These days, a lot of organizations and their leaders talk about “sustainability,” but internally, most of them don’t walk the talk, especially in relation to food. I have a goal: To “teach people to fish” in a way that helps them understand the importance of eating well and the results we can expect when we do. I started with my own family, and then realized what might happen if entire communities knew this – parents who needed to feed their kids well and raise them to be responsible for their own lives. My aim is to radically change how we feed and educate our children, parents, and everybody else – including the corporate world.
By creating nourishing, nurturing, and engaging environments, we set the stage for learning. The “triple bottom line” of “people, planet, profit” that sums up corporate social responsibility and sustainability can easily convert to “nourish, nurture, and engage” when it comes to feeding people’s creativity.
In my experience helping organizations understand how they can impact the health of their employees, create a foundation for a culture of innovation, and ultimately improve their bottom line, I learned some steps about introducing this new approach to food.
You don’t need innovation if things are fine as they are. But if they’re not, you need to pinpoint exactly what is wrong. To change the culture of any community, you need to change how they think about food. You can have wellness “events,” but very few community endeavors address the question, “How are we changing the way people relate to food?” If people are nourished with healthy food, nurtured by a caring environment, and engaged mentally and physically, our population becomes more productive. It all works together.
To understand just how people think about food, use the concept of “beginner’s mind” and just notice what’s happening around you. That’s how innovative thinking starts. For example, if you want to learn the mindset of a company about healthy eating, start by looking at the vending machine. Ask if they regularly buy pizza or cookies as “rewards” for employees. If there’s a cafeteria on site, ask what kind of food is served, and ask the chef where the food comes from. Ask people if they actually know what they’re eating.
In the same way, to introduce any kind of innovation at companies – to change the environment – you need buy-in from management to help educate people. When you eat better, you feel better. When you feel better, you do better. It’s as simple as that. (There’s more to this. See the box.)
So how do you get organizational leadership to buy into this? Start with progressive-minded bosses who see the relevance of food to business results. If the boss can see that there are employees who are a health risk from an insurance perspective, that’s a plus. These people are costing money – and aren’t giving their best even on the days when they aren’t sick. When you point out a dollar value, you get attention for innovation.
Of course, business leaders can have plenty of objections. Most of these have to do with time, money, and extra work. One of the biggest problems is that they don’t immediately see the connection between innovation, eating well, and the bottom line. Point out that insurance companies incentivize businesses that help their people stay well. That impacts the bottom line. People who feel well do more and better work. That impacts the bottom line. And what about all those employees who are practically comatose by 3 pm? Are companies getting the best from people who ate unhealthy food at lunch and are now starved for nutrients? Probably not. That’s more money down the drain. So feeding our people’s bodies, feeding their creativity, has a tangible return on investment. And so it is with any innovation. Show people in charge of money how the new thinking will improve that bottom line.
It helps to measure progress against others who have succeeded. Find companies who are doing what you want to do and research how they do it. For healthy eating, Revolution Foods and Jamie Oliver’s website are great places for inspiration (rev.foods.com, jamieoliver.com/us/foundation/jamies-food-revolution).
Find best practices to model. At Google’s headquarters, for example, there are vending machines, but they make it easy to eat well because items are priced by nutritional value. If you want an organic snack bar, it costs about 15 cents. If you want a Twinkie, you can get one – but it will set you back about $4. This makes you stop and think before you push the button. Talk about best practices with immediate impact!
We’re more likely to make change happen in small increments. This isn’t about getting someone to go straight from Cheetos and Coke to a strict vegan diet. But if we could help him move one notch, make one little upgrade, it makes an impact. Potentially, it could change his life, his children’s lives, and his entire community – just with one little step.
Innovation needs to be supported by companies, from the top down to its family of employees. When leaders just do that one thing to change how their businesses operate, they move along that continuum.
If you start with a passion to help people re-establish a connection with what they’re consuming that leads them to care, that’s the first step in the “eat better, feel better, do better” chain that brings results. For your company, get people to care about your innovation. And then watch for the results.
Molly Reams Thompson is the founder of Feeding Creativity LLC, and is committed to changing how we feed and educate our communities by creating nourishing, nurturing, and engaging environments. A book she co-wrote, I Am Diva: Every Woman’s Guide to Outrageous Living (Warner), guides women through the art of living passionately and was her catalyst to discover and tap into her own passion for food advocacy.
The concept of changing communities through food, or in any other way, doesn’t just happen. It’s very mindful. We have to focus on how we feed, educate, and involve people. And it’s not just about health. It’s about what good food enables. It’s about recreating our world in a way that makes us healthy, intelligent, and living above the poverty level.
When we eat better, we feel better, so we do better. But we have to put words before and after this phrase, so it looks like this:
First, we have to care that we eat better. And after we feel better and do better, we get better results. In the case of our kids, when they eat better, they learn better, and they get better jobs. It’s a win-win-win.