Finding Moonshot Solutions Through Food: 5 Takeaways From Google Food Lab

Written by Erik Oberholtzer on May 28, 2019

Since joining Cohere, Erik Oberholtzer has been bringing some of his learnings from thought leadership events back to Cohere.

As a prominent voice in the food space, Erik is regularly invited to leading industry events to learn about what’s ahead of the curve. That information has been useful for Cohere’s effort guiding budding restauranteurs who are navigating the changing landscape of food and hospitality. Recently, he had the privilege of attending an event at Google Food Lab to brainstorm how chefs, restauranteurs and marketers can spark positive change in our systems.

Chef and Cohere Advisor Erik Oberholtzer shares his key takeaways from the Google Food Lab Summit

As my journey progresses into different spaces that bring me out of the kitchen, I’ve had the honor of playing a role in big conversations where brands and global organizations strive to solve complicated problems pertaining to food. Last week, I visited the Google Food Lab Summit held at the Spruce Goose Hanger on Google’s Los Angeles campus.

Google X is designed to find moonshot solutions to the biggest challenges of our time. Google Food Labs refers to these as “foodshots”.

Our group was challenged to take action on five key areas of food:

1. Our first goal is moving food culture towards a more plant-forward diet. By reducing animal consumption and replacing it with plant-based foods we can take the pressure off the planet. Though I advocate for an emphasis on whole foods versus overly processed plant-based meat analogs, I do recognize that companies like Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat serve as an important gateway into adopting a more plant-centered diet. Through my advisory work with Cohere, we are able to guide menus on a seasonal basis toward plant forward, locally sourced and tasty ingredients – making a tangible change that directly impacts consumers.

Through a recent campaign for HipCityVeg, we challenged customers to eat plant-based one day a week.

The Butcher’s Daughter serves thoughtful plant-based riffs on comforting classics, like this Cauliflower Steak.

We revamped The Choice Market’s menu, creating dishes like the ImpossiBalls that use the same stuff as the Impossible Burger, paired with fonio, a grain primarily exported from West Africa.

2. Transparency in our food system is a key challenge the group aims to tackle. Our current food culture is opaque. The language of food diluted by well-budgeted marketing campaigns that confuse the consumer. One attendee joked of the 50 shades of milk on the shelves. With so many options consumers often struggle to align their purchases with values sending mixed messages back through the supply chain.

3. One of the biggest threats to our environment we can all agree on is plastic waste. The demonizing of the plastic straw is a good first step in eliminating plastic from our food system. One speaker asked us to imagine a single day where all 7 billion people on the planet agreed to not drink single-use bottled water. That is 7 billion plastic bottles in one day. Imagine what 7 billion bottles per day look like! Then think about doing your part next time you grab a bottle of water.

4. Moving to a plant-forward diet is not enough, we also need to broaden our agriculture and diets to reflect a more biodiverse food system. Currently, we get 60% of our calories from just 4 ingredients. Industrialized corn, soy, wheat and rice are heavily sprayed on mono-crop farms then stripped of nutrients for processed foods that make our planet and people sick. We need to regenerate our soil, diversify our agricultural ecosystems and enjoy food as medicine versus causation of disease.

The recently revamped Choice Menu also features a green smoothie made with moringa, another example of how local supply chains with diverse ingredients can help to protect biodiversity.

Through our work with Food Forever and The Crop Trust, we’re able to rally consumers and chefs on how their choices can create a more diverse food system that’s better for the planet and for people. (Photo courtesy of Food Forever)

5. The heaviest lift of all five is to move towards circular systems. A circular food system is one that gives back what it removes, from the environment and society. This requires a shift in the way we live. We have a long way to go before everyone is working towards the future this group imagines.

By partaking in these large-scale conversations and carrying this message on as we work with brands and chefs, I have hope that together, we can make a real impact on these goals.

Our work with Cohere’s family of brands helps us take these moonshot ideas that are ahead of the curve, and translate them into menu experiences and consumer product goods that help us all make smarter decisions for the health of people and the planet. We are acting as a bridge between Google Food Labs and other leading organizations on an international scale, to trickle down impact in the smallest of ways through the brands we serve.

The more brands in our family join this journey, the closer we come to achieving the foodshots Google and others have challenged us with, and the better chance we have of finding a way forward to a more sustainable and equitable future.