What does the future of food look like? I hope in some ways it looks more like the past, with people caring about where their food comes from and how it’s produced, and respecting those who produce it.
I had the opportunity to discuss the future of food recently as part of a panel at LOHAS Forum 2012 in Boulder. LOHAS stands for lifestyles of health and sustainability, and for a consumer segment of 13 to 19 percent of U.S. adults who are particularly interested in health, the environment and sustainable living. LOHAS Forum is an annual gathering of brands, researchers, analysts and influencers who care about this space, meeting in Boulder – where so many organic food brands, like Horizon Organic and Silk,got their start.
It was a real pleasure to be there and to share the stage with Steve Demos, founder of Silk Soymilk and WhiteWave Inc., which later became WhiteWave Foods, the parent company of Horizon Organic. Joining Steve and I on the panel was Elizabeth Candelario, marketing director at Demeter USA, part of the world’s only certifier of Biodynamic® farms and products. Liz Myslik, CEO of Fresca Brands, was an excellent moderator for our group.
There were a couple of points that are important to me. One is my belief that those of us acting as stewards of great brands like Horizon Organic have an obligation to use the power of these brands to educate consumers and grow the organic market. More consumer demand for organic means more farm acres converted, which means fewer pesticides used – like the 20 million pounds of pesticides Horizon Organic farmers helped keep off the land in 2011 alone.
Transparency is another core value for me. Trust is the cornerstone of all organic brands, so transparency is imperative – from the supply chain to the product label to the USDA Organic Seal. USDA Organic is the gold standard and we must do all we can to strengthen it.
Serving on the panel was a great opportunity to talk about Horizon Organic’s partnership with the more than 600 family farmers in 23 states who supply more than 90 percent of our milk. When we work together to grow the organic dairy category, we create more opportunities for farm families to prosper.
One audience member asked about the parent company for WhiteWave, Dean Foods. I was proud to say that Dean has been a supportive partner for the Horizon Organic brand in good times and in bad. All of our businesses at WhiteWave, including Horizon Organic, are run independently. Dean’s consistent support, in good times and in bad, has been very important to us and to the farmers, retailers and consumers who depend on us.
What do you think the future of food should look like? Share your thoughts and comments here.
It’s been a little more than three years since we officially launched our Mission here at WhiteWave, a mission that states – We will be the Earth’s favorite food company. And over the past few years we’ve collectively been trying to define what that kind of achievement would really mean and accomplish.
I think a lot of people get caught up thinking that achieving our mission revolves mostly around sustainability (as it relates to waste, emissions, water usage, etc.). But as the broader examples in the below video point out, the concept of “finding ways to improve quality of life” is helping us broaden the scope of what becoming the Earth’s favorite food company will really mean.
Sure, sustainable actions are going to be a big part of our work, and really, really important. But there’s a lot more that needs to go into creating a product/brand/company that people want to support. Whether that be partnering with local organizations to make packaging more easily recyclable, or offering new ways for people to enjoy a great cup of coffee, that idea is always top of mind for us.
Interesting piece in the NYTimes, shining a light on what some believe to be a soon to come crackdown on antibiotic usage in livestock farming operations. Though the new guidelines would not eliminate the use of antibiotics entirely - “The guidelines, which are voluntary and will not have the binding force of regulations, would end farm uses of the drugs simply to promote faster animal growth and call for tighter oversight by veterinarians.” if this does play out as expected, it could possibly clear the path for an overall ban, something that’s already taken place in Europe.
The bigger question here isn’t whether or not to eliminate antibiotic and growth hormone usage in livestock farming operations. WhiteWave is in complete support of this. In fact, we already do that. The question is how can an entire industry eliminate the use of antibiotics and growth hormones in livestock without seriously crippling itself? For all the flaws associated with the current infrastructure around food production, it’s still a really efficient and profitable system — a system that’s been developed over the course of a few decades. Changing it is going to be hard.
Aside from the antibiotic argument, some believe that large-scale operations should be eliminated all together. That’s just not possible if we want to feed everyone. However, large-scale operations do need to find ways to adopt small scale principles if the current system is to become safer and more sustainable.
Our Horizon brand offers a good example of the possibilities. We partner with more than 500 farmers across the country who provide more than 90 percent of our milk, but we also own two of our own farms, one of which spans about 9,000 acres and milks nearly 2,400 cows a day. It’s big. And because we’re connected to a larger organization (Dean Foods), we have the ability to heavily invest in technologies and processes that have helped the farm operate efficiently and organically, on a large scale.
For example the dairy is able to grow more than 70 percent of the feed the cows eat, and with the help of Holistic Management International, has established an impressive grazing system to get our cows on pasture as much as possible. Even when the cows aren’t on pasture, the barn they inhabit is designed to keep them comfortable and healthy, equipped with mattresses for each cow and open access to free roam areas outside the barn.
The farm also gives us an opportunity to try new things. As we continue to learn new, sustainable ways to care for our cows, we pass what we learn on to our family-farmer partners, just as they pass what they learn back to us.
We of course aren’t all the way there, and can always get better, but the farm is in our opinion a really strong example of how big and small can come together to find a middle ground, and begin to reshape the system.
Really excited to be partnering with brands like LG, Ford and Earthbound Farms this week, as part of The Green House project just down the way in Boulder. The “smart living” program brings together influential journalists from all over the country, and puts them up in a specially outfitted, net-zero Smart House for three days at a time. During the experience these guys get to go about their day-to-day routine with the help of a variety of products, services and technology that are good for your health, good for your wallet and good for the environment.
The Smart House is also blending a variety of companies and brands that don’t usually cross paths (Not often that soymilk and plasma TVs come together… on purpose anyway), but that’s actually one of the cooler parts of the program. The diverse group of company sponsors and products will allow for a complete “smart living” experience. How you cook, how you drive, how you do the laundry, how you watch TV, etc. This house can show you how to do it better.
Wanna see more? Me too.
On Wednesday (8/18), I’ll be tagging along with the group and featuring snippets from the day here on TGM….
Adding to my post from last week, here’s just another great example of how building awareness is working to change the future of food… except in this case, these guys are bringing that awareness to you, and parking it right next to the hot dog cart.
The Mobile Food Collective is literally an urban garden on wheels, and again, not designed to feed the masses, just wake the masses up to the brilliance of fresh food.
A few months ago I wrote about one of the best and most compelling movies I’ve seen in a long time – Gasland. I’ve since been waiting to hear where and when it would be released so that I could share it with everyone I know. Well, I just found out that it’a premiering on HBO this coming Monday, June 21 at 9 p.m. EDT.
Variety has said “Gasland may become to the dangers of gas drilling what Silent Spring was to DDT” and in case you still don’t care, this synopsis of the movie should reel you in.
The largest domestic natural gas drilling boom in history has swept across the United States, but the hydraulic fracturing drilling technology (called “fracking”) that unlocks this “Saudia Arabia of natural gas” beneath us may not be safe…When filmmaker Josh Fox was asked to lease his land for drilling, he embarked on a cross-country road trip to find out just what the environmental consequences of fracking are. Along the way, he meets residents of a Pennsylvania town which was recently drilled who show him how they can light their drinking water on fire, and that’s just one of the alarming and astonishing revelations in the movie.
You can join the Gasland fan page on Facebook in order to access to the film’s viewing guide, which contains tips for hosting a green screening, a list of 10 actions you can take now to fight fracking and a post-screening discussion guide
As millions of gallons of oil continue to drain into the Gulf Coast, a deeper sense of sadness and helplessness has set in for many of us. As is often the case with a national or international disaster, you see these awful images on the news and wonder what you – a lone person in Smalltown, Middle America – can possibly do to help. To me, it’s the same idea as voting in a presidential election. Does my vote really count? There are a lot of people who will tell me not really. Do I do it anyway? Sure, and I’m proud of it.
It’s the same thing here. You can either talk about how one person can’t possibly make a difference in the face of such a horrific catastrophe, or you can actually give it a try. And while you’re probably not going to be personally responsible for the restoration of the Gulf Coast, you will at least be able to rest easy knowing that you did something.
So aside from the old stand-bys like taking stock of your oil usage and riding the bus instead of driving, or the dramatic, i.e. coating yourself in chocolate and standing in front of your local BP station in protest, what can you do to help?
We’ve outlined three great opportunities below.
Alabama Coastal Foundation: www.joinacf.org. 100% of donations will go towards Gulf Coast clean-up efforts.
Our Gulf Waterkeepers: saveourgulf.org. Donations help provide everything from clean-up supplies and protective gear, to emergency office space and food for volunteers.
National Wildlife Federation’s Gulf Oil Spill Restoration Fund: Easily donate $10 to support the NWF’s oil spill cleanup efforts by texting “Wildlife” to 20222. All money goes towards helping their on-the-ground volunteer and restoration efforts.
You can register as a possible volunteer for several organizations that are taking on the heavy task of tackling clean-up.
A number of advocacy organizations have crafted letters you can send to elected officials.
For those inclined to send a political message about the need to restore the Gulf Coast, the National Wildlife Federation has created this form letter. Those in favor of halting all ocean drilling can use this one from the Sierra Club. Or, you can choose from the Gulf Restoration Network‘s menu of missives to the chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, secretary of the interior, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and President Obama himself. They all urge the government to accurately assess and address the damage from the spill.
I read an article a few months back about a student who’d developed a video for a film and climate change course. His piece noted that despite his own sustainable efforts (he recycled, carried his own water bottle, turned off the lights, etc.), the emissions created by a trip to D.C. for a political science class, negated everything he’d been doing. “While I would like to think these small, conscious efforts make a difference, the truth is I know they don’t.” He’s right… but I disagree:
Habits, no matter how small, formed over the course of an entire lifetime, can add up and make a real difference.
Take last week when I reported on our Zero Waste program. It’s a cool story about how our company is working to eliminate waste in one fairly large location. But in the grand scheme of things, compared to all the outputs caused by the production of all our products, does it really make a difference? It’s a legitimate question, but before I answer it, it’s important we consider our Mt. Crawford plant in Virginia.
As WhiteWave’s largest facility, how Mt. Crawford goes about manufacturing our products is incredibly important. Everything they do is at a fairly large and intense scale. With this in mind, the plant took a comprehensive waste, water and energy assessment last year. And based on the results of that assessment, it’s clear that some new practices are making some pretty significant impacts.
To help cut down on water usage, Mt. Crawford invested in high-tech tools like stack economizers and condensation controls, the goal being to save more than 30 million gallons annually. The plant is also in the process of installing energy efficient lighting throughout the facility, which, when completed later this summer, will not only use less energy, but also potentially save us $10-15k per year. On top of it all, the plant recycled nearly five million pounds of waste last year that would otherwise have been sent to landfills.
So, was it worth it? In this case, it seems, undoubtedly, yes. With our Zero Waste program in Broomfield, maybe not so much. A better question is would one program have been possible without the other? The fact is, both are very much connected, and together, paint a bigger picture. And what that bigger picture reveals—what numbers of individual projects fail to capture—is that these programs collectively shape our company’s culture, and how we do our jobs.
One program’s influence over one group of people at WhiteWave, say corporate headquarters, makes investing in more efficient and sustainable practices at our plant not only more possible, but more plausible. What we learn from employing new practices in Mt. Crawford gets applied to our Jacksonville plant, to our logistics audits, to our packaging design, and so on.
So, as easy it is to feel discouraged about the irrelevance of a single act, or program, or one person’s change in behavior, it’s important to remember that these actions aren’t mutually exclusive. In the grand scheme of things, they all add up. They all matter.
Earth Day began as a political demonstration, a protest, designed to bring more awareness to environmental issues. And over the years, that original concept has evolved and changed a lot. It isn’t just about protests or festivals anymore, it’s a mainstream event with main street attention.
The way people approach Earth Day has changed too. In fact at WhiteWave, we see it as a way to educate our kids not just on the importance of sustainability, but its role in modern business.
Obviously educating our kids about the importance of sustainability is an everyday kind of thing, but as it turns out, this year’s Earth Day is also national Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. So we’re blowing it out a little.
This isn’t going to be your average day at the office, it goes way beyond simply shadowing mom or dad. We’re actually going to have more than 150 kids, divided into 15 groups, attending 15 different “tour stops” throughout the day. All developed and led by WhiteWave employees… all dedicated to showcasing a wide variety of careers, and how sustainability fits into them. It would take way too long to explain what that looks like, so I think it’s best we just show you.
Tomorrow we’ll be tweeting highlights from the event itself, as well as other Earth Day activities via our WhiteWave twitter feed (@whitewavefoods) throughout the day. And don’t forget to also check out what our Silk brand is doing with The Huffington Post to celebrate Earth Day’s 40th anniversary…
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The Grazing Mind is a blog about current and social events related to the products, culture and business of WhiteWave.