Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles RACHEL O'MARA: Thanks everyone for joining today. Thanks for coming during lunch in San Francisco, and welcome to Authors at Google. My name is Rachel O'Mara, and I'm really excited today to host our author, John Robbins. So John Robbins is the author of nine best-sellers that have collectively sold more than 3 million copies, and been translated into 26 languages. His books include "The Food Revolution," "The Classic Diet for a New America," and most recently, "No Happy Cows, Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Food Revolution." Currently, he is also one of the most bloggers on the "Huffington Post." As an advocate for a compassionate and healthy way of life, John is the recipient of the Rachel Carson Award, the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Award, the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscious Award, Green America's Lifetime Achievement Award, and many other accolades. Well done, John. That's great. The only son of the founder of the Baskin Robbins ice cream empire, John Robbins was groomed to follow in his father's footsteps, but chose to walk away from Baskin Robbins and the immense wealth it represented to pursue the deeper American dream, the dream of a society at peace with its conscience, because it respects the lives in harmony with all life forms. John is the founder and board chair emeritus of EarthSave International, and has served on the boards of many nonprofit organizations. His work has been the subject of feature articles in the "San Francisco Chronicle," the "LA Times," "Chicago Life," the "Washington Post," "The New York Times," the "Philadelphia Inquirer," "Time," "US News and World Report," "Newsweek," and many of the nation's other major newspapers and magazines. His life and work have also been featured in an award-winning hour-long PBS special titled "Diet for a New America," and that's the book we'll be talking about today. John lives with his wife of 45 years, Deo, and their son, Ocean, and his wife, Michelle, and their grandsons River and Bodhi, outside Santa Cruz, California. Their home is powered entirely by solar electricity. John also has a website, www.johnrobbins.info, for more details. So please welcome with me John Robbins. [APPLAUSE] Thank you for being here. Thank you. As was mentioned in your-- thank you for the introduction. I was born into an ice cream company family, Baskin Robbins 31 Flavors. My father and uncle founded the company, owned the company, ran the company. I'm an only son. I have sisters, but no brothers. And my father groomed me to succeed him. That was his plan for my life, that I would one day run Baskin Robbins, which was becoming and became during my childhood the world's largest ice cream company. It's a billion dollar company. And it was assumed that's what I would do. And I loved it. I grew up eating more ice cream-- I don't eat ice cream anymore. And when people find that out, they sometimes look at me as if they're feeling sorry for me, I think. And I say, please don't, please. Really, I ate enough ice cream in my childhood for 20 lifetimes. We had an ice cream cone-shaped swimming pool in our backyard. We had freezers with all of the month's 31 flavors, plus experimental flavors, plus-- it was every kid's dream, in a way, in a way, in that there was unlimited ice cream. I did eat ice cream for breakfast. It's true. It was really gross, actually. There's a shadow side to all that. Ice cream is really not a health food. It's not kale. And you can put some fruit in some of the sherbets, and so forth. It's still basically very high in sugar, and most of the flavors are very high in fat, and the fat is highly saturated fat. It's not healthy. And so people who eat a lot of it have health problems. My uncle, Burt Baskin, my dad's partner and brother-in-law, died of a heart attack at the age of 54. He was a very big man. He ate a lot of ice cream. And when he died, I asked my father, do you think there could be any connection between my uncle's fatal heart attack and the amount of ice cream he would eat? And my father looked at me and very piercingly said no, no, no. His ticker just got tired and stopped working. And the expression on his face and the tone of voice said something else. It said, don't you ever ask that question again. Do you understand what I'm saying? John Bradshaw, the psychologist used to talk about there being "no talk" rules in families, taboo subjects that you just don't talk about in a given family, elephants in the living room that take up a lot of space, but no one mentions it. Because there's some kind of family dynamic at play in which there's not an ability to talk about that topic. In my family, one of the big elephants in the living room was that there could be a connection between ice cream and heart disease, or ice cream and health, or even food and health, that there might be a connection there. Because if you start down that slippery slope-- food and health-- you pretty soon get to ice cream and heart disease. And my father did not want to even consider the possibility that there might be a link. And I couldn't understand why he would not want to. By that time, by the time of my uncle's death, which was in 1968, my father had manufactured and sold more ice cream than any human being that had ever lived on planet Earth. He didn't want to think the family product was hurting anybody, much less than it could have contributed to his partner, his brother-in-law, my uncle's death. But I felt I should. I felt I needed to consider, might there be that link? And the more I looked into it, the more I felt there was. And not just between ice cream and heart disease, but ice cream and diabetes. My father developed diabetes-- serious diabetes-- later on. Everybody in the family had these various issues, problems with weight, everywhere. And want to make it clear, it's not just Baskin Robbins as a company. It's ice cream. You know Ben and Jerry's. Ben Cohen-- marvelous man, peace activist, very engaged person-- big guy, ate a lot of ice cream, co-owned Ben and Jerry's, co-founded it, had a quintuple bypass in his late 40s. These kinds of things tend to happen when you eat a lot of ice cream. And if you're in the ice cream business-- if you're running Baskin Robbins in particular, that's what I would know about-- you want people to buy as much as possible. That's the business model. That's how it works. So you want them to consume as much ice cream as possible. And the reality is, when people eat it in excess, they get these health problems. So I was faced with an existential quandary-- on the one hand, a lot of financial security; on the other hand, my integrity. And I made a choice for integrity. And I told my dad that under the circumstances, I was not going to follow in his footsteps. I was not going to work any longer in the company. And what I specifically said to him was this. I said, dad, we live in a different time now than when you grew up. We live under a nuclear shadow where at any moment the unspeakable could happen. We live in a time when the environment is deteriorating rapidly under the impact of human activities. We live in a time when the gap between the haves and the have nots is increasing. And that does not, to my eyes, create social stability or security for anybody, even the wealthy and privileged. It's undermining the social fabric. We live in a time when 60,000 people on earth, many of them children, die of hunger, die of starvation every day, while elsewhere there's abundant resources going to waste. And then I said to him, dad, do you understand that for me, feeling these issues and concerns as intensely as I do, inventing a 32nd flavor would just not be an adequate response for my life. And he understood to the extent that he could. But I needed to be true to myself, and so I made a choice for integrity and I walked away. And I also walked away from the money. To be in alignment with my integrity and my choices, I needed to have no access to it. And I told him that I didn't want a trust fund. I didn't want to depend in any way, not one dollar, on his fortune, his achievements. And with Deo, my wife-- we've been together 46 years now-- we moved away, and lived very simply, back to the land, built a log cabin, grow our own food. 95% of what we ate for 10 years we grew. And it was a real pendulum swing. In the family I'd grown up in, I jokingly would say, perhaps flippantly would say that roughing it meant that room service was late. Now we were really roughing it, because we were living very simply on land and trying to grow our food and dependent on what we could grow. Eventually I wrote "Diet for a New America," and it became a best-seller. It sold over a million copies, and became something of a phenomenon. I received 60,000 letters-- these are actual letters. This is before email-- from people who read the book and wanted to communicate with me. And almost all of them said, this touched me deeply. How can I get involved? What can I do? And I want to give you a little bit of what I was-- tell you a little bit about what the book says, that so many people felt that they wanted to respond to that way. We just recently came out with a 25th anniversary edition of "Diet for a New America," and that's what we have here today, with a new-- not a preface, but a new epilogue by me, a lengthy epilogue describing what's happened in the interim years. And I will talk a little bit about that too. Basically, something has happened in modern meat production, and dairy production, and egg production, and animal factory industries that most people don't know about, and the industries do not want people to know about. In fact, this year, they are initiating in many state legislatures what are called ag gag bills. This is legislation that makes it a felony to videotape or photograph what takes place in slaughterhouses or feed lots or factory forms. Because there's been a series of exposes where people went undercover working for Humane Society United States, or Mercy for Animals, or Compassion Over Killing, or some other animal protection group-- have gone undercover as workers in these places with hidden cameras, and gotten footage of what takes place. And it comes out, and people who see it are abhorred. They just find it deplorable-- the cruelty, the lack of sanitation. Sometimes there's fines, sometimes there's jail sentences. People get upset. There was a recent one in a California feedlot where one of the largest suppliers of beef for the school lunch programs, and they were breaking all of the rules. We don't have very many rules, but they were breaking all of them that we have. And so the industry doesn't want this kind of footage of getting out. They don't want you to know what's happening.