As the senior director of mission at Applegate, Gina Asoudegan's job is to make sure the company stays true to its mission to "change the meat we eat" by developing and maintaining high standards of animal welfare and supporting big ideas that can improve the way meat is raised, produced and distributed to as many people as possible. As a former caterer and culinary arts teacher, that's a mission she's personally passionate about.
She'll join a panel of experts at Esca Bona next week to discuss the plant-based food movement and what the future of responsible meat and dairy looks like. Here, she shares some preliminary thoughts about the future of responsible meat and dairy.
GMO transparency and non-GMO has been a big area of focus for Applegate. What other issue(s) are you prioritizing right now?
Gina Asoudegan: Animal welfare is big priority for Applegate. We believe in the humane treatment of animals and farming practices that don’t entail antibiotics or hormones. We have an amazing animal welfare team that does routine farm visits to ensure our meat is coming from animals that have more space to engage in natural behaviors, experience environmental enrichment and eat a proper diet with no animal byproducts.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen a swift rising of the plant-based food movement and, along with it, a bit of a vilification of meat by the media. How can companies like Applegate educate consumers that meat is still a valuable part of the food system? Are there potential ways to collaborate with the plant-based sector?
GA: I think our biggest challenge is to reframe the conversation. The question we should be focusing on isn’t whether meat is good or bad, but whether we can be raising animals better. As a company, we believe that animals are an essential part of an ecologically optimal food system, but there’s no doubt that the current system is broken. Applegate partners with the Rodale Institute, and I love the way they break it down: healthy soil, healthy food, healthy people. Raising animals responsibly is a crucial part to achieving that healthy soil. Collaboration is important, not only with the plant-based sector but with NGOs, retailers, investors, government agencies and even competitors. I think this kind of wide-ranging and diverse collaboration is the only way we can make real and sustainable change in the food system.
I understand that you have a background in the restaurant industry. How do you feel that has inspired your work today?
GA: As a restaurateur and caterer, my food philosophy always gravitated toward meat and produce that was sourced locally. It’s what tasted the best! However, as I tried to grow my business, I started to understand that the infrastructure for getting local and/or sustainably raised food to restaurants and institutions didn’t exist. In fact, farmers markets were few and far between. Keep in mind this was 20 years ago in Philadelphia. That’s when I became immersed in the food movement and started to understand the need to scale holistic farming systems, and the complexity involved in doing so. At Applegate, I’m still focused on what I call conscious scale.
If you think five or 10 years down the road, what changes do you hope we—as an industry or as a civilization—have achieved, in terms of how food is produced or thought about?
GA: I hope we get beyond chasing claims on packages and start to look at agriculture more holistically. In other words, what systems are best for the soil, animals, farmers, consumers and the environment? How do we make the food from these systems financially viable for farmers and affordable and accessible for consumers? This is what I mean by conscious scale.
I also hope that more people become interested in food and curious about how it’s produced. When people are aware, they shop differently, and this ultimately shifts the marketplace. In other words, people get the kind of food they vote for with their dollars. Consumers have more power than they know. Food companies are cleaning up their ingredient statements, and removing antibiotics and GMOs from their supply chains because that’s what people are demanding!
Catch Gina Asoudegan at Esca Bona.
What: Plants vs. Animals: Finding a Healthy and Sustainable Middle Ground
When: 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016
Where: Capitol Ballroom, Sheraton Austin Hotel, and via livestream on newhope.com.