Author John Robbins discusses aging and remaining healthy. His book, Healthy At 100, is now available in paperback.
With the publication of several notable books — Healthy at 100, Diet for a New America, Reclaiming Our Health, and The Food Revolution — you are an authority on living a longer and healthier life. You also come from the Baskin-Robbins ice cream family. How has your family responded to your work and to your life choices?
Starting from scratch, my father (Irv Robbins) and my uncle (Burt Baskin) were extraordinarily successful. The company they founded and ran, Baskin-Robbins (31 Flavors), became the world’s largest ice cream company, with many thousands of stores worldwide and annual sales measured in the billions of dollars. We had an ice-cream-cone shaped swimming pool in our backyard, my pets were named after ice cream ﬂavors, and I must have eaten hundreds of gallons of ice cream.
When people nowadays hear that I no longer eat ice cream, they sometimes feel sorry for me. “Please don’t,” I tell them. “I ate enough ice cream during my childhood for twenty lifetimes.” Sometimes I ate ice cream for breakfast.
It was my father’s dream that I would someday join him in running the business, and from my earliest childhood he set about grooming me to follow in his footsteps. But when my uncle, Burt Baskin, was only 54 years old he died of a heart attack. A large man, he had always enjoyed the family product. I asked my dad if he thought the amount of ice cream my uncle ate might have contributed to his fatal heart attack. “No,” my father said. “His ticker just got tired and stopped working.”
I understand why my father would not have wanted to consider the possibility that ice cream might have been involved. By this point he had manufactured and sold more ice cream than any human being who had ever lived on this planet. He didn’t want to think that ice cream was harming anyone, much less that it might have contributed to the death of his beloved brother-in-law and partner. Besides, not much was commonly known then, in the late 1960s, about the connection between ice cream and disease.
But I saw the connection, as I did when my dad developed diabetes and high blood pressure, and again years later when Ben Cohen, co-founder of the ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s, needed a quintuple bypass procedure at the age of forty-nine.