The food system is broken. Factory farming and monocultures are rapidly degrading the environment and depleting our resources. Within the good food movement, there is widespread consensus about this. Where the real debate lies is in how we should fix it. Is more technology the answer to food sustainability or the problem? Will lab-grown meat and engineered faux meat lead the way to a carbon-neutral future or will the solution come from the plant-based movement? Quite possibly the answer will incorporate innovations from both technological advancement and culinary/agricultural tradition.

Regardless of which gains favor, our food system is in dire need of a course correction away from decades of heavily processed foods, genetic modification of seeds, and the overuse of fertilizers, sprays, packaging, and shelf-stability at the expense of nutrition, taste and sustainability. We are in the midst of a revolution toward the radical rediscovery of nature’s resiliency that stems from healthy soil, biodiversity, regenerative agriculture, culinary traditions, and social engagement in food experiences. The good food and impact investing communities need to maintain focus on how to re-connect consumers to nutritious food while developing a sustainable and equitable food space. This is an opportunity to adopt a multifaceted approach.

With all this in mind, FoodFutureCo continues to seek out innovative scale-up enterprises that embrace transparent sourcing and natural ingredients spiced up by culinary traditions. Our Cohort III companies embody this mission. This month, as we celebrate the graduation of Jewels of the Forest, Metabrew and Zoni Foods from our accelerator program, we asked our founders what social impact and culinary tradition mean to their work.

 

Shroom Snacks - Hunter Bryson & Wyatt Bryson

When did social impact become a part of your mission/work?

Social impact has been an integral part of our work even before the formation of Jewels of the Forest. We see mushrooms as not only healers for our bodies but also for the planet. Mushrooms have huge health benefits for everyone. They are a keystone species in any regenerative ecosystem. They are the soil builders, cleaners, decomposers. Our mushrooms are commercial grown on agricultural waste such as corn stalks, corn cobs, straws, and hulls. The mushrooms are harvested for food and the spent mushroom blocks are then used to make compost and soils. It’s a win-win for all involved and helps close the permaculture circle. When you eat our mushroom jerky you can feel good knowing you are eating something healthy while also supporting one of the most sustainable crops on the planet. That is why our motto is “Feeding the world one mushroom at a time"    

What are your thoughts on food in the plant-based alternative space that is enhanced by more engineered vs. natural ingredients inspired by culinary traditions?

At Jewels of the Forest, we feel we have found the perfect balance of culinary tradition and modern food science. Mushrooms have cultural roots across the globe dating back centuries. Our jerky itself was developed from traditional ingredients and flavor profiles found in Thailand. Meanwhile, mushrooms grown commercially have their origins from mycelium cultures and mushroom spawn grown under strict sterile conditions. So initially it is a highly technical process.

We think that the pendulum swings both ways but always rests in the middle. Food science and food engineering are so new and a huge emerging trend, it will be interesting to see how far it swings. Traditional is tried and true and still around for a reason, because it works. For our product we walk the center path drawing from heritage recipes and advances in food science. Best of both worlds.

What makes mushrooms such an exciting opportunity for the regenerative agriculture movement?

Mushrooms have been known as an excellent meat substitute for many years thanks to its umami flavor and meaty texture. Mushrooms are hailed as one of the most sustainable crops on the planet, only requiring 1.8 gallons of water to produce 1 pound. When compared to beef at 1850 or more gallons to produce 1 pound, its a no brainer. Jerky itself is a huge growing market, while plant-based jerkies are growing 7 times their meat counterpart.

Do you think by doing good you're more successful?

We truly believe that with the right intent of doing good for our community and our planet we will have longer lasting and more fulfilling success. Success for us is more than building a profitable company. It is knowing that we are helping to build a better world through our products. The smiles on peoples faces when they try our jerky is worth its weight in gold. That's the kind of success we strive for. We deal in smiles and full bellies.

 

Metabrew - Natalie Neumann & Romy Raad

How would you define your mission and goals? Is there a social or environmental benefit?

Our mission is to create energizing drinks that are purpose driven, nourishing, accessible and delicious. Our vision is to empower people to make better choices and become their own heroes by providing them with a new and innovative energy experience.

We are providing REAL FOOD - to make you feel better and lead a better life. Our mission is reflected directly by what is inside our bottles. We empower people by providing them with only the best ingredients, because we know that they will not only taste best, but also that better ingredients ultimately make you feel better and improve your health.

We aim to make the U.S. beverage industry healthier and more sustainable. We have sustainability and environmental consciousness wired into our personal as well as our business DNA and believe that by offering an alternative to the consumer, we can change the current standards for the better.

How has the local community and ecosystem influenced your mission and/or how you run your company?

Moving to NYC was the main reason behind starting Metabrew. We were faced with the struggles that come with living in a high pace environment as well as the negative consequences that the current food industry standards have on your health.

On the other hand, NYC is home to inspiring people and entrepreneurs with new and innovative products. And along with them comes an array of amazing resources and networks. This really inspired us and helped get our company off the ground.

Furthermore, it is essential for us to only use top-quality ingredients that have been produced in an ethical and humane way, without pesticides or harmful farming techniques. What this means for us is forming personal relationships with suppliers, and scrutinizing their farming practices.

We try to have all our suppliers as close to our Long Island manufacturing facility as possible. For instance, we developed a close relationship to our coffee bean supplier. He visits the farms in Nicaragua multiple times per year to ensure fair standards and overall quality and roasts the beans, just for us in Brooklyn, a few days prior to production.

What is the greatest lesson you've learned, so far, as social entrepreneurs?

“Stay true to your values.” Developing a food business is hard, especially if you are trying to go against current industry standards. The temptations of taking the easy way - like adding sugar, preservatives or emulsifiers to cut costs, simplify logistics or extend shelf life - are always present. And being questioned by investors to why we don’t just give in doesn’t make it any easier. However, we truly believe in our mission and values and hearing our customers praise what we do and seeing how it helps them become better versions of themselves is the validation we need to keep going.

What are your thoughts on food in the plant-based alternative space that is enhanced by more engineered vs. natural ingredients inspired by culinary traditions?  

In our eyes, food should be simple - you should be able to tell what it is and where it comes from in nature. We grew up in countries (Germany and Lebanon) where food is heavily rooted in the culture, where eating what’s in season and what the local farmers markets have to offer isn’t a new trend. Therefore, we are advocates of real food that fits your body’s and the planet’s needs.

Consuming heavily engineered foods - no matter if plant-based or not - is not something we agree with. The goal shouldn’t be to copy meat as closely as possible. The goal should be to celebrate and optimize what nature has to offer.  There are amazing sources of alternative proteins like mushrooms or even crickets that can be produced in an environmentally conscious way to feed the world. In other words, eat more (real) food.

 

Zoni Foods - Zoë Lloyd

Why is social and environmental impact so important to you?

I attribute my environmental stewardship to my mother, who cared immensely about wildlife, the oceans, and the land. I am proud to do what I can to use business as a tool for environmental and social good.

What does success for Zoni look like to you?

We define success as getting our products in front to the majority of Americans (no matter what channel)- helping them eat more healthy, plant-based food everyday.

What are your thoughts on food in the plant-based alternative space that is enhanced by more engineered vs. natural ingredients inspired by culinary traditions?

At Zoni Foods, we believe food from the earth can heal us and make us feel good. We also believe that the way our food is grown and processed can significantly impact our health. These are the reasons why we source real, whole ingredients to make our meals and never source any processed or human-engineered food. We do our best to source ingredients that are grown organically and locally as we believe transparency in where we source our food and how it is grown is key to building a more just food system. In order to decrease consumption of meat and dairy products, I think many Americans want easy substitutes, like the Impossible Burger, which help them transition to a more plant-based diet. I applaud these efforts as they are helping to reduce the deleterious impacts of animal production and helping feed more people with fewer resources, but this approach is not in line with our values at Zoni.

What does social impact mean to you as the founder of Zoni Foods?

I believe social impact means the positive, measurable effects an organization may have on humans or society more broadly in a way that is aligned with the organization's' values and mission. I believe social impact isn't the consequence of a one-off event or project - it is an enduring, longer-lasting impact that sprouts from the DNA of the organization.