Our Wicked Healthy Interview Series features individuals who are making a big impact in the plant-based world and beyond. Today we’re featuring plant-based advocate, activist and author, Matthew Prescott.
Here at Wicked Healthy, we do everything we can to bring you freakin’ tasty food that’s #freefromanimals. We certainly don’t live in a world that’s fully plant-based, but we’re definitely doing all we can to work towards that. However, we also support any positive shift or steps toward eliminating the worst practices in our food system, because we know that incremental changes have to happen in order to create the type of world we want.
More and more food companies and retailers are listening and responding to a growing consumer outcry against factory farming and making changes in their supply chains to adjust, such as by implementing better animal welfare standards or promoting more plant-based foods. Whether those motivations are ethical or economical, it doesn’t matter—the bottom line is that when changes are implemented and more plant-based solutions are offered, less animals are being bred for the sole purpose of putting on a plate.
So how are these changes being made? Who is behind the scenes, listening to consumers, understanding current animal agricultural practices and working with companies to make improvements from the ground up?
Meet Matthew Prescott, Senior Director of Food & Agriculture for The Humane Society of the United States (The HSUS), who has spent over a decade and a half working with hundreds of food companies towards making sweeping changes. Now more than ever, large food companies and retailers have no choice but to listen to and accommodate the growing consumer demand for better products—and adapt their business model to meet that if they want to survive and grow.
We sat down to chat with Matthew about some of the work he’s done, what he predicts for the future of food and how vegans can collectively support in this effort. Before we get into that, we’re wicked excited to get our hands on his upcoming release of Food Is the Solution: What to Eat to Save the World (March 20, 2018), a resource and recipe collection that shows how putting more plants on our plates can help positively impact and change the world.
Read on to see what we discussed, then check out a recipe from Food Is the Solution!
Tell us about your role as Senior Director of Food & Agriculture for The HSUS and how it’s evolved in the past decade. Thanks to your efforts and the efforts of The HSUS as a whole, are we reaching a tipping point in our traditional food system?
In my role at The HSUS, I work with some of the world’s largest food companies—from fast food outlets to grocery chains to meat companies themselves—leveraging their power in the food system to help abolish the worst factory farming practices and focus more on plant-based proteins. We have a crack team of advocates at The HSUS working across all sectors of the food industry, and making major progress. Our work has been instrumental in moving hundreds of companies to announce that they’ll eliminate tiny cages for egg-laying hens and pigs from their supply chains, for example. We have team members across the country working with the largest foodservice companies—operating dining halls at universities, sports stadiums, hospitals and more—to train them in plant-based cooking and implement programs to slash their meat usage. Through this work—and the work of other groups with similar efforts—we’re starting to see some real change in the food industry. Companies are setting animal welfare improvements in motion while at the same time reducing their reliance on animal products by going more plant-based. A decade ago, the progress we’re seeing today would have been unimaginable, and through the work of so many great people, it’s now our reality.
What fuels your passion for the work you do?
What we eat is, in many ways, an extension of what it is to be human—and it touches so many aspects of our lives and our world. If we can improve the food system to be an extension of our morals—when it comes to animals, the environment, our own health, and basic principles of compassion—we can create a truly better world for everyone. The opportunity to bring about such a world is what drives me each and every day.
The ethical benefits and arguments for choosing plant-based are sound for those who choose to listen. What are some of the cost advantages of a plant-based model?
Plant-based foods are simply more efficient to produce. When we produce meat, dairy and eggs we first have to grow crops, process them, then funnel them through animals to get protein. It’s so inefficient that for every 100 calories we feed a farm animal, we only get 11 calories worth of human food out. So if we take out the middlemen—the animals—then it should be more efficient and therefore more cost-efficient to make protein. On top of that, there are a great many consumers nowadays looking to add more plant-based proteins into their diets, so the market potential for companies absolutely massive.
As mentioned above, more and more consumers are becoming aware of current animal agriculture practices, and demanding more humane methods from food companies, or even adopting a plant-based lifestyle in response. What do you attribute this awareness to and how has social media helped play a role?
Social media has absolutely played a role in the rapid progress we’re seeing around these issues. It used to be that to reach people with these messages, one would have to engage in some kind of public stunt, issue a press release about it, hope the media comes, hope they then report on it, and hope that people tune in long enough to get the point. Nowadays, we can reach infinitely more people—in a bigger way—through social media. At the same time, I think the increased prevalence of plant-based foods in the marketplace is playing a huge role. I think of our Food & Nutrition Team at The HSUS: a team of more than 20 advocates, chefs and culinary experts working nationwide to get more plant-based proteins onto menus. Last year alone, just in 2017, that team generated hundreds of meat reduction policies at foodservice venues across the country and trained more than 1,600 foodservice chefs in the art of plant-based cooking through nearly 100 in-person culinary trainings. That means that students at K-12 schools and universities are seeing plant-based options more; it means hospital patients and their families, prisoners in correctional facilities, fans at sports stadiums—they’re all exposed to plant foods more because of this work. And that’s no doubt changing the way we eat.
The work that you and HSUS do has made incredible strides towards creating a more humane and sustainable food system. What can consumers do in their day-to-day lives to help support this effort?
Share and share alike! Whether you’re a vegan or a carnivore who happens to enjoy plant-based foods, share content about the issue online. Share press releases and videos and books and all the other great content about plant-based eating. Change happens on the ground through social networks, and we can each play a role by constantly promoting this topic online and to our friends.
Congrats on the upcoming release of Food Is the Solution on March 20! What prompted you to write it, and what message do you want readers to take away from it?
I became vegan in the late 90s after learning about the way factory farms treat animals and impact our planet, and how unhealthy it is to eat loads and loads of meat, like so many people do. As I learned about these issues, I was really taken with this idea that one simple change—the change to a plant-based food system—can have so many positive widespread changes on our world as a whole. Imagine a world with less animal suffering. Imagine a world with a more stable climate, a world where we’re healthier and plagued less by disease. That’s a world with a greater emphasis on plant-based foods. In that regard, food really is the solution to saving the world. I created my book to try and share that message while also sharing great-tasting recipes.
Tell us your favorite wicked healthy dish to make and share with others!
All of them! Though I will say I’m especially pscyhed to try Wicked Healthy’s new products at Tesco next time I’m in the United Kingdom!