going. That’s the time to get your veggies stocked up. That’s the time to come up with some nice new recipes that you can enjoy.
Read and Watch Part III Here: Awaken Interviews Ocean Robbins Pt 3 – Healing, Transformation, and Awakening