Josh Tetrick is the CEO & Founder of Hampton Creek Foods, a sustainable food company. He’s a social entrepreneur, writer, and speaker, he has led a United Nations business initiative in Kenya, he has worked for both former President Clinton and the president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, and taught street children as a Fulbright Scholar in Nigeria and South Africa. Josh is a graduate of Cornell University and the University of Michigan Law School.
Caryn Hartglass: Hello, everybody! I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. Hi! How are you? It is May 7, 2013. It’s a beautiful spring day in New York and I’m so glad to be here. I’ve been on this crazy whirlwind three-state tour the last few weeks. We were in California, as you know, premiering the Swingin’ Gourmets and that was so much fun a few weeks ago. And if you’re curious or want the Swingin’ Gourmets to come to you, just let me know because what we’re wanting to do is spread this message about delicious plant-based food and making it fun, and making it swing; send me an email at info@RealMeals.org. And you know, you can always send me an email at info@RealMeals.org about anything, well, related to food because that’s my favorite subject.
Okay, so then after California I was in Florida. I gave a whole bunch of talks and the thing that I realized over and over again … I’m always so excited about what’s going on in the food movement; there are so many wonderful, wonderful things happening. And then I step outside of my box, my world, and I get back into reality and I realize there’s a lot more work that needs to be done so we stick to it.
And I want to bring on my first guest who’s really making strides in this food movement; this is a major game changer. Josh Tetrick is the CEO and founder of Beyond Eggs, a sustainable food company. He’s a social entrepreneur, writer, and speaker. He has led a United Nations Business Initiative in Kenya. He has worked for both President Clinton and the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and taught street children as a Fulbright scholar in Nigeria and South Africa. Josh is a graduate of Cornell University and the University of Michigan Law School.
Welcome to It’s All About Food.
Josh Tetrick: Thanks! Happy to be here.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. Okay. So my sound is a little funny here so I hope it gets better.
Josh Tetrick: I can hear you okay. Can you hear me okay?
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, hi! That sounds better.
Josh Tetrick: There we go.
Caryn Hartglass: There we go. All this high-tech … I love high-tech but sometimes it gets a little loopy.
Well, Josh, thank you for joining me on It’s All About Food. You are doing something amazing for the planet with Hampton Creek Foods and Beyond Eggs. And I’m so excited about the products you’re coming up with and all of the press that you’ve been getting as well.
Josh Tetrick: Thank you. I think you feel it when you get out there, that there’s a sense and this relates tot what we think about every single day, that our food system is just broken. And it’s still broken, it’s almost absurd how broken it is. Some people are aware of it. And we say, we look out there, it’s not just in the U. S. but it’s around the world too. It’s broken because of how damaging it is to our health, rising rates of diabetes and heart disease. It’s broken because of its impact on the environment. It’s broken because of how rough it is on animals. And when we look out there, our first idea is, “How do we start?”
And we decided, as a company, to start out with the egg industry because for us, it’s the epitome of invisible unsustainability. I’ll say a couple of reasons why. Number one it’s massive. About 1.8 trillion eggs are laid every single year around the world. Trillion eggs. And whether you’re in Birmingham, Alabama, where I was raised or in Beijing, China, 99% of all these eggs come from exactly the same place: these disgusting, filthy, industrial warehouses packed with egg-laying hens, crammed into cages so small they can’t flap their wings. All these hens are fed all of these feed that require all these land and water and oil and fertilizer, which is part of the reasons why it’s so environmentally inefficient. Avian flu outbreaks happen because of the confinement of the egg-laying hens. And we just look at that and honestly, we just shake our heads and think, “Is this really the 21st century? Do we really have to get our eggs from this antiquated system?” It’s like horse and buggy day. So our goal is to take the animal entirely out of the equation, to take the egg-laying hen in these cramped, filthy conditions out of the equation and replace her egg with plants, with plants that do exactly the same thing as her egg does, whether it’s binding a cookie or making a muffin rise, or hold oil or water together in mayonnaise and also pretty soon, create a plant-based scrambled eggs. And we’ve been lucky enough in the last years to be selected by Bill Gates as one of three companies shaping the future of food. And I’m really excited about all the joy that people have about what we’re doing.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s very exciting. I like to quote my dad from time to time. He likes to say, “If you can’t solve the problem, eliminate the problem” and you’ve done just that: you’ve eliminated the problem portion of this food product and that’s the chicken and everything that’s surrounding how we raise chickens for eggs today.
Josh Tetrick: Yeah. Your dad… We have a little motto that we love here by this guy named Buckminster Fuller. He was a theorist and he talks about this idea that you can fight back in an absurd system in a lot of ways but one way you can fight back on it is to create a whole new system that makes that system obsolete. Your dad has the right idea.
Caryn Hartglass: And that’s part of solving so many problems. People can’t see beyond the conflict but what they need to see is they need to take a completely different path. Now, one of the things people often say is we cannot afford to do things differently with out energy problem, with our food problem but it seems like with what you’re doing with your company is it’s actually going to be more economical to sue your products.
Josh Tetrick: Yeah, and when you think about it is part of the reasons it’s actually more economical is we’re about 18% less expensive than those battery caged eggs. So this is 18% less expensive than caged-free eggs or 18% less expensive than free-range eggs. 18% less expensive than the most unsustainable environmentally inefficient cruel, abused, unsafe eggs. And the big reason why is we don’t have the animal involved in our process. And the animal, whether you look at it because you care about the animal or you look at it because you care about economic efficiency, the animal, in this case an egg-laying hen, is getting stuffed as we’re speaking right now, with soy and corn. Right this second, hundreds of millions of egg-laying hens are gobbling up soy and corn and 70% of the cost of every single egg, comes directly from the feed that we give the chickens. And we think that’s crazy and we just say, “Just grow it instead.”
Caryn Hartglass: Exactly. It seems so obvious. I’ve watched a few videos on your company and you’ve got this great factory with a lot of wonderful scientists doing a variety of different jobs. Maybe you could talk a little bit about what’s going on Hampton Creek Foods.
Josh Tetrick: Yeah. Part of what we realized in starting this endeavor is there’s so much innovation on our iPhones. You can actually tell someone’s blood count and heart rate through iPhone applications. But when it comes to innovation of food, man, it is a stark landscape. So what we’re trying to do in bringing a team is bringing people who don’t necessarily have a deep experience in food but are amazing scientists, together with people who do have a really deep experience in food. A good example of that is we have a guy names Joshua Klein. He heads our protein team. Joshua has a degree from Cal Tech in Biochemistry, used to work with a Nobel Laureate on a program to finding a cure for AIDS and HIV. And Joshua works side by side with our chef, this guy named Chris Jones. He doesn’t know a whole lot on biochemistry but is a wickedly creative chef; used to work for a restaurant called Moto, which was named Food and Wine’s Best Restaurants two years in a row. And they work alongside a woman named Shweta Rao, who’s our Director of Baking. She’s spent a number of years at Otis Spunkmeyer. So that’s our idea in creating this team, is we want to bring radically different perspective together to try to search the world’s plant species because only about 8% of them actually have been explored for their functionality in food. I mean, it is just a wide-open area. Then we spend every single day searching and then plugging those plants into things like mayonnaise, and cookies, and even scrambled eggs.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, I think we could make food taste even better than what we’ve been used to. Now, can I ask you a question? I saw in this one video where you taste conventional foods made with eggs and then you try and duplicate it made with your product. Where do you get your eggs from that you compare your product with?
Josh Tetrick: We are really trying to be apples to apples. We do use the same exact same eggs that the company we’re working with is using just to show them we don’t have an unfair advantage. Some of your listeners might know that free-range eggs or barn eggs taste even better than regular eggs, which would really give us an advantage if we’re comparing it. So the eggs that we use in our experiments are actually the bad eggs, which is an unfortunate side effect of our work but in order to be compelling when we present our data, we compare the really unsustainable eggs in muffins or cookies or mayonnaise or ranch dressing or what have you, directly to our product.
And it’s kind of really our central goal that … Like my dad, my dad, who I love to death. My dad doesn’t care about climate change or egg laying hen welfare; he just wants a good muffin or cookie or mayonnaise that’s nice and creamy. And our goal is to give him something that actually tastes better and that’s less expensive. And the cool thing about plants is it’s almost an accident of nature that the end result of a hen is ovulation cycle; it does all this amazing things. It does; it does incredible things in food. But the thing about an egg is it is what it is. It causes the muffin to rise, to be moist in a particular way or holds oil and water together in mayonnaise for so many months but with plants, man, you can go beyond; you really can. You can make mayo actually last longer, you can make it creamier, you can make the muffin more moister. So some of what we’re doing now is actually going beyond it. Not just to replicate it; we’re done with the whole replication. Now, we’re thinking more and more about how can we be better? How can we convince someone like my dad? Not only is it going to save money but the cookie actually tastes and feels better than the cookie he’s used to eating every single day.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, you don’t have to convince me but there’s a whole out there that you need to convince. I’ve been a vegan for 25 years and I spent a lot of time in the kitchen. I love to cook and create great recipes. I love to feed my friends and neighbors who aren’t vegan or vegetarian and have them go nuts over the food that we make here. I know the power of plants and I know that we can make incredible taste in food compassionately, sustainably. But you mention your dad and I’m really into a primarily whole or minimally processed diet and a lot of us that are in this food movement are going in that direction but there’s a huge population that doesn’t mind eating a lot of industrial processed food and they don’t care what’s in it; they don’t know what’s in it. Occasionally, they hear about pink slime on the radio and they get a little nutty but for the most part, nobody knows what’s in their food. They don’t even know if it’s egg or not egg.
Josh Tetrick: No, that’s true. And when you look at … when you really step back and realize the magnitude of the problem, just with eggs, 1.8 trillion eggs, laid every single year and that number is going up, it’s not going down. And as exciting as I think the flexitarian and vegan and vegetarian and sustainable food movements are in the United States, every day, every single day the percentage of eggs in battery cage facilities in our food systems increases, every single day. And mostly that’s happening in China, in developing countries. We have a nation of 300 million people and that’s just a tiny percentage of all the people on the planet here. And you’re right, the vast majority of people aren’t looking; they’re not paying attention to it. I think our central question that radiates in our brain every single day is, with the world exploding to 9.5 billion people by 2060, according to UN reports, how do you create a world where human beings have enough protein, have cheap protein, cheap food, without ripping up the environment? Without massively abusing animals? Without sucking up the world’s water? And part of the solution, I think, is plant-based food companies and plant-based approaches to these really vexing problems.
Caryn Hartglass: My background is in chemical engineering and I always wanted to believe that I could do good things with it. And there have been lots of great things that have been done with chemistry and then some ugly things that have been done, and a lot of the ugly things have been related to food. So it’s really good to know that science is being used to do something good.
Josh Tetrick: And what we do with science is we’re not doing in vitro; we’re not doing DNA splicing; we’re not doing synthetic engineering. Maybe it would be better for popular science if we would but we’re not doing that. What we’re doing is sort of acknowledging that we have a world of plants out there and the vast majority of those plants are entirely unexplored. It’s almost an accident, in terms of the plants we decide to use in our food products. So we search aggressively, all of those plants, we characterize them, we understand their functionalities, and then we work in a really creative way with our culinary team to bring them together. But it’s probably a lot more natural from the ground it comes of.
Caryn Hartglass: Here’s a chicken or the egg question for you. You mentioned Bill Gates and how you were mentioned … Well, I read it in the Food for the Future at the Gates Notes, where they mentioned you. And they also mentioned a company Beyond Meat. So there’s Beyond Meat and there’s Beyond Chicken. Who came first, Beyond Meta or Beyond Chicken? Are you related somehow?
Josh Tetrick: No. We were actually around, at least the name, first but they do a lot of good work. My buddy, Ethan Brown, is a founder there and they’re doing a lot of positive work and they have been really successful with their really awesome product, which is actually really, really good.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, absolutely. And what do you think about people that are raising chickens on their own in their backyard?
Josh Tetrick: You know, I’ve got to say, if that was our food system, if the eggs that are being produced were from backyard chickens and they were laying eggs and the eggs and the meat and the chicken we eat for meat were in people’s backyards I’d definitely would be doing something else. I spent about 7 years of my life in Sub-Saharan Africa working on poverty alleviation, working on environmental sustainability, working on water scarcity issues in some of the poorest places in the world and I’m personally very driven and focused to finding solutions for the most urgent needs, the most urgent needs facing not only this country but around the world. That is really the limited exception, people doing that. And I think it is much better than 99.7% of where eggs and chickens come from. Frankly, our company’s goal is, if people end up doing that, that’s their business. What we’re more focused on, where the massive impact is and where the ability to have really widespread scale changes and that’s conventional egg production.
Caryn Hartglass: So can we get Beyond Egg products in our stores yet, or is this available for industry only?
Josh Tetrick: Yeah, both. What’s available in the industry right now will be in a number of different grocery stores within the next three months. But right now, if anyone is interested in staying in touch with what we’re up to, you can just go to hamptoncreekfoods.com. You can sign up. We send a weekly note to everyone and we’ll update you on where you can find all our products.
Caryn Hartglass: Is there a story behind Hampton Creek?
Josh Tetrick: There is. My best friend in the world lost his dog a while ago and his dog was named Hampton and it was really the only time I’ve ever seen him cry. And he was the inspiration behind the idea that really getting me to really think about where our food comes from and it’s a way of recognizing him and his role of making this happen. And then we added “Creek” at the end of it because it sounds like a regular old food company.
Caryn Hartglass: Right; it certainly does. Now, about yourself, when did you start on this vegan path and discovering the power of plants?
Josh Tetrick: I’m 33 now. I’ve been vegetarian since I was 21. I played football at West Virginia University and as soon as I stopped playing football I became vegetarian and that’s pretty much all due to the impact of my best friend, talking to me how animals are raised. And the way I like to think about it is, when you look at a mother pig in a gestation crate or an egg-laying hen in a battery cage, besides the suffering element, which obviously hits you on the face, what really moves me is how absurd it is. It doesn’t seem to align with where the world is. It seems like it’s so yesterday. And in so many areas of my life I try to be today; I try to be tomorrow and it just seems so yesterday. And since I was 21 and I’ve been really trying to make sure my values and the values that I talk about align with what goes in my mouth.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, I appreciated what you said before about working on something that is so big and needs to be changed sooner than later. All factory farming needs to go away and I’m not quite sure how that’s going to happen, if there’s a way, maybe Beyond Meat is the company or a number of others, to eliminate the animal for meat as well as eliminating the animal for eggs. But these things need to end, period. It’s probably the worst thing humanity has ever created.
Josh Tetrick: Definitely.
Caryn Hartglass: And I had a question and it slipped away … Okay. Other than what you’re doing now, do you have some future ideas or you’re just focusing on the egg concept?
Josh Tetrick: We’re pretty focused. We’ll probably take this and do something else with it after we have the impact we all want to have but for right now it’s all about the egg.
Caryn Hartglass: You know, it’s all about the egg but it’s also all about money. A lot of us have lots ideas about how to get people to eat healthier or make this a more compassionate world but it takes money to make change. I see you got this great business going but there had to be some incredible investors and supporters to get behind this project.
Josh Tetrick: Yeah. I think you can really … For those out there that have ideas about doing something, I think there are kind of two ways to do it and we picked the second. The first is to really lean into an idea in incremental way. So to really test it, not spend a whole lot of money on it, to begin selling they need to be online or at your local farmers’ market, depending what sector you’re in. Just test it. Sometimes you don’t need a whole lot of investment for a lot of ideas, depending on what the needs of the business are. There’s actually a great book called The Lean Start-Up that talks about how you … there’s a word that says oochin; you sort of oochin to an idea?”
The second approach is more similar to what we did; one is, I don’t think, necessarily better than the other. We had an idea and I gathered a team together and we were lucky enough to work with an investment partner, khosla ventures, which is about solving some of the world’s most pressing problems and they decided to back us because they see it’s a broken industry and it really needs change. I think both approaches work.
I think the worst approach would be the third: just thinking you can’t do it because you don’t have the connections or the network or the resources or yada yada yada. Mostly that’s probably BS; you can figure out how to do it.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. And I think part of it is you mentioned, at the beginning of the show, and that is to create something completely different.
Josh Tetrick: Yeah. And then a little thing we like to play with ourselves is what would happen, if we didn’t do what we’re trying to do in 30 days, if the world or a person you care about the most or something that you really want was gone, how would you approach this differently, if everything matters? And would I have raised more money for this? If I didn’t raise a certain amount and the world vanished? Would I be able to close these deals if nothing else mattered? And here’s the thing I think we tend to be our focus, and I think for any of your listeners out there that really want to start something, if you have intentions you think you might interested in something it’s about quantity, it really requires an almost obnoxious and absurd intensity to make something like this happen.
Caryn Hartglass: Very good advice. I know with myself there’s just too many things I want to do and I know, for making a business happen, you really need to focus on that one thing. I tend to spread myself all over the place. But there’s a lot of things that need to be done and I like to do a lot of things.
Well, Josh, thank you so much for joining me on It’s All About Food. You are amazing and your company is amazing. I look forward to seeing very positive changes because of Beyond Eggs.
Josh Tetrick: Terrific. Thanks a lot.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you.
Well, wasn’t that something else? I can’t wait to see what happens when Beyond Eggs takes over the egg industry. Let’s see it happen. I am Caryn Hartglass. You’re listening to It’s All About Food. Take a look at responsibleeatingandliving.com; that’s my website and there’s so many recipes on there that do not use eggs. Certainly, for decades now we’ve been figuring out how to use some very simple egg alternatives that work really well on the home and you can find them on responsibleeatingandliving.com. And we’re going to take a quick little break and then we’ll be talking with David Bedrick who wrote the book, Talking Back to Dr. Phil: Alternatives to Mainstream Psychology and I can’t wait.
Transcribed by Dianna O’Reilly, May 26, 2013