Innovations That Matter

Seth Goldman of Eat The Change on the role of meat alternatives in creating sustainable futures

Wise Words

Insight into the future of meat alternatives with Seth Goldman, founder of Eat The Change and chair of Beyond Meat.

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According to the U.N.’s Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, livestock accounts for 14.5 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gasses, more than all our cars, trucks, trains, and aeroplanes combined.

Food production is also the world’s largest cause of biodiversity loss, which in turn threatens food production.

It’s important because our diets represent the single-largest footprint we have on the earth, with most experts agreeing that one of the best ways of reducing the environmental impact of farming is to eat less meat.

Eat the Change™ is a platform to inform and empower consumers to make dietary choices consistent with their concerns around climate change. To do so, they aim to support organizations and initiatives that promote climate-friendly eating, with a particular focus on those that serve and represent historically marginalized communities.

We spoke to Seth Goldman, founder of Eat the Change and executive chair of Beyond Meat, about the role of for-profit meat alternatives in creating sustainable futures, whether the planet and profits can co-exist and lots more.

— Katrina Lane

1. What change does Eat The Change want to facilitate and why is it important?

We hope to inspire people to shift toward more planet-friendly diets.  It’s important because our diets represent the single-largest footprint we have on the earth.  In fact, the landmark study Project Drawdown found that eight of the top 20 steps we can take to halt global warming are food-related.

2. How has your background shaped your work for ETC?

I’ve been involved in mission-driven food enterprises since 1998 when I launched Honest Tea out of my house.  My work with Honest Tea instilled in me the importance of organic farming.  I got involved with Beyond Meat in 2021; first as a board member and then as the Executive Chair of the board. My experience with Beyond helped me realise how important it is for us to shift toward more plant-based diets – a Beyond Burger requires 99 per cent less water and 93 per cent less land to produce than a cow-based hamburger.

3. Where did the idea of ETC come from and what inspired you to materialise it?

Eat the Change came about through my work in launching PLNT Burger.  I partnered with a wonderful group of co-founders, including Chef Spike Mendelsohn, to launch the plant-based burger restaurant.  As a result of my work with PLNT Burger, several ideas emerged – first, that we could make amazing foods with ingredients like mushrooms, including the parts of mushrooms that are usually cast off into compost.  And second, my son came up with the phrase, “Eat the Change You Wish to See in the World.”  I realised that it was not only an inspiring call to action, but also, when shortened, an inspiring brand name.

4. While plant-based meats are found by research to have a lower climate impact than a steak dinner, they are still processed foods and some dieticians suggesting that they may have the same amount of sodium and saturated fat. Do you think it is possible for the healthfulness of foods and their carbon footprint to be in sync?

Absolutely. First, the word “processed” can be misleading.  Everything goes through a process, including animal meat.  And when we consider the “process” behind the raising and slaughtering of animals, there is much about it (the hormones, antibiotics, confined spaces) that may be hard to digest. By contrast, the “process” of heating, cooling and pressure that Beyond Meat’s ingredients go through is the same process and piece of equipment used to make pasta. So if someone feels that Beyond Meat is too processed, they will want to avoid pasta as well.

In terms of nutrients, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition just published a Stanford study showing that people who ate plant-based meat, instead of animal-based meat, had significant improvement in key health indicators – without any adverse health impacts.

5. What role do you think for-profit meat alternatives can play in creating sustainable futures?

They are a critical solution because animal-based meat represent our largest impact.  The key step is to make them delicious, affordable and scalable.

6. When it comes to being a business, do you think the planet and profits can co-exist?

All of my experience has indicated that they can, but consumers play a critical role in making that happen. We need to accelerate their adoption of planet-friendly diets.

7. Research suggests that whilst most meat alternatives have a lower carbon footprint than their meat counterparts, they can still have a significantly higher impact than purely vegetarian options [i.e. a meat-free beef patty vs. a bean patty]. Is this a concern and how can businesses fomenting plant-based meat reduce their impact further?

There are two comparisons to think about. First, the difference between a plant-based burger like the Beyond Burger and an animal-based burger is dramatic: 99 gallons of water is needed for an animal burger and one gallon for a Beyond Burger. I don’t know the comparison between a Beyond Burger and a bean patty, but I’m confident it’s not the same magnitude.

It’s also important to consider the rate of adoption. We might hope more people eat bean patties, but for the previous four decades, their penetration has been very low and mostly confined to the 5 per cent of the population that’s vegetarian. By contrast, we’ve seen products like the Beyond Burger expand aggressively into the meat counters of grocery stores around the world (where 95 per cent of the population shops for protein) and onto the menus of the world’s largest fast-food chains.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in food, it’s that taste matters. And even if you make the most earth-friendly food, you aren’t making an impact unless people eat it.

8. So, what’s next? Where do you aspire ETC to be in two years, and how will you get there?

We aim to make Eat the Change the next great Masterbrand for plant-based wellness, in the same vein as Honest and Beyond. We will get there by creating delicious foods that people love, while adhering closely to our mission.

9. Do you have any other thoughts or wise words for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Make sure you are building something you can believe in – is it possible for your impact to be something a non-profit activist would aspire to make?  That way, even if you fail, you can be proud of what you tried to do.

Interview By: Katrina Lane