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Articles from 2021 In August


[email protected]: Meatpacking plants recruit foreign workers | Researchers reveal sugar-reduction targets to save lives

food labels that consumers care about

Concerns about workplace safety as meatpacking plants recruit foreign visa workers

More foreigners are being hired to perform the incredibly dangerous job of cutting and packaging meat for U.S. consumers, an industry that has a long and storied history of worker exploitation, a new analysis out of Investigate Midwest shows. In 2015 six plants requested to hire foreign employees, and last year the number nearly doubled, to 11. The high rates of COVID-19 transmission between meatpacking plant workers is just one peril these workers have to contend with, and they're less likely to speak up about injustices because of their visa statuses and language barriers. Civil Eats has the scoop.

Cut sugar to save lives, researchers urge

Cutting 20% of sugar from packaged foods and 40% from beverages could prevent 2.48 million cardiovascular disease events, 490,000 cardiovascular deaths and 750,000 diabetes cases in the U.S. over the lifetime of the adult population, emerging research covered by The Harvard Gazette showcases. Implementing a national policy whereby the food and beverage industry commits to reformulating sugary products, however, will require government support to monitor companies as they work toward the targets and to publicly report on their progress. Will Big Sugar succeed once more in lobbying against such federal regulations? Stay tuned.

McDonald's, others consider closing indoor seating amid Delta surge in US

Some U.S. fast-food restaurants, including McDonald's, are closing indoor seating areas or limiting hours of operation because of the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19. Reuters writes that expected closures are fewer than the number that shuttered in spring of 2020, when the pandemic first hit the United States. Deaths and cases were up significantly over the past week or so nationwide, with hospitalizations up 6% over the past week to an eight-month high, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last Friday.

COVID-19 aid package updated to assist poultry, hog, fruit and vegetable farmers

Newly announced federal aid will be available to contract growers of poultry, eggs and hogs, and it will cover lost revenue for essentially the entire 2020 calendar year. Farmers will be able to choose either their 2018 or 2019 earnings to compare (they'll simply choose the year that was more profitable), and the funding they receive will be 80% of the difference between their revenue in the year 2020 and either 2018 or 2019. Learn more at Modern Farmer.

The activist entrepreneurs running zero-waste shops

Here, BBC highlights the stories behind pioneering zero-waste businesses that are educating customers about the importance of living waste-free (and help make the shift easier). Zero-waste living is tied to a whole bunch of key natural products industry attributes, such as ethical supply chains and eco-friendly ingredients. The movement still has a ways to go, but interest is beginning to grow and younger consumers are increasingly putting their dollars where their values lie. 

Natural Products Expo

Natural Products Expo East Trends Preview: Dairy and dairy alternatives

Dietary and nutritional needs are driving innovation in real dairy (and eggs!), while brands strive to meet consumers’ growing demands for sustainability, transparency and mission.

Dairy alternatives continue to innovate in terms of both ingredients, function and formats–with an explosion of clean-ingredient, ultra-tasty options for nondairy cheeses, butters and spreads.

Click through the gallery to see some exhibitor picks that represent these trends in dairy and dairy alternatives.

This BIPOC immigrant woman built a thriving organic brand—here's how

Good Food For Good good food for good founder richa gupta

Richa Gupta, founder and president of Good Food For Good, wanted to cook wholesome, real food for her family—like her mother did for her as a child in India—but she struggled to create convenient and healthy meals while working a nine-to-five. She founded her brand to help people eat better, whether it’s the consumers who purchase her products or the families who benefit via the brand’s Buy One, Feed One venture that donates a meal to someone in need for every product sold (so far, Good Food For Good has donated nearly 1 million meals).

As an immigrant, Gupta didn’t have connections or advantages to help her. She built her organic brand the old fashioned way: from the ground up, with no compromises.

What is your company's mission and how did you come to land on this mission?

Richa Gupta: At Good Food For Good, we are on a mission to make it easy for people to eat well and do good. We have been very clear about it from day one, hence the name Good Food For Good, which is not just our name, but our mission in four words. It’s a decision making tool for anyone in the company. We just have to ask ourselves if our decision will result in good food and will it be for the good of society.

Prior to founding Good Food For Good, I was working in marketing at a food consumer packaged goods company and was also a mother of a young four-year-old. As a mom, I was struggling to feed my family food that I called real and wholesome in the time that I had after work. Professionally, I was questioning the long-term impact of my work. These struggles inspired me to create something that has the potential to make a positive difference in the world. I was longing to do something that gave my life purpose and allowed me to live my values. Good Food For Good was the answer.

We live in a world where one in five deaths are linked to a bad diet full of processed sugar, salt and meat on one side, and on the other side one in nine people still go to bed hungry. I created Good Food For Good to make a positive difference through food for people who can afford it and also by donating to people who can’t through our Buy One, Feed One mission.

Why is it important for you to use clean and organic ingredients?

RG: Food is thy medicine. It’s the fuel we run on. We have only one body that needs to last a lifetime; yet, ironically, we are trained to look for the cheapest food to fuel it.

I use ingredients that are food—not that are derived from food—because our bodies have evolved to know the whole food and how to extract the benefits from it. Food science, extracts and isolates are fairly new to human evolution and I want to preserve wholesome food the way it was. 

I chose organic not just because it is good for us, but also because it’s good for the planet. Organic farming produces much less greenhouse gas emissions and it does not pollute our waterways with biodiversity-killing pesticides. 

Good Food For Goodgood food for good product lineup

What do you want to say to consumers by investing in organic certification?

RG: Third-party certification builds trust. By becoming certified organic you don’t just have to take my word. It’s an independent third party certifier that makes sure every ingredient we use is grown using organic farming. I would say, ingredients matter and how they are grown matter a lot, not just for your health but also for the health of this planet we all call home. 

What are some notable challenges you've met along the way, and how did you overcome them?

RG: That’s a loaded question. Just like every entrepreneur, I had a series of challenges that I had to overcome. Being a BIPOC immigrant woman with no roots in the country made it a bit more challenging, and then my own personal values made it even harder to accept options that might have been good for business.

Our commitment to organic posed a few challenges in product development, as the supply chain of ingredients is not as good as conventional. We had to reformulate to ensure that we only use the organic ingredients that are readily available. One of our co-packers dropped our line right before we were supposed to go national with Canadian distributors because he felt the production was too complicated. I had to rent a commercial kitchen and scramble to find staff to take it back on in-house within days. 

Not having any roots in the country also posed a big challenge, as I really didn’t have a network to begin with. I had to start from scratch and just keep knocking on doors until I got the answers. It ended up being a longer path to reach where I am now because I didn’t have a community that I could have gone to to get answers or recommendations.

I have also seen unconscious bias in action, since most of our products are not from the culture I was born in. I have seen people assume things because of the color of my skin, for example, that I am sampling curry even though I was sampling barbecue sauce or ketchup. This is something that I don’t know how to overcome.

What is your message for other BIPOC brand owners in the organic space?

RG: I think this is for all of us in the organic space, irrespective of the color of our skin: We have a big job ahead of us, and most consumers still don’t have a clear understanding of organic and its benefits not just for them but for the environment. We all need to work towards educating them on the long-term value of the extra dollar they pay for organic.

Natural Products Expo East logoThis article is the second in a series highlighting BIPOC and certified USDA Organic exhibitors at Natural Products Expo East 2021. Read the previous interview here.

Natural Foods Merchandiser

Checkout: Kimberton Whole Foods embraces organic, local food in eastern Pennsylvania

Colin Lenton Photography Checkout: Kimberton Whole Foods in eastern Pennsylvania | Colin Lenton Photography

Terry Brett just wanted to be a farmer. But he wound up a retailer, and hundreds of local producers and thousands of loyal shoppers in the Greater Philadelphia area are so glad he did. Back in 1986, he and his wife, Patricia, ran a 400-acre biodynamic and organic dairy farm now named Seven Stars Farm. Terry made yogurt while Pat opened a small farm store onsite, the first iteration of Kimberton Whole Foods. "My goal was to end up working on the farm, but with four little children and a fifth soon to follow, I didn't end up getting out of the store," he laughs.

Since relocating to the village of Kimberton in 1994, Kimberton Whole Foods has grown tremendously. With six locations currently and a seventh slated to open mid-2022, the business is beloved for its fair prices, community support and commitment to organic and local foods. Kimberton Whole Foods buys directly from more than 200 local vendors located within 100 miles of its distribution center and goes above and beyond to support them. These tenets, in turn, have attracted a dedicated customer base and helped the company expand.

NFM talks with Brett about his undying passion for this work, his family's journey and why uplifting local producers is a win for all. 

 Kimberton Whole Foods in eastern Pennsylvania | Colin Lenton Photography

You've been at this a while now. What keeps you excited about the work you do?

Terry Brett: Being able to bring really good food to people is what excites me. And I just love being of service. I was a religious studies and theology major because I thought being a minister was how I wanted to be of service. But after my second attempt at college, I came to the conclusion that if one could have a positive impact on the economy, could be of service to the economy in a sustainable way, that would be noble to dedicate one's life to.

What is your favorite part of your job?

TB: If I could just walk around and talk to coworkers and customers all day long, that would be the favorite part of my job! I love pulling together an incredibly talented team of individuals all dedicated to the same thing.

I love being able to increase wages and benefits for all of our extremely hardworking coworkers so they can have good lives and decent retirements while doing something meaningful to them.

You've been a staunch supporter of organic and biodynamic for decades. What are your thoughts on the state of organic today and its importance for the future of food?

TB: I think USDA Organic standards need to be defended against those who would water them down. For our stores, for any national brand we carry, it is an imperative standard, along with Non-GMO Project Verified. But we have a number of local producers who farm with organic practices but aren't certified, and we're OK with that. It's too costly for them to get USDA Organic certification, and our customers don't seem to mind. So yes, organic certification is important, but on a local basis, not so much.

You also champion local food. Why is this so important?

TB: In any industry, keeping money in the hands of the local economy is just a good thing versus money being extracted by national companies headquartered who knows where. Most of the supermarkets in our area were short of inventory during the early days of the pandemic whereas we were not. Direct sourcing kept our meat, egg and dairy shelves full. For many customers, this was a wakeup call or affirmation that a locally sourced food supply is much more sustainable long-term. If we're talking about food security, then we should support local farmers so they can exist and so that, if we go through something like COVID again, we can still eat.

 Kimberton Whole Foods in eastern Pennsylvania | Colin Lenton Photography

What are some specific ways Kimberton Whole Foods supports local producers?

TB: We created a one-stop drop-off spot for our farmer partners in 2008 when we opened our own distribution center, which is pretty unusual for a small company to have. This way, they don't have to go all over southeastern Pennsylvania to bring product to our stores. We also pick up products from farms, take them back to the center and distribute them to each store a minimum of three times a week, so we can move fresh and short-dated product very efficiently.

We don't add any extra margin for all this extra handling, which is a significant expense on our part. The fact that we cover the cost is one of our most significant contributions to local producers, and this has very much become part of our identity. Additionally, for all local vendors, we don't expect free-fill, which is standard in the industry, and wouldn't even consider slotting fees. Our marketing team also calls out local vendors with clear signage throughout our stores.

How are your wife and kids involved in Kimberton Whole Foods?

TB: My wife takes on occasional roles in the business, but she was a strong underpinning to our success as a family. Our five children have their mother's strong work ethic and are all highly moral individuals. It has worked out well, working together as a family. We don't always agree on everything, but for the most part, we do.

Our eldest, Heidi, came back to the business after getting a ceramics degree and managing a ceramics studio; she is now our director of finance. Our second child, Ezra, is director of operations and essentially our general contractor overseeing the buildouts of the last three stores. Our third, Colin, is celebrating 20 years working with us. He has strong culinary talent, just like his mother, and manages the café at our Kimberton location. Our second daughter is a mergers and acquisitions attorney in Philadelphia, but she visits all the time and is the life of the party. Our youngest, Robin, has been working here for 15 years. He is the director of purchasing and merchandising and does a wonderful job.

Do you hope to pass the business along to them eventually?

TB: Yes, we plan on passing the business along to the children and hopefully, if they're interested, our five grandchildren. But they are ages 11 to 2, so who knows which paths they'll take. I have a silent partner who fully intends for the business to be just in the family, but I'd like to develop a structure where key workers have an ownership stake as well, because a lot of people have helped us get to where we are.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

TB: Well, I purchased another 3 acres of land to start a tree and plant nursery, and the first 1,000 trees are in pots or in the ground. So now, following a 35-year detour into retail, I get to grow things. We have a need for native plants and trees because we've created ecological deserts for bugs and birds, bees and butterflies, but not many people are growing them. We just opened a garden center across the road from our main store in Kimberton, and while I was determined to not employ anyone in my next venture, I'm realizing I need to hire some people. There is no way to get all the work done myself.

So that is my current project, but as I withdraw more and more—I just turned 65 last October—all the day-to-day activity in the stores is in the hands of our really competent team. So as I start to think ahead, spending a lot more time with our grandchildren is what I'd like to do.

 Kimberton Whole Foods in eastern Pennsylvania | Colin Lenton Photography

3 ways to build customer loyalty

Why do Kimberton Whole Foods customers keep coming back? Owner and CEO Terry Brett highlights three main drivers of company loyalty, from which other independent retailers can draw inspiration.

Firm dedication to local. As an example of Kimberton Whole Foods' commitment, the company sources from five different raw milk producers and goes to eight farms for eggs. With sales of locally produced products exceeding $6 million in 2020, customers clearly love KWF's commitment. "Our growth over the years has allowed us to support many more farmers—and to an ever-greater degree because we can buy more and more from them as we expand our customer base," Brett says.

Fair prices. From the very beginning, KWF has worked hard to keep prices low. "Because of our experience having five children and living on a farm, we know how difficult it is for young families to afford good organic food, so we've been dedicated to that for 35 years now," Brett notes. "We are in the very competitive Philadelphia market, and our strategic buying and passing on of vendor discounts has created a lot of customer loyalty."

Community engagement. Through KWF's Rounding Up at the Register Program, each store donates to 12 different local nonprofits every year, one for each month, totaling 72 companywide. "Because this program supports a wide range of nonprofits in all six communities, our commitment to caring really resonates with people," Brett says.

[email protected]: Gummy supremacy | Healthy label update | US bees weakened by drought

Getty Images gummy vitamins

A gummy for whatever ails you

There seems to be a gummy for everything these days. This Eater article delves into SKUs that make claims about reducing inflammation, detoxing or boosting one's mood and relaxation capabilities. One expert interviewed in the piece posits that they've gotten so popular outside of the candy aisle because gummies are a "particularly flexible delivery vehicle" that can be made with many different polymers, which allow for a range of inclusions with regard to drugs, supplements or other functional ingredients. (Also they're delicious.)

Is this food really healthy? New packaging labels would tell you

To crack down on misleading health claims on the front of food packages, U.S. lawmakers recently introduced the Food Labeling Modernization Act of 2021. This legislation would require and standardize a front-of-package labeling system that tells consumers if a product is healthy or not. The labeling system would include an easily recognizable symbol that rates foods on healthiness, but experts haven't yet agreed upon a specific system of doing so; the bill also includes more extensive requirements for claims of certain ingredients to help shoppers choose wisely. Scientific American has the pros and cons to this move.

Koby Nahmias knew cell-based meat had huge potential but was too expensive. He set about changing that

What would it take to bring down the cost of growing meat in a bioreactor to result in prices approachable enough for the average consumer? It's a tough question to answer, but this interview out of The Spoon that features FutureMeat founder Koby Nahmias explores how he achieved cost milestones that many have thought wouldn’t be achievable for at least the next five years. Throughout the podcast, Nahmias discusses his operation's microbrewery-like structure, scaling plans and his re-engineered process of cell-based meat production.

Stung by climate change: drought-weakened bee colonies shrink U.S. honey crop, threaten almonds

A scorching drought is slashing honey production in North Dakota, which is the top-producing state for the sweet stuff. What that means is fewer bees can thrive, and this down the road leads to even less honey. The shortage of strong bee colonies, meanwhile, is putting West Coast cash crops such as almonds, plums and apples at risk, according to more than a dozen interviews with farmers, bee experts, economists and farm industry groups. Scientists have, of course, linked these kinds of increasingly common weather extremes to man-made climate change. Reuters reports.

Aquaculture industry on the rise as wild fishery production slows

Thanks to rising consumer demand, global wildlife fishery production is virtually maxed out. Growing scarcity has raised the profile of aquaculture–the controlled cultivation of aquatic organisms such as fish, crustaceans, mollusks, algae and other organisms—as a means for developing new sources of protein as the growing world population strains the food supply chain. Although the practiceprotects coastlines and other aquatic environments, it can indirectly harm other areas by draining natural resources from surrounding habitats. Learn more at The Food Institute.

Natural Foods Merchandiser

What's normal? Don't expect a new or return to normal—expect retail

Christine Kapperman

I remember looking forward to 2020 with enthusiasm. Then, well, we know what happened a few months in. The world changed. It was challenging. It remains so. But I remain hopeful we have all changed for the better.

Now, 18 months later, retailers I talk to still feel a little stuck in COVID-induced craziness.

I get it. Even as unmasking grows, uncertainty persists. Retailers pine for a return to normal, an understanding of the new normal, a clearer path forward to the what's next.

I can't say that we have the answers in this year's Market Overview, even as we look back and assess what has changed. But we will continue to ask questions, measure what's happening in the market and report what's occurring along with measured prognostication here.

For now, as we do every summer, we look at the state of natural retailing to give store leaders something to understand the big market picture and the detailed data to compare and measure their own successes against.

The benchmark numbers are not as minute this year compared with past years because of the limited data set we had to work with. Retailers were still busy dealing with mandates, illnesses, supply issues and so much more as we embarked on the research early this year. So, instead of our typical three categories broken down into seven brick-and-mortar store segments, we focus on the big three: natural products stores, natural food stores and supplement stores. Find the results here:

The overarching story of the year: It was very good for natural and organic.

The real story, the nearly unmeasurable story: No average nor singular experience emerged in a year that was anything but normal from day to day and month to month.

Finding "normal" may not be possible. Maybe it never should have been a pre-pandemic goal, either.

Retail is ever-changing and that movement is quickening in this always-on world. COVID-19 might have caused the world to take a pause. But no such thing exists in retailing—never has, never will.

How Lily's Sweets is focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion

Lily's Sweets Lily's Sweets baking chips

Jane Miller, the food industry executive who has held CEO positions with Lily’s Sweets, HannahMax Cookie Chips, ProYo and Charter Baking Company (Rudi's Organic Bakery), said it’s important for natural products brands to take a personalized approach when it comes to improving diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

“Make it as personalized as possible,” says Miller, who recently transitioned from being the CEO of Lily’s Sweets into an advisor after the company known for its low-sugar chocolate products was acquired by The Hershey Company in May.

From offering matching donations for DEI-focused initiatives to offering smaller group meetings with CEO or senior members of the leadership team, Miller says it’s important for companies to take a tailored and targeted approach instead of using a “one-size-fits-all” philosophy.

“That's how you really start to make change,” says Miller, who is the co-founder and CEO of Haevn. “This isn’t something on the wall in your office, but something that everybody is representing every day.”

Here’s Miller’s suggestions on what other natural product companies can consider to improve their DEI practices.

What has Lily’s Sweets done to become more diverse, equitable and inclusive?

Jane Miller: After George Floyd's murder, we felt that we needed to educate ourselves a lot more. We are based in Boulder, Colorado, and although we have diversity in gender, religious beliefs and sexual orientation in the company, there’s less when it comes to people of color.

There was this big "aha" moment for us. We started asking: What do we need to do differently to understand the needs of all different diverse groups? And how can we better incorporate our strategies around that?

What did Lily’s Sweets change?

JM: We instituted something called Lily’s University, a platform to start bringing in guest speakers and other people that are really well-trained in helping us understand how we can be better leaders and be more inclusive and promote diversity.

We hired a group called Let's Grow Leaders to talk about embracing change, because there was so much that was happening last summer, with COVID-19 and George Floyd’s murder.

Our first effort was talking about [what we were doing within our] leadership. It was listening and understanding how to be more inclusive as an organization.

What did you do next?

Jane MillerJM: We hired the YWCA in Boulder. It had an amazing program on how to be an anti-racist. We brought them in and did a whole series of learning and listening to help educate our team.

It was a series of both lectures and breakout groups, because all of this was done on Zoom. It was absolutely amazing.

What were some of the trainings about?

JM: There is a large amount of guilt to some degree where people are feeling, "Why are we not doing enough? What more could we do? What don't we understand?"

The YWCA training on how to be an anti-racist was very much about cultural sensitivity. We watched several different movies that were on Netflix and read a lot of articles on the history of racism.

We facilitated breakouts where people could share their concerns and biases in a very transparent and open way. It was pretty raw, learning what people were dealing with maybe from their families that might be very prejudiced. Or from their upbringing where they've maybe had a bad experience or something.

The key thing was there was no judgment; this is about a journey. And they really wanted each person to sort of say, "Where are you on this journey?" within four quadrants, from becoming basically aware to becoming deeply involved. Each person in the organization had an opportunity to talk about their fears and where they were as a person. We had four sessions to go deeper each session.

quadrants.png

How were the breakout groups structured?

JM: We had three facilitators, two people from the YWCA, and then I was a facilitator. So they were probably 15 to 18 in each group.

What else did you do as a company?

JM: This was such a personal journey for people. We instituted a program where we would do matching funds for employees to be able to contribute to something that was diversity related, whether it was something Black Lives Matter or something else that they might be involved with, if they would give $250 bucks, we'd match it and give $250 bucks. The idea being that it wasn't one size fit all. If they wanted to volunteer, they would get time off from work.

We wanted people to be able to be able to contribute in ways that were important to them. We had about 50% participation. As a company, we donated $10,000 to the University of Colorado in Boulder, which started a diversity fund.

What have you done with Lily’s Sweets supply chain to promote DEI?

JM: Our product quality guidelines were already very stringent—fair trade chocolate, non-GMO certification, Kosher certification, gluten-free certification. So anyone we partnered with already needed to have those kinds of quality metrics as a starting point.

We’d sit down with senior management and talk about their approach to their workforce and their hiring practices. Going from an $18 million company to $100 million, we didn’t have the clout to dictate anybody’s working practices but we could ask them the questions.

Lily’s Sweets is one of the first companies that joined the J.E.D.I Collaborative to focus on justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. Why?

JM: Yes, we were one of the early adopters. Cynthia Tice, the founder of Lily’s Sweets, really helped with the formation and was really tied in. The J.E.D.I Collaborative did a great job helping us articulate what our goals were and our mission.

Now, part of our onboarding is to take them through what we are doing as part of the J.E.D.I Collaborative and became more of a training tool.

What does that look like now that Lily’s Sweets was acquired by The Hershey Company?

JM: Hersheys has very strong stated goals between now and 2025. One is pay equity, across the board. [By 2025, The Hershey Company has publically stated it plans to achieve global, nonadjusted pay equity for salaried employees at $1 for $1.] This is a really important initiative for all their salaried employees.

They also have very specific goals about increasing the representation of women and people of color in the organization. [By 2025, Hershey’s has said 14-22% of its “people leaders” will be occupied by people of color and 40-42% by women.]

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

[email protected]: Elevated online grocery use here to stay | Food banks invest in small-scale urban farms

Getty Images online grocery shopping phone

Increased use of online grocery shopping ‘here to stay’

Data has repeatedly shown that, despite a return to pre-pandemic policies in some areas, certain pandemic-related grocery shopping habits—particularly consumers’ reliance on e-commerce—are here to stay. A survey out of Acosta reported on by Supermarket News found that 45% of shoppers said they receive their orders via home delivery, and the same percentage use click-and-collect service. Additionally, more consumers opt for curbside pickup (28%) than in-store pickup (17%). Online memberships had a strong affinity with younger shoppers, namely Gen Z and millennials.

Small-scale urban farms take root at food banks around the country

Paradoxically, the little farms cropping up at food banks nationwide aren't primarily an effort to feed hungry families. They definitely do this to a lesser degree (when compared to the enormous food contributions received from bigger farming operations and other avenues of food donations) but it's mostly an initiative that gives food banks and pantries a powerful way to strengthen their missions, build stronger community ties and create opportunities to broaden their approaches to addressing food insecurity. Learn more at The Counter.

Coffee rust is going to ruin your morning

Coffee rust, once a problem the Americas were by and large protected from thanks to the Atlantic Ocean, has proliferated in crops across coffee-growing regions—and to top it off, the usual fungicides don't appear to be working anymore. Farmers are running out of cash while scientists race to blunt the power of the disease, but this piece from The Atlantic notes that they're up against the disease's more than 150-year history. The article finds paralells between the coffee rust pandemic and the current COVID-19 crisis because there was an unshakeable belief that current tools could manage both threats. Needless to say, we were wrong in both instances.

Meet SquarEat, a startup whose innovation turns food into nutrient cubes

Food tech startup SquarEat, which recently raised $150,000 in an online crowdfunding campaign, offers consumers little single-ingredient blocks of compressed food including the beef square, hazelnut square, sea bass square and quinoa square. Eater writes that the company would have been met with more criticism a few years ago, but now we have brands such as Soylent and Huel that sacrifice texture and flavor in pursuit of efficiency. The company also claims that it can use almost 100% of an ingredient in their development of these squares, which is a definite plus. 

Census data suggests America’s hunger problem may be waning, but food assistance continues to top pre-pandemic levels

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) enrollment is up by more than 6 million since 2019 and food banks are still seeing more demand than during pre-pandemic times, according to The Washington Post; one glaring reason for this is that the cost of grocery items have been on the rise for more than a year. While the Biden administration has increased food assistance benefits to address ongoing food insecurity and inflation, anti-hunger advocates say the boost won’t be enough to quell food insecurity among Americans experiencing financial hardship in the long term once COVID-19-era federal aid programs expire.

Climate change goals: A look around the world

United Nations Climate Change Conference UK 2021

In about two months—Oct. 31, to be exact—world leaders will gather in Glascow, Scotland, for the United Nations Climate Change Conference UK 2021, also known as the 26th Climate Change Conference of the Parties.

These world leaders are tasked with committing their countries to actions that will reduce carbon emissions by half by 2030. The year two thousand thirty. Essentially, eight years from now. A child born as you read this likely will be entering third grade in 2030. No matter how you look at it, it's very little time at all.

Since you are reading this page, you probably are pretty familiar with climate change and what the U.S. needs to do to mitigate its share of greenhouse gas emissions. But keeping up with all the climate change activity—or lack thereof—consumes a lot of time. So, we took a look at what some countries are doing as COP 26 approaches.

The United Kingdom is hosting COP26, but is the government taking it seriously?

World leaders often use unusual or interesting language when they speak to the public. At the Climate Action Summit 2020 in December, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, "We're doing this. We're doing this. Not because we're hairshirt-wearing, tree-hugging, mung bean-munching eco freaks—although I've got nothing against any of those categories; mung beans are probably delicious—we're doing it because we know that scientific advances will allow us, collectively, as humanity, to save our planet and create millions of high-skilled jobs."

Earlier this month, Johnson said the British government is taking climate change and the upcoming conference pretty seriously, noting that countries have to move to net zero carbon emissions.

"We want to see an end to coal by 2030… we want to see the planting of millions and millions of trees around the world" he added, according to the BBC's Jessica Parker. Parker also pointed out that a coal mine is being planned for Cubria County in northwest England and an oil field might be developed near Cambo, Scotland, which is west of Shetland.

Johnson has been criticized for not opposing these developments or creating a renewable energy industry in the United Kingdom.

Australia falls behind other developed nations

Australia has yet to set a net-zero emission target, even though it is the world's third largest greenhouse gasses emitter on a per-capita basis, Bloomberg reports.

 Major economies are "absolutely critical" to cutting global emissions "and I urge Australia to step up with big, bold commitments ahead of COP26 in November," Alok Sharma, a U.K. lawmaker and president of the upcoming summit, recently said. 

While the United States has committed to reducing greenhouse gases 50% by 2030, and Canada has made a pledge of cutting emissions 40% to 45%, Australia's goal is to reduce emissions 28% in the next eight years.

Jonathan Pershing, the U.S. Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change, said, "I would submit Australia could be much more aggressive. It would be really helpful to see Australia step forward with a more ambitious effort."

What about the Middle East?

Leaders of the United Arab Emirates want to have a net-zero emissions target set before COP26 begins, but they don't expect to make announcement before then, Qais Al Suwaidi, head of the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment told Bloomberg.

Al Suwaidi noted that many countries are announcing targets without providing evidence those targets can be met. In December, the UAE committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions 25% in the next 10 years. It's on track to meet that goal, he said.

"There is a lot of talk: 'We can achieve net zero, we're going to do this, we're going to do that'," Al Suwaidi. "But then in practice we see contrary action. We like to do things differently."

The Middle East and North Africa region faces several unusual challenges in cutting carbon emission due to it geopolitical and socioeconomic systems, The New Arab reports.

"Climate change is already affecting the Middle East in alarming ways. In recent years, several Arab states have experienced an intensified water cycle, causing higher frequency and intensity of floods and droughts, and extreme weather events such as heatwaves, cyclones, and dust storms," according to the publication. In 2017, the United Nation's Arab Climate Change Assessment Report found that more than half of the region's croplands face critical water shortages. Droughts and desertification could lead to less water, food and livestock there.

PCC Community Markets grant program supports underrepresented entrepreneurs

PCC Community Markets pcc community markets storefront downtown seattle

PCC Community Markets is known for stocking (and supporting) local brands. Recently, the natural retailer took this commitment one step further by forming the Diverse Entrepreneur Incubation Program. In addition to mentorship, courses and the opportunity to sell products in PCC over the winter holidays, the program offers microgrants of up to $2,000 to support BIPOC, female and LGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs. The program is offered in partnership with Ventures, a Seattle nonprofit that helps entrepreneurs from underrepresented groups start and grow businesses.

The Diverse Entrepreneur Incubation Program is the result of a longtime relationship between PCC and Ventures, says PCC director of communications Kristen Woody. While PCC has supported Ventures with donations in the past, Ventures tapped PCC experts in 2019 to develop the syllabus for a new five-session course called Scaling for Success, which delved into all aspects of developing a wholesale business. The course covered topics such as creating business plans with a focus on wholesaling, inventory management and efficient communication between business owners and potential customers.

On top of all that, PCC went the extra mile by providing a measure of funding for these entrepreneurs.

Because access to capital represents a significant barrier for underrepresented business owners, it was important for the Diverse Entrepreneur Incubation Program to include microgrants. Indeed, even a small amount of money can make a huge difference: one grant recipient utilized funds to print a test run of new labels; another required $1,000 to reach a minimum order for a co-packer; yet another purchased non-acetate boxes to meet PCC’s environmental standards.

The inaugural 2020 class of grant recipients includes brands offering greeting cards, barbecue sauce, skincare, snack foods, holistic wellness services and more. Proposals for the next round of grants will be open fall 2021.