The Rural We: Arlin Wasserman
It’s good for business and good for the environment to follow sustainable business practices, to not overfish our oceans, to celebrate “meatless Mondays,” to recycle, and to buy produce from local farms. But this knowledge wasn’t always known or practiced on a large scale. The fact that it now is has a lot to do with Lenox resident Arlin Wasserman. He’s the founder and principal of Changing Tastes, as well as the former Vice President of Sustainability at Sodexo (the largest foodservice company in the world), and he’s helped them, General Mills and many other companies and organizations make significant shifts toward better nutrition and sustainability in the food industry.
I began my life’s work very early. I grew up in Philadelphia, in a produce company family, and I was always enamored with the ripe fruits and vegetables my father would bring home. Most of the food we ate was coming from local farmers.
I studied at the University of Michigan during the early days of climate change research, but I was already very interested in the health of our planet. Studying sustainable business is much more common now. While still in college, I helped start Recycle Ann Arbor, which launched the nation’s first weekly recycling pickup. That started my career in environmentalism. I then co-founded the Michigan Land Use Institute, and from 1992-1994 the Kellogg Foundation funded a study on what would happen if schools bought fruits and vegetables from farmers near them.
I founded Changing Tastes in 2003, and we work to help improve our health and the health of the planet by having the restaurant industry choose to offer us more delicious foods. We provide better guidance on environmental and nutrition science, and we help environmental organizations that want to engage the industry be more effective and faster making the changes they desire.
We developed the plan for the National Farm to School Network, brought together the foodservice industry around standards for sustainable seafood, and, since 2009, have worked with the Culinary Institute of America and Harvard on Menus of Change. Menus of Change is the only executive-level event in the industry that integrates nutrition and sustainability. It’s the only program that has brought leading chefs together in a business environment. Through this event, we get both communities to realize they need to rethink protein as the center of the plate. Plant-forward dining (making vegetables the center of the action) is now a major focus of culinary innovation.
People want to know where their food comes from, but many of them believe it’s the company or restaurant’s job to do that. We help the people who care to make changes inside these companies, instead of just getting them to admit that they’ve been doing the wrong thing. It’s in their best interest because climate impacts the foodservice industry. We’re already seeing the very early financial impacts of climate change and the damage to crops.