Below is the edited transcript of the video above:
Ocean Robbins: Welcome to this Food Revolution Conversation. I’m so glad you’re here.
I’m Ocean Robbins. And I am here today with Darin Olien. Who is an extraordinary human being, as you are about to discover for yourself. Darin is passionate about unleashing creative genius and market forces to build a more healthy, equitable, and sustainable world. He’s the author of the New York Times bestseller SuperLife: The 5 Fixes That Will Keep You Healthy, Fit, and Eternally Awesome.
Darin is one of the founders of Barùkas Nuts, which is a super nut from Brazil, as well as a company that is helping to save rainforests, support Indigenous cultural survival, and provide great taste and excellent nutrition.
Darin also founded the health app 121 TRIBE. And he serves as an advisor to Footprint, which is a company that’s dedicated to eliminating single-use plastics with plant-based compostable products that don’t harm you or the planet.
So, we’re going to be talking today about how we can help heal the world, heal our lives, have fun doing it, and about solutions to some of the biggest problems in the world today. Darin, thanks so much for being here.
Finding Hope in Tragedy
Darin Olien: Wow. We have some things to talk about. [LAUGHS]
Ocean Robbins: [LAUGHS] We do. You know, I —
Darin Olien: There are problems, and there are solutions too.
Ocean Robbins: There are. You know? And that’s the amazing thing that, I think as bad as things ever get, that’s how much better they could be. You know? And you seem like the kind of person who’s always thinking that way. Like, your orientation is, “What’s possible?” You know? And I love that about you.
You’ve seen a lot. You’ve traveled the world. And I actually would like to invite you to tell us a story that captures a moment when you were filled with awe.
Darin Olien: Mm.
Ocean Robbins: At some point in your life, when you just said, “Wow,” in a really big way that was influential for you.
Darin Olien: Well, there are so many. I mean, and some of those awes come by way of… Not great. [LAUGHS] You know?
Ocean Robbins: Yeah.—
Darin Olien: But they actually create greatness in your life. I mean the most immediate one, the biggest one, was when I lost my property and my home and everything.
Ocean Robbins: Was this in a fire or —
Darin Olien: A fire.
Ocean Robbins: Okay. Okay.
Darin Olien: Sorry. Yeah. The Woolsey Fire at the end of 2018.
Ocean Robbins: Okay.
Darin Olien: So, that was astonishing. But it’s now turned into a gift in my life with all of the things and the developments that came about it and with it.
Darin Olien: And it really supported me in pushing the sustainable world and solutions in every way. And it really anchored my drive that I thought was pretty driven, but then just deeper-seated that drive of sovereignty and that sovereignty of health, of an individual taking on their own sovereignty of taking care of themselves as well as sovereignty of power systems. Literally, being able to provide your own power for your home and your family — to growing your own food — is more important than ever.
So that sovereignty of health, power, water, food, shelter was something that I needed to all rebuild again. Which then, you know, why just do it for myself? Why not create paths for other people to do it? So, I’ve been working on several projects that all touch in all of those areas. So, again, the “Wow.” And then put it into action so that it can actually be a gift to myself and also other people.
Ocean Robbins: Yeah. Thank you. Sovereignty is such an important word — such a powerful word. It’s really what we’re about in Food Revolution Network, too, helping people to reclaim their lives, their autonomy, their authorship. No one wants to be dependent on medical care, dependent on pharmaceutical drugs, dependent on corporations or government forces that really have their own interests in mind, let’s say.
Cultural Preservation and Survival
Ocean Robbins: And I think about Indigenous cultures around the world. You’ve taken on some, as part of your mission, supporting cultural preservation and survival for some of the cultures that are at risk right now.
And Indigenous peoples have, have traditionally, sort of by definition, lived in one place for a very long time. Which, for the most part, means they found ways of living within their means within those places. Something that most of so-called advanced western civilization certainly has not figured out yet. And there’s a richness. There’s wisdom. There’s understanding of plants and resources and ecosystems that most of us in the modern industrialized world have no clue about. And we could due to have a little more humility before Mother Earth sometimes, I think.
And I’m curious how that came about for you. Because you were also working with entrepreneurship to support Indigenous cultural survival. How did that come into your life?
Darin Olien: Yeah. It’s a great question. Well, it was very obvious. It just was… You know, I’m not the kind of guy… I’m very hands-on. And I’m the blue-collar, you know, Minnesota, work-hard kid. So, when I was starting to look at herbs and botanicals and starting to play around with them in terms of formulation and studying and how to use them, the logical next step was to go to lands where they’re from and to meet the people.
So, as soon as that happened, it turned into a much bigger mission. It’s not about just trying to get this perfect plant and save the world and market that as the elixir of life. It’s really about this plant; this schisandra in the sovereign mountains of Tibet is so powerful in its medicinal qualities, but also, intimately connected.
In this case, when I was running around panda-protected areas, places that were sovereign in their way of protecting very incredible lands. At the same time, only certain people could harvest them. Right? So, connected to the Indigenous people of those lands that only had the license to do those. This is just an example that every plant that comes from these lands that have maybe been used for thousands of years, were always connected to the land and always connected to the people.
Supporting Indigenous Populations
Darin Olien: So, when you’re looking at a food or a plant or a herb or an adaptogen, it’s always, from my perspective, the superfood is super from all these different ways: supporting the people, supporting the land, supporting the quality, and supporting the customer by way all of those good deeds being done.
So for me, it’s always been that. And largely trying to carry that message over and go, “No, you don’t understand, these are real people that need real secure jobs.” So it’s more important than ever that we vote with our dollars consciously, that we’re intimately connected and understand transparently. And how powerful our numbers are as people, and our dollars that support those companies. And strangling off the companies that are not moving in that favor and supporting those companies that are.
So it’s always been that kind of intimate connection. And every time you open up, you know, to a certain country or village, it’s always… You’re a student; you’re humbled. The only way to move into a different area or culture or people or Indigenous group is to sit down, and look them in the eye and have conversations, and see what their struggles are, and see what would help them. And what are the fair prices? And what are the ways to improve their processing in order to get it to an efficacious level that can… You know, it’s all of those things.
So, for me, it was the first trip I ever took that was kind of putting on that hat — probably in 2003. As soon as you make that connection to people, their lives can change by them growing food and herbs. For me, in this case, it changed my life. Because those people, in that trip in 2003, those people are still my friends to this day. And their lives are literally changed.
So I’ve seen firsthand, not only growing food because all farmers around the world will have one thing that is the most important. If I put something in the ground, it’s vulnerable for me. Can I sell it? Can I sell it fairly? Because I’m vulnerable. Think about that. If you’re a farmer, and you’re putting something in the ground, and if you don’t have someone to buy that from you, that’s a very risky thing.
Ocean Robbins: Yeah.
Darin Olien: And so, for us to be able to, as consumers and as entrepreneurs, get to be able to listen. I will buy. I will pay what we agreed on, and I will buy it. And our barukas in Brazil. You say, hey, you go collect as much as you want in these areas. And we’ll buy it for the next 20 years. Right? So you’re creating —
Ocean Robbins: Right.
Darin Olien: — security for them that they’ve never really had.
Ocean Robbins: Tell us about barukas. How do they grow? What makes them socially responsible?
Darin Olien: Yeah. So a lot of ways. This kind of hit it at every aspect of what I care about. And that is, number one, I tasted it. And I was like, wow, people are going to love it. I mean —
Ocean Robbins: It’s a nut, a tree nut, just in case you aren’t familiar.
Darin Olien: Yeah, it’s a tree nut. It’s got a very strong outer shell. So it’s technically a drupe, right? So it’s got one nut per hard shell with a thin fruit layer on the outside. And you can’t pick it early. So nature protected it because it won’t mature that nut right before… Right after it matures a nut, it falls. So you can’t run out and hurt the tree and hurt the environment by picking it early. It has to fall. So you pick it up. And so that, from a taste perspective, I knew that wasn’t gonna be a barrier of entry. People are going to love it.
So then let’s move to the nutritional. So then, the nutritionals were kind of… Every category of nut, it pretty much blew it out of the water. So huge amounts of fiber, two to three times more than any nuts. Antioxidants; 400% more antioxidants than almonds. You’ve got calcium, magnesium, manganese, copper, on and on and on. And then you have a complete protein, which is gonna blow you away again. And then it’s got lower fat calories than any nuts. So concentration of, per bite, you’re getting more nutrients than any nut, and certainly making it a superfood.
Darin Olien: Now, so, with all of that, great. You eat it; you’re going to get the benefits. But it’s in an area that’s being destroyed faster than any landmass on the planet that people don’t know about. It’s losing the battle. The PR of the Amazon still loses, but people want to save the Amazon. But if the Brazilian people can’t over-destroy the Amazon, they go to the Cerrado, and they wipe that out. And so it’s losing really fast.
So what we’re doing is we’re supporting and planting the baruzeiro trees where the nuts come from. So we’re creating solidity by keeping those trees alive. They’re a nitrogen fixer, so they’re extremely important for the other plants around them. They’re a sacred tree. And so, by us doing that, it creates that fair-trade.
Then, on top of it, every five pounds that we sell of the nut, we plant a tree. So we have sapling programs, we have other organizations that help us put back these plants and these trees again because it’s the factory farming, the corn and soy for the beef industry is all encroaching on this entire process.
So all of those different… From fair-trade and working and organizing in a wild area. People need to understand that the barukas, the baruzeiro trees are wild. And they’re in a landmass, the Cerrado, the Savannah, that is 500 million acres.
So for us to create fair-trade, plant trees, support the people, we’re talking in the middle of nowhere. I’ve been like in tears working with these people and seeing their land being stripped in front of them. And to be able to provide an income so that they can stay on their land is one of the greatest gifts ever. And I wish I could convey that more in more than just words to people because it’s literally saving their livelihood of them wanting to just live on their land.
Creating a Fair-Trade Marketplace
Ocean Robbins: So, the baruka trees grow wild in the Amazon?
Darin Olien: In the Cerrado. So just south —
Ocean Robbins: Oh, south of the Amazon. Okay.
Darin Olien: Yeah.
Ocean Robbins: Got it. In Brazil.
Darin Olien: Yeah.
Ocean Robbins: And Indigenous peoples live there and are now able to harvest the trees off the ground when the nuts fall when they’re ripe. And then now have a marketplace to sell them.
Darin Olien: Exactly.
Ocean Robbins: And then, they’re able to live, or perhaps uplift their quality of life. Even though they try to be self-sufficient, they still need certain things in the modern world in order to function and survive and hopefully uplift, so their children can have a better life. And now, they can do that without having to migrate to the city and live in slums. They’re able to live on the lands and build up their quality of living. And this is a beautiful thing.
And I just want to contrast that with a lot of conventional farming that’s taking place in Brazil. You’re just touching on it here. Most Brazilian agricultural land is… Rainforests are being chopped down or burned to create grazing land for cattle or to create land on which to grow soy, primarily, or corn, which is mostly fed to livestock.
Darin Olien: Yeah.
Ocean Robbins: And this is the largest single driver of rainforest destruction. And for those who are concerned about climate change, well, the rain forests are the lungs of the Earth. They store an enormous amount of carbon. When they’re chopped down or burned, guess where that carbon goes? It goes into our atmosphere. And instead of sequestering carbon, they’re now emitting it.
So, saving this land, this ecosystem, and the Indigenous people that live here is a powerful statement of support for them, for the planet, and, of course, for the consumer as well.
Exploitive vs Fair-Trade Practices
Ocean Robbins: And I want to contrast, though, that a lot of farming that happens in tropical regions is exploitative in nature.
Darin Olien: Yeah.
Ocean Robbins: It’s monocropping. It’s laced with pesticides. And the workers are treated terribly. So this is really different in that way. And one of the distinctions is fair-trade. Can you talk a little bit about what fair-trade is and isn’t? And is it enough? Does it mean what we think it means?
Darin Olien: I mean, yeah. I mean, it’s a great question. Number one, we took this bold risk of cultivating, or at least gathering and collecting, a wild food. Right?
Ocean Robbins: Yeah.
Darin Olien: So, at least we have an acreage or a landmass that’s 500 million acres with trees, even though it’s being cut down very, very fast. That’s the scary thing. And so, we have to provide solidity of the economy. So the more people eat the nuts, the more trees we can plant.
Finding Ethical & Sustainable Solutions
Darin Olien: Now, fair-trade… There are organizations, if you don’t have the time or resources as companies to go out in the middle of nowhere and survey and understand and meet with all the people, then there are some good organizations, some fair-trade organizations that provide, essentially, a template. Certainly, like organic certification. It basically provides a template if you’re actually not, yourself, creating those protocols. So, fair-trade in its form is pretty good.
It’s just 20 years of experience that I just have to go myself. And so, our team, for the last four or five years, we interviewed all the PhDs who did anything about anything about where the trees are and how they’re being encroached upon and destroyed and how many are there, as well as all the Indigenous people.
We ended up having a hundred different meetings and interviews from around the Cerrado just to really understand how the people — the culture works. How will it work to work with them? What do they need in order to be safe and effective to go out and gather the nuts? Where can we gather them and collect them?
And what is the fair wage? Because we can’t come in and say, as an American, “This is what we need to do, and this is all… ” No, we need to look from every angle. And then ask all the people, “If we paid you this and this, a little more than what the market has been paying you, is that something that you’re excited about? Will that put food on your table?” Because you have to understand them. You can’t just blast them with your points of view and all of that stuff.
Providing a Service for Indigenous Livelihoods
Darin Olein: So it’s an incredible ethnobotanical, sociological, economic discovery. And really, you try your best, but you always continue to expand and grow. But at the end of the day, if you are providing a service that they can rely on, and they’re not getting undercut like the poor people in Western Africa growing cacao, for example. You know, it’s a horrible situation that they’re in.
Ocean Robbins: Yes.
Darin Olien: It’s really, really dangerous for them. And you’re controlling them now with a commodity. This is not that. This is a wild food that was literally in Brazil. Brazilians were shutting their door on this even to be able to consume themselves because they haven’t figured out all of the different aspects. So we resurrected some of that stuff. And we’re very proud that the Brazilians now are able to eat the baruka nuts themselves. And to be able to expand that marketplace in Brazil is something we’re extremely happy to be able to support, as well as get this great nut out to the rest of the people.
Ocean Robbins: Oh, fantastic. Thank you for doing that.
And by the way, since we’ve been talking so much about this, this is not an infomercial for baruka nuts. This is more of an exploration of solutions. But I’m sure some people will be interested in Barùkas. So go to foodrevolution.org/nuts, and we’ll set up a link so you can click on through and learn more about this amazing nut and how you can take advantage of it in your own life as well. Because you guys ship around the world, right?
Darin Olien: Yeah, I mean, I think we’re expanding into other areas. But I mean, it’s an example. Like to, to your point, it’s an example of, you know, 20 years where we really were able to do things correctly and honor what was going on there and how to do it correctly. And it wasn’t easy.
Teff & Bio-piracy
Darin Olien: So, you know, it’s not as all entrepreneurial people or anyone wanting… I just had an amazing conversation with this Ethiopian group that’s growing teff. And teff is an ancient grain. It’s an incredible food, and they are, they are doing some incredible things. And so, it’s the same idea that the Ethiopians want to create solidity within their food systems. And not get taken over by some white dude coming in and stealing their patents.
Biopiracy is a thing. People throw patents on something, and then basically, undercut the country that actually has these foods. And so, there are problems everywhere with this stuff. And so, empowering the people, and creating solidity for them… Anyway, it’s a shout-out to them called… Just go to goTeff. I don’t get anything from it. But it’s a very small group of Ethiopians trying to get out this great word of this incredible, multi-delicious… I don’t know if you’ve had it before, but it’s one of my favorite grains.
Ocean Robbins: Oh! Yeah! Injera is the bread… You ferment teff. And then, like make a sourdough kind of a mix, and then make pancakes out of that. That’s injera, which is sort of a basic part of Ethiopian food, at least as it’s presented here in the US. And, oh my God, it’s so delicious — and gluten-free too, by the way. [LAUGHS] Yeah, pretty awesome stuff and super nutritious. I would love to see a lot more teff used —
Darin Olien: We’re trying.
Ocean Robbins: — because it’s so delicious.
Darin Olien: We’re trying. Yeah.
Ocean Robbins: Yeah. That’s great. And I’m also intrigued by another piece of a solution you’ve been advocating for, which is a more plastic-free world. And you’re on the advisory board for Footprint.
Plastic is a brutal problem. I mean, we are just drowning in it. And we’re producing more and more of it. And it’s toxic. It doesn’t go away. And it’s now in our bodies. It’s in probably the bodies of every fish in the ocean. It’s just getting worse and worse because there’s nowhere for it to go.
And we haven’t yet figured out any effective way of truly recycling it. We can downcycle it sometimes, certain types of plastic, into, you know, pellets that are used for making decking material or whatever. That’s critically important. We got to get a lot better at it. But we’ve also gotta stop using so much of it. And so, what are some alternatives, Darin?
Darin Olien: Man, yeah. Footprint — I didn’t know about them either. And it is exciting because they are working at scale, meaning that they… It is not a mom and pop who’s, you know, making knapsacks to replace plastic bottles or something to put things in. These guys are working with Cargill, McDonald’s, Pepsi, Walmart, like some of the top people at scale.
So plant-based fibers, recycled cardboards, plant-based dyes that they print on the side. And we’re talking, Beyond Meat, that container, that tray. So they’re working in the chemistry of how to preserve food so that it has shelf stability that’s not letting oxygen in. So they’re doing the impossible task of making plant-based fibers as good as plastic. Why is plastic used? Because it’s good. Meaning it does its job good. It just is horrible to put food next to plastic. It’s horrible for the environment, all of that stuff. But it contains something. And it contains it well.
So these guys are kicking ass. I just got back from visiting their full facility in Arizona. And I came back fully swinging with this hope that this is the future. They are making the changes. And you’re insane as a company not to move in this direction. Because us, and your people that listen to you, and the people that follow me, we are fed up. And so it’s now time to turn off the faucet of plastic being created.
There are 400 million metric tons of plastic created every year. There are 9.8 billion metric tons of plastic on the planet. And like you said, we need to figure out how to… You know recycling is cool, but you only get a couple turns of recycling, and then it’s right back in the system.
You know, there are things I looked at for the last nine months, pyrolysis units that break down the chemistry of plastic. And then you can actually create clean fuels from it. It can gobble up a lot of plastic, diesel, high-octane fuel with no chemicals as an off-gas. So there are things that can be done. There are a few companies that are making trinkets out of it and stuff. But we really have to get these big boys, these big companies, to turn on that. And Footprint’s doing that work. It’s incredible.
Ocean Robbins: Fantastic. Just a little note of context here, I think that we need a biodiversity of strategies to heal our world and to restore balance. And some of those strategies are going to involve consuming less, walking lighter on the Earth, people who will travel less and grow more food in their own backyards, and do it yourself rather than buying stuff and shipping it around the world. And, you know, those are important steps.
And if we can also shift the practices of some of these large industries, we can have a big impact in helping to buy more time and helping to shift the course of humanity, quite frankly. Because we are on a collision course with systemic environment collapse.
Every day on this planet, we have more plastic; we have more pollution; we have more guns and bombs. We have less clean air, less clean water, fewer forests, more carbon in the atmosphere, less time to work with to help turn things around.
So we can individually choose to walk lighter and lessen our ecological footprint. But we can also work as you are, Darin, to try to come up with innovative strategies to leverage entrepreneurship and creative potential to respond to the genuine needs people have in ways that actually further and affirm life.
Compassion for Choices
Ocean Robbins: And I just want to say, like, for all of the peoples, Indigenous peoples and struggling peoples around the world who are chopping down rainforests so that they can graze cattle, so they can try to eke out a living — they’re not doing that because they want to destroy our children’s future. They’re doing that because they want to feed their own children.
Darin Olien: Right.
Ocean Robbins: And we’ve got to create solutions that work. And all the people who are throwing away plastic in the garbage, huge compassion and respect. We all do it at some point in our lives, pretty much everyone I know. And no one’s doing it because they don’t care about their children’s future. They’re doing it because they’re stressed out and overwhelmed, and life gets busy. And this is what’s normalized all around us.
So let’s normalize something else, I say. Let’s make it easier for people to do the right thing. And I believe almost everybody, when given the option, would rather do a little extra work, pay a little extra money, if necessary, so that they can be on the right side of history.
Darin Olien: Yeah. You said it exactly. Absolutely. And you know, that’s the thing. And like I said, when you see that there’s another option, I believe that, too. I’ve said that sentiment before. I’ve met so many families around the world. And if they did have another option… I’ve seen it where they’ve cut down a tree for five bucks to put —
Ocean Robbins: — Yeah —
Darin Olien: — food on the table.
Ocean Robbins: Yeah.
Darin Olien: And so if you have them run up that same tree and harvest acai, for example, or bataua fruit or something — and you don’t have to cut it down, but you’re going to make money on that — you just now saved that. And they’re like, “Of course I’m not going to cut the tree down because now you’re going to pay me for this.”
Ocean Robbins: Right.
Darin Olien: So it’s not malicious. And there are two billion people that are not living in cities that still need to provide food… And that’s a very, very powerful… You have poaching all over the world. Do you think it’s really about these people wanting to kill animals? No, they have that same pull as you and me to make sure our families have food. And they don’t have many options.
So I agree with you a million percent that we need to create other options as smart, creative people — entrepreneurship and capitalism — in the way that it’s a win, it’s a win, it’s a win, and it’s a win all the way down the chain — and without profit center. Profit is all of it, right? It’s the ecosystem of doing business and doing business well. And we can provide solutions, and we can provide alternatives. And that’s the name of the game.
Planting the Seed for a Better World
Ocean Robbins: I often refer to Food 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0. Food 1.0 is survival. If you can get enough calories to fill your belly. That is success. And if you don’t get that, then there’s no point in talking about fancy anything else.
Food 2.0 is governed by commerce. It’s the buying and selling of goods. And it’s brought us 31 flavors of ice cream. It’s brought us all kinds of tastes and textures and cuisines all over the planet. Unfortunately, it’s morally bankrupt, and it’s killing us.
And then Food 3.0 is ruled by health. The central organizing principle is health for our bodies and health for our planet. And there are healthy profits in Food 3.0. It’s just that they come from healthy food. And that’s what I see you working for. I love the totality of it and the inclusivity of it. And hopefully, everybody who’s watching right now, you’ve gotten a little inspired today with what’s possible.
Darin’s doing Darin. And he’s doing it amazingly. You do you. And find out your own place to live in accordance with the values you carry.
But I want to just plant a seed here, that every one of us is accountable to the future. And how is the future using you, right now, to be an agent of healing, restoration, and beauty? And when you allow that into your heart, you may find that your dreams grow bigger, your sense of possibility expands, your sense of integrity deepens because it’s kind of a compass. At least, for me, it’s a reference point for my life.
What kind of future will my children inherit, will our children inherit? And how can I leave this world a little brighter, a little more beautiful, a little more loving from my presence here?
Darin, that’s what I see coursing through your veins and your actions. And I want to thank you so much.
Darin Olien: Thank you.
Darin founded a company that promotes a special kind of nut you should know about. Baru nuts are well-known to Indigenous populations in remote parts of Brazil, Paraguay, and Bolivia and are considered some of the healthiest nuts in the world. In comparison to other commonly found nuts, Barus have more micronutrients, fiber, and antioxidants, and are an efficient source of plant-based protein. Daryl and his team at Barùkas Nuts are creating a market for these nuts, and ensuring that they’re good for the planet and the livelihood of Indigenous peoples. To combat deforestation, and help Indigenous farmers make a living, Barùkas Nuts are paying a fair wage to Indigenous people who harvest these nuts in the wild, and they’re planting a tree for every five pounds of nuts sold.
If you’re looking for a healthy, ethical, and sustainable nut to try, or just want to try out a new (and fun) nut experience, click here to check out Barùkas Nuts. (Bonus: If you make a purchase, they’ll also contribute a share of the proceeds to support the work of Food Revolution Network!)
Tell us in the comments:
- Do you feel inspired by this interview?
- How is the future using you, right now, to be an agent of healing, restoration, and beauty?
- What other fair-trade companies and organizations do you support?
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