This is the transcript of Episode 16: MeatMe – Happy Farm, Happy Pet (Mini) of the How to Make a Difference podcast. Go to the episode page to listen to this episode and for the show notes. Furthermore, we encourage you to read our blog post on climate-friendly pet parenting.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Hey everyone.
Chinmai Gupta: Hey everyone. We’ve had a couple of questions pop up in social media, where people have asked us where they can find sustainable pet food companies in their own country, or where they can find details of sustainable banks. And we just wanted to remind you that apart from this podcast, we also have a blog on our website, where we put in a lot of effort to list out companies that do sustainable pet food, green electricity providers, and we list sustainable banks across various countries. So do have a look at that if you want a bit more information.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Exactly. So basically for every topic that we discussed on the podcast, we have the corresponding blog post, and that blog post then has all the resources to make it really easy for you to adopt what you’ve learned by listening to our podcast. You can find our blog post, either in the show notes, or you sign up to our monthly newsletter. And then you get that monthly blog post, basically, directly to your inbox.
Chinmai Gupta: We also wanted to remind you that we’re now on Patreon. So do go sign up now, if you haven’t done so already. We’re doing this podcast, for the love of this planet, completely pro bono, as of now. So any support that you can give us would be much appreciated.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Consider this, like sponsoring the electricity for our microphones.
Chinmai Gupta: Or our endless cups of tea.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: It would really mean the world to us if we could get a little bit of support.
Chinmai Gupta: So now let’s talk about today’s interview. We’re speaking with Laura Clark from MeatMe that humanely raises animals for pet food.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: What I really like about MeatMe is that they look at this, you know, more holistically. So of course we want our pets to be healthy and loved, but we also want to make sure that the animals that go into pet food had happy lives, and were treated in a humane way.
Chinmai Gupta: A pet person is an animal lover. And being an animal lover, have you considered how the animals that are fed to your pets… how they’re treated.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Exactly. We take a lot of care for some animals, and then we completely disregard other animals which is…
Chinmai Gupta: Yeah. And that’s where MeatMe fits into that picture.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Exactly. Without further ado, here’s the interview with Laura.
Actually, before we jump into the interview: we wanna play you a funny clip from the recording of this episode. Have fun.
Chinmai and Elisabeth going Off Script: 03:18
Elisabeth Ignasiak: We should become comedians.
Chinmai Gupta: I think so.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Maybe that’s more breadwinning…
Chinmai Gupta: I think so. That’s a good idea. German tries… German tries her hand at comedy.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Well, what could go wrong.
Interview with Laura Clark: 03:38
Elisabeth Ignasiak: We are speaking with Laura Clark from MeatMe, that’s a pet food company that puts a very strong focus on raising their farm animals humanely. Welcome, Laura!
Chinmai Gupta: Welcome, Laura.
Laura Clark: Thank you for having me.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Why don’t we start by you telling our listeners a little bit about yourself and what you do.
Laura Clark: Sure. So I’ve been in the pet industry for about 20 years, and very fortunate to work with a serial entrepreneur named Sandy Lerner who founded Cisco Systems and then later on founded Urban Decay Cosmetics, both of which had stratospheric success of course. And now, in the last, I don’t know, 20 years or so, she’s been organic farming. And she was a pioneer in organics for human food. And she kind of feels at this point, that her work is done a little bit in that area, in that organics had taken on, at least in the states have become widely available. People are very educated about the benefits and so it’s kind of turned her attention now to pet food. And she asked me to head up the startup. So I’m very happy to be doing that and I’m also an Entrepreneur in Residence for Georgetown University. So I, I help other emerging startups to do the right things as they scale. But with MeatMe, I’m just very proud to be affiliated with this food, because it is very different than I’d say any food on the market right now, in that it is truly a product of sustainable and regenerative farming. It’s also completely Certified Humane and Certified Organic. It’s just quite a novel idea that I hope it’s one that many, many other companies will emulate.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah.
Chinmai Gupta: You talk about humane farming. Can you tell us a little bit about what that means for MeatMe, and how is MeatMe special or different to other brands out there?
Laura Clark: The reason that we are as differentiated as we are is because we’re vertically integrated. And by that I mean we raise our own animals. We also have our own processing facilities. The animals grow up on our farm and never leave… never leave our control. So, even at the end of their lives, when they go on to help nourish other animals, they’re still under our watchful eye. So we know how they’re being treated. We have a very small batch production. We have a small slaughterhouse. We are a 1000 acre farm that operates almost like… like an 1800s farm. We combine the best of modern technology but retain the long-held traditions that have gone by the wayside, unfortunately, with too much factory farming production. We’re the antiphysis of the factory farm. For us, We go through Human Farm Animal Care which is HFAC. Their certification is called Certified Humane, and it is a third party certifier so it’s… it’s a very difficult certification to get. And all of our animals do have that certification with the exception of our rabbit. The reason rabbit doesn’t is because there is no humane standard for rabbits. HFAC has not established one. So we created our own, and we make sure that they have very happy lives.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: So just to summarize, you’re saying, what makes me special is that you’re, that everything happens on your farm. So you have you know you raised animals, you also slaughter them, you process the meat… Can you dive a little bit more into what humane raising means?
Laura Clark: Sure. Just as a side note: Many, many decades passed at this point, but when I was 12, I became a vegetarian and I actually migrated to plant-based, totally. I’m very much ethically opposed to cruelty to animals. And I think the reason that I was so excited to join this particular startup is because of the humane treatment of animals. And believe me, I checked it out. Because I didn’t want to be affiliated with anybody who was just kind of saying that they were treating animals well. I wanted to see for sure that they were. And I can’t tell you how amazing it is to see the animals in our farm in their natural habitat, going about their business the way that a normal well cared for animals, with plenty of room to roam, lots of natural foraging. So, you have very happy animals.
And, honestly, it is very difficult to… for a normal consumer to trust what companies claim, sometimes. Because phrases like free-range get thrown around. But free-range doesn’t necessarily mean that the chickens were given plenty of room. It might just mean they weren’t crammed into a tiny, tiny environment inside. So they might have been crammed outside.
Chinmai Gupta: Yes.
Laura Clark: The Certified Humane designation is one way of knowing for sure, that there has been careful and thoughtful attention given to making sure that every box is checked.
Also because we’re organic these animals are not fed antibiotics. Antibiotic resistance is a big problem around the world because factory farming promotes the use… the widespread use of antibiotics. In fact, about 70% of the antibiotics that are created go into animal feed. And then that animal feed goes into the animal, then we eat the animal, and goes into us. And the World Health Organization has actually designated it as one of the biggest threats, globally, and it’s a very serious issue because something like a straight knee can turn into a really big life-threatening problem without effective antibiotics.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah. So what I’m hearing is that you’re on the one hand, giving animals, you know, that that space to roam, to have as natural lives as possible, which is probably what… what we all think how the animals we eat should live, but they might not. But in your case, it’s actually true. And then you’re, you know… you’re not giving them antibiotics, and, and all sorts of you know other things that we don’t really want to be eating.
Laura Clark: Right.
Chinmai Gupta: That’s great. When it comes to sustainability of pet food, we’ve come across a bit of a controversy around meat byproducts, and human-grade meat for pet food. One of our guests talks about byproducts of meat, not being great for pets, and not being very nutritious. While on the other hand, another of our guests, talks about human-grade meat, not being very sustainable. Can you talk a little bit about where MeatMe fits into that picture, and what your views are on this?
Laura Clark: Sure. Well, we’re as you can imagine an outlier because most of those concerns do revolve around factory farming. When you talk about byproducts, that’s a very big catch-all term mean a lot of different things to different people. Most of the time when people use it disparagingly to refer to pet food, they’re talking about the undesirable parts of animals, and maybe things that have been on the floor of the slaughterhouse and so forth.
Chinmai Gupta: Exactly.
Laura Clark: So, none of that goes into our food. As far as the human-grade: It’s,… it’s bad for the planet, only if you’re factory farming it. If it’s human-grade factory-farmed which a lot,… I mean most human meat now is factory farmed, all of it is bad for the planet.
You only get very very little meat production that is actually beneficial on a sustainability level at commercial scale. So, the best thing that we can all do is to support small farmers. Well, I mean, even though the name of the product is MeatMe, I will say one of the best things we can do for the planet is not eat as much meat. But when we do, we need to be responsible about how we eat it, where it came from, and how it was farmed. In our production, we use the animal, pretty much, head to tail. And so that doesn’t mean we’re not putting beaks in our food and there are things that don’t go into food. We do use almost the entire animal because we use organs and bone and muscle meat. And then, with animals like cattle where we may not use the entire animal, we do use… we still produce food for humans. Our farm also has a restaurant and.
Chinmai Gupta: Ah. Okay.
Laura Clark: We do also have human food production and it’s, it’s the exact same meat.
Chinmai Gupta: Right.
Laura Clark: Our plant is a USDA inspected organic plant for human food.
Chinmai Gupta: Right.
Laura Clark: We just also make pet food, there.
Chinmai Gupta: That must give a lot of comfort to pet parents.
Laura Clark: Oh it does. It definitely does.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah. Okay, so what I’m understanding is, obviously, not being on the factory farming side already helps a lot with sustainability, and the other thing is that you’re using everything from the animal, so…
Laura Clark: And the nutritive value is there. Because when you talk about byproducts, sometimes the byproducts may not have the same nutritional profile, that other parts of the animal have. We’re including all of the organs and the muscle meat and the bones to make sure that we’re getting the right combination of vitamins and minerals.
Chinmai Gupta: Sure. Talking about nutrition, what else do you add to your pet food to ensure that it’s nutritious.
Laura Clark: Sure. So we have seven formulas, four for dogs and three for cats. And each one of those formulas is a little bit different, but we do,… we do add to the meat foundation so that we will meet the requirements for complete and balanced food. And that may be including things like eggs, or kelp, or sea salt. We do have some vitamins that we add, some minerals we add… Selenium, for example, is really important. Because there are some profiles that just aren’t as efficient and effective as we would like with just the foundation, we work with a PhD. Also, he’s a PhD DVM animal nutritionist who makes sure that we meet all of the requirements to exceed the recommendations rather than just meet them, for a complete and balanced food.
We do not expect people to just feed our food as a raw food and so it’s pretty expensive. I mean, organic, and certified humane, and raw. It’s… it’s not inexpensive. So our philosophy is, feed what you can, of the best food you can. Just like with us. And we eat the best we can, and sometimes we may not eat the best food but at least we’re getting some great food.
Chinmai Gupta: And since you know you’re you have organic and regenerative and all these practices. Do you know the climate impact of your farming practices compared to standard pet food?
Laura Clark: I was asked this question a couple of weeks ago as well and we’re working on getting the exact carbon footprint. I can tell you that we are at the Savory Institute which is a watchdog organization that only certifies that they have a hub of organizations that do fulfil these very rigorous requirements for sustainable and regenerative farming. We are a Savory Institute Hub. We do a lot of things like we have a big composting operation, we rotate crops, we do cover crops. We do, we don’t till the soil.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: I mean we, we’ve already talked about regenerative farming in one of our past episodes, when we were talking about carbon offsetting. So we know that it’s very beneficial. And once you do know your carbon footprint, please let us know. We would… we would love to pass it on to… to our listeners.
Chinmai Gupta: Is there anything you want to add from your side.
Laura Clark: I would just like to say that I think pet owners, pet parents as we call them in the industry, need to create the demand. They need to be very vocal about transparency. That’s what’s worked for people. People have been driving the demand for those, saying that we won’t accept not knowing where food comes from, we won’t accept not knowing if it’s raised in a way that is inhumane, or raised with too many pesticides, and so forth. People need to do the same for their pets. There are so many diseases that are rampant with dogs and cats that can be completely prevented with better nutrition.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Thank you for that statement.
Chinmai Gupta: And before we end: Do you want to turn on listeners where they can find you?
Laura Clark: The easiest is: We’re available on chewy.com. There’s also a site called whitedogbone.com. Both of those online platforms sell our food directly to consumers and we’re just starting out, so we’re regionally available on the East Coast / Mid Atlantic in stores and we’ll be hopefully getting more distribution as we scale.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Cool.
Chinmai Gupta: Thank you very much. We really enjoyed having you.
Laura Clark: Thank you both so much.
Chinmai Gupta: One thing I really liked in that interview was when Laura says that they use their animals from head to tail.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, I actually think that’s quite cool. I have to admit, I’m always slightly sceptical about companies that do human-grade pet food because just from the sustainability point of view, that’s a bit critical. And so knowing that they use really the complete animal gives me a lot of comfort.
Chinmai Gupta: And there was a small thing that Laura said that made me really sad to hear… was that free-range is not always free-range. There are companies that can have animals that are outdoors, but still very cramped. And that’s something I’d never thought about.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah. On a more positive note, one thing I actually really appreciated was when Laura was talking about how expensive the food they make is, and that it’s not about trying to, you know, have this luxury diet for your pet, all the time, but just trying to do the best you can with a budget you have. I think that’s a really inclusive approach to quality pet food.
Chinmai Gupta: We hope you enjoyed that interview today. We’ll be back again next week with another pet food company with another very innovative approach.
Elisabeth Ignasiak: Bye-bye.
Chinmai Gupta: Bye-bye.