LE MAGAZINE

Growing rows in field of vegetables that are recommended by John Robbins in support of whole health

John Robbins

After walking away from the Baskin-Robbins fortune, John Robbins founded an organization to transform food systems to support healthy people and a healthy planet.

Scientifically reviewed by: Dr. Gary Gonzalez, MD, in November 2021. Written by: Laurie Mathena.

Not many people would turn down a billion-dollar family business to help promote the health and wellness of people and the planet.

But that's exactly what John Robbins, presumed heir to the Baskin-Robbins ice cream empire, did when he was only 21 years old.

Instead of profiting from a business that promotes obesity and disease by selling a food high in sugar and saturated fat, Robbins has dedicated his life to helping provide healthy, ethical, sustainable food for people around the world.

He has written 10 books about healthy living that have sold millions of copies, founded EarthSave International, and co-founded Food Revolution Network.

He has made countless TV and radio appearances—including the shows Oprah and Donahue—and has received numerous awards for his humanitarian efforts.

At 74 years old, Robbins is the epitome of good health, showing that eating a plant-based diet, living with purpose, and taking targeted supplements are key elements to an optimal-longevity lifestyle.

Walking Away from the Family Business

Burt Baskin, John Robbins' uncle and co-owner of Baskin-Robbins, died of a heart attack at the age of 54.

When Robbins questioned whether or not there was a connection between the amount of ice cream Burt had consumed and this fatal incident, the reply from Robbins' father Irv, the other co-owner of the business, was a stern "no."

"Different families have different taboo topics that don't get discussed. In my family, it was that there could be any connection between food and health," said Robbins. "My father didn't want to think that the product he was selling was hurting anybody, much less that it could have contributed to the death of his beloved partner. But I was starting to believe that the more ice cream you ate, the more likely you were to have heart disease, diabetes, and obesity."

He was also appalled by the cruelty he saw, first-hand, to the factory-farmed cows used to make the ice cream—animals that were unable to move, covered in flies, and standing in excrement up to their knees.

"I didn't want to make my living from selling a product that was undermining people's health," said Robbins. "I also didn't want to make a living selling a product that was based in such cruelty to animals."

That's why Robbins not only walked away from the family business—but also from any trust fund, or any other reliance on a fortune made from contributing to the poor health of millions.

Instead, over the next 50 years, Robbins built a different kind of empire: one that promoted life and health.

A Legacy Better than Ice Cream

Robbins' father Irv had developed a number of serious health problems, including type II diabetes and hypertension.

"His doctor told him all they could do was juggle his medications, control some of the side effects, and make his few remaining years more comfortable," said Robbins. "But then he also gave him a copy of my book (without knowing the author was his son) and told him that if he was willing to consider making major changes in how he lived, there could be a different outcome."

The book, called Diet for a New America: How Your Food Choices Affect Your Health, Happiness, and the Future of Life on Earth, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 1987 and has been described as the single most eloquent argument for a vegetarian lifestyle ever published.

Irv had never believed in the connection between food and health. But after hearing this recommendation from his renowned cardiologist, he decided to read the book and put his son's health advice into practice.

After just two years, his diabetes had reversed, and his blood pressure had normalized.

By simply making gradual changes to his diet, he no longer needed insulin, diabetic pills, or hypertension drugs.

"He lived another 20 healthy years after that. In the long run I felt I had been able to give him something more important than inventing a 32nd flavor," said Robbins, referring to the famous 31 flavors of Baskin-Robbins.

Now, Robbins is working hard to create success stories like these for people all over the world.

Changing the World One Bite at a Time

In 2012, Robbins teamed up with his son, Ocean, to found Food Revolution Network, an organization dedicated to "healthy, ethical, sustainable food for all."

It has grown to include half a million members, and their goal is to empower individuals and transform food systems to support healthy people and a healthy planet.

Robbins is passionate about educating people about the health consequences of eating processed foods, the cruelty to animals in industrialized feed lots, and the detrimental effects to the earth caused by factory farming.

"The data are clear that the highly processed foods that most of us are eating and drinking cause an enormous amount of physical disease," said Robbins. "On the other hand, we have very convincing data that people who eat whole food, plant-based diets—and who don't eat the factory-farmed meat and the industrially processed food—live longer and healthier. Their lifespan is increased, but even more importantly, their healthspan is increased."

Industrialized farming is also causing enormous consequences to the planet, including the erosion of topsoil, depletion of groundwater, and the emission of greenhouse gases.

But simply eating a healthier diet can promote a healthier planet.

"One study showed that greenhouse gas emissions could be lowered more by eating a plant-based diet than by driving an electric car," said Robbins.

One practical way Food Revolution Network is working to provide healthy food for all is by fighting to end the subsidies that spend tens of billions of taxpayer dollars in ways that bring down the price of white bread, high fructose corn syrup, and factory-farmed animal products.

"These are the very foods that every credible health authority is telling us we should be eating less of. If the government is going to subsidize anything, it should subsidize fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and legumes—the foods that tens of thousands of medical studies are telling us we should be eating more of," said Robbins.

John Robbins' Daily Supplement List

  • Melatonin
  • R-Lipoic Acid
  • Vitamin K
  • Taurine
  • Zinc
  • N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine
  • Algae-based DHA and EPA
  • L-Theanine
  • Vitamin D
  • Ubiquinol
  • Vitamin B12

They are also working to have taxes placed on soda and other grossly unhealthy foods and beverages, and then using the revenue to bring down the cost of healthy foods like fruits and vegetables.

"Steps like this would help make healthy food more affordable, more accessible, and more available to everyone, which is our ultimate goal," said Robbins.

Let Food be Thy Medicine

Robbins is also taking steps to have nutritional education taught in medical schools.

"I once had a Harvard doctor tell me that if food was medicine, he would have learned about it in medical school," said Robbins. "This highlights the total lack of nutritional education in medical schools, which is quite disturbing."

To address this issue, Robbins and his team at Food Revolution Network have joined with The American College of Lifestyle Medicine in a campaign to get nutritional education questions added to the licensure exams given to medical school graduates.

They've gotten more than 1,000 approved questions added to the bank that medical schools can draw from, and these lifestyle medicine questions are already beginning to be used.

The goal is that in the coming years, questions on food and nutrition will come to make up 10% (or more) of the questions that are used.

This would ultimately cause all medical schools to begin teaching food nutrition to their students.

Living a Vibrant Life

Robbins' own personal health journey is just as remarkable as his professional accomplishments.

After walking away from the Baskin-Robbins business, Robbins moved to a small island off the coast of British Columbia, Canada, built a one-room log cabin, and grew most of his own food.

He lived off less than $500 per year.

But long before that, as a child, he had polio and was confined to a wheelchair for a period of time—something that has caused him to never take movement for granted.

For years he ran marathons and competed in triathlons. Now, at age 74, he still loves to hike, work out in his home gym, and do yoga.

He eats the same whole-food, plant-based diet that he promotes with the Food Revolution Network.

"I wake up in a body that's vital and vibrant, and that wants to live, where the energy is expansive," said Robbins.

He also takes targeted supplements for increased healthspan and lifespan.

"Even those of us who work really hard at eating a clean diet are still breathing polluted air and are still surrounded by toxic materials. It's also very hard today to get all your nutrients from food," said Robbins. "Because of this, I see a real role for supplements."

As part of his daily routine, Robbins takes nearly a dozen supplements, including vitamins D, B12, and K, melatonin, R-lipoic acid, N-acetyl L-cysteine, L-theanine, ubiquinol, and more.

When people wonder how making simple food choices—like eating plant-based food instead of factory-farmed meat, or choosing to eat organic—could have such a major impact on their lives and the world, Robbins simply tells them this:

"Everybody needs to eat in order to live, and every bite you take is essentially a vote. You're voting for the health you want and for the world you want. The votes you cast with your food choices literally change the course of your destiny and have a powerful impact on the future of life on earth.

"In addition to improving your lifespan and healthspan, you're contributing to a world with fewer animals being tortured in factory farms, less erosion of our topsoil, and less depletion of our groundwater. You'll be helping to create a world that will be healthier and more beautiful for future generations."

If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.

To learn more about Food Revolution Network, visit www.foodrevolution.org

John Robbins has written 10 books on healthy living that have sold millions of copies and been translated into 30 languages. He founded EarthSave International and co-founded Food Revolution Network with his son, Ocean. He has been a keynote speaker at conferences sponsored by Physicians for Social Responsibility, the United Nations Environmental Program, UNICEF, and more. He has appeared on national shows including Oprah, Donahue, and Geraldo. And he is the recipient of the Rachel Carson Award, the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Award, the Peace Abbey's Courage of Conscience Award, and lifetime achievement awards from groups including Green America.