Nature of Business radio, created and hosted by Chrissy Coughlin, is a weekly show on business and environment.
As Founder of Changing Tastes, Chair of the Sustainable Business Leadership Council at The Culinary Institute of America and former VP of Sustainability at Sodexo (among several other appointments), there are not many people who understand the food and agricultural industry and its challenging intersection with the environment, public health and culture as well as Arlin Wasserman. This (along with his terrific sense of humor) made for a really rich discussion this week.
Wasserman grew up outside of Philadelphia and worked in the food industry long before sustainability and corporate responsibility existed. So, from this perspective, the food and ag industry has made some strides.
But as Wasserman points out, the lack of transparency, the industry's inability to show environmental improvement, and the failure by some legacy companies to alter the status quo are leaving the industry feeling the pain.
And this does not bode well with younger generations and an overall population that is increasingly interested in where their food is coming from and who is growing it, and who understands more than ever the importance of growing and harvesting our food soundly.
Here are just a few stats that Wasserman shared to tee us up.
- Farming and ranching accounts for 40 percent of arable land in the world.
- Farming and ranching uses 30 to 70 percent percent of fresh water (the percentage varies when water is re-circulated).
- Farming and ranching accounts for 25 percent of all greenhouse emissions.
- Coffee is the second most valuable legally traded commodity in the world after oil.
- Half of the food we produce globally is wasted because we don't harvest or store it correctly.
As Arlin puts it:
The food and agriculture sector isn't just the place where people connect with the planet on a personal level and often try to express their values. It is the place in the economy where we are making the most important choices about the future of the planet and the future of our health.
And going back to transparency, in this information age, companies no longer have the luxury of passively communicating what they do and how they do it. For the food and agricultural industry this is particularly poignant. For a case in point, look no further than the fallout from recent coverage on pink slime.
To this point, he says:
The innovation going on there I think is the same thing that is bringing the miracle of this radio show and social media. More information is being generated by consumers or interest groups and not mediated by companies, communications departments or PR professionals.
And here's the irony: Despite this growth in interest in the origin of our food, roughly 50 percent is currently being prepared by someone outside of our household. Who made your lunch this week? We are talking restaurants, hot bars and delis. We are trusting culinary professionals and companies to select the ingredients we are putting in our bodies. Why? Well some reasons are obvious others less so. Wasserman offers several:
- Fewer of us have time to cook.
- The traditional housewife is now liberated from having to cook every night (a positive).
We grew up not knowing how to cook. We are nervous about cooking. We are afraid of serving food that is insufficiently delicious -- especially with the growth of food networks and shows like Iron Chef.
(Arlin's humorous NBA analogy: "You go watch the NBA and you don't really learn how to play basketball better. And if your family is watching it, you don't want them to watch you shoot hoops afterwards.")
- We eat together less often.
- We have access to a world of global flavors and a host of cooking techniques (even some of the smaller cities have sushi restaurants).
As far as what excites Wasserman the most these days, it's his work with the Culinary Institute of Amercia. These people are making the decisions about what we eat, our health, and our relationship and impact on the planet, he says. To have a say in that is pretty cool.
This just scratches the surface of our conversation so listen away and enjoy the podcast!
George Papoulias edited this podcast
Plate of food photo via Shutterstock.