July 15, 2010

As Bombs Burst: The Importance of Being You. ~ Robyn O’Brien

I’m not sure about you, but I spent a good part of the weekend patriotically reflecting on the state of our country. Given our recent debt binge, food crises and oil spills, I have to admit, I wasn’t quite as proud of the good ole U.S. of A. as I have been in recent years. But I am an eternal optimist, so I put my thinking cap on in an effort to figure out how to make some lemonade out of our recent handful of lemons, and here is what I came up with:

Our Founding Fathers were revolutionaries. In their highest form of patriotism, they revolted. Big time. How about that? So to the food revolutionaries, energy revolutionaries, educational revolutionaries and health revolutionaries, take heart. It’s in your genes.

Our country was also founded by entrepreneurs who envisioned a better way of doing things. And as I read the Economist over the weekend, I was struck by our country’s passion for creativity: it manifests itself in Pixar films, “and their unbridled enthusiasm for individualism,” iPhones and the occasional Wall Street mortgage derivative. Most of the time, we’re good at it (“though business history is littered with the corpses of corporate Icaruses that rose heavenwards on the wings of creativity only to plunge to the ground”). Thank goodness. Our creativity usually serves us well.

And then as the weekend came to a close, we watched fireworks. And as I reflected on “bombs bursting in air,” my daughter asked what the smoke would do to her lungs. And I paused. Because we spend over half of our national budget on said-bombs. As a national family, sitting down to our national dinner table, is this really how we want to be spending our “family budget”? If you were to ask me, it’s probably time for one of those awkward family budget talks.

With over $800 billion of our taxpayer dollars supporting the defense department and the military, we no longer have the resources to defend our health, our food, our education, our cities, our states, our municipalities. Since the US military is the single largest consumer of oil in the world, do we really want over 50% of our taxpayer resources funding fuel for helicopters when our population is becoming too disease ridden to fight? Military spending is obviously vital to our economy, but with all due respect to my own father, my grandfather, my uncles and absolutely every veteran and soldier who has ever served, given the state of our other federal programs and the health of our food system and families, do we want to continue to allocate over half of our federal budget to the Department of Defense in the face of the epidemic rates of cancer, diabetes and obesity?

Our food supply is a mess. Our healthcare system is a mess. Our school systems are suffering. Our housing market is in crisis. And we’re indebted and sick. And forebodingly, President Eisenhower warned us of exactly this scenario 50 years ago in his Farewell address in 1961, never anticipating that we would be in a military predicament in which we now have a population too fat to fight.

But again, I am an eternal optimist, and I can’t dwell in foreboding, so I reflected on the fact that we are a nation of innovators, entrepreneurs, believers, creators and educators. We inspire each other every day. We revel in the brilliance and tenacity of someone like Steve Jobs and in the awe-inspiring rendition by 6th grader, Greyson Chance, of Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi”. We thrive on triumph as we watch the World Cup, the atmospheric successes of Arianna Huffington, YouTube founders, Chad HurleySteve Chen and Jawed Karim, and countless others whose stories of hardship and perseverance bare stark resemblance to our own if only we had the courage to believe.

So we believe…in the face of enormous odds, hardship and headwinds, we believe. Just as our Founding Fathers believed in a better tomorrow. We envision a new model, a smarter system, an integrative design that creatively deconstructs our existing paradigms and replaces them with new infrastructures, new beliefs, new hopes, brighter dreams.

As Americans, it appears that hope has been genetically engineered into our DNA. Our country was founded on it – our Founding Fathers bravely showing us that in order to be patriots, we must also be pioneers. So perhaps, in an enormous burst of patriotism, it is time to fear less so that you can do more. Unleash your passion, leverage your unique talents, and “think different”. Humanity just may be depending on you.

Robyn O’Brien is the founder and director of the Allergy Kids Foundation, an organization whose mission is to restore the health of American children, especially the 1 in 3 American children with allergies, autism, ADHD and asthma, by protecting them from toxins now found in the food supply and environment.  Robyn also serves on the board of the Environmental Working Group, as an advisor to Hot Moms Club, and works as a contributing editor to SHAPE magazine, Martha Stewart’s Whole Living, the Huffington Post and other media.  She has been named by SHAPE Magazine as one of 2009’s “Women To Shape the World”, along with Michelle Obama, and has been called “food’s Erin Brockovich” by the New York Times.  Robyn was recently named by Forbes magazine as one of “20 Inspiring Women to Follow on Twitter” and by the Discovery Channel as one of 15 Visionaries. She earned a Fulbright Fellowship, an MBA on a full scholarship and served as an equity analyst before founding the Allergy Kids Foundation.  She was raised in Texas and now lives in Colorado with her husband and four children.

Her first book, published by Random House (May 2009) The Unhealthy Truth: How Our Food Is Making Us Sick and What We Can Do About It highlights the role that chemicals in our food supply are having on our health.

Her work has been recognized by Ted Turner, Bonnie Raitt, Dr. Oz, Erin Brockovich, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and others as seen here.

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