In the past eight and a half years, I have learned more than I ever wanted to about the inner workings of our government. It wasn’t something I ever wanted to know. I was raised in a Republican family in Texas. We were genetically engineered to be Republican. You didn’t question it, like going to church. It was just something that we did. I didn’t question anything to do with politics.
But then life threw a curve ball that made me question absolutely everything. While some may think it was our youngest child’s allergic reaction to a plate of scrambled eggs one morning, it was actually something else.
A year into this work, launched in January 2006 when our youngest child had an allergic reaction over breakfast, one of our son’s got very sick. He had been chronically sick, meriting two surgeries and constant medication, so when I took him to the doctor that day in February 2007, I suspected more of the same. Instead our pediatrician said, “Robyn, you have to take him to Children’s Hospital in Denver.”
“Let me call my husband so that he can come home to watch the other three” was my reply.
“No,” she said. “You don’t understand, you have to take him right now.” He was so sick.
And in that moment, I completely fell apart. I had spent a year unearthing what was happening to our food system, learning about the money it, the politics, how broken it had become, how American companies made their products differently for eaters in other countries. I had reached out to friends and family, trying to share this, and it had challenged every relationship in my life. I didn’t want to know what I’d learned, but I couldn’t unlearn it. I didn’t want to have to be the one to speak out about it, I had tried and been threatened. Somehow, this was my story to tell. I didn’t want it to be.
Our pediatrician had seen me through that first year, since our littlest child’s food allergic reaction. She had seen the toll that the work had taken. She did not hesitate and took the other children until my husband arrived to get them, and she had us driven to Children’s Hospital.
There was no one to call. The support system was not yet there. All I could think was, “How is this happening?” We checked in, and I watched our beautiful boy laying on that bed, his shock of white hair and little five year old body being prodded by nurses attempting to get an IV into his arm. They couldn’t, so they just kept puncturing him, trying to get it in. He lay there, so stoic and strong. And I could do nothing.
And in that moment, a nurse walked in carrying a tray of Fruit Loops and red jello for my sick son.
It was as if the world stopped.
I looked at her standing there with that tray, and I looked at my son, and I thought, “What am I really afraid of?”
Was I afraid of what people would say if I started talking about GMOs and the junk in our food, was I afraid of what my parents would say? Was I afraid of the companies that I would be talking about?
No, in that moment, I was afraid of losing my son. And I crossed over into this work and never looked back.
So when a political campaign contacted me to see if I would speak at an event for a Congressional candidate, I wanted to say no. I had seen the way the FDA worked under both parties, I had seen how former Monsanto employees, both Republicans and Democrats, served in our government, in agencies and on the Supreme Court, I had met with members of the campaigns for both presidential candidates in 2008 and both said that if this subject would compromise their funding ties, they would not be able to address it. I was disillusioned by politics.
But I would not be doing what I am doing had it not been for the particular person that was doing the asking. Not only was her work known around the world, but it had also touched mine.
Back in early 2007, when I was questioning everything, I had a call with an old friend. We had gone to college together at one of the most conservative schools in the country, Washington and Lee University. He sang in our wedding. We’d been there for each other through a lot.
As I was sharing what I’d learned, how it had challenged so much of who I was and where I’d come from, I shared how I couldn’t unlearn it. “I have to do something,” I said. “But who am I to do this, Lew?”
“I’m sending you a quote, Rob” and with that, he sent the following:
These words rang so true. I read them everyday, through every fear, until I had them almost memorized.
So when Marianne Williamson’s campaign reached out and shared that she was running as an Independent, disillusioned by the partisan politics and the corporate financing of the system, I listened. Her words, written years earlier, had such a profound impact on my life. And now years later, she was highlighting how the broken food system was symptomatic of other issues.
I thought about the work that I had done to help create a consumer awakening and shift, the work I was currently doing to shift capital so that clean and safe food is affordable to all families. My work has always been non partisan. Cancer doesn’t care if we are Republican or Democrat. Our hearts hurt the same way when a child is diagnosed with autism.
Health is not partisan. It is patriotic. And I thought about how politics follow the money. Once the capital shifts, policy will follow, and we will need leaders in Congress who understand that the security of our country is very much contingent on a healthy and secure food system.
I listened and when one of the team members shared that he had attended the same conservative school, Washington and Lee, there was something in that, an understanding that didn’t need words, which led me to say yes.
The landscape of politics is changing as quickly as the landscape of food. As much as we put both organic and conventional food products in our shopping carts, families can be full of both hybrid shoppers as well as hybrid voters.
42% of Americans are now registered as Independents, while only 31% are Democrats and 25% are Republicans, according to a recent Gallup poll. To think that we only have a two party system, defined decades ago by generations that were not dealing with the issues we face as 21st century families is restrictive.
We need systems that meet the needs of 21st century families.
America’s best ideas have come from outside of Washington D.C. The unbridled spirit with which our country was founded is in the hearts and minds of millennials designing new technologies, fathers inventing food products worthy of our families and mothers protecting children with autism, allergies or diabetes.
It is up to us to create the change, always has been and always will be.