Bill Gates: Food Is Ripe for Innovation

Check out this interesting article by Bill Gates re: plant-based foods.

Bill Gates: Food Is Ripe for Innovation

“There’s quite a lot of interesting physics, chemistry and biology involved in how food tastes, how cooking changes its taste, and why we like some tastes and not others.”

We all deserve the right to know what’s in our food

The average grocery store stocks about 45,000 different products. That sounds like a lot of choice, certainly, but when it comes to one of most important choices of all – whether to choose food without genetically engineered (GE) ingredients – American consumers are still in the dark.

Although we require food manufacturers to list every ingredient in their products, we don’t require labeling to note whether those products contain genes from another plant or animal. According to a 2010 poll from Thomson Reuters, 93 percent of Americans want to see that policy changed. As a concerned father of three kids and the head of one of the country’s largest organic and natural brands, Silk, I am one of those Americans, and believe that the FDA should require the labeling of all products containing GE ingredients.

October is Non-GMO Month, making it the perfect time to elevate this issue and ensure consumers understand what’s at stake, what needs to change and how we can influence this change.

Many consumers may be surprised to learn that 80 percent of all processed foods contain ingredients created through genetic engineering. These processes combine the genetic code of different species to produce new food products like strawberries with flounder genes and corn that kills insects on its own. Because there is no requirement to label GE foods, these products look identical to their non-GE counterparts on grocery store shelves. Unless you purchase only organic food products, which under USDA standards can’t contain GE ingredients, there is no way to know whether the items in your shopping cart contain GE ingredients.

That should rightly concern many of us given the fact that GE foods carry documented health risks, including reproductive, immune, gastrointestinal and organ problems. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine is so concerned that it has encouraged all physicians to prescribe non-GMO diets to their patients, and the European Union, Japan and Australia all require labeling of GE products.

It’s time for the FDA to take action to require the mandatory labeling of GE foods. Consumers deserve the right to know what they’re eating and feeding their families, along with more control over their purchasing decisions.

To that end, we at Silk have partnered with hundreds of other businesses and organizations, including our sister company Horizon Organic, to pledge our support of the Just Label It! – We Have a Right to Know campaign. The campaign is focused on seeking consumer support for a petition to the FDA to require the mandatory labeling of GE foods.

In addition, earlier this month, concerned citizens and organizations also made their voices heard on this issue with the Right2Know March, a 16-day walk from New York City to the White House in support of a government-backed GE labeling standard.

These efforts are a great start in the fight for mandatory labeling of GE ingredients but the process may take a long time. So many of us in the organic and natural foods community are working to help consumers have more control now by enrolling our products in the Non-GMO Project, a multi-stakeholder collaboration committed to preserving and building sources of non-GMO products, educating consumers, and providing verified non-GMO choices. To date, more than 900 products, including all Silk beverage products, have been verified through the program and carry the Non-GMO Project verification seal.

The work being done by companies like mine is starting to move the needle, but consumers hold the real key to change. In addition to purchasing products with The Non-GMO Project seal, they can visit and submit a comment in support of the mandatory labeling of GE ingredients. They can also support the cause by becoming educated on the issue and discussing it with friends, families and colleagues. The fastest route to bringing more choice to our grocery aisles is through the collective voice and purchasing power we hold as consumers.

RIP, Food Pyramid

This week the USDA officially bid adieu to the Food Guide Pyramid and unveiled a new symbol of healthy eating called MyPlate. It’s designed to be an easy-to-understand visual to help Americans make the key messages of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines a reality in their daily meals.

The Food Guide Pyramid was originally conceived in 1992 and was not aging particularly gracefully as a nutrition education tool so most nutrition professionals including me were not sad to see it go. (For a trip down memory lane, check out this collection of previous editions of the Pyramid and other icons).

My take on MyPlate? A big step in the right direction. We eat off of plates, not pyramids, so this is a much easier way to visualize what constitutes a healthy meal. The simplicity of the icon is key given that many consumers are increasingly overwhelmed with conflicting health and nutrition advice. It’s much less important how many spears of broccoli or orange slices constitute a serving; just make about half your plate fruits & veggies and you’re good. I’m also a fan of the depiction of a more general “protein” group – protein is more than just meat and the plate recommends plant-based sources of protein like beans, peas and soy in addition to meat, poultry and seafood.

Of course, there’s room for improvement. It’s not immediately obvious where many common foods fit into MyPlate – for example soymilk (dairy) or nuts (protein). Mixed foods like burritos, sandwiches and pizza also present a challenge, and many people will need guidance on just how big their plates should be. As a general guide though, I think it works. The plate alone is not designed to be the end-all, be-all healthy eating solution; rather it’s the symbol of a much larger consumer nutrition education campaign that will be unveiled over the coming months by USDA and other partners, so stay tuned!

What are your thoughts? Is MyPlate a more useful guide to illustrate healthy eating than MyPyramid?


Putting it together

I love Colorado and the experiences it brings to my life.

One of those experiences is skiing. I was a first-time snowboarder as an adult, which can be challenging. Being a fierce competitor and overall pretty impatient person, I often left the mountain in frustration. Everyone kept telling me “one day it will all come together – just keep at it.”

That faithful day finally arrived a couple weeks ago in one of my favorite places – Vail, Colorado. Vail Mountain is not only beautiful, but provides a scale that most mountains don’t offer. Over three days, we rode through powder, bumps, trees, and woops on both steep runs and slow roads. For the first time, I loved snowboarding and had a great time.

Also, throughout that weekend, I noticed how many companies and restaurants are making small changes in the hopes that one day it will all come together.

  • Our hotel offered a free breakfast, with compostable cups and flatware.
  • Vail Resorts has a recycling program, featuring various receptacles at each mountain lodge and eatery.  The site of a snow cat hauling about 24 recycling bins was impressive! (Sorry, I just stared rather than snapping a picture).
  • The town of Vail also features a recycling program with recycling bins for both paper and plastic appearing alongside trash bins.
  • At dinner, we had several local options to choose from. Flame restaurant offered Colorado bison, lamb and venison. Kelly Liken featured trout, quail, lamb and more from Colorado. Side note: Kelly Liken was one of my favorite Top Chef contestants who finished in the final three in season 7.

I’m happy it all came together for me on the mountain. But I’m ecstatic that people are starting to make small choices that will make a big difference for our future.

Better late than never…

This week the USDA released the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These Guidelines are revised every five years, and serve as the foundation for federal nutrition policy and programs.

In a nutshell, the Guidelines recommend we consume more “nutrient-dense” foods (translation: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat/fat-free dairy products, and protein sources like seafood, lean meats & poultry, and plant proteins like soy foods, beans, nuts and seeds) and less foods contributing sodium , solid fats and added sugars (translation:  less fast food, processed foods, fried foods, fatty meats, sodas and sugary drinks, cakes, cookies and candy). Shocking, no?

While these recommendations haven’t changed much since 2005 edition, for the first time the Guidelines do specifically address the need for most Americans to EAT LESS.  This is an obvious, but necessary reminder in light of the sky-rocketing obesity rates in the U.S.

The full report is 94 pages long, but can be boiled down to the following key messages:

Balance Calories

  • Enjoy your food, but eat less
  • Avoid oversized portions

Foods to Increase

  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables
  • Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk (Note: fortified soymilk was also recommended as a dairy equivalent)

Foods to Reduce

  • Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread and frozen meals — and choose the foods with lower numbers
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks

My take:  thumbs up to the nod for more plant-based foods and for enjoying our food while being mindful of calories (the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive!). I’d like to see even more specifics around how to make these guidelines actionable for Americans every day.

While some may take issue with the “politicization” of the Guidelines, they are certainly scientifically sound, and if followed, would go a long way toward improving the health of Americans.  There is a big opportunity to increase awareness – many estimate that fewer than 3% of Americans follow the Guidelines.

A clear sign of the communication problem (besides the fact that 60%+ of Americans are overweight): USDA Secretary Vilsack admitted that before he was appointed Secretary, he’d never read the Dietary Guidelines himself. D’oh!  It’s little wonder then that most Americans aren’t paying much attention. The USDA is promising a revised food guide pyramid in the coming months as well as other nutrition education initiatives in support of the Guidelines, so stay tuned. Here’s hoping these efforts can help bring them to life and into the everyday diets of Americans.

More giving

Building off Luana’s post from earlier in the week, I thought it would be cool to recognize some other amazing givers outside our offices that are truly inspiring.

I’m a firm believer in embracing the inspiration to give whenever it moves you, But I think it’s also important to recognize the many who are dedicated to giving year round. One example – Homegirl Café in Los Angeles where founder Patricia Zarate hires and trains women who might otherwise be pulled into gangs. Not only do the new hires get cooking and barista experience, the restaurant’s new vertical garden offers a lesson in sustainability and local agriculture.

Of course it’s not the only one of its kind – Check out FareStart Restaurant in Seattle, Plates Café and Catering in Sacramento and Crossroads Café in San Francisco.

And in our neck of the woods, Same Café in Denver doesn’t offer a set menu or prices – patrons offer what they think their meal was worth, or even more to help out those who are less fortunate in the community. If someone cannot offer a dollar amount, the restaurant encourages donating an hour of service.

Definitely looking to make a field trip to see that kind of heart in person, and give a little bit back myself.

Don’t drink eggnog? You’re a Grinch

I’m just saying.

Last week I went to a Christmas party, and as a hostess gift I brought along a few half-gallons of one of my favorite holiday treats – Horizon Organic Eggnog.  Have you tried this stuff before?  Cause it’s crazy-good.  I mean, it TASTES like Christmas in a carton.  Creamy, smooth, delicious and with a hint of nutmeg, cinnamon-y goodness.

So I show up at the party, sure that I’m going to be a hit when I bust out my eggnog and instead I’m met with blank stares, gag reflexes and comments like “I just can’t drink anything that has the word egg in its name.”  Several friends told me that either they don’t like eggnog (how is this even possible?) or they’ve NEVER EVEN TRIED IT.  How is it even possible to make it to your mid-30’s without having tried eggnog once?  Where were these people’s parents?  To me, this is a clear case of neglect.

I guess I always assumed eggnog was just as much a part of every other American family’s holiday traditions as it was my own.  But since friends force other friends to at least try eggnog once before they pass such hasty judgment against egg-based beverages, I poured “shots” all around.  And while I can’t say that I made any lifelong converts, I did at least succeed in getting everyone to try it and all agreed that it actually tasted good when they got over their reservations.

But don’t take my word for it.  Horizon Organic Eggnog is available through the month of December at grocery stores nationwide.  If you haven’t already, I exhort you to get in the holiday spirit and make it a part of your tradition.  You won’t regret it.

(By the way, Silk Soymilk also makes a delicious non-dairy Nog, so I want no excuses.  Just do it.)

This little piggy went to pasture

Every time I have the opportunity to visit a family farm or a farmer’s market, I feel such an overwhelming sense of connection to my food, the environment and the good, hard-working people who help grow my food.

Generally speaking, as a society, we’ve become so disconnected from our food and the journey it takes from farm to shelf to table. The grocery store has become the perceived “source” of food to many.  Meat, for example, comes nicely trimmed and packaged from the butcher’s counter, with little to no reminder of the animal that gave its life. Lettuces have been uniformly chopped, tripled washed and sealed in a plastic bag with no connection back to the land from which it was pulled. When a fundamental connection and to and visibility into sources of our food is lost, so is, I believe, the demand for a better, more sustainable food system. What you don’t know won’t hurt you, right? Not so much.

But despite some very big obstacles in our food system as it is today, there is also a lot of important and meaningful work happening. Thought-leaders, farmers, law makers, nutritionists, and companies across the country are mobilizing, engaging and educating people in new ways, more than ever, to fight for ensuring more good food for more people. However, it is the farmers, especially, who make me feel proud to be part of the sustainable foods community.

Last month, I had the unforgettable opportunity to tour the farm of Paul Willis, in Thornton, Iowa. Paul is the founding Niman Ranch hog farmer and a true visionary in sustainable farming. When you visit farms like Paul’s it’s obvious why the pork tastes so good—you see the thoughtful care of the animals and the land working in perfect harmony. Those piggies couldn’t look happier, hanging out and socializing on beautiful, lush pasture—literally “frolicking” through the fields. It’s the sort of experience where you can’t imagine a hog farm being any other way, even though Paul’s farming practices are the exception rather than the rule.

Also as part of my visit to Iowa, I was able to attend a celebration honoring the network of Niman Farmers who uphold the values of sustainable farming. The Niman Ranch Farmer Appreciation Dinner in Des Moines brings together renowned chefs from across the country, who carry Niman Ranch at their restaurants, to serve an amazing, pork-inspired menu as a thank you to the farmers who make it all possible. It was a hogilicious experience.

I also feel lucky to work for a company that shares these same values and also applauds the farmers who help us bring organic dairy to the masses. WhiteWave’s Horizon Organic brand recently did some of our own farmer appreciatin’. A long-time supporter of Farm Aid and sustainable ag, Horizon sponsored Farm Aid’s 25th anniversary concert in Milwaukee, Wis last weekend. At the event, we announced our annual Horizon Organic Producer Education (HOPE) Award, which honors those among our 500 family farmers who create positive change in their communities by practicing and serving as a model for organic agriculture. Harvey and Connie Frasier of Mohawk, N.Y., received this year’s award. The Frasier’s are fourth generation farmers, who transitioned from conventional to organic farming a decade ago and have never looked back thanks to the benefits they’ve seen for both their family and their cows. Today, in addition to running their organic farm, they have become vocal educators and advocates of organic, helping transitioning farmers with their certification paperwork or providing tours of their farm.

The Willis’ and Frasiers inspire me and are just two examples of the many, many family farmers that are making a difference and farming in a way that’s better for all of us. Plus, when you meet the good people who work so hard to farm in a more thoughtful way, not only does the food taste better but it “feels” better, knowing you have that connection to what’s on your plate.

Soy What

Back in the ‘70s, when WhiteWave first started out, our mission was to bring soy to the masses. The biggest issue we faced then wasn’t competition, it was getting people to embrace soy as an alternative to dairy. None of that has changed. We are pioneers, who created and are now evolving and growing the category. But growth doesn’t come without growing pains. Don’t get me wrong, the more plant and soy-based products people consume, the more proud we are of our work. It means that we’ve succeeded in helping people make better, healthier choices. But it also means we now have to compete with other companies.

It’s always been our goal to grow the soymilk category, but it’s also our goal to maintain our leadership position in the category, something we set in motion over 30 years ago, and we’re going to protect it. But this does raise an important question – did we make the right decision adding all-natural options to our Silk Soymilk portfolio?

The answer is simple. Maintaining that leadership position depends on increasing the access people have to our products. This means putting Silk products on more shelves in more stores. It also means making our products affordable. Sourcing US-based all-organic beans would have required increasing our prices. And increasing our prices, especially in this economy, would have made it hard for people to buy our soymilk. Not all our consumers, but some. More importantly, making Silk difficult to purchase would have prevented new people from choosing our product or even entering the marketplace at all.

It’s important to note that the all-natural Silk options are an addition to our portfolio. What does that mean? Well, Natural to us means our beans are NON-gmo and have no artifical colors or flavors. We also wanted to keep Silk sustainable, so we only source our soybeans in the U.S. We still offer organic versions of three of our most popular flavors, with our unsweetened soymilk now exclusively organic. It’s also worth noting that we sell more organic soymilk than all of our competitors combined, three times as much actually. Every soybean we source comes from here in the US. In the coming year, our products will carry the Non-GMO Project-verified seal, and soon people will have the ability to track the sources of the soybeans in their Silk products on our website.

Stay tuned to The Grazing Mind, as we’ll be taking a closer look in the next few weeks at our Silk products, the sources we carefully choose and the partnerships that will help us continue to be the number one brand of soymilk in the U.S.

Does size really matter?

written by Luana Hancock

I work for WhiteWave and my husband for Chipotle Mexican Grill—two Colorado-based food companies that have missions aimed at changing the way people think about and eat food. This common ground inspires lots of lively conversations about food at our house (usually enjoyed over a delicious meal, of course). We talk about how our food choices impact our health, overall wellbeing/happiness, environment, world economies, cultures, and access. One question my husband and I continue to come back to, though, is whether or not big is bad.

Horizon, one of our brands at WhiteWave, is a great answer to this question. Horizion all started with a small cooperative of organic dairy farms in 1991. As the company grew, our bigger size didn’t prevent us from focusing on the health of families and our planet. In fact, it actually allowed us to help more people get access to more organic dairy products. It also provided more opportunities for farmers. Over the past 19 years or so, WhiteWave and Horizon have helped farms transition to organic practices through education, scholarships and financial support. We’ve converted hundreds of thousands of acres to organic farmland, which uses methods and materials that lower the impact to the environment. Today, we work with more than 500 organic family farms across the country.

Similarly, Chipotle recently opened its 1000th restaurant, which totally blows my mind. The little burrito joint that CEO Steve Ells opened back in ’93 to fund the “real restaurant” that he—as a classically trained chef—aspired to have, struck a chord with diners that still drives Chipotle’s success today. In a nutshell, you get super tasty, flavorful food for not very much money. Add to that their commitment to sourcing sustainably produced ingredients and you’ve got quite a combo. For example, they were the first national restaurant company to commit to serving naturally raised meat. Today, Chipotle’s commitment to smart, healthy and sustainable practices translates to 75 million pounds of naturally raised meat this year alone. In other words, by virtue of its size, Chipotle, like WhiteWave’s Horizon brand, has provided more opportunities to more farmers to viably farm in a way that’s more sustainable.

Clearly these two companies are a part of my life. Not only is my livelihood tied to them, but they’ve also helped shape my own thoughts and beliefs on what food means to people and the role companies can play. This is not to say that any company, like any person for that matter, is perfect or without growing pains. But the concept that the size of a company, or its ability to grow, automatically determines its value to society is a limiting one. Big isn’t necessarily bad. In the case of WhiteWave and Chipotle, the ability to scale up good food can actually drive meaningful change. I’m proud to be part of that.