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The Food Disruptors

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Where Capitalism Meets America's Foodways. The Food Disruptors brings you the innovators, entrepreneurs, and geniuses who have completely disrupted America’s food system. Co-hosts Theresa Brown and Ruddick Lawrence tell the stories of the big personalities who innovated fundamental changes in America’s agriculture, transportation, food processing, distribution, and culture.
Theresa writes on social history and food. Ruddick is an engineer, a cocktail connoisseur, a savoir-faire in the world of … Continue Reading >>
Where Capitalism Meets America's Foodways. The Food Disruptors brings you the innovators, entrepreneurs, and geniuses who have completely disrupted America’s food system. Co-hosts Theresa Brown and Ruddick Lawrence tell the stories of the big personalities who innovated fundamental changes in America’s agriculture, transportation, food processing, distribution, and culture.
Theresa writes on social history and food. Ruddick is an engineer, a cocktail connoisseur, a savoir-faire in the world of honest, delicious food, and also a curious capitalist. Our foodways have come from subsistence agriculture 200 years ago to a food system with a lot of problems and a lot of promise. Many of our episodes look at the history of how we got here, in a word: Capitalism.
And we talk with amazing Food Disruptors of today who are innovating the way forward for our foodways, finding solutions to nourish everybody without wrecking the planet — in the context of capitalism. We wrap it all up in a big burrito of histor << Show Less
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#53 100 % Firefly Cacao — Medicine for Your Heart Firefly Chocolate's business model is not necessarily about scaling up. Small batch processing is important to what founder and CEO Jonas Ketterle calls the "Elemental Alchemy of Transformation, bringing in Fire, Earth, Air, and Water." Jonas processes the cacao that he sources from permaculture rainforest farms. The farmers that trade with Firefly through a collaborative of growers and craft-chocolate buyers earn far better than fair trade prices for their produce.

Firefly -- soon to rebrand as Firefly Cacao -- produces cacao discs that made to be melted in a hot liquid -- an efficient method of dosing oneself with the powerful medicinal properties of cacao that has been handled with care and respect for its powers.

The "ceremonial" grade of cacao denotes a potent, pure, ethically produced food. Its powers are at once based in human neurochemistry and in the mystical, spiritual potential of the cacao plant. Firefly epitomizes an intersection of capitalist enterprise with ancient cultures that knew many things we have yet to learn. It's a unique food disruption.
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#53 100 % Firefly Cacao — Medicine for Your Heart Firefly Chocolate's business model is not necessarily about scaling up. Small batch processing is important to what founder and CEO Jonas Ketterle calls the "Elemental Alchemy of Transformation, bringing in Fire, Earth, Air, and Water." Jonas processes the cacao that he sources from permaculture rainforest farms. The farmers that trade with Firefly through a collaborative of growers and craft-chocolate buyers earn far better than fair trade prices for their produce.

Firefly -- soon to rebrand as Firefly Cacao -- produces cacao discs that made to be melted in a hot liquid -- an efficient method of dosing oneself with the powerful medicinal properties of cacao that has been handled with care and respect for its powers.

The "ceremonial" grade of cacao denotes a potent, pure, ethically produced food. Its powers are at once based in human neurochemistry and in the mystical, spiritual potential of the cacao plant. Firefly epitomizes an intersection of capitalist enterprise with ancient cultures that knew many things we have yet to learn. It's a unique food disruption.
#52 Firefly Chocolate: Beyond the Bar Craft chocolate makers in the U.S. are sort of where the craft beer industry was 25 years ago. There were only about 200 craft chocolatiers in the U.S. when Jonas (German pronunciation: "Yonas") Ketterle launched Firefly Chocolate in 2014. Now these small businesses number in the thousands.

Firefly's product is 100% cacao and is marketed as Ceremonial Cacao. The cacao is processed in small batches at their small operation in Windsor, California. Much of the machinery was designed, built, and/or hacked by Jonas, a mechanical engineer..

The cacao is roasted, winnowed, ground, and conched to Jonas' exacting standards -- we're talking micron-level precision -- for utterly smooth, delicious discs that melt into a transformative drinking experience.



What makes Firefly Chocolate truly disruptive is their wholistic approach to the mesh of a capitalist enterprise with deep-seated values of respect for nature and our human connection -- physical and spiritual -- with the ecosystems that feed us. As Jonas puts it, business to him is like his training as an engineer -- it provides a toolset to create thriving relationships.

Firefly cacao is sourced from small farmers who practice permaculture to raise cacao plants in Belize, Guatemala, and Tanzania. One of the challenges presented by Firefly's business model is maintaining connection with hundreds of these farmers, and working with them to sustainably produce and ferment superior cacao beans. Firefly producers earn far better returns even than those provided by Fair Trade contracts.

It is this cycle of respect for the ecosystems in which cacao naturally grows, connection with the humans whose lives revolve around cacao cultivation, and respect for the cacao plant itself that makes Firefly a disruptive entrant into the chocolate sector of American food ways. Firefly's 100% cacao is a product utterly different from the commodified, plantation-grown, adulterated, highly processed sugary candy that most Americans think of as chocolate.

The cycle of connectedness represented by Firefly's sourcing and processing (they are pushing the sustainability envelope on packaging and distribution, too) extends to and through consumers of their cacao. Jonas regards his product as much more than a delicious, enjoyable food. Firefly cacao epitomizes the concept of food-as-medicine. In this episode of The Food Disruptors, Jonas and I talk about some of the bio-evolutionary possibilities that make cacao such a good food for humans. We talk about the anthropological role of cacao in Central American civilizations. And Jonas speaks knowledgeably about the chemical properties of cacao that profoundly affect our neurochemistry and gut biome.

Check out Firefly's informative website.

For more info, check out this article from Chocolate Connoisseur magazine.
#51 Piggly Wiggly: The Last Great Corner on Wall Street. Keedoozle! While there is no such thing as an ordinary Food Disruptor, Clarence Saunders was one colorful capitalist. He bootstrapped his way to a grand fortune, with Piggly Wiggly, the first self-service grocery store chain. All the while he touted his good-ole-boy Tennessee roots. He appealed directly to shoppers' concerns with folksy, funny media saturation. (See Episode 50.)

And when he decided to fight against short sellers of the newly listed Piggly Wiggly stock, he made national news with the Last Great Corner on Wall Street. He lost that battle, but not the hearts and minds of his loyal shoppers who rooted for their flamboyant underdog all the way.

With one fortune lost, he set about to make another with the world's first automated grocery store, Keedoozle. He was as far ahead of his time as Ada Lovelace was ahead of hers. He never made back his fortune, but it's a fun story.
#50 Piggly Wiggly Self Service: What A Concept! If you think grocery shopping is a hassle, be glad you are not a harried worker of 1916 trying to grab fixings for dinner on your way home. Then, as today, you would be jostled by hangry hordes. But a hundred years ago, everybody would be trying to avoid horse poop and mud in the walkways. You would have to dodge fast-moving horse-drawn carts, jitneys, and streetcars, as well as poorly controlled automobiles driving helter-skelter.

And then, when you tumbled off the streetcar near the markets, you would have to go to the green grocer, the baker, the butcher, and the dry goods merchant. At each locale, you would have to cram your way towards the front counter, taking several elbows in the process, and then clamor for the attention of the clerk.

The Old Way of Buying Groceries

Once you were attended by a clerk, your desired items were likely to be read from your list like a proclamation among your fellow townsfolk. Then, while you waited for the clerk to go to the back of the store to obtain your items, you might be subjected to small talk such as, "Two pounds of butter and five of sugar, is it Mrs. Brown? How do you find that new fangled diet is doing for you?" Finally, the clerk would return, wrap up the goods, tally the costs, probably write them up on your account, and you'd fight your way to the next store.

Clarence Saunders (1881-1953), an experienced Memphis grocery wholesaler, figured there had to be a better way. Saunders had already applied new-fangled efficiencies to grocery operations. He was among the first to conduct business on a cash-only basis, getting rid of the overhead of credit account management, the cost of float, and the costs of the inevitable bad accounts.

Clarence Saunders

Moreover, he put together a chain of stores that used their combined purchasing power to bring down the cost of goods sold. His forte, perhaps, was print advertising, where he realized big savings by using the same ads for all stores, and getting deals on volume purchases.

His disruptive idea was to get grocery customers to serve themselves. It is hard for consumers of today to realized just how innovative was this concept. Nobody reached to take off the store shelves the items they wished to purchase. What seems like "duh" to shoppers today, required a huge cultural shift of the collective consumer mindset.

Saunders made it easy by designing and building grocery store interiors expressly to facilitate self-service shopping. Customers would enter through a turnstile on the left side of a deep, rectangular store interior. A handy arm basket would be provided. They would file down a narrow aisle lined on each side with groceries. Then back up the next aisle. The flow was uni-directional, ending at a cash register. Clerks there, would tally the items and, in another breakthrough innovation, hand the customer the tape from the adding machine.

Original Patented Piggly Wiggly Store Design

The new method was not only more efficient, but thought to be more sanitary, and more honest. You could weigh your bulk items yourself and not worry about the clerk's finger on the scale. He also devised a transparent method of posting prices -- tags were hung on hooks in front of the items and could be easily changed out. Before Saunders, grocery clerks occasionally would charge different customers different prices.
#49 Alchemy + Integrity + History + Science + Art = Craft Beer

"There’s nothing more interesting than a brewery in terms of a combination of chemistry, physics, biochemistry, engineering. It’s a wonderworld of basic science. And in fact, much of modern science came out of breweries." -- Fritz Maytag, 2017

Fritz Maytag disrupted the huge market for industrially processed, pale lager beer in the 1970s. Father of the microbrewery (a term he coined) movement, he created Anchor Steam Beer as the first craft beer in America after decades of consolidation in the industry.

Like many a Food Disruptor of old, Maytag was an autodidact, in his case in the beer industry.



He purchased the nearly defunct Anchor Brewing company of San Francisco in 1965, more or less on a lark. But almost immediately, he fell in love with the ancient brewery, and more, with the process of brewing. The small business he acquired used medieval processes, and the resulting brews were frequently contaminated.

To revive Anchor Brewing, before anybody had heard of "craft beer," Maytag ferreted out old methods, often from ancient books, and brought modern equipment and science to bear on his brewing process. In his early days as brewmaster, he had to cobble together equipment, since there was no craft brewing infrastructure.

He not only heeded the science behind a great brew, but also taste. Cuing off of the approach of the small but growing ranks of wine connoisseurs in California, he developed rich, flavorful beer designed not just to flatter tastebuds, but to surprise and delight them.



Fritz Maytag

So much for the art. Keeping Anchor Brewing alive presented Maytag with huge risk. To build a modern brewery, he levered his personal stock holdings to the hilt, and then had to watch the financial horror show of the mid-seventies as his stock declined in value and interest rates approached 20 percent. Many an entrepreneur has folded under less pressure.



Anchor Brewing changed the beer-drinking culture of America. At an annual U.S. beer consumption of 6.3 billion gallons and counting, that's a big cultural dial to move. Notably, Maytag succeeded by emphasizing quality over quantity. And after a nearly a century of mass-marketing by Big Food and Big Beer, Maytag took a low-key, word-of-mouth approach and built his distribution and loyal following beer-by-beer.



Check out this Prime Rate timeline 1974-1980. It was scary to live through.

The U.S. Prime Rate Reached an All-Time High 21.5% in 1980

The Alchemist of Anchor Steam, INC. Magazine, 1983

BeerHistory.com
#48 Anchor Steam: The Vanguard of a Craft Beer Renaissance Today, those of us who enjoy beer expect to plop down at our neighborhood brew pub and order up a cold, fresh, tasty craft beer. We do not realize how endangered was this alcoholic refreshment option. During the twentieth century, economic and political pressures resulted in massive consolidation in the beer industry.



Commercial breweries previously peaked at 4131 in 1873. That number reached a nadir in 1983, with 51 U.S. beer companies. Of those, the top six controlled 92 percent of the market. Today, less than four decades after the low point, the number of breweries in the U.S. exceeds its previous high. We owe this resurgence to the imaginative vision, entrepreneurial risk-taking, and persistence of one dedicated beer aficionado, Fritz Maytag.

In 1965, Maytag purchased a nearly defunct San Francisco brewery with a long history, a checkered ownership record, and a spotty reputation for consistent quality, although when Anchor Steam Beer was good, it was quite good. The equipment was old, the infrastructure gone, and the market microscopic. But Maytag saw -- or dreamt -- potential for a great craft beer, when almost nobody remembered when beer was local.

Many Food Disruptors in history have focused on making money with resultant food system changes an unplanned collateral effect. In contrast, before he focused on maximizing the monetary value of his investment in the old brewery, Maytag sought to change an important strand of food culture. He revitalized craft beer, which had all but gone extinct in the face of beer behemoths.

Big Beer made a light, commodity-like lager and pumped it out through a distribution network that they controlled. Nobody in the beer-drinking public thought to challenge the status quo until Maytag bought Anchor Steam. It took him nearly a decade to turn a profit, and even longer to realize a sustainable industry infrastructure, which we take for granted today.

The beer story continues to build with Big Beer following the market into the craft space via acquisitions. Not least, after interim ownership by Skye Vodka from 2010-2017, Anchor Brewing Company was sold to former Skyy Vodka executives. In 2017, Big Beer, in the form of Sapporo, acquired Anchor. For a bit of historical context, tune in to Part 1 of The Food Disruptors' quick tour of the Anchor Steam Beer Story.



* Anchor Brewing
* BeerHistory.com
* How Beer Is Made
* The Original San Francisco Steam Beer
* Beer & the Swill Milk Scandal
* Nutrition in Brewer's Yeast
#47 CrissCross Podcasting: The Food Disruptors on Molé Mama Part 2

The Past is Prologue. Courtesy of a Molé Mama podcast that aired June 28, 2019, this episode of The Food Disruptors continues our two-part look at how the history of our food system informs our food ways today, and points to where we are going.

Consider these progressions, each phase the result of a food system disruption:

1) From local butchering to industrialized meat processing to refrigerated dressed meat to Confined Animal Feeding Operations to alternative protein.

2) From a USDA-sanctioned increase in carbohydrate consumption to a sharp rise in obesity and Type II Diabetes to consumer demand for less added sugar and more transparent food labeling.

3) From industrialized Big Ag and the prevalence of mono-cropping to an outcry against environmental degradation on land AND sea, and demands for a lower carbon footprint, fewer chemical inputs, and more diversity in our food supply.



We learn from the past. We learn from the decisions taken by Food Disruptors of the past -- both the right ones and, especially, those that turned out wrong for our society and our environment.

Our food system mess today is based largely in individual initiatives to accumulate personal wealth combined with a societal failure to identify and redress unintended consequences. However, United States food history is also rich with amazing technological advances that in their day promised better lives for more people.

Looking forward, we hope our market system, and the initiatives taken by future food disruptors, will bring us out of the unjust, environmentally damaging industrialized food system of the past. The capitalist system can work. But its outcomes and collateral effects are up to us. We have a much better chance of seeing where we are going with our food system if we heed how capitalism has intersected with our food culture in the past.

So please listen to The Food Disruptors, and send us your comments and suggestions for future topics!

Here are two interesting food podcasts -- each presents an opposite side of the meat v alternative protein controversy:

https://sustainabledish.com/podcasts/

https://heritageradionetwork.org/series/what-doesnt-kill-you/

Also, for great recipes, cultural insights, and wonderful interviews with amazing entrepreneurs who start out small in the food space but who have scalable potential:

https://www.molemama.com/mole-mama-cooking-with-love-podcast

And if you want to access easy, delicious Mexican-American cooking, check out:

https://www.molemama.com/all-cooking-videos
#46 CrissCross Podcasting: The Food Disruptors on Molé Mama Part 1 A few weeks ago, a great podcast, Molé Mama: Cooking With Love, featured Theresa as co-host of The Food Disruptors. This gave me the opportunity to tell The Food Disruptors origin story and take a step back to view the grand, operative currents in our food system, past, present and future. If you missed the Molé Mama drop, here it is again on our home turf.

https://www.molemama.com/

https://www.molemama.com/all-cooking-videos

Johnson RJ et al. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2007

#45 Henry Crowell: Don’t Mess with the Quaker Oats Man Henry Crowell turned a bland commodity that most Americans considered horse food into a ubiquitous, go-to breakfast food. He brought Quaker Oats to prominence through unrelenting marketing, including the famous Quaker Oats Special train, which borrowed marketing concepts pioneered by patent medicine sellers.

Henry Parsons Crowell (1855-1944) got in early on a new technology for processing oats: cutting them with special steel implements, then steaming them, then rolling them so they turned into flat, quick-cooking flakes. He also figured out that rather than scoop oats out of a barrel, where they might be mixed with rat and mouse droppings, bugs, stones, and maybe even a dead rodent, a grocery shopper might prefer to buy a neat, colorful, sanitary-looking household-sized carton of rolled oats.&nbsp;

He was the first grain marketer to take advantage of new paper processing methods that allowed for the cheap production of cardboard boxes. He decided to package his oats pre-measured into clearly branded cardboard cartons. The cartons were filled by a machine invented by one of his partners, which kept down labor costs. This played on the growing zeitgeist for "hygienic," inexpensive food for the masses.

Crowell observed the red-hot growth of the canned goods sector and saw that the winners in that crowded space were those who developed brand loyalty. The only way for a canner to signal to grocers and consumers the contents and provenance of a generic-looking can was with a colorful, memorable label. If the product passed muster, buyers were likely to come back to that same label for their next purchase. For label design, he went with his own gut reaction to the Quaker name and logo as a positive association for his commodity product.

Moreover, since the actual product was a commodity, Crowell recognized the potential for counterfeit products to ride the coattails of his pioneering marketing investments. So he added expensive, four-color printing to his cartons. The fat man in retro Revolutionary-times garb (a popular image after the 1876 Centennial), who proffered his box of "PURE" oats, served as a formidable guard against trademark infringement.

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