For those who missed the Food Revolution Summit last week, I offer this post on the “food awakening”: food allergies & the state of our food, based on one of the most important speakers & topics of the summit. Robyn O’Brien’s program: “The Food World is Changing, FAST” – John Robbins of the Food Revolution interviews Robyn O’Brien.
Robyn O’Brien, a financial & food industry analyst, who’s life took an unexpected turn when her daughter was stricken with an allergy-induced illness. She was compelled to begin an honest look at our food system, which led to founding AllergyKids & becoming a leading force in the food movement today, becoming what the New York Times called “food’s Erin Brockovich”. She spreads the word about food allergies…. on her extremely popular TED talks, books, magazine columns, Twitter, & online advocacy.
For those of us not aware of what’s going on in schools these days, Robyn wakes us with some disturbing information. In the 1960s, less than 2% of America’s kids had a chronic health problem, while it’s 25% today. In nurses offices, there are ‘EpiPen walls’, or whole walls of little pockets, with names, where everybody can stick their epi-pens. An EpiPen is a device to give a shot of adrenaline to somebody who’s having an allergic attack.
“There are all kinds of issues that we are talking about now that weren’t even existent 5 or 10 or 15 years ago. Just recently we have had articles coming out talking about kidney stones in kids. Again, what is happening to the health of this generation of children.”
This generation is Generation Rx, so called because of the high rates of asthma, autism, allergies. Robyn asks “How is this going to impact productivity in the work place today when parents are dealing with all of these conditions in kids? How is this going to impact productivity in our workplace tomorrow…? And what can we be doing right now to try to address these issues to stop the runaway rates of these conditions?”
A food allergic reaction sends someone to the emergency room once every three minutes in the United States. When a person moves to the US, their chances of developing food allergies & related diseases & cancer increases.
Any industry goes through evolutions & stages. Robyn looks at the food industry: “What we are quickly waking up to is the fact that these iconic brands from the 20th century, (like McDonalds), run the risk of becoming relics, of becoming completely obsolete if they fail to meet the needs of the 21st century consumer.” It’s not just children dealing with all of these health conditions, diseases, food allergies. All ages brackets are hit. 41% are expected to get cancer in their lifetime.
“That old operating system where we literally swapped all of the real stuff & put in all the artificial stuff isn’t working anymore.” So, food companies have a choice : Hang on to that old operating system & try to market, spin it, & pretend it’s something that it’s not OR just “get it” & meet the 21st century consumers & give them what they want, be part of the new operating system & the new food economy.
I am one of the many, nationwide, who’s life has been made much easier by having healthy food readily available at the nearby expanded King Soopers, so I no longer have to travel to neighboring towns to find healthy, organic food. This has grown very quickly in N Co, as has the number & variety of food products offered. I agree totally with Robyn’s naming of Kroger as the greatest example of a brand that has made that shift, & given consumers what they want: food that’s free from artificial dyes & ingredients & all the extra food additives, & organically grown. Krogers & King Soopers & their Simple Truth brand have made healthy, organic foods of all kinds available to people, everywhere in America. For all of those who say they can’t afford organic food, the Simple Truth brand is often less expensive than the similar conventional products, which contain chemicals, pesticides, food additives, etc. Every ST product that I’ve had has been very good & delicious, superior in every way to the alternatives.
That healthy food category, inside Kroger, went from zero to a billion dollars in revenue, in a 2 year period. They’re now on the cutting edge & leading the change with a fine example. “They have made it so that it is accessible and affordable to all Americans, regardless of where you are, socioeconomically.”
“You take a brand like McDonald’s and right now, still, they really are hanging on to that 20th Century model & thinking that somehow if they come up with a new PR campaign that they are going to be able to sell it to us. What they don’t understand is that we flat out can’t eat that way anymore. Maybe it is a function of food allergies or maybe it is a function of diabetes or maybe it is a function of Celiac. There are so many different reasons that McDonald’s is
getting a veto vote now from somebody in the family or from some friends. Again, it is not anything other than that food system, that operating system flat out doesn’t work for 21st century consumers.”
This opens an extraordinary opportunity in the market place for a company to come in and take this approach: “We get it. We get you, 21st century consumer. We get that you are looking for “free from” food and we are here to meet that demand.” Chipotle has also stepped up to the challenge, making a great menu for allergy families & vegetarians, with food that’s hormone-free & additive-free. As a result profits have taken off for this & other companies offering people “free-from” , compared to the downward spiral of those companies that stick with the old model.
Robyn does not see herself as being against something (such as Monsanto), instead seeing her work as lovefueled action. She’s concerned with the struggling of this generation, the diseases that we’re dealing with, the impact, on our economy & how that ‘s affecting us in the global marketplace. She looks at Monsanto: They are literally in the business of selling chemicals. “So for what they have structured for their shareholders so far, it has been a brilliant business model because they were selling all of these chemicals & realized that if they genetically engineered the seeds in the food to withstand those chemicals, they could sell even more. If you look at their quarterly earnings report, sure enough, the sale of the agrochemical sector inside of that company is the category that is absolutely soaring. So it has been a brilliantly orchestrated business model.”
During this “food awakening”, there are lots of efforts to educate the consumer & teach people about these genetically engineered ingredients, to label them, to ban them. Robyn has the most positive outlook on this situation that I’ve heard or read – She does have hope for our food system: “I truly believe what is going to happen is they just become obsolete. Already we have scientists starting to step forward & say, “the technology is not precise. It’s messy & it’s sloppy & it may be creating these unintended consequences.” I think through this food awakening, what we are starting to see is how do we take the best of what we have with organic agriculture and the wisdom that comes with organic agriculture & how do we marry it with 21st century technology in a way that is safe, in a way that is efficient and in a way that is effective for the global food economy? Because what we are seeing is that this chemically intensive operating system that Monsanto has deployed for the last 20 years, the only people that that has truly been effective for has been Monsanto. As we wake up to the fact that this is the system that we have inherited, let’s be for that smarter food system.”
Read more from the interviewer, John Robbins, & the interviewee, Bobyn O’Brien:
Robyn O’Brien is not the most likely candidate for an anti-establishment crusade. A Houston native from a conservative family, this MBA & married mother of four was not someone who gave much thought to misguided government agencies & chemicals in our food—until the day her youngest daughter had a violent allergic reaction to eggs, & everything changed. The Unhealthy Truth is both the story of how one brave woman chose to take on the system & a call to action that shows how each of us can do our part & keep our own families safe.
O’Brien turns to accredited research conducted in Europe that confirms the toxicity of America’s food supply, and traces the relationship between Big Food & Big Money that has ensured that the United States is one of the only developed countries in the world to allow hidden toxins in our food—toxins that can be blamed for the alarming recent increases in allergies, ADHD, cancer, & asthma among our children. The Unhealthy Truth is a must-read for every parent—and for every concerned citizen—in America today.
“Here, the man who started the “food revolution” with the million-plus-selling Diet for a New America, boldly posits that, collectively, our personal diet can save ourselves and the world. If, according to chaos theory, the beating of a butterfly’s wing can cause a hurricane in another part of the world, try this out for chaotic cause and effect: monarch butterflies are dying in droves due to genetically-engineered corn growing in the Midwest. There is also a direct correlation between the Big Mac in your hand & the mile-wide river now running across the North Pole. Learn the truth about foods we are eating that are, in Robbins’ words, “unsafe on any plate.”