Food choices matter way more than you think. Researchers have concluded that one of the greatest choices an individual can make to benefit the environment is cutting down on their consumption of meat.
Wait, don't go!
Individuals don't have to go full-on vegan or vegetarian for the environment to benefit. If people on a large scale adopt a so-called flexitarian diet, where you don't eat meat most of the time, global greenhouse gas emissions could be cut by more than half, according to a study published in Nature.
There's good and bad news. While vegan and vegetarian rates in the U.S. remain low, at 3 percent and 6 percent, respectively, consumers are buying more and more plant-based products, such as milk and cheeses made of nuts and imitation meat. According to Nielsen, “As of 2017, 19.5 percent of food and beverage dollars came from products that met a plant-based diet.” This trend shows no sign of slowing down either.
One of the earliest, and now one of the largest, proponents of plant-based alternatives is Tofurky, founded in 1980. Entrepreneur spoke with the company's CEO, Jaime Athos, about food choices, the environment and how entrepreneurs are making a difference.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Where we are now in terms of sustainability in the food industry?
What I'm seeing that I find very heartening is a huge amount of interest on the consumer side in issues of sustainability, and ultimately, consumer interests and preferences drive so much of industry. But looking at the other side there's a dark cloud in that silver lining. The opportunity is so massive because we haven't really given these questions of sustainability the attention they deserved all along the way. We have a lot of catching up to do.
Is this increased awareness connected to more people gaining knowledge about the impact of our individual food choices on the environment?
That's a huge part of it. There wasn't a mainstream awareness of how profoundly important that question is. It's not just a question that confronts us in one big fell swoop like when you buy a car. You don't do that all the time and you can take the time to think about issues of sustainability with respect to that one purchase decision.
Food questions hit us all the time. It's so ever-present. That's why the impact is so great. Consumers have to be consistent in how they are going to feed themselves. But it seems like there's more interest in people taking on that challenge and they're looking to manufacturers and grocery stores and everybody throughout the whole food supply chain to make a good decision so that it's easier for them to make decisions as well.