A conversation with Sam Kass, former White House Chef and Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition of the Obama’s administration and partner at Acre VC. We talk about the potential of VC in the space, the challenges of the real world and why we should focus on getting everyone access to carrots before focusing on the quality and growing practices, why carbon payments is a very interesting and real entry point to scale, and more.
LISTEN TO THE CONVERSATION ON:
How a young chef became the personal chef of the Obama’s, started a vegetable garden in the garden of the White House and became very active and involved in the food and ag policy. After 6 years he left and started focussing on the investing and entrepreneurship side. Joining an impact VC.
Sam argues we should focus on getting everyone access to carrots (and of course other veggies) before we focus on the quality and growing practices. Don’t have perfect be the enemy of the good and have the whole food as medicine and nutrient density space become super elites. Most people don’t have access to healthy food to begin with, let alone nutrient dense food.
This episode is part of the Nutrient Density in Food series!
This series is supported by The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of The Environment, which is a private foundation with a mission to protect and conserve the natural environment. The Grantham Foundation raises awareness of urgent environmental issues and supports organizations working to find solutions. Over the last few years, the Grantham Foundation has funded an extensive portfolio of projects focused on reducing emissions and removing carbon directly from the atmosphere.
WHAT LET SAM TO THE WHITE HOUSE AND THEN TO INVESTING
At same point Sam realized it was time to build something, he then developed his style, which was very health, nourishing focused.
”I came back with a desire to… I felt and still believe that chefs are maybe the most important group of influencers on these issues. We sit between the producers and eaters. So, I came back thinking to start organizing chefs on food policy and food politics. And also starting to think about some businesses that I could start. I had a private chef company that’s focused on education and better food. And that’s when I started cooking for the Obamas. So, I cooked for them for two years in Chicago before they won, so I was a good fit for somebody who was trying to get into food politics and figure out how to change to be cooking for them.” – Sam Kass
”We talked about all the problems that were happening, how much American families were struggling on these issues. And she (Michelle Obama) realized that she was also struggling and she was worried about her own kids. And that was somebody who had plenty of resources, and very well educated, etc. And so we went to the White House, basically, with a plan, that we’re going to do this garden, and to use that as a way to take the temperature of the country and see if these issues really resonated.” – Sam Kass
SAM MOVED FROM POLICY TO INVESTING
According to Sam, understanding and trying to shift the ecosystem, is what ultimately drives what ends up on our plates, how it’s grown and produced. This is why he decided to spend the next phase of his career on the investment side.
”What I came to realize is that we had been able to either finish or start most of the big things that were possible, certainly at the time, particularly given the state of politics in the US, you’re not getting anything really done in Congress […] The next wave of change was going to be driven by entrepreneurs and innovations in technology, that either we’re going to start replacing some of the big guys and taking market share from them, or you could utilize their scale to scale a better way of doing things. And that pressure and relationship is going to move most of the industry.” – Sam Kass
”The government has a big role to play in the food and food policy. But ultimately, the government’s not dictating what ends up on the plates of Americans. It’s just not. I wished it was in some levels, because it would be easier to change things…” – Sam Kass
”I felt that seemed to be a big opportunity. On a couple levels. One, there was not a lot of mission driven capital out there that cared about climate change and human health, and broader environmental health. […] I felt like there was a chance to try to build the companies of the future, and build the future of food system. And we kind of had to do that because that ultimately is what does shape what ends up on people’s plates. Food and ag is a private sector endeavour, and either you get in the game and fight the fight in that arena, or you’re going to be kind of on the outskirts trying to shape it and push it a bit, which has a big role, but not the heart centre of what actually shapes what we eat, why we eat it and how it’s produced.” – Sam Kass
WE SHOULD FOCUS ON GETTING EVERYBODY CARROTS (AND OTHER VEGGIES) MORE THAN FOCUS ON THE QUALITY OF THE CARROT
We need to consider what actions are necessary to unlock the ability for everybody to have basic access to food. Sam believes that the opportunity of food as medicine is the biggest unlocking potential to initiate an improvement in our food quality and to place food at the cornerstone of our healthcare system, shifting from treatment to prevention.
”The reality is, a little more or less carotene is far less important than eat the carrot or not eat the carrot. So that’s get me quite excited. And I’m a cheerleader for the rest of that work.” – Sam Kass
”I just care about getting everybody a carrot. Right now, a lot of people don’t have carrots. And I think it’s great for some people to be focused on how do we get the best carrot, how do we get the most delicious carrot, how we get the most nutrient dense carrot, and hopefully, over time, that starts to flow through the system, and so everybody’s carrots get better, but most people don’t have a carrot right now.” – Sam Kass
WHY CARBON IS SUCH A KEY FOCUS OF HIM
We have to start pulling carbon out the air, reducing our emissions is not enough.
”I think it’s kind of our only hope. And if oil and gas companies want to pay to transform the food system to be regenerative base, I’m fine for that for the next 10 years. And then we can work to then fully transition our energy systems and bring on carbon capture technologies and the rest…” – Sam Kass
”Literally, there’s no issue that is not going to be significantly undermined and impacted by climate. So, for me, the biggest existential crisis that the globe has ever faced, is climate change. We have, we really only have a handful of years left to keep this from spiraling beyond our ability to control. We’re getting really close to that day, and I don’t also think that there’s any other technology on the planet that is going to be able to sequester enough carbon in the time horizon we have than agriculture. It’s the only system that has a shot at this to buy ourselves enough time.” – Sam Kass
OTHER POINTS DISCUSSED
Koen and Sam also talked about:
- The potential of soil bio
- What is the mission-driven venture capital platform
- What would Sam do with 1 billion dollar
Feedback, comments, suggestions? Reach me via Twitter @KoenvanSeijen, in the comments below or through Get in Touch on this website.
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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.