The Good Food Institute’s Joanna Grossman is the world’s first full-time lobbyist for plant-based and clean meat. She’s also an expert on Shakespearean drama, an avid lover of rock concerts, and a forceful advocate for a healthier, more humane, and sustainable future of food.
A native of Mansfield, Texas, Joanna, received her B.A. magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Princeton University. She also holds a master's degree from the University of Oxford, where she studied as a Fulbright Scholar, and a doctorate from Harvard University.
Prior to joining the Good Food Institute, Joanna served as the federal policy advisor for the Animal Welfare Institute, where she lobbied on the Hill for a wide range of animal protection issues, including improved wildlife management practices and higher standards for the raising of farm animals. After spending years advocating for animals on the federal level, Joanna became intrigued with the idea of a new approach: Making the use of animals in agriculture obsolete altogether by introducing a new item to the agenda–game-changing food technology!
I’ll let her explain for herself!
Let’s start with the obvious: Why do the plant-based and clean meat industries need a voice on Capitol Hill?
Right now, governments are searching for solutions for two of the biggest problems in our food system: One, how are we going to feed 9.7 billion people by 2050? And two, what are we going to do about climate change caused by food production? Plant-based and clean meat provide a solution to both of these questions. These technologies also represent a tremendous opportunity to promote economic growth by supporting this high-value market opportunity. Plant-based and clean meat will improve the quality of jobs in meat production while ensuring food security and mitigating the environmental harms of animal agriculture.
You’re the only person advocating for plant-based and clean meat full time, but I’m sure there’s a whole crowd of people representing agribusiness more broadly!
Absolutely. Agribusiness spends vast sums of money on lobbying efforts, largely to promote greater profits and protectionist policies for industries that are part of the problem, not part of the solution. The Good Food Institute plans to change that. On top of the multi-millions spent on direct lobbying, the meat, dairy, and egg industries spend millions in campaign contributions. This translates into powerful political influence. Someone needs to stand up for solutions to the crises in our food supply and make sure lawmakers know about opportunities to support economic benefits and the planet at the same time.
You’ve worked with policymakers on a number of issues related to farm animals. Why have you chosen to focus on food and a market-based approach?
I’ve always felt that a market-driven approach that couples consumer demand with new products is the best bet for reshaping our food system. You might not be able to personally convince someone to change his or her diet, and it can be difficult to ask consumers to consider the environment, animals, and more in their everyday purchasing decisions. But if products that are inherently better for people, animals, and the planet are out there and they’re delicious and affordable, people are going to buy them! And we can get to that point much more quickly if the public and private sectors collaborate, rather than leaving a total transformation of our food system to startups alone.
What's something you feel excited about?
It’s incredibly exciting to be the world’s first full-time lobbyist on plant based meat, and the first at all on the issue of clean meat. We’re still in the very early stages, but there’s no question this technology offers a viable and appealing path forward. When talking with policymakers, I’m struck by how many recognize that clean meat has the potential to be completely transformative. And people are aware, at least to some degree, that factory farming is not a good thing, and just about everyone agrees that the status quo is not sustainable. So to be an advocate for such a powerful solution is wonderful!
That’s true, you’ll meet very few people who try to defend factory farming…at what point did you learn about the harms of animal agriculture and begin your work to change the system?
Growing up in rural Texas I knew absolutely nothing about factory farming. If you’re someone who innately likes animals, you tend not to automatically assume that farm animals are mistreated or abused in any way. It wasn’t until college really that I learned more about the ways animals are used in agriculture, and about the benefits of a fully plant-based diet. After a while, it just felt like it wasn’t enough simply to change my personal dietary decisions to reflect certain deeply held values. I wanted to actually engage with these problems directly and try to help solve them.
I initially went into a PhD program thinking I wanted to be an academic and tackle these questions from a more philosophical and theoretical perspective, but early on, I realized I wanted to do something more hands-on and practical. I ended up pursuing my PhD at Harvard –– with a particular focus on early modern representations of nonhuman animals –– while also working on policy issues related to animal protection. I didn’t know if I’d be able to parlay those experiences into a career after I finished my dissertation, but I was fortunate enough that I was able to start down that path. And now it’s led me to The Good Food Institute!
So what do you like doing when you’re not off spreading the word about the good-food future in D.C.?
I like going to concerts (classic rock mostly) and art museums (despite my background in Renaissance literature, I have a strong affinity for modern art). My husband and I have two rescue dogs whom we love taking on road trips –– or even the occasional flight with the smaller one who handles TSA lines like a pro! I also enjoy running, yoga, and –– like any good Texan –– watching football. Lastly, I’m basically a walking encyclopedia when it comes to animated sitcoms. Watching shows like The Simpsons, Futurama, and South Park is definitely a favorite pastime.
Rock on. Thanks for the time, Joanna! Now get back to work – the food system needs you!