Speaking at the recent PlantFit Summit, Ocean Robbins, CEO of the Food Revolution Network, author of 31-Day Food Revolution, and adjunct professor for Chapman University, shared how eating a plant-centered diet can help eliminate many of our agricultural problems and ensure there’s plenty of food to go around.
The grandson of the founder of one of the world’s largest ice-cream companies, Baskin-Robbins, Ocean’s story is an inspiring one. His father, John Robbins, was raised to take over the family empire, but instead made the decision in his 20s to walk away, moving to an island off the coast of Canada with his wife, where together they grew their own food, practiced meditation and yoga and raised their son, Ocean. John and Ocean have made it their life’s mission to educate people around the world on how our food choices can make a difference to our health and the planet’s health.
“According to the United Nations, we only have 60 harvests left on Planet Earth, which is due to the erosion of our topsoil,” said Robbins at the summit. By the year 2050, we will have half the arable land on earth per capita than we had in 1950. “At the same time, we are fuelling climate change and chopping down our forests – which is all fuelled by an unsustainable agricultural system,” he says.
It’s becoming more common knowledge now that greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture (meat, dairy, fertilizer, deforestation and soil disruption) are a bigger problem than emissions from power generation.
“There’s waste every time you move up the food chain,” Robbins explains, stating that it takes 12 pounds of grain or soy to produce one pound of feedlot beef in the United States today. To raise livestock, forest is cleared to create grazing land. Then the land needs to be irrigated, and the animals need to be watered and fed every day. The end result is not just flesh, but also hoof and hide and bones and feathers.
Eating the plants directly, rather than growing them to feed livestock, is so much more efficient for human beings and the planet. “If theoretically the entire human race went plant-based tomorrow, we would free up an area of land equal to all of the United States, China, India, the European Union and Australia combined!” says Robbins.
The importance of topsoil
The earth has many different layers, and topsoil is the top material that we grow our food in. A healthy agricultural system uses plants to absorb carbon dioxide and then captures that carbon in the soil, which builds up over time. Healthy topsoil absorbs water like a sponge: when it rains heavily, instead of a flood, the water is absorbed by the soil. The plants can send their roots deep down, becoming more resistant to drought and not requiring as much water to survive. Healthy topsoil has more nutrients in it, which creates more nutritious food.
“But what’s happening today is land is being poisoned with pesticides, herbicides, GMOs, and all kinds of toxins,” explains Robbins, which is leading to the extermination of bugs and worms, whose job is actually to aerate the soil and regenerate it.
“We’re pumping chemical fertilizers onto our land instead of adding manure, compost and seaweed and the other things that would help it to replenish,” he says. As a result, every time it rains, topsoil is being eroded. “Some of our biggest rivers are brown because they’re full of topsoil that’s washing away from our farmlands, which is happening continuously.”
According to Robbins, if you go from three feet of topsoil to one foot of topsoil, you can still grow food, although not quite as well. We would also be more prone to droughts and floods, as the plants won’t be able to send roots down as deep. Robbins warns that if we deplete our topsoil entirely, however, we won’t have anything left to grow crops in.
“And we are getting perilously close to that, not just in the United States, but in nations around the world because modern industrialized farming practices are depleting the soil rapidly,” he warns. Another important issue is the depletion of aquifers, which is stored up water from centuries and even millions of years in some cases.
The importance of our food choices
But the good news is we can turn this around by eating lower on the food chain.
The same food choices that are healthier for our bodies, a whole foods plant-centered diet, are also better for our ability to feed all of humanity. Our choices also have the ability to stop deforestation and replenish and restore our topsoil and water supplies. When we invest with our food choices in a more sustainable future, we help to ease the burden and stress and contribute to a world where there’s enough for everybody.
By eating this way, Robbins says that we will also contribute to being more fit and vibrant. “You can also say no to heart disease, cancer, type two diabetes, Alzheimer’s and autoimmune disorders, excessive inflammation and brain fog – and all the other problems that are so common today,” he says.
Making a difference
So, what can we do as individuals to contribute in our own communities? Robbins says it’s as easy as opting for or providing healthier foods.
“If you have a restaurant, then you can serve healthier food. If you have a store, you can serve healthier food. If you work in a store or restaurant, you can encourage management to offer healthier options. If you’re in a company, you can encourage the company to serve food to employees that’s healthier. If you’re in a school system, you can contribute to healthier school meals. If you’re a parent, you can contribute to healthier school meals by lobbying and finding out who’s making the decisions in your school food systems,” he urges.
Robbins also suggests getting a farmer’s market going in your community, contributing to community supported agriculture programs where you buy direct from local farmers. You can also support community gardens and can buy from people who are growing their food the right way, using organic regenerative practices.
Robbins challenges us all to find a way to be part of the solution. Maybe it literally means buying the organic tofu next time. “I want you to know that every step you take matters and helps shift the food economy in a healthier direction.”
And step by step, we can change the world.