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Robyn O’Brien Seeks Answers to Tough Questions About Our Food
Becoming a nationally-recognized advocate for the impact of food on kids, the benefits of organic and just plain healthy eating didn’t come naturally for Robyn O’Brien.
“Growing up in Texas, I wasn’t food aware,” says the now Boulder (CO)-based wife and mother of four. “We never talked about organic. My mom really shouldered all the food preparation in our house. In college I lived on Diet Cokes and fat free processed food. I realized as an adult I didn’t know how to cook.”
All of that changed dramatically in 2006 when her infant daughter, Tory, had a terrifying allergic reaction to eggs at breakfast that left her face swollen shut, causing Robyn to rush the baby to the pediatrician. “I didn’t even recognize it as a food allergic reaction,” recalls Robyn, who at the time was a high-powered, food industry financial analyst.
From that day on, food issues — the food itself, not food company financials — became Robyn’s life. The whip-smart MBA read everything about food she could get her hands on, wrote a bestseller book (The Unhealthy Truth), delivered a 2011 TEDx talk viewed more than a million times, and became a sought-after food industry advisor, public speaker and media personality. She has been called “food’s Erin Brockovich” by The New York Times.
Today, Robyn can cite statistics about the alarming rise in emergency room visits and hospitalizations caused by food allergies. She also urges food companies, the government and other researchers to look more closely at the possible connection between health issues and food concerns such as pesticides, GMOs, artificial colors and other artificial ingredients.
“We can’t wait for someone else to fix the food system,” says Robyn. “I realized that if I don’t start to speak out, who will? What becomes of our kids? We spend $2.3 trillion on health care. It’s tearing us apart in so many ways, on both sides of the aisle, regardless of your politics. Ultimately, our future depends on the health of our children.”
Robyn says food and farm policy needs to encourage the growth of organic and regenerative agriculture. “The most pressing food issue we face is that we don’t have a reliable supply chain for organic given how quickly demand for it is growing,” she explains. “Less than 1 percent of U.S. farmland is certified organic. As a result, we’re importing 70 percent of our organic soy, and 40 percent to 50 percent of our organic corn. We have to grow organic here in the U.S. for our farm economy. Organic is good for families, farmers and soil. It’s a job and revenue creator. But right now, we are handing that economic upside to other countries.”
Since we can’t all be public dynamos like Robyn, what can the rest of us do to help improve the food system? “Start small,” she recommends. “Create book clubs to read books about food. Or movie clubs that watch and discuss movies about food. Host a talk on food at your kid’s school. Or email your members of Congress — let them know food issues matter to you.”
Plus, she adds, don’t overlook praising food companies that take positive steps. “The power of ‘thank you’ is huge,” Robyn says. “When a big company drops artificial colors or GMOs, or labels GMOs, thank them. Thank a restaurant and let retailers know when you like the steps they take with their food. The power of thank you creates more positive change.”
With four children ages 11 to 16 still at home, a husband who works fulltime, and a career that requires travel, constant research, and efforts to redirect Big Food and Ag, one could think that Robyn will get tired or need to step back on her activities. But don’t underestimate this feisty Texas native.
“My work week is massive,” she acknowledges. “There is a lot of consulting and advisory work and a lot of time given to the causes that are closest to me. I left a career that I adored in investments and Wall Street for this. I couldn’t have imagined that I would love this more, but I do. I love this more!”
You can follow Robyn O’Brien on Facebook: @robynobrienUSA
The ideas and suggestions written above are provided for general educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice or care. The contents of this article are not intended to make health or nutrition claims about our products. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider before beginning any physical fitness or health and nutrition related activity.