Swarnav S Pujari 00:04
Hey everyone, my name is Swarnav S Pujari. And welcome back to off the grid. We are joined here by two amazing food tech entrepreneurs that are here to talk about and unravel the mysteries behind what is driving pollution in the food space, what you might be eating might actually be hurting the environment more than you think. Thank you so much for joining us here Sue and Elliot, I’d love to introduce you guys to the audience. Both of you guys are working on some amazing, amazing stuff in this space. So I would love for you to give a brief introduction to the audience about what you’re working on.
Sue Marshall 00:47
Yes, thank you Swarnav. I appreciate being on and it’s gonna be a lot of fun today. I am a CEO and founder of a company called NetZRO and we are up-cyclers. We use a proprietary technology that works with food byproduct from manufacturing plants, we process that and keep that into the human consumption and domestic pet consumption so that that food does not go to waste.
Swarnav S Pujari 01:14
That’s pretty awesome. And Elliot, what about you?
Elliot Roth 01:16
My name is Elliot Roth. I am the founder and CEO of Spira, Spira uses algae to create replacements for petroleum and animal compounds in the supply chain predominantly in the food industry. We work with a network of farmers all over the world to grow our algae ingredients and replace the more harmful polluting animal and petroleum based compounds that are in our food.
Swarnav S Pujari 01:38
That’s awesome. That’s awesome. So as we can see, we have two really, really experienced individuals in this space. And today we want to kind of dive in and really discuss three key topics. Specifically, we want to get started with the idea of what we are going to do to solve this idea of food driven pollution. You Go into different kinds of things like Beyond Meat, and a vegan diet really helps solve the issue of food driven pollution, and what we can do to help solve the supply chain related issues in this industry. So to kick it off, we want to really understand the idea of food waste. Now when we look at food waste, that can turn into methane. And that actually is one of or among one of the biggest what I would call hidden polluters, that people don’t often know about when they’re eating their own food on a day to day basis. And when we’re throwing away any access that we’ve taken from a buffet and things of that nature, one of the biggest issues that we have is how do we stop any kind of pollution driven from food waste? So I’ll open it up to the table. I’d love to hear what you guys think about how we could solve this issue of food driven pollution.
Sue Marshall 02:52
Well, my answer might be a little different than you’re expecting. And maybe some of the listeners might get a bit stunned. But I’m gonna say it’s each and every one of us as consumers. If you look at the research cites a lot of statistics on there and 43% of all food waste is from consumers making bad choices in their refrigerator and at home. So sometimes we can put blame along the food supply chain, but I think we each have to take our own consequences from our behavior and look at that first, another 40% is from retail food, which they order food to supply current demand from the consumer. So the question really is, as a consumer, what choices do we need to make and why to actually handle food waste in a big way?
Elliot Roth 03:42
So I would actually counter that a little bit. Because yes, although consumer driven food waste is the majority of what actually results in the waste in the United States in terms of food. I would say that companies’ decisions on What kind of ingredients to use and how they actually represent their food is the initial starting point of that. When you take a look at the total global global carbon emissions, the US military is one of the largest polluters, and the US military actually has quite a bit of food waste as well. However, they’ve reduced that by using stuff like meals ready to eat. Now, I’m not advocating for individuals on choosing these kinds of prepackaged long shelf life, kind of duration food products, but I would urge caution and say that it’s on consumers. That food waste is kind of up to each and every one of us I think companies play a major role in the potential food race, and that some of the concerning things from my perspective are the reduced use of stuff like preservatives, and preservation style techniques that enable a longer shelf life. If we shift to shorter shelf life foods that may potentially be healthier, quote, unquote healthier It means that it leads to an increase in perspective, food waste. And so I was wondering if you could comment on that, too.
Sue Marshall 05:07
So what I hear you saying is that we should be more clear on what we’re eating from a quality perspective. So we have food that is fresher, and that we should be conscious of that because of all the preservatives and those types of things that these big companies are manufacturing. Is that what I hear you saying, Elliot?
Elliot Roth 05:28
Yeah, yeah, there’s there’s been this movement to reduce the amount of preservatives used in food products, which has led to a direct increase in the amount of food waste, and so he’s wondering if you could comment on that.
Sue Marshall 05:39
Yeah, I would agree on that. And I would also again, lend some information to all of us that says, our choices, what we demand, what we put our money towards, does ultimately make a difference. Now it might take I agree with you, it might take manufacturers some time to understand that They shouldn’t be making some of these preservatives, they shouldn’t be making food like that. But at the end of the day, they go by what we literally put our money towards so at some point, to sit and wait for a big company to choose to do things differently, which we’d all love for them to do. We really have to force the issue. And I really think with COVID-19, I think it’s going to take even more pressure because these big companies are going wow, we don’t have to be forward and food waste reduction now, because we just got to pump out a bunch of bad food that has a long shelf life. I’m seeing it my business that anyone who was saying yes, we want to do some of these great initiatives are now saying, Oh, well, maybe next quarter. So were they really into food waste reduction techniques and technologies and initiatives? Or were they just saying it
Swarnav S Pujari 06:54
and that brings up a really interesting point. Are we talking about the effect of like greenwashing here that’s going on in the industry. Because when you start to talk about human behavioral changes, meaning you’re telling a person don’t buy this, buy that because one is better for the planet, one isn’t. How do you justify to a consumer to drive that kind of behavioral change? Because that’s the one challenge I’m having in hearing both of you guys sides on this thing. What do you guys say to that?
Elliot Roth 07:25
So I have a very interesting perspective on this because it’s something that’s kind of counter to a lot of the eco friendly, more hippie inspired movements going on in the food ecosystem. Now, large scale agriculture has the potential of feeding more people and I approach things mostly from a food security standpoint, as opposed to necessarily a food waste standpoint. I think if we’re doing food properly, food production properly, then there’s a limitation to the amount of food waste that’s produced. And that comes from the selection of the right ingredients at the very get go as well as Supporting food agriculture in such a way that you’re reducing efficiency, you’re reducing the inefficiencies in the supply chain. So what I mean by that is the use of preservatives have led to a rise in the availability of food products, especially for lower income Americans and people globally. And in addition, large scale agricultural systems, on a whole have a reduction in the global carbon emissions setups, partly because it’s a reduced usage and increased efficiencies in production output. And part of that production output is how do you actually use that increased production output? And right now, I think it’s more of a logistics problem. And maybe you could definitely comment on this a little bit more as a logistics issue on getting fresh, healthy food to people who need it the most. That’s where I always have a hold up in the supply chain.
Swarnav S Pujari 08:51
So to understand clearly, are you saying to throttle the production capabilities of these companies or are you saying to leverage it properly to then make sure everyone has access to, I guess good unhealthy food. Right? Right, leveraging
Elliot Roth 09:07
it properly. So So when you look at the carbon emissions from the food supply chain, industrial agriculture is one of the biggest polluters, but it’s partly because we’re not efficiently distributing the logistics of the operation of industrial agriculture is that you have these centralized production points, and then you have to get it everywhere. And so that no problem is, Yeah,
Sue Marshall 09:32
I would agree. And I’m sitting in the middle of the Midwest here, and I see it and live it every day. And I see and live the consequences everyday as well as everybody else was in the Midwest. And there is an underlying view that consumers and most people don’t see what that commercialized, production does in a couple ways. Number one, they over produce, and when it ends up in the retail and in the condition tumor and then we don’t eat it for whatever reason. Okay, so I’m not going to pick on the consumer right now. Just Just say that they don’t end up using the strawberry that got to them from gosh only knows where Mexico or something and they didn’t get it. What we’re not realizing is all the resources that it took for that strawberry to get harvested, planted, harvested carried logistically around into the store into our refrigerator and then we didn’t eat it. So all of that is a carbon footprint problem that needs to be dealt with. And that is a logistics problem. The second thing is soil health. Iowa has very little nutrients left in the soil. It’s not even going to be repairable for years to come unless we really go down on that and that is a consequence of commercialized agricultural production that destroyed the soil. And it’s happening all over. So I there is an agreement on that what Elliot is saying is just how do we take a look at it Stop it. And so at the end of the day, I don’t know all the answers, but I know that as a consumer, I decide I’m not eating strawberries in December in Minnesota. I didn’t grow up eating strawberries in Minnesota in December. But for some reason after 50 some years, people decide they can eat strawberries in Minnesota. We don’t grow them here. So,
Elliot Roth 11:23
Yeah, I don’t have the same kind of concept as getting avocados in Canada or something.
Swarnav S Pujari 11:28
So I can’t enjoy strawberries in the wintertime. I’m guessing anymore.
Sue Marshall 11:31
We can all wait. Okay, let’s all be patient.
Elliot Roth 11:36
The general concept is that soil health, that’s a really, really good point too. And soil health is brought about by the microbial activity in the soil itself. So I have a background as a biotechnologist and when you take a look at the science behind fertilizer production, just this one chemical equation called the haber Bosch process, contribute to To over 4% of the total global carbon emissions, particularly focused on agriculture, right? And that’s taking hydrogen and nitrogen in the air and and kind of converting it into ammonia fertilizer. And just that process, when you’re adding fertilizer into the soil itself, you’re depleting the nutrient reserves of that soil. So yeah, I’m a big advocate of, you know, shifting away from monoculture styled crops, but supporting biotechnology in particular as a means of increasing more permaculture style relationships. I think that in order to tackle the joint problems of food waste and food insecurity, we need better logistics resources and a shift to a more localized system of production. And then also use every single technology toolkit possible as a means of making sure that our food is not only nutrient dense but has longer shelf life, to make sure that the strawberries that you’re getting remain fresh. There’s actually this concept in the food industry known as the birthday apple. And those are apples that are harvested and then sold over a year later. And part of what makes it so that they can maintain the apple itself, when you buy it in the store is they coat it in wax, and then they keep those apples in cold storage, deoxygenated storage in these big refrigerant units. And that that really is one of the big contributors to global carbon emissions is all of the cold chain that is put into place to enable the food to remain fresh, so that when it gets to you, you’re able to purchase it. So I think more localized production reduces overall class.
Sue Marshall 13:40
Absolutely, absolutely. There’s a several pronged approach here. So on food waste, it’s easy to say, Oh, it’s this problem. And this problem. And what we’ve realized is tackling each of those problems alone really hasn’t made a difference. And that’s because we’re doing them each individually. They’ve got to step back and say it’s going to include all kinds of things all along that supply chain, you can’t just take it on one prong. And if there is a silver lining on the COVID-19 thing, I do believe people are going to start to see that food just doesn’t appear. You have to know where your food comes from. When you go to the store right now, you’re not going to get bread, you’re not going to get flour, you’re not going to get some of these things that we’re just used to thinking just pops up on the shelf. And we don’t even ask the questions. I think people as soon as they start saying, Wow, I guess I didn’t realize where it comes from. What bad things go into it so that I can eat it a year later. And they start to really understand that that’s not probably good.
Swarnav S Pujari 14:39
But that brings up a really interesting kind of situation, right? Because we’re talking about, you know, people here in America because I don’t think any of us have enough real world experience in another country that we can say that, hey, in Italy, they buy food and eat food like this, but in America at least we see a lot of people you know Hey, I have a craving for strawberries today or I want to buy an apple, which kind of bothers me that I might be eating apples that were picked a year ago. That’s, that’s not a very comforting fact to know. But how do you explain because the commonality I’m hearing in both of your guy’s statements is over farming? And how do you stop or incentivize a company from doing that? Now, I see that under other industries happening through either tax breaks incentive programs, state level government related things. But we all know that when you look at just depending on the government to effect change, nothing really gets done, because at the end of the day, if it was a perfect system, it would be based on what the people want. And I don’t think that people have really spoken up on the idea of, hey, let’s let’s drive, you know, a significant chain change in the way our food is produced and delivered. And as part of that you mentioned not being able to eat strawberries in, in the wintertime. So yeah. What do you think is the biggest contributor to this in terms of like numbers or impact wise? And what are we doing to solve this? And how do we solve this?
Sue Marshall 16:15
Yeah, an interesting way to think about this. And this is a line I’ve been using. I wonder if the end of the food supply chain as any one of us views it. So that can be a farmer, it can be anywhere along the food supply chain, how we view that that end of the food supply chain actually becomes a new Food Revolution. And by that, I mean actually economics, jobs, and economic gain opportunities for the future. I wonder if we chose to look at it that way. Because I agree with you as far as regulatory I, in my business, I’m following regulation where there’s regulation, there’s food problems, and I can maybe solve them. So there’s not an Because they’ll continue to do what they want to do until they’re forced from a regulation perspective to change their behavior as far as companies, right? Sure. But at the end of the day, if I show them which is part of my model at NetZRO is to show them how to actually do it right and make economic gain. Let’s just be honest, for what the United States is we’re capitalists, they don’t want to do anything until they can see that. Number one, it makes them money. And making them money can mean saving them money by changing their behavior and what they currently do with their waste. But more importantly, what can they do to actually have a whole new revolution around the concept of it? So obviously, my business we take by products and we make them into new food ingredients, protein fibers and stuff that normally would have gone away either land application or into the landfill directly. So that is an economic game, but I think everyone along the food supply chain could think like my grandma used to say there is a place for every single thing. You waste nothing. Okay? There was no such thing as waste in the vocabulary. So I think, you know, we just got carried away and Okay, yeah, we can buy this and you know, if it doesn’t work out, we’ll just throw it away whatever that means. Instead of thinking, how can actually it save lives? How can it provide nutrition? How can it become an opportunity that I currently don’t even see, we have entrepreneurs in this country, we have innovation, we have all kinds of ways to make a revolution if we choose to look at things that way.
Swarnav S Pujari 18:34
And that’s, that’s an interesting, you know, statement of, you know, I appreciate that. So one of the biggest challenges I’m still having is, we’re going back to the idea of we have to change human behavior, because if we consume differently, then corporations who want to sell us that service or that product, they’ll stop over farming, they’ll stop buying that and, and we see that trend happening with things Like beyond meat and, you know, the vegan trend, I, it’s it’s almost every week at this point that I hear, you know, hey, I went vegan and, you know, naturally that’s going to help me reduce my carbon footprint from my food standpoint. And again, food is such a weird kind of industry from the standpoint of people who don’t realize the impact. The food we put in our mouth actually has on the environment. You know, things like over farming damaging, you know, the soil, things of that nature. And Elliot, I’d like to hear your opinion as well on the topic of what we have to do from changing consumer behavior much like how beyond meat has driven You know, this idea of buying plant based burgers is that the solution is, is incentivizing people to eat differently. with food that tastes like what we may enjoy the right way to go.
Elliot Roth 19:53
Yeah, yeah. So to the point of changing agricultural systems, first and foremost, where food comes from? I think that our food system is exhibiting something called tragedy of the commons, right. And you see this happening in fisheries in particular, when you go into the ocean to pull up fish, and then what you find out is that the more fish that you actually farm is more efficient you’re able to actually catch, the more you’re able to sell, but you have a limited supply. And that’s what happens in agriculture as well land based is that you you tend to farm again and again and again and again, because you’re able to make money and you’re able to make more money, the more you farm, and in particular, the one policy that the US government has, in order to maintain these same systems, the same monoculture style crops, is the insurance that you’re able to get as a farmer in the farm bill for something that these crops that are categorized as staple crops, and those are corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, peanuts, cotton And I believe sorghum, staple crops in the United States and oftentimes dairy, I believe, and you’re able to get insurance on those crops such that if your field goes fallow, or you have a flood or a drought or other things like that, and the crop ends up dying off, you’re able to get insurance from the federal government. And what that does is that incentivizes people to double down and invest in these kinds of monocultures as opposed to diversify. I think diversification really is the key in order to enable more food resiliency and reduction of food waste in the supply chain. Because by diversification, you’re able to embrace multiple diets, you’re not having to resort to global supply chains, and the kind of cold chain and carbon emissions that we’re talking about. Now, in particular, when you focus on plant based meat as an emerging kind of realm of thought, plant based milk as well, which I think is even more pertinent because it’s led to a decrease in the dairy industry by a massive amount. plant based milk has been around for a long time soy milk has been around forever. Now you have all sorts of different kinds of nut milks that are coming out cashew, Allman and things like that. And what you see happening is that these plant based industries lead to a reduction in the dairy and meat markets. And so it’s a balancing act between the two. And there’s a big, big reaction from current farmers and agrarians against these plant based industries. But in essence, from a consumer adoption standpoint, it comes from a confluence of three factors that the Good Food Institute has really pointed at as a result of changing consumer behavior. And those three are taste which is the number one most considered important issue when consumers adopt a vegan or vegetarian style diet. The next is price and price is a confluence of those other agrarian factors making sure that the crop is plentiful and available to drive down the overall cost and price. In particular when you take a look at beyond me, it was the availability of Yellow Pea, and the planting of yellow pea and the processing of yellow pea that was able to drive down the price so much. In addition for impossible foods, it’s the price of soy and soy availability with soy that drove down the price so much and that was a result of the planting of soy crops during and after World War Two, and then three is the availability. So where is it sold? How is it sold? Initially, it was sold in high end restaurants only for the wealthy and vegetarian vegan diets were only a wealthy thing that was an aspirational thing. And now they’re trickling down into fast food establishments to make it more available to everyday common Americans. And I would say once we start displacing a lot of the more harmful ingredients in our supply chain and getting into that TV dinner that somebody is having in Nebraska at home and having better ingredients in there to enable better health. You’ll see endless results in the overall health of our communities with a reduction of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, things of that nature, bees are swapping out harmful ingredients not only from a carbon basis, but also from a healthy basis in people’s diets. So there there are like other effects in terms of cost savings, pricing and other things of that nature if we just invest and diversify our crop supply and make it so that we remove those more harmful insurance provisions in stuff like the farm bill in order to incentivize agrarians to invest in the kind of crops that will enable that kind of diversity and that’s
Swarnav S Pujari 24:23
that that’s pretty interesting because it seems like what you are working at at your company, Spira is focused around helping provide alternative materials with algae. And I think that’s why it’s really interesting the synergy that both of you guys could bring here in terms of perspectives but us who and Elliot on this on the show is is the angle of Okay, Elliot seems to be handling on the side of more on what can we replace within the supply chain materials wise? Yeah,
Elliot Roth 24:54
The analogy that I like drying is that like if you’re trying to cook a cake But all you have is sand, your cake is going to taste pretty frickin bad. And so right now our food supply chain has a lot of really bad ingredients in it. And so people’s health and the overall outcome, even if we’re reducing the amount of waste, you’re just reducing the amount of sand that you use in the food supply chain.
Swarnav S Pujari 25:18
Sure, so I guess we’re eating sand right now. But it tastes good right now. But it’s something that’s still again, we need to drive consumers to change and it seems like Sue, you’re working on the government side of things, working with institutions to drive different regulatory shifts, and at the same time, you’re upcycling as you call it that that waste that we might be generating on a day to day basis. And yeah, you know, maybe from throwing out those strawberries in the winter because I was just too full.
Sue Marshall 25:50
So my role is actually interesting because I don’t process anything that’s gone bad. I process from the companies that Elliot’s Talking about I process from oat milk I process from breweries, I process from distilleries from almond milk. So anytime that you manufacture some sort of beverage, you have a waste product and the waste product, if you just take oat milk, let’s just pick on oat milk, very little nutrients go into the milk, the majority of the nutrients get left behind in the oats. And then what do we do and I know the numbers because I’m currently working with the company. We’re talking 5 million pounds of oats a year that are being just literally thrown away. Now something’s been extracted that goes into the milk. And then a bunch of things are added to it to have some sort of nutrient value. But what’s left behind can feed the world. And it’s protein and fiber and some carbs and there’s some great vitamins. So at the end of the day, when we look at our choices and we say I want to drink oat milk, because I feel like I’m saving the world. Did we really do that? Did we really do what we didn’t mean to? We didn’t mean to put all this extra carbon footprint out there and all these other things because we felt like this is going to make us feel good. It might taste good. I agree taste has got to be there. Once the price comes down more people can have a chance to taste it. But don’t think of that as replacing dairy because I want to feel better about the carbon footprint. At the end of the day. I know what happens. These plants don’t want to throw away 5 million pounds of a great grain. It’s just the byproduct and the circumstances from the demand of a consumer almond milk demand of almond milk has gone down because consumers are starting to realize all it takes to get what you want out of a little almond to drink it. And what you have left is actually the most important part of the moment so I can do the great work. NetZRO is doing great work. And I can do that. And we can turn around and make new grains and new ingredients to put in and supplement some other, you know, foods to give that protein fiber back. But at the end of the day, do we drink it because we want to feel good about saving the world?
Elliot Roth 28:15
Yeah, I would kind of take a look at also how our culture in particular differs from other cultures around the globe. If you try to convince a Brazilian to give up Brazilian barbecue, on the basis of the fact that it’s less environmentally friendly, you’re gonna have a very hard argument. I tried to convince my friend that he should stop eating red meat and cows and he said, Well, you know, if God didn’t want me to eat cows, he would have made them run faster. So to say different kinds of communities, right, right. When you take a look at different kinds of meat communities globally, some are just not suited to adapting other dietary preferences or lifestyles or other things like that like I would never recommend yet. Farmers are nomadic people in Nepal to adopt a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle just because they don’t have access to those food sources around them. Instead, what I think is that diversification and then seems like you’re emphasizing reclamation of a lot of those processing techniques to be able to utilize all aspects of your food. I also think that a movement away from preservation of and use of, you know, preservatives, is, is potentially harmful because it leads to more waste if you don’t offset that with local production.
Swarnav S Pujari 29:34
Mm hmm. Yeah. And is that even possible? Because there’s a reason that specialties come in, right? There’s a reason why I’ll buy mangoes from India and I’ll buy avocados from Mexico, right? It’s you can only grow certain things locally and, and the beauty of our kind of borderless globe that we’ve sort of moved to is, as the last decade has created Or last two decades ever since the internet really started to pick up? Yeah. How do we really solve this? Because like I’m hearing a number of different themes on this call, I’m hearing, let’s change different parts of the supply chain. But then every time we’re coming to a point like, hey, let’s not use preservatives, there’s a really strong argument as to why we shouldn’t move away from the technologies or solutions, chemicals that we’re using today. And I don’t think the idea of consumers having to change their behavior is going to change or solve the problem in the near term fast enough. Now naturally, you know, as if emissions just keep going up for all of us. That’s not going to solve the problem because if we have to wait on a behavioral change at a global scale, or even a nation level scale, the problem may never get solved or it may not get solved fast enough.
Sue Marshall 30:52
Yeah, yeah. Mother Nature has a plan for all this. I believe this to be true. I think Mother Nature is literally putting things out there for us to deal with. We never anticipated COVID-19 being one, climate change being obvious as well, if we don’t start doing something, those messages won’t stop. So COVID-19 I’m in my neighborhood, I can’t buy any flour. There’s no flour on the shelves. Oh, are you asking for me to get you some spent grain flour? Yeah, I can help you. Okay. And I’ve been packaging it in my house, you know, to help flour go further. I can do that. Right. And it’s protein and fiber. It’s good for you. And it tastes great, by the way. And I don’t want to tell anybody. I’m like you guys. I don’t want to tell anyone to stop drinking their favorite craft beer, or you know, whiskey. In fact, I love those things myself too. I’m just saying, you know, let’s take a look at how we look locally for the nutrients that we need. And yeah, ideas are here.
Elliot Roth 31:55
The issue at play though, is that 87% of the global population will reside in cities by 2050. So this problem isn’t going to just get solved by doubling down on what nature currently has to offer. Because when you’re in a city, how much actual arable land you have to grow, you have to support technologies that are able to get higher yields for less area, if you really do want to produce locally. And so that’s why I’m particularly interested in biotechnological tools that enable us to kind of accelerate what nature is already doing double down on nature’s best practices, to enable us to produce more in a smaller area so that we can get that local production. Like I would love to be in a situation where, you know, you can go down to your local meat brewery where they’re able to brew up a burger for you, you know, something like that, where you’re able to get access to a ready supply of protein dense protein near you because to me, protein is one of those supply chain issues that the agricultural society really hasn’t solved in any country. signs you know, direct kind of way, when you take a look at the mountain mouth Lucien style catastrophe where population accelerates beyond the point where our agricultural production is able to actually supply it, we need about 70% more calories to feed the population by 2050. And that’s going to get harder because those calories are going to have to be more and more concentrated in cities. And so these global supply chains, you’re going to have to double down and emphasize what crops and products have higher yields, in order to produce locally for these cities, states and these kinds of economies. So like you’re saying that distribution to your neighbors if you have the ability to produce yourself right now, insanely important local community gardens, organizations that do food distribution, are very, very important. What I’m really concerned with is because we have the global supply chain and borders have to remain closed. I’m very concerned with food insecurity. Now, and being able to enable more local production, higher density production, such that we don’t ever have to worry about food access to nutrition anywhere. It needs to be as effortless as possible.
Sue Marshall 34:14
Yeah, and we do need to concentrate on soil health or like you said biomimicry, so we can actually leverage what Mother Nature has already given us so much. We can do this stuff. I actually gave birth to one. She’s amazing. She’s a soil scientist and that’s what she’s doing. And I listened to this stuff. And she’s right. It’s not, it’s all there for us. We just need to innovate and create it. So those calories that are coming out are full calories, not empty calories. If you look around food, the state that has the highest food insecurity rate is Iowa. People like how does that happen? They grow out what soy beans, you know, corn, you know, they grow all the stuff. That’s because what’s coming out of their soil has nothing left. So what they do grow that’s outside of those commercial crops. Their calories are not the same as calories coming from other parts of the country where their soil is still healthy, or at least somewhat healthy. So you have to look at and like you guys were saying with technology, we can grow food closer to urban centers, that that’s going to look different, then, you know, a large commercial farm in the middle of Minnesota, you know, there’s ways to grow food that literally has soils in it that that we can put together that allow those plants to grow faster, better and have better nutrition overall, that we can do it we’re doing it just more of seems
Swarnav S Pujari 35:33
like it seems like there’s, there’s an idea around the themes that I’m hearing here right now. There’s the idea of localized production so that there’s a failsafe in the event of borders having to shut down. You know, people shouldn’t have to go hungry because, you know, the shelves can’t be stocked with something like right now, if I walk into the ER, I won’t be able to walk into the grocery store in New York. But I could walk in, and it would be entirely empty, it would be entirely wiped clean, and it would be looking more like an apocalypse zone than anything else. Now, again, COVID-19 we’re hoping is just a once in a lifetime kind of situation that we’ve been stuck inside of. But the idea of having a distributed kind of supply chain that could feed local communities or states, without depending on you know, being shipped from Iowa in this example, it seems like that’s a really key focus point. Beyond the idea of, we need to make our supply chain greener. We need to fix and maintain the soil and stop overeating over farming, incentivizing the public to change our food sources. There’s hundreds of different things that I’m hearing from this conversation that have come out to solve this larger issue of how we make food, a non factor in the environmental impact kind of conversation. So going from there, the one major question I want to leave you guys with, and I’d love to hear your opinion too. And your azealia is if I’m an investor, I’m a startup founder, I’m someone working in the space or trying to work into the space. Or if I’m just a general consumer, I’m just tuning in right now because you’re two awesome people that I want to listen to. What can I do at different levels with the kind of resources that I have? What are the simple decisions? And what are the more complex decisions that can go into actually driving real change in this industry? beyond saying, go by and change your entire diet to vegan or stop eating, bro, what was it uh, you know, barbecue every day instead of having barbecue on the weekends. So things of that nature, what would you leave with the audience as actual ways in terms of actionable industry actions that can be taken, that individuals could take today in order to help push Towards an accelerated reduction of the climate impact that food can bring into our world.
Elliot Roth 38:07
Yeah, I got three. So three different levels. First from a consumer perspective, then from an investment perspective then from a governmental perspective. So from the consumer perspective, reduce, reuse, recycle, reduce the amount of meat that you eat, reduce the amount of more environmentally damaging food sources, try to eat local, read reuse, you can plant like your own garden, you can kind of create your own local food source and recycle, try to reduce the amount of plastic packaging and other kind of things. If you source locally, you’ll have less of a carbon footprint from the food that you eat. From a governmental perspective. Anybody who has access to decision makers and government advocates for a change of policy for the Farm Bill, the farm bill comes out every year or so and provides funding through the USDA NFA and other central organizations. to supply farmers with the necessary financing that they need. Part of that is the insurance policies listed through the farm bill itself. And those advocate those that kind of incentivize these more monoculture harmful crop practices. If you kind of lobby the government to adopt more diversification of resources, that means that you’re able to advocate for more diversification of crops and have overall better global food security, and a reduction of potential reduction of food waste on the basis of enabling crop cycling and other such things. reduce carbon emissions, there’s just more innovation that can happen if we stop supporting these, you know, monoculture style setups, and enable more of a farming entrepreneurship and younger farmers to get into the supply. About 2% or less than 2% of the US participates in agriculture, and the average age is over 50 years old. So we need to kind of incentivize innovation in farming and agriculture. ecosystem. And third, if you’re an investor, take a look at these growing trends. I mean, there’s more and more people moving into cities, there’s more people advocating for vegan vegetarian diets. And we need to produce technologies that are able to have higher yields for lower costs locally in city environments. And when you take a look at our food ecosystem, try to find stuff at the very beginning of the value chain. Don’t try to just produce another food product that contributes to the noise. But if you are trying to support a food company of sorts, support companies that do stuff like reducing, reusing and recycling of food waste, just like Sue’s company,
Swarnav S Pujari 40:42
Sue Marshall 40:43
Yes, love all of that. And I’ll just add a couple more things. Consumers. There is a great podcast called Too Good to Waste podcast calm, talks about how you can be involved in looking at your daily behavior. What can you actually ask? What questions can you ask? Ask your different folks where food comes from. If you take a look at it’s like people getting into reusing clothes, right? It’s like, okay, I don’t want to buy new clothes until I figure out where those clothes come from. Do I really need them? Can I reuse them? Can I buy them from second hand stores? The same kind of philosophy is just what kind of questions should I be asking for food businesses, and that includes farmers, taking a look at adding that fourth, our we’ve talked about Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. But let’s talk about re harvest. What food are you dealing with? Whether you’re a manufacturer or farmer, or brewery or anyone like that? What byproducts Can I actually re harvest and make use of again? What are the nutrients in there that we are losing that we don’t have to local governments? I think in addition to letting the Farm Bill like Elliott was talking about but locally, I know in Minnesota and some of the surrounding states. I have a lot of luck with the local government. Some states are really becoming forward on supporting entrepreneurs supporting food businesses to actually re harvest them. They like what I do, they come in, are there grants? Yes, there’s all kinds of funding. We need more. It’s not enough by any means. But there are a lot of initiatives on the local government side as well. And then as far as investors, I agree they need to take a look at not just apps, you guys they need to invest in these food technologies. Every time I go to any kind of session, I see technology that is amazing. And all it needs to be as deployed, investors need to look at how we deploy this technology that can actually assist along this new Food Revolution so that we have 00 food waste, we do not have to accept anymore, everything can be valued. So upcycling, we can all focus on what we can upcycle
Swarnav S Pujari 42:50
And one last question, just to close this entire thing off, because what you both said about investors was really, really interesting to me. What is The return, how do I evaluate return? Because if we remember the clean tech bubble bursting in that time period, I think a few of us remember that time period was tough because people valued investments into clean tech incorrectly, in my opinion, or that was among one of the key factors. How do I evaluate driving an investment as a corporate, someone leading a sustainability department to in order to drive that change? Because there’s always a lot of great technologies. And many times those technologies could never make a dime back for those investors or provide the returns that investing into an app would be so how would you help create that incentive or the evaluation structure so that they could go ahead and start looking at it from the right perspective that’s going to affect change, as you guys are all claiming? I love this question because I think that digging takes things from the perspective of an investor. Like they’re really concerned with return for their LPs, I remember asking a panel of impact investors, what they would incentivize like, what, what they have a priority in. And for them, it was between impact versus return for their LPs, their limited partners who invest in their fund. And 100% of them said, you know, number one priority is that financial return. And so from an investment perspective, I would take a look at things that make economic sense, you know, find things that actually are making money, not things that are pie in the sky ideas, and then double down on those and think, really long term, because I think the ones that the investments that work out really, really well are the ones that are at play for a 10 year time horizon, not at play for like a one year kind of pumping dump style scheme. When you look at these companies rushing into the marketplace for stuff like CBD, for example. It’s too late already. If you’re going to invest in one of those companies. When you take a look at the companies coming into the marketplace, we’re recycling a food waste, we’ll make sure that they have a lot Longer term perspective, if their waste supply stream starts getting reduced more and more if they’re having to pay more money for it over time, really start focusing on the fundamentals of like, how do we shift our entire ecosystem over to better ingredients, supplies, better farming practices, and eventually better food, food products in total, if you just invest in food products right now, you have the potential of losing out on the greater market opportunity coming from figuring out how to start from the very basis, the beginning, the genesis of where your food comes from. So take a look at technology in particular, that can be a foundational building block of everything else that comes afterwards.
Swarnav S Pujari 45:40
Sue Marshall 45:41
Yes, great stuff. Great stuff, Elliot. I would add on top of that, then instead of just if you take a look at food and feeding people don’t just look at feeding people feed people better. How is this feeding people better not just feeding people and I agree with Elijah’s new food product this new sexy new sexy this That’s not necessarily feeding people better. And then as far as investment on the impact side specifically, and I also know a lot of impact investors, obviously, we’re raising capital at NetZRO to impact investors are the right fit for us. What you have to look at is just assume there’s impact, you shouldn’t even be betting on that you should know what’s their impact. If you have to ask yourself, you’re not even talking to the right entrepreneur. Most entrepreneurs these days that are coming out, already know their impact, they already are driven by that in their heart. That shouldn’t be something that you know, okay, let’s make sure they have that. That should be an automatic. So then economics is the thing they’re looking at. But a lot of times, they’re like, Well, you know, we have to have this impact thing. Why are you even talking about that you should even be looking at entrepreneurs who don’t automatically have that out of the gate, then it should be concentrated on how that money works. Impact should be automatic,
Swarnav S Pujari 46:56
and that’s beautiful. I think that’s bang on as to how We should be considering evaluating different projects. And that’s really in the clean tech space. It takes time before any kind of new technology can actually fit in, you know, be it a new kind of solar panel or in this case when it comes to food, a new way to help make food insecurity, not a real thing. And obviously, the net result is how we can reduce that environmental impact. This can all bring to our world. But with that, I’m going to close it off here. I hope you enjoyed this conversation with Sue Marshall from NetZRO and Elliot Ross from Spira, I’ll have everything in the show notes, links to their websites, links to their profiles, so you can follow up and ask them directly, what you think and what you’d like to ask and learn about in this space of food and how it impacts our overall climate. With that, this is an episode of off the grid. I’m your host Swarnav S Pujari. Thank you so much. And I’ll see you guys next week.