Over the weekend, I visited Farm Sanctuary, which was founded in 1986 to combat the abuses of factory farming and encourage a new awareness and understanding about farm animals. Today, Farm Sanctuary is the nation’s largest farm animal rescue and protection organization. Getting to spend time with the animals always reminds me that they are someone, not something. There, the animals aren’t seen as mere commodities. Instead, they are valued for their own individual worth – backed by a vision that all people and animals deserve dignity.
One of the people working to make this vision happen is Bruce Friedrich, who previously served as Senior Policy Director for Farm Sanctuary, where he led their policy and litigation efforts. Today, Bruce is executive director of The Good Food Institute (GFI), a nonprofit organization that promotes plant-based and “clean” (i.e., cultured) alternatives to conventional meat, dairy products, and eggs. Bruce is a changemaker who works tirelessly to make the world better for people and animals. Recently, Bruce was kind enough to tell me about his latest venture.
HF: Tell me about the Good Food Institute and the team behind it.
BF: The Good Food Institute is focused on using markets and technology to compete with animal-based meat, dairy, and eggs. We have a team of scientists, policy experts, business experts, and more, all of whom are focused on maximum disruption of animal-based proteins. We are creating and promoting the products that will outcompete animal products on their own terms—by being more delicious, equally convenient, and cost competitive. Readers can sign up for updates and find out more at GFI.org
HF: Why did you decide to launch the organization?
BF: We saw the success of companies like Hampton Creek Foods and Beyond Meat, and we thought—that’s smart. Every person who purchases HCF products instead of animal-based alternatives is decreasing the amount of hen suffering in the world by not choosing an egg-based alternative. Every person who eats a Beyond Meat burger instead of a chicken or beef patty is making a positive difference for the environment, their own health, and animals. But there is a lot of white space—not enough has been done to make “clean” (i.e., cultured) meat commercially viable—so we’re putting significant resources there. Not enough has been done to level the playing field for plant-based products. So far, no one has created a distillation of the best plant-based and clean meat science. So we thought it made sense to launch an organization that is focused on creating the products and the market space that will go into direct competition with the products of animal agriculture.
HF: What do you hope to accomplish?
BF: We will be a part of shifting society from animal-based proteins to cleaner and more sustainable alternatives. We would like to see the meat, dairy, and egg industries shift from being animal-based to being plant-based and cultured. That will be a big win for consumers, for our planet, and for animals.
HF: What do you see as the most important links between the health of people and animals?
BF: This is a tough question. Perhaps most critically, I believe that compassion for other animals, which is perhaps best exhibited by refusing to consume them, will lead to a deeper spiritual health and a clearer conscience, which will also improve our mental and emotional health. Of course, it’s also true that if we don’t eat animals, we’re likely to live longer and better lives—vegetarians and vegans have lower rates of heart disease, cancer, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and obesity. So not eating animals, which is good for their health, will have an immediate and positive effect on our health, too.
HF: You have already received a significant amount of interest from funders, scientists, academic institutions, and corporate entities. Tell me more about that.
BF: We’re humbled by how much our message is resonating with everyone we encounter. There’s a sort of “aha moment” for a lot of people when they realize that we don’t necessarily need to convince people to make decisions based on ethics if we can simply make products that taste as good, cost less, and are equally convenient. By making the ethical choice the default choice, we do a tremendous amount of good in the world, and we do it by dealing with the world as it is, which is a lot easier than having to change the world first.
HF: Is there anything that has surprised you about the public’s response to the launch of the Good Food Institute?
BF: I’m an optimistic person by nature, and so I expected people to be excited about it—and they have been. I am deeply gratified by that, though not especially surprised.
HF: You’ve also recently co-founded a venture capital fund called New Crop Capital. Could you share your rationale for starting a venture capital fund?
BF: Two reasons: First, there are a bunch of companies that don’t exist yet, but that we think should exist. So we want to have a fund that can help those companies get started. Second, we identified a need for a VC that focuses on Angel and Seed investments in the plant-based and clean meat space, because there are great start-ups that fail because they can’t get the seed capital that moves them to a level at which larger VC firms will be ready to invest. We’re providing that funding to some very exciting companies.
HF: Are you optimistic about the future for people, animals, and the environment?
BF: I am extremely optimistic about our future, yes. I see great progress in the way society thinks about farm animal protection, in the people who are devoting their entire lives to alleviating global poverty or saving the world from the effects of climate change or helping animals. There is just so much wonderful work going on all around us. I agree with Steven Pinker, who lays out the moral progress of our species in The Better Angels of our Nature, a great book that takes a longer view of our moral evolution that most of us tend to take. We are slowly and steadily making progress, and there are a lot of brilliant people working on solving the world’s problems.
HF: What motivates you to get up every day and get back to work?
BF: I want to make the world a better place, and I am blessed and humbled to have a job at GFI where I am able to do that. My wife Alka and our three cats—Rena, Tigger, and Angie—also both serve as inspiration and offer a calming presence.
Find out more at www.GFI.org.