When we chose the name Eat the Change, we knew we would be holding ourselves to a high bar. The aspiration to offer foods that help move our diets toward a cooler planet is an ambitious one. But it’s a behavior change that’s both urgent and attainable. Urgent because scientists agree that unless we change our diets, the earth will continue its trend of warming toward 2 degrees, with catastrophic effects. Attainable because unlike voting or buying a car (which people do every few years), people eat every day. And with every meal and snack, we want to offer people a meaningful (and delicious) option to help them take a stance against climate change.
Instead of relying on vague terms like “natural” or “eco-friendly”, we developed five planet-based commitments. Each commitment had to meet two criteria:
- A clearly defined characteristic that is recognized by a third-party as part of a solution for global warming. We chose Project Drawdown, the landmark study that identified 80 solutions to reverse global warming, as our authoritative resource. Fourteen of Drawdown’s solutions are related to food, agriculture and land use.
- Easily verifiable for the consumer – rather than asking our consumers to “trust us” (though we hope they will), we wanted to make sure each commitment can be easily verified, and not subject to interpretation or compromise. We wanted to avoid vague terms like “natural” that can be open to different interpretations, and whenever possible, we will use third-party verification, such as USDA Organic or How2Recycle.
So here are Eat the Change’s five planet-based commitments:
- Plant/fungi based ingredients: According to Drawdown, the meat-centric Western diet accounts for 20 percent of all global emissions. So helping consumers shift away from animal-based foods is a key step. We initially chose the phrase “Chef-Crafted. Plant-Based” as our slogan, but when we realized that mushrooms aren’t plants (they’re fungi), we switched our slogan to “Chef-Crafted. Planet-Based.” It’s worth noting that mushrooms are one of the most resource efficient crops and they require minimal amounts of energy and water. According to SureHarvest 1.7 gallons of water are needed to yield one pound of white mushrooms compared to 112 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef.
- Reducing food waste: Our products up-cycle imperfect produce and extending its shelf life. According to Drawdown, a third of all food produced is wasted, and along with it, all of the land, energy and water associated with its production, accounting for 8 percent of all global emissions. We take what we call “perfectly imperfect” portobello and cremini mushrooms that would not make it to a grocery shelf or a restaurant – they taste great but may not look great because we include the stems and mushrooms that are bruised, too big, or too small. Then we use heat and smoking, one of the oldest food preservation methods, to extend the shelf life from fourteen days to one year.
- Organic certification: Though Drawdown doesn’t specifically name organic as a solution, it does identify nutrient management, conservation agriculture and regenerative annual cropping, all of which are key elements of organic agriculture. Organic certification standards prohibit the use of most synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides, which contribute to the excess build-up of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere, pollute watersheds and wetlands, and destroy soil health, negatively impacting organisms and ecosystems on many levels. The USDA Organic symbol represents achieving certification according to the federal regulations in the USDA National Organic Program (NOP), which requires every supplier and processor of every certified organic ingredient to be inspected and maintain documentation for every shipment, helping ensure maintained compliance with uniform standards.
- Support Biodiversity: We share the view of Conservation International that “biodiversity is an essential part of the solution to climate change.” As it relates to our business, we think a relevant way to support biodiversity is to consciously avoid the largest crops that contribute to monocultures. Monocultures are risky for ecosystems and society. One weather event or disease, such as corn blight, can destroy a farm or region’s economic prospects, especially now that climate change has brought more frequent weather events. We were surprised to learn that there are six crops (sugar cane, corn, rice, wheat, potatoes, soybeans), which account for 57% of global agricultural production. Just as an athlete is more resilient through cross training, our ecosystems are more resilient when they are based on a permaculture approach to agriculture. To support more diverse crops, we have chosen to exclude the six largest crops from any of our recipes. Of course, excluding the six most common crops created an extra layer of challenge for Chef Spike as he formulated our jerky – good thing he’s used to that kind of challenge from his days at Top Chef!
- Recyclable Packaging – Unfortunately, packaging is our weakest planet-based commitment, mostly because our country does not yet have a national recycling strategy.
We aspire to someday offer a truly cradle-to-cradle package – one that is either edible or reusable. But given the health and safety concerns with COVID-19, now is not the time to be experimenting with new packaging that might compromise the security of our products or the health of our consumers. To prevent the potential growth of mold, our products require an impermeable barrier to protect the ingredients on the inside, especially since we don’t use any artificial preservatives. We did manage to find a pouch that is recyclable because it is made entirely with polyethylene, which is the most recyclable material in flexible packaging industry. Other pouches are mixed component structures that have PET as the outer skin and are not recyclable. Plastic film such as ours can be reprocessed into small pellets, which can be made into new bags, pallets, containers, crates, and pipe. Our bags can be placed in the same waste stream used for plastic shopping bags, which is usually a drop-off program at a grocery store. We have not been able to find a compostable, airtight package which can safely protect our ingredients, but our search continues.
We expect to apply our planet-based commitments to any product we offer. Some will be stronger in some areas than others, but our goal is to push the edges of sustainable innovation with each product we launch.