The 200th of this podcast sees Koen van Seijen in conversation with Emma Chow, former head of food at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
Emma Chow, former head of food at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, she’s back on the podcast to talk about her journey, her burnout, coming back from the Amazon to London and re-engaging with the food space. In a second part of the interview, though, Emma and Koen switch mics with Emma becoming the host and asking Koen about his lessons learned over the past 200 episodes.
LISTEN TO THE CONVERSATION ON:
THE KEY TO REGENERATING OURSELVES BEFORE WORKING ON REGENERATIVE AG AND FOOD
Emma had been working on the food initiative at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and all of her work before that had always been centered around working for nature. But she had to take a break and prioritise and regenerate herself.
“I gave myself permission to say ‘my only mission is to regenerate myself.’ At this time last year, October, November of last year, I was in the depths of acknowledging that I was fully burnt out, and having to step away from work and confront the truth, which was very confronting for me at the time that I was degenerating myself, while working towards regenerative futures.” – Emma Chow
“I lived in the Amazon for a couple of weeks, and got to be opened up to a whole other world, many worlds, living with indigenous people, and being in relationship with nature in such a different way, and discovering the healing potential of plants and our food.” – Emma Chow
WHY EMMA WENT TO THE AMAZON
Reconnecting with nature is at the core of everything, and it really is a process of remembering that we too are part of nature.
“I’d been wanting to go to the Amazon since I’d been fortunate to have a conversation with Alex Atala, in a Instagram live a couple of years ago. And he was speaking about going into the Amazon, learning from these different tribes in Brazil, and speaking about biodiversity of the different fruits and herbs and everything that he was discovering, and bringing it back into his restaurants.” – Emma Chow
“I’ve gone to all these far-off exotic lands, to have this novel experience in the sense of being in a completely different environment. And now my work is to come back to England, I’m half British, so part of my work now is to reconnect with my ancestral lineage.” – Emma Chow
BRINGING WHAT SHE LEARNED TO THE FOOD AND AG SPACE
Emma is currently exploring ideas around creating immersive experiences that can come in different formats to meet people and invite them, to shift their mindset to move from our classic idea of sustainability and go beyond that towards regeneration.
“And then there was this desire that emerged to come to work in food space still, but in a different way. And really picking up where I left off in terms of food design […] I really want to pick up there and take it further. And everything keeps collapsing back to this central pillar, around mindset shift and education. And they’re really intangible components that I’ve always believed and continue to believe, are paramount.” – Emma Chow
“…to internalize that wisdom that sits within all of us. And then how do you take that back into your organization, to start to influence your day to day decision making, your strategy, your product innovation schemes, where you’re allocating your dollars. And that’s really where I’m at out of these past couple months that I’ve treated as a exploration phase, since landing back in London, and now it’s really about building those ideas into coherent experiences and offerings that I can invite organizations and individuals into.” – Emma Chow
WHY EMMA IS FOCUSSING ON INVESTORS FOR THE JOURNEYS SHE IS PLANNING
With these first prototypes, Emma is drawn to the investors and funders community. As through her past experiences, when working primarily with businesses and large food companies, she noticed the deep influence investors and funding mechanisms have, and unless you get them on board, it becomes very hard to focus only on companies or policy.
“I don’t have tons of experience working with that specific group. […] So, I’m interested to work closer with them, and then down the line, be able to bring together, similar to how I did in my last role, like convening more diverse audiences, because there’s a lot of power, where we’re actually able to bring together very thoughtfully curated groups that include the investors, and the startups and the big companies and the chefs who have so much knowledge and creative ideas. So I think there’s a lot of potential down the road, but at the moment, I’m primarily focusing on the investing funding community.” – Emma Chow
“There’s a lot of money and moving into these spaces, and often following what I would call some myths […], but there is no silver bullet when it comes to creating a better food system. We need to lean into the complexity. So I think about how do we catch them early on in the journey, in their own learning journey to have a big influence, short and long term, on where money is flowing. And at the same time, I really believe in the power of disruptors in terms of those startups to create and expand new markets and pull along the bigger companies, too, and get money to be driving in a certain direction.” – Emma Chow
OTHER POINTS DISCUSSED:
Koen and Emma also talked about
- Can you get VC returns in regeneration
- Gift economy vs. the guide rails of large corporations
- How do we regenerate ourselves
- Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations
- FULL TRANSPARENCY – THE “BUSINESS MODELS” OF THE PODCAST
- Lessons from the Amazon – Linkedin article by Emma Chow
- The big food redesign report
- Silo Restaurant London
- Emma Chow and Eliot Beeby on how circular design for food is crucial for regenerating landscapes
- Charles Eisenstein – Money or ecology: investors have to make a choice on which master they serve
- Liz Carlisle – Let’s get real, regeneration is nothing new, so let’s honour the indigenous history
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The above references an opinion and is for information and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be investment advice. Seek a duly licensed professional for investment advice.