Changing the world, one yogurt at a time

I had the privilege today of attending a lunch with Gary Hirshberg, the CEO of Stonyfield. I’ve been looking forward to this lunch for weeks. I know I’ve been talking more and more about organics and buying local here on the blog and I’m sorry if it’s been overwhelming (I’m trying not to throw it at you all at once). It’s just a subject I’m learning more about every day and I cannot help but be impacted by the power of this new (to me) information… so I want to share it with you as well!!

The movie Food Inc. has definitely changed the way I think about the meat industry. Before the movie I “knew” it wasn’t pretty but I was also afraid to really “see” it for myself (that includes reading about it). Ignorance is definitely bliss but we’re not doing anyone any favors by ignoring the reality of conventional farming and factory meat (and dairy) production (and their impacts on our environment, our health, the animals and our future). Gary Hirshberg was featured in Food Inc. and I knew that Stonyfield was passionate about making organic dairy more available to the average consumer. I was most interested in hearing about the following:

  • “organic vs. conventional” stats – I am already convinced that organic is the “right choice” but the stats help make that argument stronger when I mention it to others (like my parents who are still not converts – I’ll get them in time ๐Ÿ˜‰ ;
  • whether organic farming/production can truly feed the world;
  • whether there are any loopholes in the system that we as consumers should be aware of – I feel like large corporations always find ways to slap a label on something even as “pure” and well-intended as “organic” and still make it about soul-less profits (yes, they’re always guilty unless proven innocent in my book. ๐Ÿ˜† )

That was my personal agenda for the luncheon. And here is how it went down (and what I learned… and ate ๐Ÿ˜‰ ). Lunch was held at EVOO in Kendall Square – a restaurant I’ve been dying to go to for ages. EVOO uses as many local produce as possible and changes their menu based on what’s available. I thought it was the perfect location for the occasion!

We had a private room reserved – a large window brought great light into the room and made it feel a lot more open (the sunshine helped too).

Here are Gary Hirshberg and Alice Markowitz (Stonyfield VP of communications)

After going around the table and shaking everyone’s hand, Gary sat down and “got to business.” He was definitely throwing lots of stats at us but it was all presented in a very approachable way. He’s done this before, I think. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Here is what I learned during the bread course (with EVOO, balsamic vinegar and parmesan cheese)

Stonyfield was founded 27 years ago. At that time there were 400 dairy farmers in New Hampshire. Today there are 87, and the farmers are making the same $/gallon as they were in 1982 (although prices have been volatile over the same period – sometimes the farmers made less and sometimes more). The smaller number of farmers cram more cows into the same space. Methane levels are significantly increased (it is estimated that a cow may produce an amount of methane comparable to the pollution of a car – source), which of course raises concerns about global warming.

Our predecessors ate 100% organic food (at that time it was just called “food”), that’s until 1935 when new advances in technologies introduced synthetic fertilizers and other chemicals into the food system. Today organics comprise 3.7% of all food consumed in the US – that’s a $3.5 billion industry. It’s been growing around 20% annually over the past 20 years (Stonyfield followed a similar trend with 20+% growth until last year’s recession which slowed growth) and Gary’s dream is to go back to 100% organic food. He believes it’s a win-win for all and there is no reason not to.

New Jersey asparagus soup with parmigiano reggiano, red chili flakes and EVOO

The soup had a strong garlic flavor – the asparagus was very lightly cooked (almost raw) and added a fresh crunch to the soup. Delicious!

Organic farmers receive a more fair wage (Stonyfield’s farmers receive 2x – 2.2 x conventional farmers’ pay and the rates never decline but steadily increase as opposed to conventional farmers which track some kind of “milk index”). Stonyfield purchased it’s 1 billionth gallon of organic milk last year – just this one company alone saved 185,000 herbicides, thousands of toxins and pesticides (I couldn’t write all the figures fast enough), 12-18% of methane levels. Stonyfield purchases $30 million of pounds of non-dairy ingredients (sugar, cocoa, vanilla, fruit) – all products are organic, humaine, fair-trade and all farmers are profitable. So is Stonyfield.

Chinese box full of crisp fried mustard glazed tofu, asparagus, gingered vegetable – cashew salad and organic brown rice

What a fantastic dish! The mustard glazed tofu was particularly delicious – the mustard flavor was very prominent and the tofu was perfectly fried without being greasy.

Organic is a win for all:

  • profitable farmers
  • animals are happier, live longer (ave life of a conventional cow is 4-6 years, organic cow lives 12-20 years)
  • food has more anti-oxidants
  • humans eat healthier food
  • environmental footprint is lower (food miles only comprise 6-10% of the footprint, the rest is about how the food is grown)
  • less contribution to climate change
  • companies (such as Stonyfield) are profitable

Stonyfield organic yogurt tart with balsamic basil glazed strawberries

Incredible – fresh and elegant. Loved it!

Conventional food is cheap but the cost is high. Consumers are not seeing this cost reflected in food because of soy and corn subsidies (which make their way into a lot of the food consumed in the US – including cow feed and most of the processed foods). If the subsidies were removed, it would be clear that the gap between conventional and organic cost is much smaller. The other costs are born by our healthcare system. A recent study by the American Medical Association concluded that 41% of Americans will develop some kind of cancer in their lifetime. If we don’t start focusing on preventative measures (such as eating organic foods!) it will bankrupt the healthcare industry (and you know, 41% of us will get cancer!!!!). I wonder how this figure can be reduced just be switching to real wholesome food instead of over-processed junk. ๐Ÿ˜•

Of course the one thing that’s still preventing people from going organic is the price. Volume (economies of scale) will create more efficiencies for companies and can help with that. Subsidies for the right industry can do that as well. Also, this does not have to be an all or nothing approach. Just one or two products (the most important ones to you) can make a difference. The stats about how just milk purchased by Stonyfield reduced emissions are astounding and only 1% of US consumers purchase Stonyfield yogurt. Imagine if that 1% becomes 2% – those figures will double. The same knock-on effect can take in other industries – berries, meat, etc. We can all make a difference (large or small) one yogurt at a time. ๐Ÿ˜€

So can organic farming feed the world? Yes. Organic farmers’ yields are the same or better. In 27 years of Stonyfield operations, their suppliers’ yields actually improved (by 15% for sugar, for example). In contrast, there are limits to the productivity of a conventional farm. It will peak. It’s not sustainable.

Are there loopholes in dairy organics? No. For the first time in history the laws are actually being enforced and if you see an organic label you can trust that the products are free of pesticides, antibiotics and the animals are humainely treated (get access to pasture, graze, etc.). This is reassuring to me given what I recently learned about organic egg farming.

We learned so many other things but I’m running out of steam so I encourage you to do your own research. Gary truly believes that this is about saving the world. It sounds cheesy but I guess it is a little about that since conventional farming is running it to the ground, increasing pollution and contributing to global warming.

I’ll eat to that! ๐Ÿ˜‰ Oikos chocolate yogurt to-go (I also received a few other goodies, including Gary Hirshberg’s new book – Stirring It Up).

Thank you Stonyfield and EVOO for such a lovely (and informative) lunch!

What are your thoughts on organics? I think given the price, not very many of us can afford to go 100% organic. What do you prioritize? I always buy oikos ๐Ÿ˜€

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25 comments to Changing the world, one yogurt at a time

  • What a great event! It sounds like you learned a lot–thanks for sharing it. I do agree that the more you know, the more you are inspired to change your eating habits and make little alterations in the everyday pattern of eating.

  • Like so many out there, I eat organic when I can but it is spendy. I try and shop locally but that proves to be a challenge in the winter and spring months. I do think that by making small changes and supporting environmentally friendly companies such as Stonyfield, we can make changes. Nothing really pisses me off more than corn and soy subsidies and the agriculture industry as it has evolved in the US. I think it directly correlates with an increase of health issues in the US – not only obesity rates but also food allergies and sensitives. As far as my priorities, I always buy organic greens. I think that is the only thing I am consistent on. My salary doesn’t allow me the opportunity to go all organic but if I see it isn’t too much more, I’ll choose organic. Another huge concern of mine is dining out. You never know what they are using unless they happen to advertise that they support local farmers, use organic produce, or support sustainable farming efforts. But those restaurants are few and far between and often come with a higher price point.

  • KellyB

    Wow, great post. Thanks for sharing. I actually bought egglands eggs this weekend cause of your past post. This might actually convince me to buy Stonyfield milk, I currently buy Hood. I have Food Inc on my DVR and am scared to watch it. As for what I buy organic: Stonyfield yogurt for my kids, carrots, and strawberries, that’s basically it.

  • Organic is better. It’s concerning to me to read the so-called “ingredients” in my food choices. I think, if I can’t pronounce it… why eat it!? If I don’t know what it is, why put it in my body?

  • i would definitely try that oikos chocoalte on the go!! i know im not a big greek yogurt fan ubt i do agree.. its growing on me. i just liek the way it fills me up versus conventional organic yogurt.

    i agree with the food inc thing. actually some of my veg friends thought i wouldnt watch it cuz i eat meat but I LOVED THE MOVIE! and plus i told my friends that i eat ONLY ORGANIC LOCAL WILD MEAT! i was jsut as sickened as everyone else at the commercial meat industries, and thats why i am very concious about my choices. so glad u posted about this <3 xoxo

  • I do love organic food and wish I could eat it all the time…if only it was in my budget! Things like bananas I can live w/o being organic but in berries and such you can really taste the difference!

  • I definitely try to buy organic/cage-free for dairy and eggs. Produce-wise, I usually check out the Dirty Dozen and buy organic for those items.

  • oh man, i’m totally jealous!! sounds like a fabulous lunch :)

    i do organic when i can, but i don’t have a real job yet so it’s not quite feasible all the time.

  • how cute is that chinese box meal? love it. and stonyfield ROCKS!

  • Great post! I’ve been loving your posts on this sort of thing.

    I myself am allergic to most dairy but lately have been getting organic dairy for my hubby. I love supporting it. I also have been buying as much organic food as I can and am an organic gardener so that helps.

    Gardening is the next step!

  • Wow, that sounds so cool! Food Inc. definitely made me think more about where my food comes from. I’ve been a vegetarian for awhile, but that just confirmed my suspicions! Have you read any of Michael Pollan’s books? You’d probably really enjoy them!

  • sister inna

    love it when you do posts like this. :)
    thanks for all the info i’m gonna go “change the world” with some yogurt now ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Cool event! I used to think organic stuff was just way too expensive, but now I really value it!

  • What a neat event. I think it’s awesome that you got to meet Gary Hirshberg from Stonyfield! I remember him from Food Inc. BF and I are adamant about organic meat/eggs/milk/yogurt once we move in together and about supporting farmer’s markets more often. Right now we both live at home and it’s been a tough sell to convert our families–although my family has jumped on the “bandwagon” a little bit quicker. I remember one summer, years ago, when our vegetable garden and fruit trees were brimming with fresh produce! I recently gave BF some asparagus from our backyard and earlier tonight he and his dad reported that it was the best asparagus they’ve ever tasted and I reminded them that it was organic ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Currently my family purchases organic milk and chicken. That’s a constant. I purchase other organic things on my own like jam or PB just because if I’m in a store and the cost difference isn’t all that high, I’d like to think that if the store manager sees an increase in the sales of organic items, they’ll be more likely to purchase them from the vendors–especially in stores like Wal-Mart and the like.

  • My only rule is buy organic most of the time. I sometimes find myself in rural NC (at work) needing a snack and not able to find the organic version of whatever I’m craving. However, I try to always be prepared with food from home. If I had to guess, my food is about 75% organic.

    Thanks so much for sharing this information with us. I always find these types of blog entries really informative and interesting!

  • […] Changing the world, one yogurt at a time […]

  • […] Changing the world, one yogurt at a time […]

  • Jen

    Life others, I buy organic when I can. I prefer to buy local (and organic when possible). Many small local farmers are not labelled as organic, but they do grow organic (just can’t afford the license), so I talk to them and ask what they use! Now that it is nice out and the farmers markets have opened in Boston, its easier to buy local. As for organic, there are certain things I always buy organic and others I do when I can…berries, peppers, greens and dairy! – always organic for me! Bananas I try to, but not always can when they are $0.99 per pound! (ps…Trader Joe’s organic bananas are only $0.29 per pound!). I tend to visit 2-3 grocery stores because I know where the best deals are. I agree with you (and Gary), even just buying organic dairy can help!

  • Jen

    I don’t eat meat, but I always buy organic for my husband!

  • […] courtesy of HealthyandSane Starters Asparagus, Peas, Fiddleheads, Radish and Arugula with Great Hill Blue Cheese, Herbed […]

  • What an amazing opportunity! I love that you outlined your “plan” before attending! My favorite point you made is that our ancestors ate 100% organic….aka FOOD! What a concept! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • […] courtesy of HealthyandSaneStartersAsparagus, Peas, Fiddleheads, Radish and Arugula with Great Hill Blue Cheese, Herbed Yogurt […]

  • […] Side note: EVOO now has a gorgeous, much larger space in Kendall Square. You can find my review of my last meal at EVOO here… I need to come back asap). The desire to finally try their food got even stronger over the […]

  • […] Side note: EVOO now has a gorgeous, much larger space in Kendall Square. You can find my review of my last meal at EVOO here… I need to come back asap). The desire to finally try their food got even stronger over the […]

  • Yana

    Great post, Elina! I try to buy almost everything organic and I do always buy organic milk ( a lot of it for my kids). Costco has some good organic options like organic milk, hummus, ground beef, different kinds of salsas, organic green leafs. We do spend a lot of money on organic food but it’s worth it! Makes me feel so much better about not feeding my kids pesticides and herbacides whenever possible.

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