Guest blog by Andrew Heintzman, CEO and co-founder of InvestEco.
The last half of the 20th century saw dramatic changes in the North American food system. These included in general a move towards large-scale farming using significant chemical intervention, mass-manufacturing of most food products, loss of genetic diversity in crops, and the steady increase in highly-processed foods. And while these changes tended to increase the efficiency of our food production — and drive down the cost of calories — they also came often at the expense of human health, ecological balance, animal welfare, soil quality, rural employment and other social and environmental goods.
I think the next generation will see the pendulum swing back the other way, and bring back some balance to a food system that has moved too far and too quickly in one direction.
In some respects this counter-trend will feature a return to practices that were more common in earlier generations. These will include things like: more small-scale manufacturing of specialty food products; more pasture-raised foods grown using heritage farming techniques; opportunities for smaller farmers to produce higher value crops; greater emphasis on the ecological balance in farming operations; less reliance on chemicals in the farming process; more genetic diversity in our crops.
Underlying this movement is a desire for more balance in our food systems. We know that consumers are beginning to ask challenging questions about the foods they eat. That’s why in a recent survey a majority of consumers said they were “very or extremely concerned” about pesticides, hormones and antibiotics in their food. It also helps to explain why organic food sales have tripled in the last decade, and why the top 25 US food companies lost US$18 billion of market share since 2009. (source: http://fortune.com/2015/05/21/the-war-on-big-food/)
At InvestEco we are trying to encourage this counter-trend, and to promote a greater diversity, resiliency and balance in our food systems. We do this by investing in companies that can be successful by catering to consumers’ desires for food products that are healthier, and lighter on the planet. These companies are driven by innovation — but not the way the word is usually used. This kind of innovation is not necessarily about technology (although technology can play a part), but rather innovation in farming, marketing, product development, distribution and packaging. It’s the kind of innovation that led Austin-based Vital Farms to realize that they could create a new category of eggs from chickens that spent their lives on pasture and ate a more natural diet.
At InvestEco we believe that consumers will continue to educate themselves about where their food comes from. Ultimately they will be looking for options that promote their family’s health while maximizing the positive impact that food production can have on the world around them — be that economic, ecological or social. Our goal at InvestEco is to provide these consumers with the choices they are looking for, and in doing so to help nudge the food system back towards a balance that works better for people and the planet.
What is your comfort food?
My comfort food is butter chicken and naan.
Who should we be watching?
Innovative small-scale farmers who are changing the dynamics of what works in farming, like Gillian Flies and Brent Preston from The New Farm in Creemore, Ontario. And the entrepreneurs who are starting new food companies to make available more options to food consumers, like Paul Sawtell and Grace Mandarano from 100km Foods. And finally the social entrepreneurs who are leading the charge on food security and food equality, like Nick Saul the founder of Community Food Centres Canada.
This blog is part of the Future of Food series. We wanted to know: what will food in the future look like? Where are we going, where do we want to be going, and what can we do to change the course? Over the next six months, we are handing the microphone over to 12 leading food thinkers in Canada to help answer these important questions