What's the story of our food?
How does it read on our kids' paper plates on July 4th? And on the grocery aisles of Piggly Wiggly in Birmingham? Or on the food carts in Mumbai?
The short answer: Crazy. And violent. And in ways that are wildly unexpected.
We live in a world of broken systems. Systems, that if we were to recreate from scratch today, we wouldn't recognize. As an American with a mild heart condition, I've seen how the perverse incentives in health care hinder innovative treatment. As someone who lived in Liberia, West Africa without a light bulb, I've seen how the system of energy distribution hinders human potential. And as a former law school student, I was often taught what to learn -- not how to learn. Well, welcome food. Because the process by which we get food on our plates makes healthcare, energy and even education, look positively futuristic. And this striking lack of innovation is especially the case when animals are involved.
While we're watching videos of Michael Jackson hologram concerts on our tablets and obsessively checking our wearable fitness gadgets -- we're also consuming food from filthy, dark cages. Read that again. Because it's like living in the computer-simulated world of the Matrix -- except harder to believe.
The essence of our food problem centers around the mechanized system of violence politely labeled "factory farming," that is responsible for 99 percent of all the animals eaten or used to produce milk and eggs. Take the example of eating something as seemingly benign as an egg. Almost all of the eggs we buy come from female birds locked in tiny cages for two years. When we look at an egg and only see food, we aren't really seeing anymore. We're seeing the fairy tales we tell ourselves about where our food comes from. One minute inside any of these animal factories that produce your eggs would leave you shaken -- and sickened. Immersion is always better than words, so go inside the cages: here.
Side note: The birds are fed massive amounts of corn and soy. And, just a thought, but I'm guessing all the food would be more valuable in the stomachs of the 16,000 children dying from hunger-related causes.
We decided to abandon horse-drawn carriages for cars and land lines in Africa for cell phones. And we can harness the power of technology to leap over the rusty cages and bird crap and animal feed and into something that is just, well, smarter. We can take the animal out the equation, and in doing so, put our heart (and mind) back in. Some of the smartest folks in the world, including Bill Gates, understand that thinking anew about old systems is the answer. Gates has said that, "The demand from animals products isn't sustainable. The market is ripe for reinvention."
Hampton Creek, a food technology company I co-founded last year with my best friend, was selected by Gates as one of three companies shaping the future of food. Why? Because of our focus on using plants that are 10 times more sustainable and 10 times more affordable than eggs from cages. And, similar to the past, innovation has a massive, massive market today. Egg trivia: How many caged-eggs are laid every year a. 79 billion; b. 485 billion; or, c. 1.8 trillion If your answer was c, enjoy your prize: here.
We deserve better. Our stories about food, whether stories of apathy or empathy, are being written with every meal. Let's, starting now, write a new story where our hearts and our minds appear on every page.