EP23: Creating a Responsible Food System with Tom McDougall

Tom McDougall wants to make healthy sustainable farm-to-table food a right and not an exception based on race, class, and income.

After moving to DC to finish school, he was introduced to business concepts that had been foreign to him: corporate social responsibility, externalized costs, triple-bottom line, social entrepreneurship, true cost accounting, and others.

His first job after college had him traveling back and forth to China where he saw first hand what externalized costs really looked like. By producing all of our “stuff” elsewhere, he experienced the impacts it had on people’s lives, the environment, and the social construct of a backyard, far far away. It was a jarring, eye-opening experience for him, one that ultimately led him to launch 4P Foods in an effort to be part of the solution. The triple-bottom-line – the concept that in addition to profit, businesses should also measure and be accountable for their impacts on people and the planet – is a huge step forward in business consciousness.

But at 4P foods, they want to take things one step further. Businesses must be responsible for their impacts on the environment as well as the people and the communities they work with.

4PFoods believes that companies must also exist for a purpose. Purpose, People, Planet, Profit – The four P’s of 4P Foods. Our Purpose is to create a just and equitable food system in the United States.

They also must be financially solvent, making enough money to pay good wages and invest in innovation. Tom ran into some challenges with seasonal foods becoming to redundant. What happens when people demand the variety they are used to? Tom talks about how they worked through that challenge.

You can spend so long preparing to prepare that you never launch.” ~Tom McDougall

When 4PFoods launched they were 80% there but had some holes. Remember not to wait for perfection and that action is required. Don’t just read and learn forever.

I asked Tom if we need more entrepreneurs tackling the food system and he said yes but it’s far more complex.

“We can’t have an honest conversation about making a more equitable food system that works for everybody until we first have an honest conversation about racism in this country and how we have gotten to the point of inequity around food access and food deserts. We can’t talk about fixing food unless we have an honest conversation about fixing our health care system, our education system unless we really look at the power and influence of money and politics.”

If we can create a more equitable food system then in the process we must evolve those systems that touch it at the same time. We need more entrepreneurs in all those areas.

Tom is a really cool guy with his heart in the right place. There is a lot to takeaway from this interview, learnings any social entrepreneur can benefit from.




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