At the opening of his lecture, Ocean Robbins described witnessing the inspiration he had drawn from his own plant-loving parents reflected in the eyes of his son. Ocean said, “My son’s name is River. People always want to know what Ocean is going to name his son,” and next to me someone whispered, “Now we know…another body of water.”
Ocean was born to yoga-practicing, kale-growing parents John and Ida Robbins on a small island cabin off of the Canadian coast. However, the Robbins name was not always so emblematic of tree-hugging bohemians. After John rejected his father’s commercial throne as founder of Baskin Robbins, the ice-cream-shaped pool of his childhood became a metaphor for the inherited future he chose to abandon.
The true bodies of water personified by Ocean and River Robbins symbolize the contagious flow of John’s enlightened mission to weave the nutritional and environmental ethics of a plant-based lifestyle into the American conscience. After publishing a bestselling book on the subject, “Diet for a New America,” John was joined by Ocean in a project called “Food Revolution,” which involves spreading the message of plant-based enlightenment through lectures and social media. This movement has inspired the emergence of an entirely new vegan population, including influential icons such as Ellen DeGeneres. With such a cultivated childhood, Ocean was destined, much like River, to join his father in continuing this visionary undertaking, bearing the media-invented title “rebel without a cone.”
A member of our own CC community moved by the Robbins’ message, Jackson Foster, has maintained a plant-based lifestyle for the past seven years. In middle school, while microwaving a beef burrito, Foster had a sudden ethical epiphany and became what he calls a “junk food vegetarian.” Cold turkey.
After high school, Foster took a gap year and began to educate himself on nutrition by travelling to communities who subsisted, by choice or by necessity, on a whole-foods, plant-based diet. After eliminating all processed, or “dead,” food products from his life, Jackson has “not been sick, even with a tiny cold, in the two years I have been on my current diet. I have never once had any trouble sleeping, my skin glows, my endurance and strength increased significantly, I am more alert, focused, and morally proud of my eating habits,” he said.
Foster recently founded CC’s first vegan/vegetarian club, “Plant Strong,” and organized the club’s lecture series, launched last Monday with Ocean Robbins. The term “Plant Strong” does not draw from random inspiration, as I had originally assumed, but comes from the movie “Country Strong.” The movie, popularized by Rip Esselstyn in the promotion of his food brand and book, Engine 2, describes the experience of heart disease-ridden firefighters who he introduced to the healing benefits of plant-based living.
Looking around the room as Ocean spoke, it was clear that most of the attendees were not CC students. Colorado Springs has a wide range of local plant-based communities, including the Vegan Society of Colorado Springs, Nourish Organic Juice, the Manitou Local First Grocer, and the Colorado Springs Vegan and Vegetarian Group.
Clearly engaged by the tenets of “Food Revolution,” one of the most interesting points to come up in the post-lecture dialogue was a popular concern that “big ag,” or industrial agriculture is the only way to feed such a large population. Foster notes how Ocean “articulated beautifully that industrial agriculture is actually the root of almost all hunger issues in the world and that a small-scale, local agricultural system is the only sustainable way to feed the planet.”
For those of you who are considering adopting a plant-based diet, or even if you are skeptical and simply curious about just how radical some of us are, I would encourage you to come to the other lectures in the “Plant Strong” series. Whatever your opinion or lifestyle entails, the speakers in store are undeniably inspirational, beginning with Rich Roll later this month. Roll is a vegan ultra-triathlete who was listed as one of the top 25 fittest human beings by 2009 Men’s fitness magazine, and is part of this lecture series to attract student athletes who believe in animal protein as the holy grail of fuel. Even if you’re intimidated by the kale shirt, try to have an open mind.
Foster says, “There is no doubt I am outspoken relative to the average person, and that is because I am passionate… Food has an intimate relationship with everybody… It is similar to discussing health to a drug addict, who will do all they can to deny, forget, or dismiss the fact that they are involved in a destructive habit.”
As we reach our grubby, developed hands into a global market defined by skewed trends of overconsumption, concerns about food insecurity, factory farming and deforestation are undeniably coming to a head. Whether or not a plant-based diet is the solution, I’ll leave that up to you to decide.