The Case for Being Bullish
The Consumer Demand (8th) Edition of the Negative Foods Newsletter
Optimism and realism can coexist. I’ve always identified with the Stockdale Paradox, being realistic about today’s brutal facts while feeling optimistic about the long run. If you zoom out far enough, you’ll notice that humanity incrementally improves on most fronts, as was described in the book Factfullness (recommended!).
You can guess that I’m an optimist. As a serial entrepreneur, how can I not be?
So let’s consider the case that that consumer demand will rise - big time - for foods with carbon negative (or neutral) footprints (“Negative Foods”). And that growing demand for Negative Foods will help reverse climate change.
Why will consumers buy more Negative Foods?
Good for a Warming Planet. Consumers will demand more, and pay more, for Negative Foods, because they reverse climate change.
Good for Human Health. Consumers will demand more, and pay more, for food that makes them healthier.
I can already hear the marketing experts pointing to research that concludes that consumers won’t pay more for green products. I know that research. I’m ignoring that research. Why? Because it is inconsistent with what we can actually see in the marketplace. I choose market data over research data.
Here’s what I mean: Organic food in the United States has for many years experienced rising strong demand at price premiums. Consumers pay more for organic, and buy more of organic, because they perceive it to be better for the environment and better for their health, although Harvard’s Robert Paarlberg makes the case that organic is not and does not. I’ll save the debate about organic’s benefits for a future edition of this newsletter, but for now it is clear that consumers pay more for organic because - in material part - they perceive it to be better for the planet and their health.
Negative Food is Better for the Planet. The Rodale Institute states that they have “proven that … regenerative organic agriculture can sequester carbon from the atmosphere and reverse climate change.” Robert Bonnie, the Deputy Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor for Climate at USDA, co-authored a memo for the Biden transition team concluding that “Forests and agriculture can provide 10%-20% of the carbon sequestration and emissions reductions needed to meet net zero emissions by 2050.” The NRCS, an agency of the USDA that for decades has provided technical assistance to farmers, teaches regenerative agricultural practices that “increase carbon storage in soil, called carbon sequestration, which buffers climate change.” I could go on. If you are a skeptic (and I like skeptics), I encourage you to do your own research, and I hope you’ll join me in concluding that Negative Foods draw carbon from the atmosphere and can help reverse climate change.*
Negative Food is Better for Health. The nutritional quality of U.S. food has fallen tremendously in the last several decades.
Many scientists believe this is because we have eliminated biodiversity from farm soils by getting away from regenerative practices. Soil ecologist Dr. Christine Jones writes that farms using regenerative agricultural practices “increase the biodiversity in soil in a way that … improves the nutrient density in the food produced”. Dan Kittredge, the Executive Director of the Bionutrient Food Association (BFA), had made it his life’s work to teach farmers (and create useful tools) regarding how regenerative agricultural practices - in addition to sequestering carbon - improve the nutritional quality of the food they produce. It also tastes better by the way.
Consumer Demand for Negative Foods will Rise, and Help Reverse Climate Change. Consumers will increasingly perceive (correctly) that Negative Foods are better for the planet (they reverse climate change) and better for their health (they have more nutrition). Consumers will pay more for such food and will choose Negative Foods over other foods, and therefore Negative Foods will increasingly capture greater market share. The rise in market share of Negative Foods will draw down carbon from the atmosphere and will therefore help reverse climate change.
Calls to Action! This is a lot. What we need to do:
Entrepreneurs, this will be one of the greatest consumer demand trends in history. Do you like to sell products at premium prices? Do you like to sell products in markets where demand vastly outstrips capacity? Do you want to build companies that improve the world, that attract a caring workforce with a strong social mission? Yes! You do. Do it. And please keep me updated on your progress and let me know how I can help.
Venture Capital and Private Equity Investors, this will be one of the greatest money-making opportunities in history! Build your theses, raise your funds, and enjoy the outsized returns. Do good and do well. Let me know how I can help.
Big Food! You are likely to get leapfrogged by startups. I recommend that you instead invest in your own Negative Food brands. If that fails, you can reward the entrepreneurs and venture investors by acquiring the food brands that beat you. Either way works, but please don’t dither.
Farmers. There is plenty of research illustrating how Negative Foods will be better for farmers. I’d like to add to the canon that rising consumer demand, at strong price points, will motivate farmers to adopt regenerative practices. Farmers, please transition quickly and enjoy the benefits!
Food Eaters (and you know who you are), you need to ask your food retailers and producers about agricultural practices. Please choose Negative Foods, and please be willing to pay a premium for the next several years. Of course consumers need to better understand all of this, and so I hope we can develop standards (that don’t yet exist), and clear and authentic labeling protocols. That’s a topic for a future newsletter, and I’d be grateful for your ideas.
So many inspirational players. A non-exhaustive list:
Dan Kittredge. I’ve learned a lot from Dan about the connection between soil practices and nutrient density, and I hope you do also. Enjoy the podcast episode when Dan was interviewed by Mark Hyman. And also Dan on the Investing in Regenerative Agriculture podcast. And more about Dan here.
USDA Appointees. We are fortunate that USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack is being advised by Robert Bonnie (on climate) and Kumar Chandran (on nutrition).
Who else inspires you? Send your ideas!
Help! Seeking freelance social media and PR expertise
After eight editions into the Negative Foods Newsletter, we have moved beyond the preview stage and are ready to spread our wings. I’m looking for a freelancer who can help achieve more distribution on social media and otherwise, and a freelance publicist (could be same person, could be different). Please send your recommendations, but only for candidates with experience in this space, an alignment of values, and a hunger in the belly.
Ludovica Ferme pointed me to the newsletter of Dave Chapman, the founder of The Real Organic Project, which is on a mission to certify organic farms independently of the USDA.
Melissa Kleinholz says that “Good bread -- and Bread Alone is the best! -- is never dead.”
What’s your feedback on this edition of the newsletter? Let me know!
For Your Further Consideration
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Special Report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems. This report is dense, but it “highlights the multiple interactions between climate change and land.” You said you wanted to do your own research?
Kiss The Ground. This is the gateway movie for thoughtful people who want to learn more about regenerative agriculture and how good soil practices will save the earth. Did I mention I served Woody Harrelson when I was a bartender during law school? Tequila, straight up.
The Biggest Little Farm. The other gateway movie about regenerative agriculture. It’s sweet. Great for the whole family.
A Life on this Planet. So many movies! But I loved this one by David Attenborough, which eloquently makes the case that we need biodiversity and we need to save the soil to save humanity.
Resetting the Table: Straight Talk About the Food We Grow and Eat. This is the book in which Robert Paarlberg argues that we are wasting our money on organic food.
The Bionutrient Food Association. These are the guys making a tool to determine the nutrient density of food. And helping farmers understand how to use regenerative practices to reverse climate change and improve the nutrition of food.
Dan Barber’s 2014 Book The Third Plate. Dan beautifully connects soil to nutrition, to flavors, to the planet. A good idea to remember that it is all connected.
* Many researchers believe, as do I, that regenerative agriculture practices provide other benefits as well, such as increased biodiversity, improved water quality and quantity, resiliency, less soil erosion and improved farmer income.
The views in this newsletter belong solely to Paul Lightfoot (and not to BrightFarms or other organizations). This newsletter accepts no advertising. Learn more about this newsletter at https://paullightfoot.substack.com/about.