The intersection of ethical, sustainable business practices and Judaism — both in business and in the home — was the topic du jour at a virtual “fireside chat” hosted by Ignite Career Center on Sept. 28.
Seth Goldman, the executive chairman of Beyond Meat, joined Joan Grayson Cohen, the Jewish Community Services executive director, for the hour-long discussion before an audience of about 30 people.
Cohen asked Goldman how his Jewish heritage and background shaped his values and commitment to ethical and sustainable business practices — such as using organic and fair-trade ingredients.
Goldman said that he grew up in an observant Reform household, where there was “very much a mindset around social justice” ingrained in his family.
“There was always an expectation that I would be doing work that was consistent with my values,” Goldman said.
Organic, Goldman explained, is about righteousness toward the environment by not bringing synthetic chemical pesticides into it.
The fair-trade movement combines higher payment to exporters with improved social and environmental standards for businesses.
“It’s about treating the worker with dignity,” Goldman explained.
In practice, this involves investing back into the communities creating the products. For example, that might entail building a school for the village where farmers harvest the tea leaves.
During a question-and-answer session following the chat, Goldman was asked if his ethical requirements had been a barrier to finding investors. Goldman replied that the company never hides its principles — they’re all front and center with the brand — and that they’ve had no problems raising the necessary funds.
Goldman, the former CEO of Honest Tea, co-founded Eat the Change, a Bethesda-based snack company centered on activism with celebrity chef Spike Mendelsohn. Some of Eat the Change’s products include carrot chews, which are available online, and “Just Ice Tea,” which is available in stores.
“The products themselves, by being lower calorie or healthier, are hopefully helping people lead more fulfilling lives,” Goldman said.
Goldman also shared that their investors and board members are “very bipartisan” because, regardless of political views, what they are doing has merit as a business.
“If you have a positive impact on your supplier communities, on your employees and the consumers, that’s just good business,” Goldman said.
Another audience member asked Goldman how organic, fair-trade products help when it comes to climate change.
“First of all, [a] huge impact on our ecosystems comes from chemical pesticides because what happens is, they kill off a lot of the biodiversity and our planet,” he said.
Goldman also said that these products are more land and energy-efficient for the nutrition they contain, a claim supported by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Goldman’s principles don’t just apply to his business: They’re also the foundation for his family’s diet.
By the time Goldman’s oldest son, Jonah, was 10, the family had visited an animal sanctuary for several years. One day, he asked if the chickens they visited were the same kind they ate at dinner.
“He decided at age 10 to become vegetarian and, by the time he got to 13 at his bar mitzvah, his Torah portion was about the killing of animals,” Goldman recalled.
It was then that Goldman’s family became vegetarian, and today they’re all vegan. At the time, Goldman said they were happy with the decision, but that he would occasionally be disappointed by lackluster vegetarian options at social events.
According to Goldman, the family found a solution in Beyond Meat, in which his wife convinced him to invest. Goldman attributes his status as chair of Beyond Meat’s board and family’s diet to his son asking those questions.
Jonah Goldman is now the director of marketing for PLNT Burger, a plant-based fast-casual eatery with several locations — including Columbia, Maryland.
“Everybody in our family and my wife and I certainly have got, I would say, healthier since we’ve gone vegan,” Goldman said.