From the traceability of the seafood supply chain, to fish farming and the depletion of fish stocks, Errol Schweizer educates us on what consumers can do to help some of these issues beyond personal consumption habits.
Learn more about Errol Schweizer – https://www.errolschweizerllc.com/
Joe Fassler’s article about cultured meats – https://thecounter.org/lab-grown-cultivated-meat-cost-at-scale/
One of Errol’s favorite Authors – https://www.amazon.com/Julie-Guthman/e/B001ITX4I2%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share
Pretty ok (not great) ***expanded***transcript:
If you spend any time in the natural food industry, then you have heard of arrow Schweitzer. I’ve probably, and it swiped, sir.
Is that good enough? Is it less Sweitzer or, well,
[00:01:38] Errol Schweizer: you know, how do you pronounce it up at Ellis island? There should be a T O. Uh, the desk clerk decided to improvise Schweitzer with an invisible T.
[00:01:50] Mason: Gotcha. I think I’ve heard the name about as many times as a coworker of yours, Joe Dixon from whole foods market prior coworker, who was a previous guest on
[00:01:59] Errol Schweizer: the podcast coworker.
We still work together on the Merrifield app. Oh,
[00:02:03] Mason: cool. Yeah. You’re advising over there. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Cool. Good friend of mine. Yeah, he is awesome. And Texas we’ll miss him and Vermont. Got it. Yeah. Yeah. Well, how Errol has turned out so much good for the planet and people in his life already? I may never be able to figure out very impressive website that you have about the projects that you’ve been a part of, but we’re about to learn about him and what he’s passionate about.
And some of the work that he’s done, one of his many projects is that the intersection of seafood and sustainable. Jess. And I are extremely interested in sustainable seafood and ocean conservation. We feel it’s one of the most important and most urgent emergencies. The planet faces Errol. You’ve worked on so many things.
Talk us about, tell us about how your passion for ocean and sustainable seafood was discovered.
[00:02:53] Errol Schweizer: Yeah, sure. So when I was at whole foods, I covered a lot of ground. I had 75 categories in grocery and, um, the seafood department was not in grocery. That was a separate, uh, team, but we did sell products with seafood, obviously, you know, the main one being canned tuna, canned salmon.
So when I was at whole foods and this is close to 10 years ago, we were contacted by Greenpeace USA who had been tracking the marketplace for. Uh, shelf stable seafood products. And because I’d been in whole foods while I had paid close attention to the work that the seafood team had done in sustainability, primarily around wild-caught, but also around farmed.
And so as context, the seafood team at whole foods had worked for well over a decade, um, you know, give a shout out to Margaret Wittenberg who was the VP of quality standards at the time for really, uh, developing the rubrics and frameworks around sustainability for how to, uh, procure seafood for a retailer from sustainable fisheries.
And they did that by working with independent third party certifiers who were out in the field, uh, working. Fishermen Fisher people with working with folks, uh, out in the ocean, watching those fisheries, you know, scientists, researchers, and a couple of the organizations that I started closely paying attention to where MSC Marine stewardship council and MBA Monterey bay aquarium.
Um, as it seemed to me that they had, um, not only marketable, but the most legit transparent, um, and, and ethical, uh, frameworks for sourcing seafood, uh, sourcing.
[00:04:37] Mason: Yeah, we were kind of sad that their app, uh, went away. You can still get to their rubric, but it’s a little bit
[00:04:44] Errol Schweizer: harder. Yeah. I, I’m not really big on their, their app.
And, uh, obviously they probably need to rethink that because that’s how people communicate and yeah. Yeah. Now it’s
[00:04:55] Jess: just, you bookmark, um, the website on your browser, but w within your phone. So it’s not an app at all anymore. Unfortunately, if you’re
[00:05:02] Errol Schweizer: like me, you have 55 tabs open.
[00:05:04] Mason: Yeah. How are you going to find it?
And then I feel like they’ve gotten a little over complicated with it’s like, well, Atlanta. Tuna, you know, pole caught is good if it’s from, you know, up the coast, but bad of his front, or just as, as an example, some of them, they get just looks at it and it’s like, I don’t know if I can eat this fish or not.
We asked the waiter and they’re like, we don’t know
[00:05:27] Errol Schweizer: either, well, one of the problems with seafood and when you’re buying it out at whether it retail or food service is the traceability and whether or not the folks you’re buying it from know exactly where it came from, because they’re buying it from a distributor.
I mean, they’re not buying it off a day boat most of the time. Yeah. You may have some, um, dock to table restaurants. I mean, that is a thing just like farm. Um, but for the most part restaurants, food service, hospitality, or retailers are buying it from third-party wholesalers and whether or not their supply chain is fully legit and they have full chain of custody and know where everything is coming from.
You know, one of the things about these certifications is there is supposed to be that chain of custody. There is supposed to be that traceability throughout the supply chain from, you know, the fishery, the boat down to the customer. Right. So I, I think one of the ways to do that is when you’re in a retail store, when you’re in a grocery store, you know, if they’re making that claim, it’s because they’ve worked with one of those certifiers and it probably is legit, most likely is legit.
Or if you’re buying a packaged product, you know, like maybe it’s a store brand or a third-party brand. Um, and you see a claim on the package then. Yeah. It’s legit. I mean, that’s, that, that is. For them to say that they have to have a contract in order to use that label. You know, and like I was saying earlier, what got me interested in this was the fact that we didn’t sell that much seafood in grocery at the time.
Uh, the department by the time I left was about 5 billion in annual sales. So, so he figured 10 years ago, or probably like three and a half or whatever. Um, the department 75 categories, milk, yogurt, eggs, butter chips, ice cream, you know, center store, all the good stuff, box bag, packaged foods, my life, my world, um, and seafood was like really small.
I mean, it was, um, probably less than 1% of sales in the whole department, but it got a lot of attention because everybody eats canned tuna and a lot of people eat canned salmon, you know, and a lot of canned tuna is super sketch. Um, for a couple of reasons, you know, not only where they’re caught, how they’re caught, but depending on the kind of species.
You know, the other big concern, which is not addressed by the sustainability metrics that MSC your MBA or other, you know, uh, you know, sustainability cohorts have is the, uh, mercury, you know, that’s a whole separate thing. And so we had sort of two prongs that we were thinking about, and, you know, when we were developing quality centers at whole foods, it wasn’t like a, you know, overnight thing, any standard that we worked on two years, I had developed a eco scale cleaning products and it’s like a three-year process, the grass fed dairy standards, the egg raising standards two or three years, and, you know, big shout out to the folks over quality standards for being so patient, because it wasn’t my day job.
I was responsible for the P and L I was responsible for supplier relationships and keeping the lights on. Right. But, you know, customers expect the stuff you’d be selling at a whole foods to, you know, be legit sustainable. Right. So we have to validate that by working with third parties and the fact that Greenpeace USA had reached out to us, like maybe some folks were nervous over piece of, and you’re like demonstrate and like, whatever Greenpeace, I always thought they were cool.
You know, they’re out in the ocean, you know, saving the fish and saving the way, like I’m all down with that. Um, in fact, I always thought they were pretty, um, moderate and pretty easy to work with because they would actually engage with retailers and try to understand our challenges in developing these supply chains.
So I was always. I was always chill with Greenpeace. And so they had reached out to us. I think
[00:09:03] Mason: there are just some great marketing campaigns
[00:09:04] Errol Schweizer: against them. Yeah. Because, well, you figure they’ve made powerful well-resourced enemies, you know, who, who would stand to benefit from, you know, throwing shade at Greenpeace while the ocean trollers, you know, big industrial seafood, you know, uh, you know, a lot of those operations out of Southeast Asia with like human trafficking and, you know, a lot of these big, you know, like I said, ocean trawlers that are literally factory farms, um, you know, scraping the ocean, dry of seafood.
I mean, that’s, if there’s like a throw away
[00:09:32] Mason: the ones that they don’t want,
[00:09:34] Errol Schweizer: uh, the bycatch and the waste. I mean, if there’s a common enemy that anybody who has any sort of sensibility about sustainability, if you don’t eat fish, like say you’re an ethical vegan, you don’t need any. Um, or you’re a sustainability person like yourselves who want to make sure that your seafood is sustainable.
The common enemy should be these ocean trollers and industrial scale seafood. That the way they do things, man, that is what is killing the ocean because it also puts a family, um, Fisher people out of business, you know, even Billy Joel sang about this, like 30 years ago, it was like that song about the long island sound.
You know, me, I grew up in New York. So that was a big deal. Like these family, uh, fishers were being put out of business by the ocean trollers by the big industrial corporate owned private equity owned, you know, companies that would just like scrape the oceans for. And that’s really the big concern. And now as a retailer, you know, whole foods is in a unique position at the time because folks expected stuff to be somewhat sustainable, but we couldn’t always validate it, you know, and sometimes the, the rhetoric outpaced the reality.
And so it was my job in purchasing to make sure that we had a supply chain, uh, viability that we understood where everything was coming from. And that we had some third, a third-party validation to back that up. And, you know, depending on the species, it was different, you know, tuna, it’s an ocean species, ocean species, and there’s different varieties.
You have albacore, you have Tongal, you have Yellowfin, you have skipped Jack. I think that’s it. You know, whatever, uh, chunk light is. I forgot, you know, there there’s some different, um, types of tuna that you see and the different species Congress. Different parts of the world they’re in different parts of the year and that’s where they’re caught.
And depending also on the size, that is also important relative to the mercury thing, you know, larger fish. What they do is bioaccumulate mercury because they’re the top of the food chain. So usually the tastiest highest fat, you know, like the real rich. Yeah. Unfortunately those are probably the worst mercury bio cumulated in there.
[00:11:45] Mason: real quick say describe what bioaccumulation is, how it works. Yeah. It’s
[00:11:51] Errol Schweizer: the same thing for us as, as omnivores. Right. You know? Um, so we will eat, let’s say we eat a cow, you know, eat some beef, right? Well, the, the cow, you know, dairy, you know, our beef, uh, cattle eat grass, right. You know, the grass obviously pulls carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and sunlight photosynthesis and, you know, becomes grass.
Right. And now for, um, fish. And albacore is the top of the food chain, the ocean. And so it’s eating a smaller fish that fish ate a smaller fish that smaller fish probably ate some sort of mollusk that mollusk ate some, I don’t know, algae, not algae, you know, whatever algae eat. Right. And so if there’s mercury in the environment, which there is, there’s a lot of, you know, human caused mercury contamination in the environment, let’s say, um, the algae sucks up a little mercury, right?
And so next up the food chain is, what did I say, mollusk? Right. You know, snail and the snail then eats lots and lots of allergy to get its calories. Cause algae is single celled organisms are tiny. Right. And then the next in terms of caloric needs is whatever, small fish, you know, you got the, your minnow, I don’t know.
Um, and it eats the snail. Right. But it needs to eat thousands of snails and its lifetime. So little by little that mercury starts accumulating. And so you got a little fish there, right? Okay. If you’re a bigger fish, you know, whatever is next up, you know? Um, I don’t know. You’re, you’re, you’re a fish guy.
You probably know better than me. I’m making a hand signal alive about a foot long, large mouth bass in Texas, not an ocean going fish, but that fish will eat thousands of those little fish. So as you can see, this accumulation of mercury is geometric. Yeah. And how,
[00:13:41] Mason: and because each organism can’t get rid of it.
No, it’s the
[00:13:44] Errol Schweizer: same. And your tissues. Yeah. And by the time you get to, you know, the bigger tuna, especially the longer the tuna live and the more they eaten that these, these tuna are huge. I mean, they’re 10, 12 feet long. I mean, there’s, uh, hundreds of pounds of concentrated fish, protein and fat in there. I mean, so that’s one of the things and it’s.
What I was saying earlier, it’s separate than some of the sustainability and costs because it’s also about the fisheries and the way they’re managed, as opposed to just the species and the bioaccumulation of toxins. So there’s different issues. Yeah. Would you
[00:14:16] Mason: call seafood food? One of the most complex categories there is in terms of measuring sustainable, you said
[00:14:22] Errol Schweizer: seafood.
Yeah, I would say so because of the traceability, once again, the supply chain custody, and that’s one of the challenges for retailers where once you start making these claims, you have to make sure that the fish you see is what you get, what you thought you ordered, what you thought you contracted for.
There was a lot of fraud and seafood. Yeah. And stuff could be substituted. If you don’t have full chain of custody from point a to point B stuff gets switched around. Particularly when there is a profit incentive. When you can make more money off of selling a lower grade, lower quality, less sustainably sourced product.
Obviously we saw something similar. In California, not in seafood, but in, uh, meat a few months ago at the Bel Campo scam scandal where Bel Campo is supposed to be selling all this, like grass fed regenerative beef, but they’re really just a relabeling repackaging, conventional feedlot. We
[00:15:14] Mason: didn’t hear about that.
Oh, it sounds familiar, but it does real quick. I’m going to move your microphone. If you don’t mind, I have to look right down the barrel and then you can
[00:15:27] Errol Schweizer: adjust it back.
[00:15:28] Mason: It’s good. Cause it can, yeah, you can
[00:15:31] Errol Schweizer: also just spin it.
[00:15:37] Mason: How’s that going to get, see both your eyes, but right in the middle there, cut the bucket.
[00:15:41] Errol Schweizer: Yeah.
[00:15:42] Mason: It’s also
[00:15:43] Errol Schweizer: got the whole face. Excellent.
[00:15:45] Jess: So I was going to go back, um, to tuna and I feel like bluefin, tuna is one of the most prevalent options people want to eat when it comes to raw, whether it’s sushi or in a poker table.
And talking about the bioaccumulation of mercury. We know that that fish stock has also been depleted from destructive fishing. Can you talk to us about the current fish stocks? Are there any others? I mean, I know there’s many, I guess that are declining
[00:16:08] Mason: being raped. Right. But maybe the most important ones.
[00:16:13] Errol Schweizer: Yeah. I don’t know if I have a lot of good news on bluefin and I haven’t paid attention to that in recent years, but I know that in the time that I had worked closely on seafood, that had always been a concern. And so I, you know, sushi is a luxury item, you know, and maybe that’s the way we should consider it.
Like. Paul cables or, you know, expecting, you know, really rich, you know, bluefin, tuna in a sushi, you know, frequently is really not the way to go. I mean, that’s the other thing about sustainability. Like, I don’t always think there should be like, you know, you cut off everything, cold Turkey, right. If we were at all to say moderate, what we eat, as opposed to just always expecting everything year round, you know, on demand.
I think that could do a lot for sustainability as much as developing alternatives.
[00:16:59] Jess: Yeah. That’s a good point. I feel like sushi used to be one of my favorite things to go out and find or to eat. And I mean, we don’t need it at all anymore. I feel like, and it’s mainly from, you know, we did a podcast with Monterey bay aquarium when we learned about all these fish stocks and bluefin tuna, and just so many different variety or variables.
And so that’s something that we’ve scaled back on, for sure.
[00:17:19] Errol Schweizer: Yeah. I mean, that’s, that’s the way to think about like eating seasonally and eating, you know, with some moderation, eating thoughtfully, if you have the resources and the knowledge and the ability to do so. Then why not, you know, and also educating others like you guys are doing now.
[00:17:35] Mason: And so on the opposite side, the plural proliferation of fish in farms is a controversial topic. What should take on
[00:17:44] Errol Schweizer: that? There are essentially factory farms in the ocean, you know, farm fish, like there, there has been some attempts to make it more sustainable. You know, I know there’s some certifications around that.
Um, you know, responsibly farmed is what you see. And I think the jury’s still out in terms of the environmental effects. I, you know, I’m hesitant personally to buy like, you know, a farm salmon, you know, unless it’s like I’m going out and getting a bagel and lox, like when I’m in New York, you know, that’s all farm salmon, you know, Nova lox and, you know, grab blocks.
And you could tell because there’s a different appearance of it. You know, they, they, they feed them carotenoids in their diet, which is. Related to vitamin a, which gives them that orange color, as opposed to wild fish stocks, you know, they consume, you know, plankton and, you know, everything, you know, salmon eat because salmon are predators as well.
Um, so you have essentially a kind of a different product in terms of the nutrient quality. It’s similar to feedlot beef versus grass fed beef, right? So, um, in terms of, uh, pathogens and parasites, in terms of, uh, you know, fish eat and then fish poop and where that fish goes and how it concentrates in terms of, uh, farmed fish, escaping into the wild and you know, them being different breeding stock and how they’re affecting, um, you know, the ecosystem.
I think there’s a lot of concerns. And once again, this goes to consumption patterns and the need to always have everything around the clock. Whenever you. Well, there was a price to be paid for that. Um, and it’s one of those other things of how this feeds into the industrial food system and displaces, um, family fishing, uh, communities, you know, hook and line and troll caught day boats, like folks that are trying to do it sustainably and then having to compete with these offshore industrial factory farms of fish.
And so it’s another thing that, uh, I, you know, when you see cheap fish out there, you have to question it where it’s coming from, how was source, what the conditions were, what the effect was in the environment, because unfortunately, and I’ve written about this in terms of true cost accounting and how we value food and how we set prices.
Typically when you see stuff cheap like this it’s because the costs of an externalized, the costs have been offloaded from the consumer to society and the environment as a whole. So that’s just something to be aware of. And with factory farms, If you are going to buy, or you need to buy farm fish, look for some sort of responsibly farmed logo, um, and you know, do your best to, to understand and do the research about, and if possible, avoid it.
Cause these factory farms are popping up. They’re putting more and more in around the world because of the demand, because people want seafood all the time. Right. And I’m not a ethical vegan. I mean, I I’ve worked in the plant-based food industry, plenty. Um, I do eat some fish, um, primarily salmon wild caught salmon once in a while.
Cause you know, stuff’s expensive and it’s a treat, you know, that’s the way I see it. Um, and then likewise, you know, going back to what I was saying earlier about working with Greenpeace and developing seafood standards, canned salmon too, looking for wild-caught canned salmon, particularly from fisheries, like, uh, Bristol bay up in Alaska, which is, you know, essentially a common.
Um, you know, in that, how it’s, uh, treated and how, uh, it provides incomes and livelihoods for thousands of families, thousands of folks who go up there. And there’s a great deal of participation from first nations, native American communities up there. And, you know, obviously their relationship with the salmon, their relationship with the ecosystem.
The fact that they’re sovereign nations. Um, but they also have, have a lot of stake in the economic benefits of those sustainable fisheries as well. Yeah. First
[00:21:40] Mason: of all, day is a really cool place and that’s where we get our same ad from, we did get it from Iliana fish company. And so they get the Sockeye after they’ve bred and they’re just going off to die.
And so they package it up and send it down here. And once a year we pick up a share and it’s enough to, we have it once a week. We do salmon Sunday with
[00:21:59] Errol Schweizer: ghetto. Yeah, no, uh, we got some family in New York and they were doing like a seafood CSA out of Alaska. It’s essentially a little bit gun shy from other clots expensive, but man, that was so good.
Like I’ve never eaten fish like that. So she was like a party. Um, but yeah, Bristol bay, I mean the salmon runs are cyclical. And so, you know, each time during the season you get like the coho, you get the king, you get the Sockeye, you get the pink, get the Chubb, you know, there there’s different salmon, uh, that are coming through.
And, um, I’ve having worked on a product sourcing from that area of the world. And I was pretty amazed at, um, How just diverse and resilient and you know, how many folks depend on it, but how much care is put into protecting it, particularly from mining, you know, they keep wanting you open this ridiculous pebble mine right up river.
Like it literally will spill right into Bristol bay. It’s just like how short-sighted and dumb can you get? Yeah, that’s terrible.
[00:22:59] Jess: Yeah. Um, so let’s talk about the various ways people are trying to address the issues. Um, well, and I guess taking it a step back beyond wild caught salmon, something we’ve learned recently, um, with mollusks like clams and mussels and oysters, that those are some of the few, some of the only few truly sustainable seafood options.
So beyond wild caught salmon, are there any other seafood choices that you think people can make? Or what do you
[00:23:21] Mason: think about mollusks?
[00:23:23] Errol Schweizer: Yeah, that’s true. They’re tasty and also where you get them from, but yeah, clams, oysters. Um, you know, other bivalves, et cetera, you know, I think it’s always about sourcing and just putting a little thought if you can, if you have the time and you know, if you’re you’re, you know, you have.
The resources to eat oysters, then you probably have the resources to understand where the oysters are coming from. I didn’t eat oysters until I was 35. I’d never tried annoys to reform. Then my friend, my, my boss, uh, at, at, at a whole foods got me into oysters. And I, you know, I eat them maybe once a year now and you know, I’ll know a little bit about them, but I also sometimes get super paranoid about, of course, I’ll be the one to get a parasite from it.
I’m always like, you know, a little risk averse about it. But yeah, I mean, it’s always about understanding or having a sense. And if you’re going out to a restaurant, you know, maybe just see what they’re doing beforehand. Yeah. If you’re buying them from a grocery store or if you’re lucky enough to buy them from people who are catching them, you’re harvesting scallops.
You know, if you’re in that area, you know, and it’s one of those things that’s being in Texas. I have a hard time wrestling with Gulf seafood because I want to support the Gulf fishery. I want to support Gulf, uh, you know, fishers, except I get really concerned about the contamination from the fossil fuel industry and how they’ve externalized so much of their profits onto the backs of these communities who are really doing sustainable livelihoods by, you know, trying to catch fish and really biodiverse ecosystem.
I mean, the Gulf of Mexico is it’s the America’s little ocean, right? It’s our own like, you know, we share it with Mexico and it’s got so much going for it on the coast there, the, the birds and the diversity, and then the oil slicks. And then who knows what else is accumulated from deep water horizon? And you read about oil spills all, all the time.
So it’s one of those other things where like, I just wish that as a society, we could set some priorities, like, yeah, we love. We love Malek. We love, you know, shellfish, you know, we’d like to keep them free of fossil fuel contamination, byproducts of offshore drilling and fracking. I don’t know. It seems like a, yeah, it didn’t
[00:25:37] Mason: seem all that bad.
I grew up here in Texas. My grandparents lived in Houston and they had a beach house down by Galveston. And so I just always thought. That everywhere around the country, people had a can of turpentine at the door of their beach house where you would wipe off the tar that you’d get on your feet from playing in the ocean.
And then I went to Florida and it was like, where’s all the tar. I don’t understand.
[00:26:03] Errol Schweizer: Yeah. I grew up in New York and I, you know, I, I actually used to kind of look down a little on orchard beach. I grew up going to orchard beach and now I miss it. I grew up three miles from the beach and it was in long island sound.
So it wasn’t directly on the ocean and yeah, sometimes you’d get some sketchy, garbage wa wash ashore. But honestly, after having been to Corpus, like, I don’t know, I kind of missed the New York beaches. I will say though, that even though you do get those oil slicks down in the Gulf at Corpus and Galveston, they are more bio-diverse in my experience.
And I’m friends with some folks who go fishing out here in the Gulf and who’ve moved down from New York and they can’t believe the stuff they can catch down here. So it’s this weird contradiction. Of what’s going on here, but I agree in my wife, she, um, lived in Florida for awhile, the beaches aren’t pristine, you know, we get like the, you get like the jellyfish blooms there, which is like horrifying.
Oh my gosh. And you get a lot of ocean traffic, ocean going traffic off shore, but it is a little different than what you’ve experience.
[00:27:03] Mason: Yeah. Yeah. And at the very least Mississippi mud comes all Louisiana, Texas. That’s why, what makes the water, uh, muddy all the time. But the only kind of both my grandfathers fished and one was kind of inland and like, like fishing and the other we’d go bait fishing.
And every summer I had to go fishing enough and caught few enough fish that I didn’t end up getting a, any kind of bug for fishing. And I don’t enjoy it much, but I always loved surfing. Because you never knew what you were going to pull out of the ocean or out of the, you know, the Gulf and you just throw it out there a few hundred yards and you either pull in a shark, a stingray red fish.
I mean, there’s just like amazing things you could pull in. So it’s a, it’s a cool thing from a biodiversity standpoint.
[00:27:47] Errol Schweizer: I didn’t realize that too, until I went to the Houston museum of science, which I love it’s actually, I mean, I’m a natural history of New York. It’s kind of loyalist. Like that’s where I grew up, but there are some exhibits in Houston at the museum of science there, like blew me away.
And one of them was an exhibit on the Gulf coast and my last year and a half in college, I studied ecology, environmental science. So I got so into it. I just spent hours in that exhibit. And that was like, you know, it’s close to a decade ago when I first went there and I finally sort of understood the mystique and the appeal around the Gulf coast.
Cause otherwise I’d mostly avoided it. I didn’t want to get caught in an oil spill at all these sort of stereotypes. Right. And don’t, they have a Megalodon. I think, I think they do. Yeah. Yeah. That they, but what they fuck up they have is the, um, they have the museum of paleontology there, which I think is the best dinosaur exhibit in the country.
[00:28:39] Mason: Uh that’s that must have been wearing, I’ve got this picture of Datsun with them, Megalodon,
[00:28:43] Errol Schweizer: just staring up at it. Ah, I’m actually obsessed with trial bites, which prehistoric mollusks are actually now the prehistoric arthropods, excuse me. Cause I used to find them up in the Devonian shale and upstate New York.
And I couldn’t believe I’m in Houston at this museum and they have the best trilobite exhibit. I was obsessed with it. I was there for like hours. My wife had to like drag me away and then she, like, she got me a trial bite from the gift shop, but there you go.
Hence my moniker grocery nerd. It’s not just, I’m a nerd about groceries. I’m just the nerd all around.
[00:29:17] Mason: We always, we want the people bringing us food to be very interested in everything and where it comes from. Right on.
[00:29:27] Errol Schweizer: You know, I, I, I don’t want to be Debbie downer either about the, um, the Gulf, but the other thing for folks interested in seafood to do is to pay attention to the food system in general, at large, because the Gulf also has a dead zone, the size of New Jersey at the mouth of the Mississippi river.
Oh my gosh. I didn’t know that. And that is due to what that means. It means no life. It means this is void of diversity. And that is from the runoff from industrial agriculture in the Midwest. It’s from the factory farm pigs in Iowa. It’s from the cattle feedlots, uh, you know, in Nebraska and the Dakotas it’s from all that GMO monoculture corn soy, uh, that is heavily sprayed with Roundup that is, you know, plowed into the ground so that the soil runs off.
So all these agrochemicals pesticides herbicides, um, you know, like I said, manure, little pig, shit and cow shit washes down by the trillions of trillions of gallons down the Missouri river, down the Mississippi river, and ends up out at the mouth of the Mississippi creating a dead zone. I mean, it’s probably bigger than New Jersey at this point.
Yeah. And it’s, it’s kind of horrifying when you think about it, you know, that is a direct result of our food system. And that is what I mean by an externality in the costs of production. Nobody is paying for that, but everybody is paying for that. And so if you eat seafood, maybe think of ways that you can put effort into slowing down and reversing these dead zones.
And this isn’t the only one there there’s also dead zones, uh, in the Baltic because of industrial farming. And in Europe, there there’s other ones around the world. Um, that, and this affects, um, seafood obviously, but it also is a direct result of industrial factory farming, um, in the Heartland, which has
[00:31:29] Mason: made to meet demand.
And so one of the ways that we as consumers can help is reducing demand on the actual seafood and on fish stock. I had an interesting advisory experience recently where I met someone who’s leading the charge towards cell-based fish. And they, it was very compelling cause they were using zebra fish instead of some other things.
And they were just, all they had to do was a protein instead of trying to do a protein and a fat. And it was a really cool product, but they even said that the industry, while it seems like there are cell based fish out there, there really aren’t. And that it’s maybe 10 years before consumers can actually buy it.
Do you have any, uh, experience or insight?
[00:32:15] Errol Schweizer: Yeah, I’ve actually written at least two articles and have one more. About, um, these technologies, whether it’s cell cultured foods or precision fermentation. So I can go into detail in terms of what the technology is and what my questions are. Um, and cause it’s always, for me about risk assert, risk assurance, transparency, um, and understanding any potential externalities.
So the first thing to understand there’s different technologies involved. So whether it’s a cell cultured protein or precision fermented, or kind of different, um, sometimes there’s some crossover. The key thing here is whether or not the cells are being grown in a serum, you know, just like any kind of cell culture.
Um, and the cells themself all the raw material for what you’re producing, like, you know, an analog for sushi, uh, or you said zebra fish or the cells are being cultivated as livestock in order to produce a raw material. And maybe it’s a protein. And for instance, uh, I M protein for milk or a milk protein, analog, like what, um, perfect day is doing.
Um, or the, uh, soy hemoglobin S soy, hemoglobin analog. These are big words. I apologize, uh, that makes impossible burger tastes bloody. And all that is, is that they’ve genetically engineered a yeast to produce these proteins that could then be extracted out. And these products are starting slowly to end up in consumer goods.
And now, so cultured proteins slightly different, because like I said, the cells themselves are the raw commodifiable material that you could turn into a fish product, or if it’s a cow or cattle protein, what they’re hoping to do is create cell cultured meat. Um, so Joe Fassler wrote a. Huge piece. I’m going to spend 15,000 words in the counter, which is an online news magazine.
It’s great, great resource. He wrote that, oh, a few months ago, um, analyzing the technology behind cultured meat and trying to clarify the claims versus the rhetoric versus the reality and interviewed, um, engineers like and interviewed like actual scientists. Who’ve worked on some of the IP, you’ve worked on some of the techniques and it actually was a pretty stark article because it clarified that it’s not only that it’s whether or not it’s five or 10 years out, but whether or not it’s even viable.
And I think that’s the other concern. And Joe had a different set of questions than I did because my issues with these technologies have been the same for 25 years. I’ve been writing about and working on transparency and supply chains. I’m, I’m easy. To understand once you actually, you know, figure out what my concerns will be like, there’s no surprises here who owns it, who owns the IP.
First of all, let’s just put that on the table. And does that IP present or prevent third-party research from validating the claims? Right? So the IP could be the cell lines themselves. It could be the process or it could be the raw materials. Right. And so based on that, if you have a privately held company, that’s just raising venture capital, that’s just, you know, doing their seed round or a round.
And they’re making claims about the product and its sustainability relative to, you know, that it prevents, uh, climate change or, you know, carbon that it’s energy usage, it’s, um, usage relative to food acres, like, you know, any sort of. Factory farm livestock, whether it’s factory farm seafood or cows or pigs has amount of acreage they need for their feed, usually GMOs corn or soy.
Well, where’s the, a nutrient base for all these cells coming from. Well, it’s most likely derived from industrial byproducts, soy corn, maybe sugar as well, nutrient media, which I’m familiar with. I used to work in labs. I was a research biologist in my twenties. Um, you know, this is, this is part of the industry, right?
And I, you know, the other questions I always have, um, is the metabolic waste waste materials. And even though that breeds anything that eats also shits and somebody has to clean up the shit, right? Excuse my French. And so whether or not that is handled by the company or it’s just flushed into the sewage system.
The reason why I ask about that as well as the reason why I ask about the feed, when you think of the turnover. Th the sales needed to make some of these investors whole know the amount of money that’s going into the sector. And you know, me and you, Mason, we, you know, Jessica, we know the food industry here, you know, requires capital and capitalists have an expectation that they’ll get X times number back.
Right? And so when you’re talking of tens of billions of dollars of sales needed to make, you know, this profitable for the investors, you’re talking about billions of pounds of product. Well, that means that’s billions of pounds of poop. That means that’s thousands of acres of whether it’s corn or soy or sugar needed to make nutrient media.
And so these are my questions. As, as somebody who’s been in supply chain stuff, doesn’t happen like magic. You don’t invent supply chains out of nowhere. And a lot of the time what you’re seeing with folks in the sector, Not food industry folks. Sometimes most of the time it’s usually venture capitalists or it’s, you know, to their credit, uh, really ambitious, enthusiastic, um, and not necessarily poorly motivated folks.
Like they actually, I, I think there are a lot of them are sincere. They want to fix the climate. They want to solve these problems. But, you know, I think a lot of them are trained to just see the upside. And for me as somebody who was in category management, skew rationalization, supply chain, you know, there’s always a balance.
Anytime you bring in a new product, you got to get rid of something to make room for it on the shelf. Right. Um, any time you’ve
[00:38:36] Mason: got to match the sales per
[00:38:37] Errol Schweizer: square foot or sales per square inch, I mean, yeah. I mean for, yeah, for produce per square foot. When, when we’re thinking about grocery, we’re looking at, oh, wow.
[00:38:47] Mason: I’d never heard the
[00:38:48] Errol Schweizer: square inch. I mean, you really got to break it down. I mean, here’s a, just as a quick example, When I used to, uh, buy groceries at whole foods, one of my biggest categories was energy bars. And I used to love bringing in new brands, new, new, innovative energy bars. I didn’t only, only want to work with cliff unkind and no disrespect to cliff or kind cause they’re like the old Galapagos do opoly the Coke and Pepsi of energy bars.
But they’re both actually, you know, for companies, pretty good companies. And cliff bar presented me with compelling data. That every time we brought in an energy bar that wasn’t cliff, we were losing money because cliff generated so much more dollars per square or per linear foot than any other product.
And it was like, that’s how they maintain their dominance, but they it’s. It’s factual too. Anyway. So going back to, um, cultured proteins, you know, the main issues I have around it are the externalities on the governance. And so now if you are an independent researcher and you want to validate these claims, you want to validate this, you have to then still get the.
Raw materials from that company because it’s their property. They don’t have to turn it over to you. Right. So how can you actually validate, you know, the positive, beneficial claims. Now let’s say that the claims are true because they may be, there may be some really good claims that folks are making and the sense of urgency around fisheries, the sense of urgency around the climate is all real.
My take on it is if you’re saying this is better than like industrial food, that’s too low a bar. Cause even if it’s like, I don’t know, 50% better, we’re still screwed because the industrial food system is just so terrible for the environment. It’s so terrible for workers. It’s so terrible for animals, obviously.
So that’s where I also get a little cranky. It’s like some of us have been trying to work on these issues for our whole career. You know, it’s 25 plus years of developing sustainable supply chains. I don’t really feel that anybody just comes out of nowhere with a solution that has a. Tested, you know, and there’s a little bit of, uh, you know, validation and, and critical thought behind it.
But then once again, it goes back to the governance and it’s being really driven by venture capital investment bankers. There’s just so much money when you talk about demand. Well, people eat meat because that demand has been engineered. We didn’t always eat this much meat. Remember beef. It’s what for dinner, your tax dollars pay for that milk.
It does a body good. Your tax dollars pay for that. Our current system of industrial factory farm and animal-based agriculture is taxpayer subsidized. It’s been engineered. And me as a retailer, I know that you don’t just demand us. This doesn’t come out of nowhere. It can develop. Small O organically, um, from farmer’s markets and Facebook groups and, you know, social media, or it could be manufactured through the use of trade spend through promotions, through marketing budgets, right?
So the promotions and marketing trade spend industry in grocery is like 21% of overall grocery sales. It’s 220 billion with a B, right? So when you see all this money going into this, these sectors, like, you know, cell cultured, precision fermentation, a lot of that money is going to be going into marketing and public perception and engineering, the demand as well as downplaying the concerns of people like myself, because what they’ll keep doing is hammering home.
How it’s so much better than the stuff we have out there now, is that what plants need? Yeah. Yeah. I think climate change is a, it’s an existential crisis, right? And here’s our solution. Grow your beef. And it’s just the fermentation chamber. It’s the same thing. You know, like you brew beer in, it’s really not a new technology, but what they’re doing, it’s the technology behind that that is protected it’s intellectual property.
And it’s something that, um, there’s this amazing researcher, Julie Guthman, she’s one of my favorite, uh, food writers. Uh, she calls it a magical disruption, this notion of how these, uh, you know, food tech entrepreneurs make all these promises that they’re going to magically solve all the problems. And it makes you feel like they’re being totally transparent.
And the fact that they’re disrupting these markets, like whether it’s, um, you know, factory, farm troll fish, or CAFO beef, um, you know, feedlot, pigs, except what are they not telling you because of the IP. And that’s where, you know, my questions always come up. So I had, like I said, a couple of pieces, one was last month and four.
On, um, what questions should we have about precision fermentation? And I’m taking a very rational approach to it. For me, it’s like, I don’t see a reason to panic about it. I don’t see this as another way of them pushing pesticides. Like that’s where I get really angry is when the, the poison peddlers start telling us to eat more stuff coated in pesticides.
Yeah, no, um, this is a little different, but I do think we need to apply, you know, some logic and some critical thought in terms of where it’s coming from, how it’s made, what goes into it, what goes out of it. And it’s the same thing with, um, with yogurt. I I’ll give you another example, if you don’t mind. Um, when I was buying groceries at whole foods, one of my largest category was yogurt.
It’s the largest grocery category. We sold 4% of the country’s yogurt at whole foods. When I was there, I left six years ago. So maybe more, maybe less now. And you know, a couple of our top brands we had discovered Greek. Quote discovered, sorry, that’s probably the wrong word. These Greek yogurt became very popular.
I grew up on it in the Bronx. You know, we always would get like and Greek yogurt at the Greek and Italian delis. Like it was part of life living in, uh, in the neighborhood, Morris park and drugs, neck, right. Whatever. And then, you know, the hipsters and yoga moms caught onto it. And the early two thousands and F a G E opened a facility in the U S and upstate New York.
They were smart. They bought a facility up in Gloversville glove or Seville. It was an old leather factory that had wastewater treatment. And then Shabani amazing story. , uh, Turkish, Kurdish, immigrant, uh, you know, not necessarily Rex riches, cause he did have some wealth coming over from Turkey. Really figured out that he can do the same, but slightly cheaper and a little more mass market.
And it was whole foods that launched him. Um, so we worked really closely with Chobani at first. And then he started to scale really fast, like hockey stick fast, and we start getting out of stock and then we would notice it at HEB. And then one of our other stores and another area of the country would get out of stock.
And we’d noticed the Chobani had another bigger retail, like a Kroger. And so, you know, he was definitely rubbing folks the wrong way, but then the scandal happened where he had grown so fast with Chobani that they didn’t have a way to manage the externality the acid way. So when you concentrate milk into Greek yogurt, you know, going through the sh the beat, these big industrial strainers, you generate a waste product called acid way, and it can’t be flood.
Right out into the sewer because it’s highly acidic and it can’t just be sprayed out onto a field because it’ll hurt the ecosystem and the pH. Right. And so fire who had come in first and had scaled more sustainably understood this because they had a facility in Greece because that’s where they’re from.
And they re originally were ready already selling
[00:46:14] Jess: Greek. Yeah. So had Chobani never made yogurt before he just saw what Faye was doing.
[00:46:20] Errol Schweizer: He is like textbook brilliant entrepreneur, but didn’t know what he didn’t know. Gotcha. Fire knew. And so he was outpacing fire and sales didn’t work at fire, you know, wasn’t there a story of him maybe.
I don’t know. You may be right. I, you know, I just know that he launched through, um, my friend, uh, Jeff Lichtenstein, gourmet, uh, uh, guru distributor. Who’s now owned by unify. Jeff was his first customer. Jeff’s customer was whole foods. So we brought in the Chobani product into a couple of regions and launched it.
And he grew too fast and he didn’t have any way to deal with this acid way. It became this huge scandal where it was all this acid way going. Was he like dumping it, you know, et cetera. And so they had to figure out their waste treatment plan. And that to me is applying that experience to this new technology in light of what they’re saying, the scale needs to be in order for it to be profitable and for, to really even have an impact on the industry.
If they’re saying they’re going to either a replace meat sales or, you know, get into at least the low single digits in terms of home consumption. Right. And, you know, let me say, once again, it’s a low bar they’re competing with like the industrial factory farm system, you know, cheap calories, but everybody pays for them way more than what you see the shelf tag for, whether it’s the runoff, the dead zones, it’s the treatment of animals, treatment of workers.
I mean, hundreds of meat industry workers died from COVID-19 because of the lack of data. Practices of the meat processors or the fact that the meat processors are highly concentrated in Ogle, Ogle, opoly. There’s a handful of them that control huge sectors of the marketplace as well. So I don’t mean to just dump on, you know, the, uh, the younger, bright, you know, enthusiastic technologists here who want to save the world.
What I’m saying is, you know, learn from the mistakes, but also we’re not going to be naive about, you know, this sort of magical disruption, that there’s tough questions that you always need to ask. And these are the kinds of questions I would ask when I was leading a $5 billion product segment or in the last six years as I’ve worked with over 25 other companies.
I mean, this is like for me second nature to be a skeptical bastard about this.
[00:48:38] Jess: Well, thank you for all of that. I don’t think that we anticipated or expected such a thorough and thought through answer and had so many key questions that you’ve asked this type of research or these, uh, new innovations.
Yeah. Um, and so to get back a little bit into, um, what consumers can, how consumers can, uh, sorry, let me rephrase that to get back into different choices. Consumers can make, um, to help some of these issues and the depletion of fish stocks. It seems like an obvious solution or answer is to not eat fish and just to opt for a vegan alternative, potentially.
Can you talk to us about, um, you know, that innovation and how that category’s evolved?
[00:49:18] Errol Schweizer: So that’s all based, but plant-based yeah, sure. And I’m also, you know, full disclosure, co-founder a good catch. So, and I had launched and worked with Sophie’s and other, um, you know, to know, you know, these other brands.
So like I know that sector too, like I think, let me actually just say one thing that you didn’t ask, and I think if you really want to make some changes, it can’t just be about personal consumption habits. You have to get active as a citizen, as Bertolt Brecht said, the job of the citizen is to keep their mouth open.
Talk to your elected representatives, organize your friends. Start campaigns be active. And for me, that’s always something that, as I felt as worked for making changes in the food system, when I was at whole foods, none of their big quality standard programs happen in a vacuum. It was usually because we at whole foods had been approached by an advocacy group by a activist shareholder group by campaigners.
Like I said, Greenpeace was one of them, but also the global animal compassion standards at whole foods, the animal welfare standards were due to an animal rights person reaching out to whole foods. So none of this stuff happens in a vacuum. And I think it’s important for your listeners to know, to be active as a citizen.
Not just as a consumer. Now that being said, you know, in terms of what you should or could eat. I think the first thing to do is try to eat a diverse diet. Like, and this is where I, and I’ve been a vegan before I was vegan in the nineties before it was cool. And before I was a vegan before silk was around, right.
That’s hard. It was, it was hard. Um, but for me, I was motivated through a lot of these same concerns. Um, and I can’t do it anymore. I can’t really tolerate wheat. I got to watch how much soy you eat. It just doesn’t agree with me guys. Right. Um, I’ll say there. Yeah. Yeah. And so it’s about eating a diverse diet as much as possible.
And that’s one of the things. When you see simple solutions for complex problems, that’s always when the red flag goes up, oh, you can just replace all this factory farm beef with cultured meat. You could replace all this, uh, all these varieties of seafoods with just plant-based seafood. Yeah. You could replace some and I do endorse it.
I personally enjoy it. I helped formulate it. You know, I’m not going to say no. And in fact, the guys who ran that company and started are good friends of mine. They’re brilliant chefs, Chad and Derek Sarno. Good catch. Right. And they also are, uh, founders of co-founders of wicked kitchen, like brilliant, wonderful human beings who have really just like the best intentions, like for entrepreneurs to actually have that much of a heart of sustainability.
They really get it. And we took a lot of care in the. When I was at good cash in terms of non GMO, soy, you know, testing for glyphosate residue, which is the active ingredient in Roundup, which is, uh, estrogen active and no, uh, potentially carcinogenic. So making sure, um, but then, you know, keeping the soy content low as well.
Cause it’s concerns about soy in and of itself being estrogen active, um, you know, being needs, eaten, and moderation and to mostly have it as chickpeas and other legumes, you know, and that’s the other thing. And even, um, as much as I disagree with the dudes from impossible burger, about some of what they say and what they’re doing with like hemoglobin and all this GMO stuff, you know, I think they would agree that we should diversify the plant-based ingredients more, you know, and I think we need to look at a greater variety of lagoons and grains that could be used in plant-based foods as analogs
[00:52:40] Jess: within one individual product diversify
[00:52:43] Errol Schweizer: or across the board.
It shouldn’t just be industrial solar. Or we’d ex you know, extruded wheat protein or potato dextrose, right. And, you know, to their credit beyond meat, um, which, you know, my team launched at whole foods. Um, we almost discontinued it after six months because it was, it wasn’t selling. Uh, they probably would never have survived now in the current retail environment, how competitive it was.
But one of the key things they did early on was source non-GMO and bio-diverse legumes. Like they worked with suppliers, we had referred them to who are doing crop rotations and we’re doing, you know, more sustainable and even regenerative agricultural practices. Right. So, you know, and that’s something that even the impossible folks could do, even if they want to, you know, squirt their special sauce, you know, extracted from like these GMO critters, right?
Whatever. I’m more concerned about the agricultural practices of the majority of the product itself. So when you’re seeing all this plant-based stuff out there, and we just got back from expo west where even new hope, the organization that puts on expo. Was quoted as saying we’ve reached peak nugget.
There were just so many fake nuggets, like meat analogs, and they’re all working on taste and texture and mouthfeel and umami, like how, you know, how close you can get it. And then for me, you know, skeptical guy, I read the ingredients and it’s like extruded, soy protein extract, you know, extruded wheat dextrose.
And you know, I’m like really guys, you can’t do better than this from a food science perspective, from a format form formulation perspective that you’re going to still just tap the bottom of the barrel of the industrial food supply that we can’t create tasty, healthy, interesting, exciting plant-based food analogs from a variety of crops.
And actually I’ll give a shout out to, uh, my friends at, she meets. I, they are making a pork analog from Sacha inchi, nuts. That was organic and certified. Yeah, I know. Right? It’s like, this is obscure. And like, it was kind of pork dish and like, look, I grew up kosher, so I haven’t eaten that much pork in my life, but you know, I’m not a big pork fan, even if it’s fake pork, I just never got the taste for it.
But I was like, yeah, this is quite Porky. So my friends at G C H I meets and they, it’s an organic regenerative. And I’m like, this is what I’m talking about. Yeah. This is what folks need to do if they want to create CPG items that are plant-based, let’s talk about biodiversity and regenerative ag. Let’s talk about rotational agriculture.
You know, that’s the interconnection is something that I think a lot of the plant-based sector is missing because they’re going bottom of the barrel thing. Well, anything plant-based is better than anything meat-based then you have maybe, but it’s a low bar. And also the fact that there is a lot of animal protein meat, uh, Sales that are coming on in organic and grass fed and regenerative that you mainly raise there is that sector that’s still out there and growing too, but in terms of plant-based to not do it to the lowest common denominator.
Yeah. And this is where, I mean, I took a lot of flack as I called out the plant-based food sector about six months ago on the eat for the planet podcast. And I said, you guys have lost the script. The whole point here was to make healthy, sustainable vegan foods. We call them vegan. Maybe I’m dating myself.
Right. But plant base, as opposed to an industrial byproducts that could as closely mimic industrial meat as possible. And there is a place for that, but I don’t think that’s the only place. And I definitely don’t think it’s the best place. Yeah.
[00:56:22] Mason: So do any of the plant-based fishes taste like fish?
[00:56:26] Errol Schweizer: Yeah, I think, uh, the Sarno rose, um, good catch is pretty close, especially when you put in a sandwich.
Yeah. And what did they, and I tested it with my kids. I ate it, you know, I mean, I was. Reasonably impressed. Very
[00:56:40] Mason: cool. We had one. Do you remember?
[00:56:42] Jess: I think it was Sophie. So I think it was the other one that you okay.
[00:56:45] Errol Schweizer: Sophie’s is good too. Yeah. And you know, it was a while ago. Yeah. There’s some good analogs out there.
I think it’s a good thing to try. And this is where like, I will, I wouldn’t have for breakfast today. I had tofu and eggs, like, and, you know, toast, whatever. Excuse me. And like, why be dogmatic? I mean, unless of course you’re an ethical vegan and you don’t believe in eating animals and I respect that. Right.
But for those of us who are, you know, omnivores or, you know, trying to be conscious about everything we eat or, you know, to the fact that like, you know, friends of mine and activists that I know who are native American it’s for them, it’s a relational, uh, food system. Like, you know, they don’t really make that distinction.
Um, for them like the bison, you know, the Buffalo is it’s sacred. Right? So for, for you to say, as an ethical vegan, you can’t eat bison. You can’t eat. That’s their worldview. Right. So I think we need to be careful about how we impose that, but then again, if folks want to convert to, plant-based like, I’m all for that.
Good for them. You know, I actually, um, had a Ryan Lewis on my podcasts a few months ago and he just, uh, did this amazing movie about, uh, plant-based food and need for, you know, more veganism in the black community. Um, and I, I mean, it was a hardcore movie, I mean, just in terms of what the statistics are.
And he also talked about the externalities that, you know, who works on farms. Well, it’s, uh, mostly, you know, Mexican migrant farm workers were a factory farms located mostly in poor communities and disproportionately black immigrant, uh, Latin American communities. So just w we don’t think about it that way.
We just say, Uh, factory farms are bad for the animals because it’s animal cruelty. Well, you know, there’s other externalities here too. And so like, I respect that and I support that, but for me, like, you know, and it’s the approach I take with my writing, but my podcasts, but also influenced by the fact that I had 75 categories at whole foods.
And I’ve worked with all these retailers that sell a variety of products. Like, you know, I take a very diverse view to, uh, you know, the ways we can eat and source food sustainably.
[00:58:52] Mason: Very cool. Very cool
[00:58:58] Errol Schweizer: dogs barking at the wind. Yeah, that
[00:59:00] Mason: was a big wind. Um, so, you know, you’ve helped guide the industry. You’ve obviously had a ton of amazing experience. What’s kind of your vision for the future and what keeps you motivated to fight the good fight?
[00:59:17] Errol Schweizer: Yeah. I mean, I mean the immediate future, um, I’ve written quite a bit about supply chain and inflation, um, and struggles of food, supply chain workers.
Those are things that like are very concerned about. Um, you know, as somebody who moved up and around the food industry, I started out as a grill cook and a clerk dishwasher, and I was fortunate enough to, you know, have opportunities where I eventually ended up as the head of the grocery department. You know, I want to make sure that those opportunities are available for other folks.
And I want to make sure that the food industry starts paying and treating workers better. You know, um, one out of seven jobs in this country or in the food industry, eight out of 10 of those jobs are the lowest, worst paid jobs in the country. Like if you want to fix poverty, if you want to fix like social injustice, social equity, fix the food industry.
And I’ve written about this, um, as well, that 75% of a certain retailers, employees are food insecure. And can you imagine that you work around food all day and you’re not making enough to feel that you can actually feed your family? 14% of those retailers workers have been homeless in the past year. I honestly, I had to stop writing for like a few weeks after that.
Cause I was, and I actually called a couple, uh, groups I work with like, I may need to quit. I’m really like, I can’t believe this. I believe it. And the reason why I was so torn up was because when you look at the, um, the wage, the wages that people make and the livable wage standards, like the cost of living standard living standards, and you extrapolate those numbers out because retailers don’t pay too differently, the cost of living, you know, if you’re you work at one retail or no, it doesn’t matter if you’re living in LA or Austin or Seattle.
Denver still the same cost of living. We can say that probably the majority of people who work in the food industry have experienced food insecurity in the past year and a small minority, but a large number of people have experienced homelessness when you also, you know, we’re, we’re in Austin here and, you know, as homeowners, it’s great for us, but the, I don’t know what our kids are going to do.
I don’t know where they’re going to live because things are so expensive here. But think about that for all those folks, working in grocery stores for folks working in food processing and manufacturing and back of house. Um, and so I don’t think we should be gun shy about, you know, making sure that living standards go up that, you know, we have to reevaluate minimum wage is still 7 25, you know, for all this hand wringing about, you know, big companies having to give raises, you know, the minimum wage had kept up with productivity since 1980.
It would be $25 an hour. If it had kept pace with corporate profits, B $45 an hour. Oh my gosh. So I mean, that’s the kind of stuff. And so that’s like the immediate, the long, you know, the medium term is what the Russian invasion and brutality in Ukraine is going to do a global food system in the next year.
Or the last time we had disruption like this was, you know, drought, environmental cause in the early two thousands that led to the Arab spring and overthrown Tunisia and Syria, Egypt, bread riots, you know, people emulating themselves like, um, you know, crazy, crazy stuff. Price of food is a lot higher now things are actually a lot more dire and we haven’t yet seen how that’s gonna play out.
Um, and you know, I just, uh, I’m an independent voter and I don’t like the way Biden’s handling it. I think they’re asleep at the wheel. Um, I think they killed the child tax credit, um, you know, pressure from Republicans. They, um, there’s obviously no more stimulus money coming. They’re raising interest rates, uh, which is gonna be terrible.
Uh, it’s gonna probably cause a software session. Um, and the rate of inflation has exceeded the rate of increase in snap, snap being one of the largest food, um, security programs in the world. I think the second largest, uh, the fact that $120 billion in snap subsidized. Um, and I think 70 billion of that goes to the grocery industry.
It’s like literally, almost like, uh, you know, one in $10 in the grocery industry is funded by your tax dollars through snap. Yeah.
[01:03:33] Mason: I think someone was telling me it’s a ridiculous calculation on how they decide. On how much to increase snap. Cause it, they only take like one part of one quarter or something.
And then, so with inflation going up, they’re only, you know, they’re like you said, they’re not increasing it because the calculation
[01:03:52] Errol Schweizer: is reducing, increase it for the first time in decades, back in September, uh, they increased it, uh, 20 something percent I think. Um, but like I said, you know, relative to the amount folks need to eat now with inflation, you know, meat prices have gone up 15%, you know, CPI month over month, over month, over month is like six, 7%.
I mean, it’s like crazy. So, um, th that’s medium term, because we don’t know how the fact that you crane, which produces, uh, you know, uh, 10, 12% of the world’s wheat, you know, and the fact that the organic food industry, uh, produces a disproportion amount of organic feed grain. Um, as well as seed oils. So that is going to be a huge concern like Somalia, for instance, which is obviously war turn.
I mean, the U S war torn us is, you know, bombing Somalia a few weeks ago. We don’t hear about that. A lot of their wheat comes from Ukraine, you know, world food program, uh, the UN world food program. Now, instead of using Ukraine as a source, as a supplier now has to turn around and make sure that Ukrainians don’t starve.
So that’s a big problem for like one of their main suppliers to turn around and be food insecure because of this ridiculous war. So that’s medium term. And then longterm, you know, is, is climate change. Like I think what we’re seeing here with the pandemic and all this stuff is just a, really a hint of things to come, you know, and I shelf collapsed this week in Antarctica, pretty big.
You know, how many times have we heard about will Smith snaps, slapping Chris rock versus another huge ice shelf in Antarctica, the Antarctic, uh, the temperatures in the Arctic and Antarctic were six degrees, 70 degrees above normal. Honestly, it should scare the crap out of everybody because you know, that
[01:05:42] Mason: scared me and they couldn’t even explain why.
Right. They were like there. None of, none of them are
[01:05:46] Errol Schweizer: because it’s not linear. Yeah. That’s the thing. It’s, it’s, it’s chaos and that’s the thing. And the scientists expect it to be linear. And then the, the doubters, this climate change skeptic. Expect it to be linear too. And no, the point is this is chaos and we don’t know what happens when you start.
It’s like the drastic park thing. It’s like Jeff Goldbloom, you know, I just like, in my mind, like he saw this coming, like that character was just so on point with just, you know, when you start messing with, um, natural systems and, you know, to the extent and scale that we are. But I also think the, um, the, really the lack of sense of urgency around addressing them, you know, our grandchildren will never forgive us.
Like we have no idea what’s coming, you know, and I’m in New York or you’re from Houston. I mean, those are both coastal megalopolises like, you know, 60 feet rise in sea level mean that those are no more, you know, that’s, you know, you’re having to relocate 50 million. Yeah. So what can the us alone? Well, you have a choice.
I mean, I just, I’m sort of, it’s a compulsion for me though. Like, honestly I love the food industry, so that’s where I made my home. After, you know, I started in college and I, I wandered into NGOs and community organizing and I did warehouse work and food service work, and I was a landscaper and I worked construction.
I mean, you name it, I’ve probably done it. And I kept coming back. Kept coming back to food. And, um, it’s not because I’m a chef. My kids consider my cooking a war crime have nothing to do with that. I just, I see food as sort of at the intersection. A lot of these issues, I love buying. I love merchandising, loved product development.
Um, but I also, you know, raised in a Jewish household and we have a keen sense of social justice. You know, it’s when you’re raised Jewish, it’s a Tikun Olam to repair the world. It’s a concept and it’s, it’s secular, I’m not religious or anything, but it’s like, I, you know, I meet a lot of folks in the food industry who came up in that same era.
Grandparents were Holocaust survivors. Parents grew up under that trauma and like, it’s like, we need to better ourselves, but we also need to better our world. And so that’s something that, you know, I, I’m not very spiritual, but that’s sort of, I’m rooted in a bit of that. Um, and I think with the food industry, You know, because of my, you know, work in studies and environmental science and as a community organizer, but then also as a scientist biologists, like I have been able to bring that all in and I also have a analytical mind.
I’m always overthinking things. So like doing category management at whole foods and S you know, the type of skew rationalization and data analysis on top of, you know, negotiating. I love negotiating with folks like negotiating with suppliers. Like,
[01:08:31] Mason: I think Jessica gets a little joy out of it. Yeah.
[01:08:34] Errol Schweizer: I would negotiate with distributors.
UFI was our largest distributor, and I spent plenty of time with United natural foods. And I negotiated three key contracts in my career. Like just another distributor. Like I figured that’d be a lawyers at this point. We always have a lawyer in the background, but I am good enough now at the contract language and a lot of those contracts to.
The business requirements too. And you know, you always have to have the business lead in the room to understand that. Um, and then, you know, I like to write and, um, my podcast is not nearly well done like yours. I’m very much a grocery podcaster is just. Packing it on the shelf and getting it out to, uh, getting out for consumption.
But, um, I, you know, I like doing that and it helps me like formulate my thoughts and just sort of stay fresh and stay on top of things. Because for me, like it’s not work life. It’s all my life. This is, you know, um, I’m always doing this or thinking about it or reading about it, you know? And then, you know, when I go on vacation is don’t laugh, but we take the kids to grocery stores.
You know, you too,
[01:09:35] Mason: even though we’re not in, you know, we’re in CPG and technically not anymore, but we still go to grocery stores everywhere we go. And almost like, like I’m
[01:09:43] Errol Schweizer: upset. Yeah. I, we, we took the kids through Europe a few years back from my life and I was 20th anniversary. And what did we do? Museums and groceries.
And they’re the same for me. Like, you know, and I learned stuff, you know, for my career, but I’m also fascinated by how people eat and shop and you know, how products, I mean, you know, like, uh, as an example, we were in a dental. And, you know, Denmark has all these climate commitments and, you know, the amount of organic that they have.
They’re like the whole country is going organic essentially. Um, it’s a small country. It’s like the size of Houston. It’s not really a big country per se. Um, no, it’s a little bigger. I think it’s like 10 million people in Denmark. So it’s like a little bit of a bigger city. Yeah. That’s obviously a lot smaller than New York, but it’s still a sovereign nation.
And, you know, just to see how they’re doing things there, or I was in, um, Amsterdam working with, um, Chuck Eggert, who, uh, founded BASIX market. He a former founder of Pacific and he took us out to, um, Amsterdam to see how they retail there to influence what we did with BASIX market. And it was really instructional and the fact that, you know, traveling in, uh, Northern Europe, the fact that there’s a huge portion of those grocery stores that are cooperatives that are consumer.
Like that is a mainstream everyday part of their culture there. And for us, it’s sort of a fringe, you know, I love Weeksville. I go there every couple of weeks, but it’s less than 1% of market share in Austin. You can go to these, these countries in Europe and the co-ops are like 30, 40% market share. I mean, these are serious contenders, like, and they’re full service grocery stores, but they’re cooperative.
They’re not owned by private equity. They’re not owned by wall street investors. They’re owned by the people. So I found that fast and that’s for me, I learn, I like learning that sort of thing, and it’s helped influence, inform my writing, but also I advise a dozen different companies now that like, Hey, let’s think about other ways of innovating of doing business of surviving, thriving, adapting, et cetera, you know?
[01:11:42] Mason: Well, thank you so much. I think we’ve, we’ve kind of hit a limit here, but you, this has been an incredibly informative. We’ve gotten some amazing content here that I think our listeners will love. So thanks
[01:11:55] Errol Schweizer: for being on the show. My pleasure. Thanks for inviting me out. It’s great to meet you folks, so awesome.
Yeah. Thanks for
[01:12:00] Jess: coming. Awesome. Good.
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