Dina (left) & Robyn (right) in San Francisco

It was a bright, yet breezy day on the Embarcadero pier in San Francisco on Thursday. I was still buzzing from meeting food activist, Robyn O’Brien a few minutes earlier and knew I was in for a treat. The setting was the patio of The Plant Cafe, an organic restaurant which overlooks the sparkling water. It was an intimate group of food bloggers at a luncheon sponsored by Stonyfield. The mood was lively and inquisitive, and as we all took our seats, featured speaker Robyn O’Brien stood up to tell her story. To find out how she was transformed from an everyday American mom into “the Erin Brochovich of the food movement,” watch her story in this TEDx Austin video. My blog post today attempts to recapture to essence of Robyn’s message through a series of her quotes.

“I don’t want to hear it and I don’t want to feel guilty”

Robyn’s story starts as a mother of four feeding her kids a standard American diet (of crap or blue yogurt as she explains it). One of her children developed a serious food allergy; fast forward a few years and Robyn is now a crusader for a better food system. Guilt, especially “mommy-guilt” is something Robyn knew well and she didn’t want to hear about how she should be feeding her children better. She joked that when they hand you your baby at the hospital, they may as well hand you a debit card for guilt.

“The best thing you can do is to listen. Find out what their concerns are.”

So how do you get through to people? This is something that the Be Food Smart team constantly thinks about and clearly, we’re not the only ones since this was the first question asked in the Q&A session. Robyn’s approach is a softer one. She told us to first listen. Find out what the concerns are; do family members suffer from diabetes or heart disease? Find some common ground. Once you understand where they are coming from, they’ll be much more apt to listen. Acknowledge the preconceived notions people often have of “healthy” or “organic” food. For example, you could start with this: “I thought it was a hippie thing too until I started researching it and was so surprised what I found…” This approach made so much sense to me and is something I personally will be working on.

“Do it perfectly or not at all. This is not about being perfect.”

For all us over-achieving parents out there, doing things un-perfectly is downright tough. For so many, they feel like if they can’t do it (whatever “it” may be) perfectly, it becomes too stressful and they wind up doing nothing. Robyn reminds us that this is not about being perfect.

“Give people permission to just do one thing. No one can do everything, everyone can do something.”

If fast food is the daily menu, moving to a diet of organic, healthy cuisine will likely seem way too difficult. Most people WANT to eat better and want to be healthy, but they don’t know how, think they can’t afford it, or find it way too daunting. Robyn explains that as we reach out to others, give them permission to do just one small thing. Maybe it’s a simple reduction in the number of times per week they eat fast food or it could be home cooking a meal one night per week. If all of us consistently made small changes to our diets, eventually, we’d all be eating significantly better. As Robyn remarks, “no one can do everything, but everyone can do something.”

“I like the 80/20 rule. 80% of the time do the best you can, but allow for that blue cupcake”

Is it genetically modified? What about pesticides? Organic, sustainable, local? Does it have high fructose corn syrup or trans fats? Questions like these can go on forever and thus, the decisions we face when eating any food can be downright daunting. Robyn’s advice is to do the best you can 80% of the time. Don’t drive yourself crazy and allow for that occasional blue cupcake. I know, this is tough advice for some of us, but being militant gets stressful for the whole family and can often backfire as kids get older.

“Clean and safe food is a human right”

Should we really have to worry about growth hormones in our milk? Do we need artificial colorings, that are shown to cause hyperactivity and attention issues in kids, in our cereal and yogurt? Robyn believes that all humans are entitled to clean and safe food.  If you are in the European Union, GMOs are labeled, you don’t have to worry about dairy growth hormones, and many of the artificial food colorings are banned. This is all because European consumers demanded it. Robyn points out that the food industry produces products differently for other countries based on this consumer demand. The eye opener here is that the food industry already has the technology and infrastructure to make less toxic food. Robyn wants to see Americans getting the same products.

“We need a mommy lobby”

Unfortunately, there are so many forces against a major food revolution. At the top of the list is the almighty dollar, oh, and amazingly powerful food industry lobbyists. In a recent stat, Monsanto spent $1.4 million in lobbying the government in the first quarter of this year alone. Robyn jokes that we need a “mommy lobby.” Imagine millions of concerned mothers demanding that our government provide safe food for our families and persuading the food industry to give us better products. She believes that this is starting to happen. When I asked her what excites her right now, she said it was the awaking she sees across the country.

Are you an advocate for healthy eating? How do you talk to friends, family and others who may not share your enthusiasm? Through what creative ways can we reach those who are not already searching?