Dinner of Extinction: A Taste of Climate Action

Wednesday, September 20, 2023
Ahmad Masood/Reuters

President, Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad (AFPAT)

Former Senior Advisor for Nutrition, Executive Office of the President (Obama administration); Partner, Acre Venture Partners 

Chief Executive Officer, Conservation International


International Climate Correspondent, New York Times; Author, The End of Karma: Hope and Fury Among India's Young; CFR Member

Introductory Remarks

President, Council on Foreign Relations

The “Dinner of Extinction” addresses the dangers the world faces due to climate change and rapidly deteriorating ecosystems. Panelists discussed the future of climate change and what can be done to protect food security and the world’s fragile ecosystems.

SENGUPTA: That is a hard act to follow. Thank you very much, Sam. What I find most memorable about Sam, is that before he went to the White House he cooked for the Obamas at home in Chicago. And he helped a family eat well. And he helped a working woman be herself in the world. And so to me, that’s a reminder of how it’s not just about how we eat. Food is not just about how we eat, but it’s about who we are in our communities. It’s about our relationship with each other. It’s about our relationship to the natural world, as we have just heard. I want to ask you one lightning round question first. And I really just want the name of a person in answer to this question. Who taught you how to eat? Sanjayan.

SANJAYAN: My mother.


IBRAHIM: Of course, my mother. (Laughs.)

KASS: Hmm, that’s so tough. So many people. Maybe the chef that trained me, Chef Domeschitz (ph), really taught me how to eat. I mean, my family did, but it was—it was the ’80s in Chicago. It was the 1980s. So not the highest cuisine. (Laughter.)

SENGUPTA: But our—but who teaches us how to eat is also about our memories of food. It’s so deeply connected.

I want to start with you, Hindou, on the question of hunger and malnutrition. They have risen astonishingly in the last few years. Partly it’s because of the climate crisis and how that’s affecting smallholder farmers, including in Africa. And partly it’s because, you know, farmers often grow things that they sell to other people abroad, right? So I want to—I want to ask you, how do you see that in the farmers you work with on the ground?

IBRAHIM: Sure. Good evening, and thank you so much for the invitation. It’s so nice to join this organization. I’m so happy. And now I’m seeing what you are doing there. So I am coming from Chad in the Sahel region. I am coming from a Mbororo pastoralist community who are a farmers but pastoralists basically, and nomadic still. We used to be auto-sufficient in our nutrition. So we grow what we eat. And now our cattle give us milk. And we still to now the only one carbon neutral and even positive who are growing meat and milk, zero carbon, who protects the nature.

But of course, it’s not the case of all the indigenous communities around the world. So with the climate change impact, you have the extreme weather events. And then you have a big flood that can flood on all the crops. Or you have the opposite, the drought, who can dry up all the crops that you grow. And it is the case of last year in Chad. I don’t know if you hear that. There was Chad, Niger, Nigeria, who got a big flood at the end of the rainy season because before harvesting, at the end of the day, people come in a big food insecurity. And we are asking, like, we got water. That’s the difference between scientists and then indigenous communities, because scientists look at the quantity of the water, how many millimeter we get, and then they celebrate. But for us, we look at the quality of the world, that if it is allowing us to get our crops or not. And at the end of the day, it was a big food insecurity around all the place.

And this year, community are very scared because the rain is not there. And the rain is not there because our cattle cannot get a grass, so we cannot get enough milk. When we used to milk two times a day, morning and evening, now people milking once every two days. And the quantity is just very small. So, of course, climate change is impacting the food and food insecurity. And it’s impacting the sea. I’m happy that you talked about what we are eating maybe cannot exist tomorrow, but I can witness to you what I eat, do not exist today. It’s already happened. And it is not like a TV show or whatever that you a reporter can read. It is a reality that I live myself.

And what is happening, as you said, two years ago, community grow up sesame. The reason is, Middle East are buying.

SENGUPTA: The sesame seeds.

IBRAHIM: Yeah, the sesame seeds. So Middle East the buying all that. And then it is bringing cash. So community just to like turned up and grow all the sesame. And people come at the community level to buy the sesame. And they ended up—I was there, not somebody told me—they ended up—they got the cash. They do not have millet at the market. Of course, our market are not the supermarket that you can go and argue. It is one market during a one day of the week in one place. And another day of the week, in some twenty-something or thirty-something kilometers in another place. And people start competing to find the millet to buy for the survival of the communities. And you understand in our world, you can be a billionaire, you can get cash that you want. If you don’t have a food, you are a poor person.

SENGUPTA: What is the one thing that you remember eating in your childhood that no longer exists?

IBRAHIM: So, you know, as I said, we do not have a supermarket. So when you are a child growing up in a nomadic community, you are running with other kids around all the food. So you are cutting this fruit and eating it, and you are taking the roots from the ground and just like cleaning somewhere and eating those kinds of things. So the place who have—who used to have those kinds of roots and have wild fruits, who used to be wet, are not wet anymore. There is no water that are around those places. And the consequence is, all those kind of plant disappear.

They disappear and they get replaced by a new plant that we are calling it a bad herb because they are—they do not have name. We didn’t grow it. So just a bad herb that you cannot eat, the cattle cannot eat. They become invasive species. I don’t know if you hear it. But the invasive species come discussions who have been adopted two weeks ago in Bonn to recognize there are a lot of invasive species who are not good for people, not good for planet, and not good at all for all our environment.

SENGUPTA: Yeah. Sanjayan, you know firsthand what Sam was speaking of. A lot of our treats—coffee, chocolate, you know—directly contributes to deforestation. A lot of our commodity crops contributes to environmental degradation, right? So it’s the first source of—land conversion is a is a huge, huge problem. What is the best way to reduce the negative impacts of what we love to eat?

SANJAYAN: It’s a big question. (Laughs.) First and foremost, thanks for having me here. And I appreciate the invitation, Mike, and also to the amazing panelists.

Look, you know, Sam mentioned this and it’s worth mentioning again, because it to me was like a lightbulb moment that went on, particularly right now. So even if all of our energy use right now—instantly, right—instantly went renewable, totally green, we will still exceed by far the Paris climate agreement. And that is stunning to me. And that’s because of our war on nature. So close to about a third of the emissions that are getting out there is because of what we do to land—and water to some extent—but what we do to land. Deforestation, burning, agriculture. And ag is a big, big part of it, right?

And so this is the sort of hidden thing that people don’t tell you about. And the scary part about all of this—I mean, the IRA is a perfect example of, you know, not long ago President Macron was in town. And it was an amazing moment when he was complaining that the United States government had gone too far in terms of the IRA. And I thought to myself, what world am I living in? It’s a European president, right, complaining that the Americans had gone too far. This is incredible. But there is a tap that has been opened, right? We are—we are making the energy transition. We may not be making it fast enough, but it’s happening. And investment is crowding in.

But the same nature transition, if you will, writ large, it is not happening at all. It’s miniscule in comparison. And you need to have them both happen hand in hand. And that’s why ag becomes an incredibly important part of what we need to be talking about. And it almost has impact on everyone. So absolutely, in terms of reduction of emissions from how we grow land and how we treat land is hugely important. But—

SENGUPTA: Can you give one example of that?

SANJAYAN: Oh, I mean, it’s—look, palm oil.


SANJAYAN: I mean, it’s—you know, obviously, you all think about palm oil, but it’s not—or, even coffee is the same thing. But it’s not an easy story. It’s a complex story. And our solutions aren’t not tailormade for it. So you think about palm oil. You’re cutting down rainforests to grow a crop now heavily in Southeast Asia, a commodity that actually came from West Africa, that went over to Malaysia, right? And it didn’t—didn’t flourish there. It didn’t flourish there until biologists figured out that there was a wasp that actually pollinated, you know, palm trees. And then they brought the wasp from West Africa and introduced it there. And then it just took off. And then palm became huge in Southeast Asia and the West African market almost completely went away.

It’s not that easy to kind of reverse that. You can go and say, look, we can’t cut—clear cut forests right now, and stop that. And, yes, there should be—you know, companies should take that seriously, are taking it seriously. We are putting laws into place to reduce palm oil from the supply chain. But in West Africa—so you go to Liberia. I’ve been right into these forests. And you go into a village that is in the middle of a—what looks like a pristine forest, certainly from the air. And when you talk to them, what they are doing—because there is no palm oil there. What has happened was there was a palm oil plantation. It’s a huge forest. Three hundred-thousand hectare forests. Ten percent of it was set up for palm oil.

Because of EU regulations, that company could never take off. And so the communities, there about thirty villages, did not have the opportunity to grow palm oil. So no jobs, bottom line. Know what they’re doing? They’re cutting down the forest for charcoal. And that is a hard, hard business. No one does it for pleasure. You basically cut it down, you dig a giant pit, you put it in there, you smoke it basically, you know, a partial combustion. It’s terrible for the environment. Then you haul it out of the road in a sack and you sell it to passing trucks. That’s because we’re trying to stop palm oil from getting into the EU supply chain. My point is that when it comes to what we eat, it’s clear we need to do something. But the solutions are a little complex.

SENGUPTA: Well, I was going to ask you about the EU regulations. Because there are now deforestation rules that apply to palm oil and soon cacao, soy, I think next, right? I have certainly heard from West African farmers groups, they’re very concerned that that will really affect smallholder farmers. Because they won’t be able to show, you know, in all the fancy ways with all the metrics that their product comes from deforestation-free zones. So how do you both view this? Is this kind of, you know, certification regulation that we see—is that the way to go? Or is that completely wrongheaded?

IBRAHIM: You know what the problem is? They do not take into consideration what the smallholder farmers are doing. Those who are not respecting the land, who are destroying the land, and who are abusing of natural resources are the big company, the big, industrialized agriculture company. But they designed the regulation for them. It’s so easy to check it for them to say, yes, we did, we did, we did, because they understand how to do it. They have hundreds of lawyers who can go through those documents. But those who are getting impacted is the smallholder farmers. They are not doing it to become rich. They are doing it for necessity, as what Sanjayan said is a reality around all the places.

They say, don’t count the forests, don’t do the palm oil. How can we eat what? What are we going to eat? We are not doing it to become rich. We are doing it for our survival. So I think the regulation that they should design, they should have the smallholder farmers there to protect them, but not to damage them. When we talk about all the organic farm or whatever, who is doing the organic farm? We used to do it. And that’s what we grow up to do it. We know only that. We do not use all the chemical. But it is the big industry who are using the chemical to do it very fast, and to double their revenue, to double their own benefit. So that’s the problem.

So EU regulations, I think they should do the regulation at their home. (Laughter.) Do not enforce the regulation in our countries. No, it’s true. If they do the regulation for the company who are from the Western, who go to our land and extract that—(applause)—thank you. You get me. If they do that for them, they cannot go there and extract and do the hardship for us. But they do the regulation for our land that they do not understand the realities. And this is so sad for the regulation. And they hold all the government from the south in their hand, because of the ODA and all. Like, you have to respect that. If you do not respect, so you are not a good partner, so we cannot do a business with you. And at the end of the day, it’s become very complex, as Sanjayan said, and always the victim are the poor communities.

SENGUPTA: Sam, do you think the food industry is starting to look at the supply chain? If so, what is nudging them in that direction? If not, what would nudge them in that direction?

KASS: (Laughs.) So I think they are definitely starting to look. And when they start to look, they can’t see anything. And it’s actually rather shocking how little visibility the vast majority of the industry has in their own supply chain. Now, I think part of that is true because there’s plausible deniability. Like, I didn’t know there was all those slaves in my supply chain. Or I didn’t know it was deforested—you know. But also just part of how this big commodity global system is set up, where, you know, it’s like just wheat. Most of the wheat is just wheat. And they’re buying it through various suppliers and millers. And it’s just not set up in a way, over time, that had been rooted in that.

As companies are getting more and more pressure to reduce their footprints or change their practices, along with all the various, the only way to do that is to start working with producers and helping to shift their practices. And it’s been a part of the reason why the industry has moved so slow is, like, they didn’t even know who those producers were. And Cargill and ADM, like, some of the biggest, you know, people in the middle, they’re just sourcing grain from all over. They don’t even—there’s, like, a bunch of steps. The pressure is starting. I’m seeing some progress. But the amount of investment needed from a data standpoint, like a measurement verification standpoint, ability to delineate between even just, you know, one—like it took decades to set up any kind of real organic system. This is way more complicated than that. And it’s slow and difficult.

Now, I think there’s a lot of ways. There’s various policies. There’s consumer behavior. There’s all kinds of things that are starting to and could dramatically shift the incentives. I think ultimately, for this to really work, the numbers have to work through the value chain, particularly for the producer. Right now, essentially, what companies try to do is very much EU. Where originally it was, like, here’s our new standard of practices. And they essentially externalized the costs and risks associated with the transition, and basically have growers pay for it. Now, growers are, like, this is a low margin, higher risk business that they’re in. And if we want to actually get those changes made, you have to have the return on the investment be higher than the risk they’re going to have to take to make those changes.

And for me, that’s why, you know, I think it starts with carbon and into biodiversity. There’s services that these producers are really having for the world, which we heard about at the beginning, that we should be paying them for. And that should be from both public policy, the food companies themselves, but they’re not going to give up margin. So ultimately, us as tax—if we’re just real talk, ultimately us as either taxpayers or consumers are going to have to pay for this. And I think that shift is going to have to happen if we really want to see the value chain-targeted transition.

SENGUPTA: Yeah. Did you want to add something quickly?

SANJAYAN: Yeah, so, you know, really pointing to what both Hindou and Sam were saying. You know, at the end of the day you need sensible regulation. I think everyone sort of gets that. But you need to listen to the people, to the people on the ground, and people particularly on the frontlines of nature, conservation, et cetera. So take coffee, right? So I joke and say to my team that coffee is the beverage that’s going to wake up America to climate change. (Laughter.) It is the most sensitive commodity that is widely used by people. It grows between 1,500 meters and 3,000 meters. And, as Sam said, you’re running out of space. It’s also in the most carbon-dense environments on the planet and the most biodiverse environments on the planet. So my organization actually perfectly map—we work in places that grow coffee, because there’s just lots of biodiversity there.

The challenge with coffee—so we’ve been working with Starbucks for twenty years. It’s a great example. And a good company doing—trying to do the right thing. So Starbucks alone gets coffee from 495,000 farmers—smallholder farmers in probably forty countries. They have no way of really figuring out—so when you go in there and you get your dark roast, that’s a blend. They don’t get it from country. The stuff you get per country, that’s a tiny piece of it. But most of the coffee, it’s just blended to taste. And the traders are in Switzerland. They’re the ones who are sort of controlling the money.

So if you get five cents more to Starbucks, that has no chance of actually reaching the person on the ground. Now, if you’re a smallholder farmer in a country like Cambodia, or Rwanda, or Burundi, or Congo, or DRC, or Colombia, you have ten—five, ten, twenty acres. That’s as big as it gets. Now, if we come in, which is what we do, and tell you: Listen, climate change is going to hit your crop. It’s going to hit it hard. You’re seeing the yields go down. Let’s help you renovate the crops. Let’s help you put a different variety in that has low water, better for biodiversity, et cetera. They’ll all say yes. But they cannot afford to take a ten-acre farm, split it in half, do half, wait for six years, then do the other half. It just won’t work.

So then we say to the coffee companies, hey, why don’t you set up a fund to allow these communities to make that transition? Not really, because they don’t see that relationship back to that farm. So you get trapped in this place where the companies are trying to do the right thing. So Starbucks, for example, has C.A.F.E. practices, it’s audited by a third party, it’s pretty high standards for how they grow their coffee. Can’t cut a tree down to grow coffee for Starbucks, for example. The farmers are in a desperate situation where climate change is really getting them. But there’s no—the IRA for that transition doesn’t exist.

SENGUPTA: We can’t have a conversation about climate and food without addressing the meat question, right? It’s the third rail of every discussion. (Laughter.)

SANJAYAN: Is this Chatham House in here, or is there press? (Laughter.)

KASS: No, no, it’s press.

SANJAYAN: It is press? OK.

KASS: It’s all on the record, baby.

SANJAYAN: I can’t tell great stories. (Laughter.) Hindou and I have a really good story to tell. (Laughter.)

SENGUPTA: OK, I want to hear that story.

KASS: Come on, let’s go.

SENGUPTA: Let’s go. I want to hear about the meat question. (Laughter.)

KASS: Tell it! Tell it!

SANJAYAN: She comes from a—can I tell it?

IBRAHIM: Yeah, go ahead. (Laughter.)

SENGUPTA: All right.

SANJAYAN: She comes from a pastoral nomadic community where cattle is really important. I grew up in Africa, we know each other. She meant a whole week being taken from one environmental meeting to another. And you could just see the drain on the nutrition of what she was having. And then Friday comes and I say, Hindou, come to come to my home. We’re going to have a barbecue. And she’s like, yes, please, God. (Laughter.) So, under cover of darkness, without really telling anyone, we had a steak. It was a grass-fed steak. (Laughter.) But we did. (Applause, laughter.)

KASS: We won’t tell anybody.

SANJAYAN: We won’t tell them.

SENGUPTA: But, look, I mean, there’s—

IBRAHIM: No one tell them. I escaped actually invitation of head of state, of the president, to go to his house to have this steak. (Laughter.)

SENGUPTA: So, OK. So how do we—how do we address the meat question in a sophisticated, compassionate way? It means different things to different people, right? Those of us in this part of the world eat a lot of meat, right? But most people don’t have bacon for breakfast and a ham sandwich for lunch. So where do you stand on that? Sam, let me start with you. There’s lab grown, there’s going entirely plant based. Where do you stand on this?

KASS: So I have a bunch of hats in this question. One as a chef, right? And I eat meat, right? Trying to eat less of it, but I eat meat and I enjoy it, and I will continue to do so. Part of it is as an investor, looking at every—I’ve seen every single one of these technologies. And I think—I think that—I think there’s a bunch of layers for it for me. And I’ll try to be as brief—I’ll be brief. But, first of all, a lot of these alternatives that we’ve seen—there’s no question we need to eat less meat in the West. You can’t paint this issue with one brush. It plays out very differently in different parts of the world. So I’ll speak mostly on the West, because we’re driving most of the negative impacts when it comes to meat—you know, emissions from animal agriculture.

We’re definitely going to have to diversify our protein sources. There’s no question about it. A lot of the alternative meats that you’ve seen, and I know them and everybody has come to this with good intention. I do not question those intentions. But most of those products nominally better or somewhat better on the environmental footprint. Not as good as they all tell you. Terrible on nutrition. And if you—if we forget, like, nourishment as being the cornerstone of why we’re eating, then I got a problem. And I would never have invested in any of those. I did—we did invest into an alternative protein to a company called Meati, which is a mycelium-based protein. The most—and I helped redesign the nutrition facts panel when we were in the White House, so I’ve looked at thousands of nutrition fact panels. If I never saw one again, I’d be fine. (Laughter.) Healthiest food I’ve ever seen period, 33 percent of your daily protein, 30 percent of your daily fiber, a bunch of micronutrients. So the nutrient density of these alternatives for me is very important.

I think on the lab-grown meat, and I do also believe people in that space are trying to solve a hard problem and they come at it honestly, further removing people from the natural world. Food is kind of, for most of us, the last connection to the natural world we have. And the consequence of being further—of being so removed, I think, is why so much destruction of and extraction of nature has happened, because we’re no longer in commune with the natural world. And so the solutions that further remove us I think come at a consequence that may—it may be part of the solution, but it’s just not a future that I want to put my energy, efforts, and resources in.

Lastly, on meat itself, there are innovations and technologies that are coming that I believe can dramatically reduce the footprint of animal agriculture, both in practices and how they’re managed, right? I mean, nothing new here, right? Traditional practices that have been happening for millennia. But technology—one of the companies I’m most excited about is a company called Loam, that’s has fungi that sequesters one to three tons of carbon per acre per year in crops like soy, for example. They also have a product that helps reduce the methane from, say, a cow. So with that kind of technology, you could pretty much have a carbon neutral animal.

So I do think you’re going to see a dramatic improvement on our how we’re raising animal agriculture, and proliferation of alternatives that hopefully hold the promise of very affordable and cheap. Because that’s the other thing, like, people can’t pay more. There’s all this talk, you know, real cost of food and all this. People are just—most people are just barely hanging on. And so we have to have these sources of protein that are truly affordable. And so I think you’ll see kind of both happening. And we’re going to need all those options to make a difference.

SENGUPTA: I have so many questions, but I really want to give you all a chance to ask questions. So please raise your hands. I’m taking off my glasses because I can see you better without them. And mics are in the room and going out. OK, we’re going to take one, two, three. Can we just have, like, questions? Three questions, and then we’ll let the panel answer. Right behind you.

Q: Hi. This is amazing. I have to say, best event ever. So can we please have more of them? (Laughter, applause.) So this has been fascinating.

And you were talking about the diversification of protein. And one thing that I was particularly interested is overfishing. So I’d hoped you’d speak to that a bit more in terms of what does that look like? What are regulatory processes that we can do? Just curious to hear your thoughts on that topic.

SENGUPTA: And then there’s one in the middle. Please raise your hand again. Yes.

Q: Hi. Yeah, thank you. You’ve given us a great sense of what’s at stake, what we have to lose.

Piggybacking off of the last question. I wonder if you could talk a little bit more about the foods of the future. What would be on the menu for, like, a dinner of survival? (Laughter, applause.)

SANJAYAN: That’s a great idea.

SENGUPTA: That’s great.

KASS: We could do a series of that. (Laughter.)


Q: This is fantastic.

One question I had—this is the Council on Foreign Relations, so I’ll ask a foreign relations question, which is, you know, we just had President Bongo after fifty years in Gabon overthrown, right? We’ve seen this movement away from democracy. We had Bolsonaro in Brazil. We had Trump here in this country. How do we make conservation, you know, politically viable under any administration? (Laughter.)


KASS: I’m not touching that one. (Laughter.)

SENGUPTA: OK. Fish—all right, fish, future, and conservation. You go—you go first.

IBRAHIM: OK, I’ll go first. So fish or meat or whatever, all the food. First thing that we have all to understand, West means abusing of body. What’s happening with the cattle, I do not know before going to Sanjayan house that there is a grass-feed cattle, because otherwise what the cattle are eat? (Laughter, applause.) Yeah. It’s true. You see? I would be scared if, like, the cattle do not eat the grass. Are they eating between themselves or whatever, you know? (Laughter.) So coming from my side is very scary. That’s the thing. People wanted to do—he explained it to me. Thank you. So people wanted to eat meat and then people wanted to sell it, and then they are ready to put everything in whatever just to grow a cow. So that thing has to end.

This kind of production of fish, or of meat, or of any kind of protein, have to be equitable way. When you go to a supermarket here, and when I go in all the developed countries, I’m always getting shocked. Everything has expiration date, even water bottle. Like, what the hell is this? (Laughter, applause.) Why? You cannot have that when you go in my place. You buy the things that you just need. Every single day we go to the market, you buy the freshest thing, you come, you eat it. If you didn’t eat it, you give it to your neighbor, or you dry it up to eat it the next day. So we need to work on that. And that is very important.

And this is the future. This is really the survival that we are looking for, an equitable way of eating. You cannot see, like, obesity problem as health in our regions, because people eat in an equitable way. They do not obese on any kind of food, meat or whatever things. They eat, really, without seeing a nutritional doctor or whatever. We are all a nutritional doctor in our communities. So that’s the thing I think West must learn.

And coming to what you said, as I’m coming from this region of all the political movement now, and I also have like, a military regime and all. I think the continuity that what we need, we need a continuity with the people. If people understand what is the conservation, it doesn’t matter that you change the leader. They will impose it to you. Because if we say democracy, it’s meaning that people are voting. It’s meaning that people are deciding, you have parliament, you have ministers, you have whatever. And then peoples wanted to have a good face, otherwise they are not the leader anymore. So if the people understand the conservation, it’s not for a president that can dictate it. The conservation is for my life, for my survival, for my future, for my children, they will impose this agenda. (Applause.)

SENGUPTA: Conservation. Yeah. Can you talk about the political appetite?

SANJAYAN: The last time—the last time Hindou and I met was actually in President Bongo’s palatial sort of place. And if you go there, and you see that, you realize they’re scared of something. And it’s their own people. And so, the way to make conservation sticky is two parts. One, it’s got to be in the enlightened self-interest of the people who live there. And, two, it has to be viable in the long run. It cannot depend on philanthropy to provide it. So it has to be about value, and not just about love.

When it comes to the overfishing issue, three out of seven people rely on fish for their primary source of protein. So whether you eat it or not, it is incredibly important for people. It’s a huge issue. But there is more progress on that, and I feel more hopeful, in some ways, on that. Walmart, for example, just recently basically said: We’re going to track every piece of tuna that comes into our supply chain. And we’re getting completely out of anything that looks like slave labor, et cetera. It’s the subsidies that are provided to the fishing vessels that really make them go out and exploit to the very last bit. If you want a simple rule, when you eat meat, particularly fish, eat things that are smaller than your head and younger than you are. That’s like just a general rule of thumb. It actually kind of works, right? You don’t want to eat big, old, long-lived species when it comes to that. And then—I’ll stop with that.

SENGUPTA: Yeah. Bivalves. Bivalves also very good.

SANJAYAN: Bivalves are good. Sardines are good. Anything small is good.

SENGUPTA: Very good. Yeah, and by the way, tuna are really moving around. And so countries that earn most of their revenues from tuna are going to have to figure out what happens.

SANJAYAN: They have to renegotiate.

SENGUPTA: Alright. Foods of the future.

KASS: So I think the most important word to shape the food of the future is diversity. And diversity through the entire system. And not just of plants, but also people who are at the table, and making the decisions, and then bring them forward. There’s actually a report that I helped work on, Unilever actually drove it, called the Future 50 Foods. And it goes through a long series of foods that can be grown in much harsher conditions, at much higher nutrient density, and are delicious.

I think, coming—the one I’ll just reference is coming out of the U.N. Food System Summit—you know, you’re sitting there listening to all these conversations. And they’re just driving me absolutely mad, because everybody’s just pontificating on all the complexities and nothing really comes out of this stuff. Because in the end, yes, all that stuff is true. There is so much complexity, and all the policies, and all the various regulation, and all that stuff. But in the end, really what we’re trying to do is get different foods and better foods on people’s plates. It’s actually also extremely simple.

And out of that, like, let’s just focus on beans. Like—if there’s a cornerstone of the future, it’s beans. The most—one of the most nutrient-dense things you can put on your body. Fixes nitrogen in the soil. Plenty of beans don’t need a ton of water. Really cheap. Basically, the whole world eats—you know, there’s definitely a few communities that don’t, but the vast majority of communities eat some form of bean. And putting our mind to figuring out how do we elevate the role of beans. In some places they’re revered, but—you know, and are the most basis of their nutritional diet. But as people aspire to be more affluent, sort of you see communities moving away from beans. And others, like us, you know, has a bad kind sort of vibe. But they’re delicious.

So I think it’s sort of fundamental, ingredient by ingredient, adding just more diversity on our plates. And the idea of just having a giant piece of meat and some little side dishes, that’s got to flip. It’s going to be like a big plate of beans and vegetables and, and then a little piece of meat. I think that’s the future of diets.

SENGUPTA: OK. Moderator’s privilege; I’m going to ask one last question. It’s another lightning round. What is your comfort food? And what is the one thing that you want people in this room to do to save it, either as cooks, as shoppers, as investors, as policymakers? What do you want us to do? (Laughter.)

IBRAHIM: Of course, you already know my best food as pastoralists is, like, a piece of steak, but grass-feed one. (Laughter.) Yeah. And, of course, like, what I wanted you to do, it’s, like, think about what you are buying, what you are eating. Maybe all the people in this room you are privileged when you go to the supermarket, you go to the organic one. It should be the opposite, that the organic should be cheap. The non-organic should be the most expensive, and you have a choice. And the peoples who do not afford the organic food, you see how they look like, unhealthy. And this is injustice. End the food injustice to keep all the peoples healthy. So be responsible.

SENGUPTA: Sanjayan.

SANJAYAN: I’m from Sri Lanka originally. And I think for me, South Asian rice is the comfort food. If I go too long without eating rice, it just all starts getting—

SENGUPTA: Falling apart. Yes, same here.

SANJAYAN: Getting a bit tweaky, yeah. And rice is a tricky one. You know, half the world eats rice as a primary source of, sort of, food. And to grow rice, except for a few varieties that are upland rice, but the vast majority of rice has to grow underwater. Basically, you need about that much water for about half its lifecycle to grow it. And then you need to take all the water out. Because you can only harvest it when it’s completely dry. And if the moisture goes a little bit above a certain amount, you can’t grow it. It grows in the great floodplains of the world. You know, the places where they’re in the eye of the storm, the eye of the hurricane.

So rice is going to be the crop that, you know, when the world—when climate twitches, more people will suffer foodwise because of that intersectionality with the rice. What you can do is really change your carbon footprint. You know, that help Southeast Asia. So that helps Bangladesh, and India, China, and other countries more than anything else. And in this spirit, you know, the one thing—people ask me, what can I do about climate change? You know, the easiest thing you can do about climate change is think about and change what you eat, how you use it, how you waste it. You know, you have a cup—you know, the biggest use of coffee in your office or in a home is actually your sink, because you usually boil that much water for that much coffee, right? So waste—food waste is a huge, huge issue. So please be thoughtful about what you buy, how you cook it, and then what you waste.


KASS: It’s always tough when the guy before you steals your answer. (Laughter.)

IBRAHIM: (Inaudible.) (Laughs.)

SANJAYAN: You had rice? Was it rice for you?

KASS: Yeah, rice was—so it took me back. And I’m—so this is all in the record. Now I’m going to put myself out there. But when I was a kid, I would make for myself with leftover rice—we ate a lot of rice in my family—soy sauce, parmesan, and butter. And it was like this very—you should try it. I actually had it recently. (Laughter.) Like, it sounds terrible. It’s actually really good. But it was, like, my comfort zone. So now I guess I had to say, like, a buffalo wing or something? No, I’m just kidding. I guess I’d say coffee. And it’s not really a comfort, it’s more like my happy place every day. Like there’s a ritual about it that I really value. And, like, making a good cup of coffee is actually quite difficult. It’s not hard to make an OK cup. It’s really hard to make a perfect cup. And so there’s something about that ritual that I really—and is also the only way I survive. I have a six- and a four-year old. So it’s life on earth for me.

I think my answer to what people can do, obviously, you know, everybody’s sits in different places in the world in this room. I think if you are doing anything in this issue—well, if you’re not, please, God, start. In whatever capacity are, in your own life, and your business, in your nonprofit. Whatever you’re doing, your community, in your synagogue, your church, whatever the case may be. But for those who are sitting in places who are working on this, I just think we have to—if you’re doing something you feel good about it, feel comfortable in it, then you’re not doing enough. We have—we are now—we’ve run out of time to kind of, like, go about our business, do the pilot, scale it little a little bit to see how it goes. Like we’ve given up that chance.

We have to get out of our comfort zones and take on a lot more risk in terms of the decisions we’re making, the resources we’re allocating, the policies we’re pushing forward in our businesses, in our governments, if we’re going to come close to meeting the moment where the science says. Like, we’re just going to have to scale and do things in a way we do not normally do. And so my push is just, like, take some risks. Like, allocate some more capital. Push a policy that, like, people aren’t going to fully love. We just have to, otherwise it’s going to get—we’re going to get to a point pretty quickly where we no longer have the ability to control how these things start to unwind. And so that moment is now. Like and literally every year counts. Like we’re, like, year to year here. So that would be my push.

SENGUPTA: Thank you so much, all of you, for a rich and thoughtful conversation. (Applause.)


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