When Jordan Rubin's weight plummeted to 114 pounds due to Crohn's disease, the notion of founding a whole-foods supplements empire was far from his mind. He simply wanted to get his health back. Just months before, he had been a college athlete on scholarship; now he was using a wheelchair and suffering from a host of secondary conditions, including diabetes, arthritis, hair loss, anemia and chronic fatigue.
Rubin tried every possible treatment, conventional or alternative. Luckily, some of the crazier approaches failed. Otherwise, today Rubin might be selling fetal sheep-cell injections, Venus flytrap therapy or steel cages to prevent electromagnetic poisoning. Instead, a man who Rubin calls an " eccentric nutritionist" told him he needed to look to the Bible for diet and lifestyle rules. Rubin took the advice to heart and began to read the Bible for dietary clues.
Some things, like avoiding pork and shellfish, were simple. Rubin's parents were Jewish, and though the household didn't keep kosher, the principles were familiar to him. But Rubin realized there was a host of modern foods—artificial sweeteners, hydrogenated oils—that were also alien to the ancient Hebrew diet, and he rejected these as well.
Rubin concentrated on those foods a person in Biblical times would have eaten—organic, raw fruits, grains and vegetables, fermented dairy products, grass-fed beef and free-range poultry. To this he added probiotics and whole-foods supplements. Rubin gained 29 pounds in 40 days, and by his 21st birthday was back to 180 pounds.
That experience became the foundation of his best-selling book, The Maker's Diet (Siloam Press, 2004), which was followed by 19 other health-related titles. He founded Garden of Life, which market-research firm SPINS lists as the 12th-largest non-sports-nutrition supplements company in the country. He also hosts a weekly television show, Extraordinary Health with Jordan Rubin, on Trinity Broadcasting Network and Sky Angel.
Now, Rubin has gone from stock boy at a local health food store—his first industry job, back in 1995—to CEO of a major company.
What's the biggest challenge facing the naturals industry? We're so concerned with competition from the mass market that we've marginalized our message. When I was a kid, the first lie my parents told me about natural foods was that carob tastes just like chocolate. In [early] health food stores, nothing tasted good but everything was healthy. Now, frankly, everything might taste good but nothing is healthy. Anyone can carry a commodity, but if we keep our message with integrity, then we'll succeed.
What was your inspiration when you were getting started? As a kid I was familiar with health foods because my dad was a naturopathic physician. But when I got sick, I realized that health is our most important asset. I basically made the commitment that, if should I get well, I would dedicate myself to helping others.
As a little kid, you wanted to grow up to be … a sportscaster. I would get out my baseball cards and watch the Atlanta Braves on TV. Now I have a large collection of sports memorabilia, and am fortunate to help professional athletes train with the same principles that gave me my health.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 8/p. 32