The Nutritional and Environmental Impact of our Food Choices

As consumers, we have the option to choose the foods we purchase and consume. But our choices go beyond simply choosing an item off the shelf and placing it in our cart. Our food choices directly impact nutrition, the environment, animal welfare, the economy, and the community. How exactly? We asked industry leaders to find out.


On September 25th, we hosted a successful panel discussion focused on the nutritional and environmental impacts of our food choices at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club. Leading experts representing agriculture, economics, farming, local government, and nutrition came together to open up a conversation about the role that farmers, CEOs and consumers have in the vastly changing food industry. The discussion was moderated by Food Tank’s Danielle Nierenberg and included the following speakers: 


  • Marcus Benedetti, Clover Sonoma CEO
  • Stephen Williamson, Forager Project Founder and CEO
  • Doug Beretta, Beretta Family Dairy Farm Owner
  • Julie Emmett, Plant Based Foods Association Senior Director
  • Lynn Huntsinger, UC Berkeley Professor, Department of Environmental Science
  • Frank Mitloehner, Professor PhD, UC Davis Department of Animal Science
  • Jenny Lester Moffitt, California State Board of Food & Agriculture Undersecretary
  • Rachel Scherr, PhD, UC Davis Dept. of Nutrition, Assistant Research Scientist and Director of the Center for Nutrition in Schools


At this very moment in time, the food industry is facing a challenge. Consumers have more choices than ever before, and the choices we make influence everything from the products stocked by our local grocery store, to the state of the global economy. The number of dairy farms in America is dramatically shrinking, and the plant-based trend continues to rise. But what does that mean for California and the consumer? 


Since 1970 the number of dairy farmers in the U.S. has dropped dramatically from around 640,000 to around 37,000. According to the National Farmers Union, around 70% of what consumers pay for milk at the grocery store doesn’t actually go to farmers because of unfair pricing practices. So a gallon of milk that retails for about $4.49 means that a farmer gets only about $1.39 of that. We are experiencing a time where dairy farmers are not only competing against one another, but they’re also seeing this rise in plant based alternatives to milk.


The availability of pea, soy, oat, and other kinds of milk is quickly growing. And consumers are choosing these products for a variety of reasons. Some are concerned about personal health or the climate crisis, others about animal welfare. Some are simply confused. Do I need to choose between this or that? Or can I choose this AND that? According to Dr. Frank Mitloehner, we can choose both– that’s the beauty of a flexitarian lifestyle.


One thing remains clear–consumers have a choice. That being said, it is our responsibility as industry leaders to properly educate consumers so that they can make the best choice to support their lifestyle and beliefs. Having conversations like this are the first step to spreading awareness of the power of our food choices. And obviously, there’s a lot to discuss. 


This is the first post in our blog series, so stay tuned for more details about what our experts had to say about these topics in the coming weeks.