24/05/2024

Care Health

Prioritize Healthy life

Regenerative Agriculture and the Future of Our Food System, with Robby Sansom

Regenerative Agriculture and the Future of Our Food System, with Robby Sansom

In this episode, we discuss:

  • Robby’s background and Force of Nature’s mission around regenerative agriculture
  • The challenges of our current food system, including cost, education, and awareness
  • The different forms of meat and the challenges of raising each animal regeneratively
  • Why ruminants and not monogastrics should be the staples of our diet
  • The importance of creating transparency in the meat industry so that consumers can make informed choices that align with their values
  • How Force of Nature created their Ancestral Blends

Show notes:

Hey, everybody. Chris Kresser here. Welcome to another episode of Revolution Health Radio. This week, I’m really excited to welcome Robby Sansom as my guest. We are going to talk all about the current state of regeneratively sourced meat. Robby knows a lot about this topic. He is the former CFO and COO at EPIC. I’m sure you are all familiar with EPIC Foods—all of the meat bars, jerky snacks that [are] made with regeneratively sourced meat. And he has gone on to become the co-founder and CEO of Force of Nature, which is a regeneratively sourced meat company based in Austin, Texas. Force of Nature has really taken things to the next level when it comes to partnering with land stewards, ranchers and farmers that are committed to creating a positive return on the planet. They have a holistic systems-based approach to regenerative ranching, and he is one of the most intelligent and insightful people on this topic.

We talk about the role of consumers in the regenerative agriculture movement, how we as consumers can support it, and some of the myths and misconceptions, many of which are intentional on the part of big food producers, that consumers have and how we can work to educate ourselves and get more clear on the choices that we’re making. [We also talk about] the state of our relationship to food and the food system, [and] the benefits of consuming regeneratively raised meat in the diet. We talk about the variable benefits and challenges, [and] how easy or difficult it is to raise different types of meat regeneratively—the monogastrics like pork and chicken, [and] the ruminants like beef and lamb. And then we talk about how Force of Nature is bridging the gap to create transparent regenerative supply chains that help us as consumers to just know exactly what it is that we’re getting and that it is what we’re told it is.

So this was a really fascinating conversation for me. [It’s] a lot of topics I’m very familiar with, but I still learn a little bit every time I speak with Robby because he’s the real deal when it comes to this topic. So I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Let’s dive in.

Chris Kresser:  Robby Sansom, [it’s] such a pleasure to have you on the show. Welcome.

Robby Sansom:  Thanks a lot for having me, Chris. I very much appreciate it.

Chris Kresser:  I’m really excited to dive in and talk about the state of regenerative agriculture, the role that both producers and consumers can play, how this can impact the food system, and how Force of Nature is really bridging the gap in all of these areas. Before we do that, I want to talk a little bit about your background so folks know where you’re coming from. We’ve known each other for a while, and I know you were the CFO and COO at EPIC, which a lot of listeners will be familiar with. Tell us a little bit about how you got into this space and what [you’ve been] up to the last few years, and then what your defining mission and purpose is at this point around regenerative agriculture.

Robby Sansom:  I think my journey into this space is not dissimilar from many others. I think, with EPIC as an example, the path there was trying to create shelf-stable food that was healthy, and do so while maintaining a set of values. EPIC was a meat-based snack brand effectively—bars, jerkys, [and] other household kind[s] of shelf-stable goods. And we wanted to do a better version of animal-based protein, given what we had heard at the time was a challenge with that industry. We knew it was important, [and] we knew it was critical for our health, as you and many of our listeners know. But it was hard to decipher truth from myth when it came to what was a challenge or what was an opportunity with those systems. Was animal agriculture bad? Are cows and beef good for you? And going down that rabbit hole, we found regenerative agriculture. We found that we could be conscious consumers of animal-based food and improve and support ecosystem outcomes. We found that we could improve and support animal welfare outcomes. We found that we could improve and support social issues for our rural communities and our food production communities.

We found so many other really exciting outcomes that we were told weren’t the truth or weren’t possible in the consumption of meat. And I think for us with that brand, it was a snacking brand, but the reality is meat is in almost every household, consumed by almost 95 percent of consumers in the United States. So there’s really a much greater potential and a much greater opportunity to address those myths and to improve our food system. Because it’s not, none of that is to say that animal agriculture is without flaws. It definitely has some major shortcomings, and we can get into those. But there are paths and options available to drive massive improvements and massive scale change. Again, [there are] so many challenges, and I think opportunities, to improve our plant-based agriculture systems in conjunction.

Chris Kresser:  So given your background in EPIC and what you saw in the market, tell us a little bit about Force of Nature—what you’re up to there, what led you to go down that road. Because it’s obviously related, but it’s also quite distinct from what you were doing at EPIC.

Robby Sansom:  Yeah, I think with EPIC, we were able to drive and influence that brand. We sold it, maintained the level of influence for some period of time, and then really took the journey anew with Force of Nature. We say that we took the same mission that we had and simply leveled up from ounces to pounds. And that’s what Force of Nature is. All the things I just shared, really trying to create awareness for consumers about those issues and food, about the challenges of agriculture and how that interrelates to consumer health and land health, and practices of welfare and social issues like we discussed. Policy, all of those sorts of things. I think an empowered and informed base of consumers is an incredibly powerful and important tool and driver for change. I think that’s all fine and good and necessary, but without a call to action for those informed consumers, it’s really difficult to drive change, [and] it’s really difficult to send the signals in the market that get the attention and that justify and validate the outcomes that we’re looking for.

So once we’ve created that level of awareness, giving consumers better access to regenerative proteins and across a variety of protein[s], whether it’s beef, or bison, or some of the wild game or exotic animals, or some of the monogastrics, it’s really what consumers want. And we offer it across channels, whether that’s in retail, or in food service, or direct to consumer. You can order it online [to be] delivered to your house. So it’s, “How do we create that awareness and inspire people?” And when they have that desire to be a part of a solution and drive change, how do we make the call to action easier and more accessible for them? And I won’t say that we’re the best or the only [option]; I just think that we’re an avenue for consumers to level up their purchasing choices, among many, but we want to make it easier, and we want to create a rising tide for those other good actors in the space.

Chris Kresser:  I want to talk a little bit about your approach because I think it is phenomenal and really a holistic way of looking at regenerative agriculture. You work in partnership with land stewards, ranchers, and farmers who are all committed to the same outcome. So, talk a little bit about how you have set things up at Force of Nature in terms of that ecosystem. And even a little bit about the different animals that you’re raising and meat that you’re producing and how that all works together.

Robby Sansom:  Yeah, I think I’ll start with one of the big challenges in meat specifically is how it has been centralized. And that’s come with significant cost to consumers; it’s come with significant cost to farmers and ranchers and food producers. There have been brands in meat before, but they’re not often on a national scale. And there have been brands across proteins, and there have been brands available at different things, but they haven’t been all of the things that Force of Nature represents. I think one of the things that we do most differently than any predecessor though is intentionally not be vertically integrated. I don’t want to be a brand that gains recognition and simply shifts share from some other party to ourselves. Or I should say some other good actors, some farmers, some ranchers, [or] some community members somewhere. I don’t mind if I take share from Tyson or Cargill, or one of the larger incumbents because they are the ones that are sitting atop that have taken from those that are on the bottom and that our food system relies on. So it was important for us that we didn’t centralize. I think there are incredible farmers and ranchers out there that need support, not to be used and folded into consolidation. And I think there [are] incredible processors out there that meet the same, fall into the same category where they need to be supported, [and] they need their efforts to be justified.

So I think that’s one of the unique things that we’re doing is creating a network, not creating a vertical enterprise that is self-serving, but creating a network that serves a community of food producers across the United States and, in some cases, abroad. And furthers food processors across the United States and abroad. I think that allows us to create more reach and access, do more good, again, facilitate that rising tide. It also allows us to be more regionalized as we grow and scale and address some costs and concerns around economics or the impact of distribution, and so on and so forth. And again, even on the marketing side, when we talk about the challenges in our food system and things that consumers can do and where to go and buy it, I will point consumers to other operations besides our own that they should support as part of the food movement in this community. So I think not being purely self-interested, but looking at it as, “Hey, there’s plenty to go around.” How do we support an ecosystem, understanding that we will benefit as others benefit and as long as regenerative is growing?

Chris Kresser:  Awesome. Yeah. And I know you have some personal experience, as well. You have a regenerative ranch with bison, if I’m correct.

Robby Sansom:  My co-founders, Katie and Taylor, have a regenerative ranch called Roam Ranch. They own that. It’s separate from Force of Nature. It is part of our Force of Nature supply chain. And I do own bison, and those bison are part of the herd on that ranch that I get to help manage. So I do have a small ranching enterprise and some skin in the game, as well. But I can’t say that I own the ranch, unfortunately. One day, someday, maybe.

Chris Kresser:  What’s interesting to me about that is you get a window into what the issues are, the challenges, [and] the opportunities, that you don’t have if you’re just running a business and you’re completely separate and divorced from that on the ground process, if you will. And through your connection with Roam and your experience seeing how this works at a local level, I imagine that’s important and valuable.

Robby Sansom:  Yeah, absolutely. I mean, as you know, as fun as reductionism is, there’s always nuance, and it gives you a really unique perspective to take what is theory and put it into practice in even just one context. And we’ve been fortunate that we work with a number of partners all across the country and all across proteins. So you get to peer into that from a lot of different angles and ways. But yes, when your hands are the ones bleeding or getting dirty in a pursuit, it definitely teaches you a lot.

Chris Kresser:  Let’s shift and start talking about some of the challenges in the space right now from a consumer perspective. You, of course, think deeply about this. From my experience, just working with people and observing human behavior around me, it seems like one of the biggest challenges is cost. That these products, in many cases, are significantly more expensive than the [Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation] (CAFO) meat that you can buy in a local grocery store. And that is preventing, perhaps, wider adoption. Another is education. I think the average consumer is probably pretty confused. If they go to the market, I was just at the meat case in a local market, and you see natural, raised without hormones, antibiotic-free, grass-fed, pasture-raised, organic, a whole bunch of terminology thrown around with very little transparency or insight into what those words mean in those particular cases. And I think there’s not much regulation around some of these words, as well. So what does all-natural mean? Does that even have any teeth behind it or any connotation? How does somebody distinguish between the meat in the case that says natural, hormone-free, no antibiotics and one next to it that says pasture-raised? I don’t know that people, on average, have any clue what those differences are and why they should care.

Robby Sansom:  No, they don’t. And sadly, I think that’s intentional. I think that there is rampant deception. An example I like to give on that is when you look at pork or poultry with a vegetarian-fed claim. To me, that’s a red flag. To me, that means this animal didn’t eat a diet that it was intended to eat from an evolutionary perspective. It means it was raised in a synthetic environment that’s entirely human-curated to prevent it from eating something other than the feed that was manufactured and provided. It didn’t have access to [the] outdoors, it wasn’t foraging, it wasn’t doing anything. And yet, they’ve turned that into a value that they want to celebrate as a claim. The average consumer doesn’t even understand what the heck the claim means. And to your point, natural means nothing. Even grass-fed means very little now. And then you have to parse out, “Okay, what about welfare?” What about, “Is it organic?” A lot of our products aren’t organic, and people wonder why the heck aren’t our products organic. And we’re like, “Well, we’re pursuing regenerative, and that’s leaps and bounds more important, and I would say a level or two above organic, and that’s why.” Anyway, without getting too far into those rabbit holes, I think it’s a way of, if consumers aren’t really clear and it isn’t really understandable, it’s easier to continue to mislead and manipulate. And man, it’s important that consumers do play their role in perpetuating the status quo for these large companies, right? If you think about it, particularly around our food system, and when I say these parties, I mean, you have significant interest by large food, large [agriculture], large chemical, large petroleum, and frankly, health care. And these organizations that we talk about, I don’t, I mean like to assume positive intent. I’m not going to say they’re fundamentally evil, but their incentives, their profit motives by being a corporation drive them to pursue those above all else, which drives them to lobby our federal government and our food policy to promote their profit interests, even if it is at the expense of our health, our lands, our communities, and a myriad of other other challenges.

That takes form in a variety of ways that have impacted, as you said, awareness or education, but also impact cost. So, I think that is where we have to be really careful. We live in the digital age, and there’s never been more access to information than there is now. And we can tell stories, and we can correct these fallacies and mistruths and lies that are often parroted or celebrated by organizations with tons of money flooded by these large corporate interests. But also, that means, as we’ve seen recently in a variety of areas, that misinformation and that same access to information can be used for what I would consider to be undesirable, or maybe even nefarious, outcomes. And on the cost side of things in the same vein, I mentioned the food policy, [and] the farm bill is a wonderful example of that. The farm bill [was] materially changed back in the mid ‘90s in a way that basically made it so the production of grain, corn, soy, [and] wheat is so cheap, well, that the cost of those things is so cheap, that they can be sold for less than the cost of production. That’s supported by taxpayer dollars, so it’s more expensive than it appears. But that created incentives to put those foods in everything and market them to consumers as value added, or, again, healthy foods, when we know now that [they] come with a host of challenges. Even our large pork and poultry producers benefited to the tune of something like $20 billion over the course of a decade because taxpayers and our policymakers made certain feeds less expensive for them. So of course, they’re going to support that program. And of course, the companies that are growing those feeds are going to support those programs and on and on and on.

So on the cost side, you have your conventional food less expensive than it should be, and I think that is an unfair baseline to benchmark more premium or regenerative-based foods to. And then I think, you have to account for the hidden costs of that food, the external costs. You talk about chronic disease costing $3.2 trillion. You break that down on a per household basis, [and] that’s almost 600 bucks a week that you could add to the average household grocery bill if you really wanted to put the burden of that cheapness and make it more apparent and more visible. And I don’t think that regenerative food is as expensive as people perceive it to be. I think commodity food is much more expensive than people recognize, arguably more expensive than more premium food. And then I think just on an absolute basis, regenerative food isn’t as expensive as people think. Our most expensive regenerative beef is about half the cost per ounce of a bag of Ruffles potato chips, and I would argue significantly [healthier], and on a nutrition per calorie basis, actually one of the healthiest, most important foods, most cost-effective foods that you could purchase. But relative to wine or bottled water or olive oil or organic almonds or so many other things that we don’t bat an eye at paying premiums for, meat is actually really cheap, even the premium meat. It just can’t ever be as cheap as meat that’s had all value removed from it and that we’ve been subsidizing through taxpayer dollars.

Chris Kresser:  Yeah, I remember reading a comparison a while back, and I can’t remember where it was, but it’s unfortunate that they use chicken as the meat for this comparison because that is the least sustainable nutritious meat. I eat chicken occasionally, okay, but it’s like, let’s come back to this because I want to talk about chicken.

Robby Sansom:  I’m so glad you do.

Chris Kresser:  Let’s talk about chicken and pork and the different forms of meat and the challenges of raising those animals regeneratively. So I’m going to put a pin in that, but the comparison was like looking at the cost of a family meal at McDonald’s versus a whole-food meal cooked [at home]. I think it was like a whole chicken, potatoes, and broccoli or salad or something like that. And the whole-food meal was actually significantly cheaper. Feeding your family [by] cooking at home, using these whole foods, was far more affordable. Now if you were to do that same comparison but use red meat and even include some organs or something like that, or one of your blends like a ground blend with organs, and then you were going to compare the nutrient availability or nutrient levels in that meal, and then do a cost per nutrient analysis, you would find that, as you said, it’s actually significantly cheaper to eat this way, even when you’re buying premium quality meat. You’re avoiding a lot of packaged foods that you’re paying that markup and premium for. Or avoiding eating out in restaurants where you’re supporting the whole infrastructure of that restaurant, servers, people preparing the food, etc. So I agree with you. I think in many cases, this conversation about cost [is] not comparing apples to apples. And that can lead people astray when they’re thinking about cost versus value.

Robby Sansom:  Oh yeah. We did a true cost of food episode on our podcast called Where Hope Grows, [with] Taylor, my co-founder, and I, to kind of dive in on the same thing. I think I took our ancestral blends and basically said, “I’m going to do two servings because that’s how much I eat.” So I did two servings of ancestral blend, beef with organs blended in, and a bag of organic vegetables that I stir fried together and made at home in 15 minutes. It was inexpensive, quick, and nutrient dense. And the cost was seven bucks for me to eat an incredibly nourishing meal. I went to 7-Eleven and bought a turkey club and a Big Gulp and a bag of chips, and it was closer to $10. So it was almost 40 percent more expensive. And then I went across the street to Chick-fil-A, and the value meals ranged between $10 and $12. So to your point, it’s significantly less expensive to eat super healthy food, and it can be just as expensive. I promise you I spent less time cooking that meal than I spent round-trip trying to go to a convenience store or fast food restaurant.

Chris Kresser:  That’s another point.

Robby Sansom:  We are conditioned that there are these truths that healthy food is expensive, or it’s only for elites, or it’s inaccessible. And I think, as you noted and as I’ve noted here, sometimes we have to challenge these conventions to question their validity and to challenge the premise of a notion. I’d say they’re not only not as expensive as people think, but again, they’re significantly more valuable. Whether it be on $1 economic basis, or whether it be on a health and nutrition basis, as you’ve pointed out.

Chris Kresser:  Yeah, and it seems like even this is a different topic, and I won’t go too far down that road, but time and convenience, there’s a misapprehension, too, that it’s easier to go out or even to order food. I mean, certainly, there’s some truth to that, but once you get into the routine and the rhythm of cooking food at home, and if you shop at [the] farmers market or other markets, you get some meat or some fish, you get some vegetables, and maybe if you eat starches, you get some starch, potatoes, sweet potatoes, something like that. You can put those together in so many different ways so quickly with so little effort that in many cases, it’s faster, like you said, and certainly more convenient than going out. Not to mention that you may have leftovers, and then you’ve got lunch ready the next day. When you get into the rhythm and the routine of it, it can become seamless.

Robby Sansom:  Yeah, and then pressure cookers or Instant Pots, all of the things. And frankly, ground meat, we should all be eating more of. It’s just very approachable and very easy to cook with, like you noted. And I’ll just remind everybody, too, I mean, it’s only been a minute in time, but if you recall over the last few years with all of the COVID and all of the externalities that came from how we responded to that as a society, one of the things that was most often widely regarded as a benefit was [that] we stayed home more and cooked as a family more and spent more time together. So when you’re doing those things that you’re talking about, you’re teaching skills and you’re sharing culture and you’re being present for your family. There’s just a lot of other benefits that come with that beyond just, again, healthy food and convenience and inexpensive financial outlays.

In this episode of Revolution Health Radio, learn how regenerative agriculture works in partnership with nature to make great tasting, nutrient-rich food while healing the planet. #chriskresser #regenerativeagriculture #landstewards #forceofnature

Chris Kresser:  Yeah, so let’s shift a little bit now. I promised a brief discussion about chicken and pork and meat, and the relative ease or difficulty in raising those animals regeneratively. And that can be a segue into the state of our relationship [with] food and the food system and some of the myths and misconceptions. So, one thing that always makes me scratch my head is when someone says, “I’m a vegetarian, but I eat chicken,” or “Chicken is the only meat that I will eat.” And there [are] different reasons. I’ve heard some people say, “Oh, well, I’ll just eat animals with a beak,” as if somehow that’s morally more acceptable, or that maybe they just don’t like chickens as much as they like cows. Cows are cuter to them than chickens. But of course, you have to kill a lot more chickens to feed the equivalent number of people that one cow would feed, which often doesn’t enter into the calculus.

Robby Sansom:  Can I just, I’ll pause you, because I have [those] data for you ready.

Chris Kresser:  Yeah, please.

Robby Sansom:  So you’d look at about 70 chickens to feed a family versus one cow.

Chris Kresser:  Just let me ask you this question: [are those] pasture-raised chickens? Or the over-fattened store-bought chickens that actually can’t walk because their breasts are so big, and they’ve been raised in confinement feeding operations?

Robby Sansom:  I forget how I did that math. I think I took the average size of a chicken, regardless of raising claims.

Chris Kresser:  Because I would say that [for] an actual free-range, pastured chicken, it’s gotta be over 100. Because those things are scrawny. They can barely feed my family.

Robby Sansom:  It depends. And again, there might be a lot more packed into that smaller frame in terms of what you’re getting out of it from a nutrition[al] perspective. But in any case, let’s just take that aside. The number is so staggering. From a welfare or from a moral and ethics perspective, I think as a nation, we process 9 billion chickens per year compared to 32 million beef cattle. So those are big numbers, but one is significantly greater than the other when you look at sentience. So anyway, I’m ready to keep going, and I want you to finish your question. But you just talked about how much more chicken it takes. It takes a lot more.

Chris Kresser:  A lot more, right? So that’s one issue. And then another issue [is] that people are still unfortunately under the delusion that chicken is healthier than red meat because [of] perhaps lower cholesterol, lower saturated fat. We don’t need to spend too much time on this because I have a decade of resources for folks, including a free eBook on red meat. But maybe we can just briefly address from a nutritional perspective that myth, [and] that if you’re optimizing for health and you only want to eat one type of meat, chicken should probably be on the bottom of that list.

Robby Sansom:  Yeah. We did a whole podcast on the truth about chicken, as well, which I encourage you to check out.

Chris Kresser:  I love it. The truth about chicken. That’s good.

Robby Sansom:  It is. It’s so disappointing. I think for the reasons that you noted, people have this perception that they’ve been led to. Let’s just say that chicken took to this industrialization farm more effectively than beef cattle did, so that they can basically be mechanized, and they’re predictable, and they have short lives, and they’re smaller. So we can mistreat them and abuse them more easily and get away with it. And maybe it’s like you noted, they have beaks, not lips. So we justify those injustices more easily. We’ve cut their life cycles so short, we can selectively breed them and optimize them for certain outcomes like being sedentary and growing obese so quickly on super cheap corn or grain or whatever feed you’re feeding them, that they become unable, as you noted, to walk to feed and water. In fact, we can breed biology out of them such that they can’t reproduce. And further, they don’t even evade predation. Another chicken comes up and starts pecking at its butt, and it just sits there and keeps gorging itself because that’s all it’s programmed to do. I mean, they are barely even representatives of a true biological being.

Chris Kresser:  Pseudo-chickens.

Robby Sansom:  Yeah, and it’s sad. I don’t mean to disparage the birds, but it’s horrible. And I think this promotion of chicken to support a system, again, [of] grain production, cheap food, making money, rinse and repeat. It’s all part of the same broader outcomes. And I think women have been particularly manipulated here. You see a lot more women [who] say those things that you noted. “Oh, I don’t eat beef; I only eat chicken.” I mean, they’re coming from a good place. They’re being taken advantage of. And I think that’s one of the things that most upsets me with so many of these realities and injustices in our food production system is where people’s good intentions are being taken advantage of. And that goes from just being frustrating to being something that I want to fight back against. Because when you take the good intention [and] goodwill of individuals and use it against them to their detriment and to the detriment of the very things that they care about, I take great concern and exception to that.

There’s so much that is challenging about chicken. What I always say to consumers is [that] it is definitely not healthier. And you’ve probably covered that backward and forward, left and right. It is absolutely not more sustainable. In fact, to the contrary, at Force of Nature, we’ve taken a position where we won’t label chicken or any monogastric or poultry item as regenerative unless it is coming off of land it’s directly on [that] is regenerative and the feed supply that is being provided is also regenerative, which to my knowledge is basically nonexistent, or very, very, very few people are actually working on that. And feed is one of the biggest impact elements of pork and poultry. Something like more acreage is impacted by feed production than where and how those animals are raised. So you can’t just simply cast it aside and decide not to consider it into your calculus of regenerative, whether it’s having a net positive impact or a net negative impact, because it’s inconvenient. For us, it has to be considered and ultimately where we’re at is there. It’s not to say there [aren’t] good actors out there. It’s not to say you should give up on it entirely. But when it comes to poultry, you should be paying a lot more for it, [and] you should be eating a lot less of it. Just so we’re clear, too, on the health, if you want to deduce, we currently eat about 82 percent of the beef we did a generation ago, and we eat about 350 percent of the chicken we did a generation ago. And those chickens tend to be four times larger than they were a generation ago, and often, they’re battered and fried. So pretty sad.

Chris Kresser:  Yeah, there’s that, too. The major source of chicken intake is things like chicken nuggets and fried chicken. [A] somewhat separate but related problem, of course.

I want to go back a little bit to what you said about women because I think it bears highlighting here. I had Ty Beal on my podcast recently. I’ve had him on my podcast a couple [of] times. He’s a phenomenal researcher, [and] he’s a research advisor on the knowledge leadership team at Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition. His work is focused around how we address malnutrition globally. And one of the biggest myths that he dispels is the idea that malnutrition is something that only affects Third World developing countries. And in fact, there’s tons of malnutrition happening right here in the [United States] and other industrialized countries. You mentioned women. Well, women of childbearing age are the group that suffers from the greatest prevalence of nutrient deficiencies, and it’s with very serious effects—decline in fertility rate, nutrient deficiencies that can be essentially passed on to the baby. It’s a critical time of life, critical for the survival of our species, [and] critical for the health and quality of life of these women. He and his co-worker Flaminia Ortenzi published a study in Frontiers in Nutrition in 2022, and their goal was to identify the foods that are highest in the nutrients that women of childbearing age are most likely to be deficient in. [They were] iron, zinc, folate, vitamin A, calcium, and [vitamin] B12. And unlike other previous research on this topic, they actually considered the role of bioavailability, which is absolutely critical.

If you look at spinach on paper, it looks like a great source of iron. But spinach also has oxalic acid, which binds to iron and prevents its absorption. So even if you’re looking at the food label of spinach and it looks [like], “Oh awesome, I’m going to get all this iron,” you don’t actually absorb it, so it’s not really useful information. So their study was the first that I’m aware of that actually considered bioavailability. And they looked at a whole bunch of foods. And of course, this won’t surprise you, Robby. And I’ve talked about this study before on the show, so it probably won’t surprise a lot of listeners, but four of the top seven foods were beef organs. Liver, spleen, kidney, and heart were up there, and then there was small dried fish and bivalves, like oysters, shellfish, and dark, leafy, green vegetables, and crustaceans. Then you had goat and beef, which were right up there in the top 10, as well. Muscle meats from those animals, to clarify, rather than organs. And the scoring system they used was such that they were looking at the amount of calories of a given food you would have to eat to meet ⅓ of the [Recommended Dietary Allowance] (RDA) for each of these particular nutrients. So a lower score would be better. Liver had the lowest/best score of 11. You only need to eat 11 calories of liver to get ⅓ of the RDA for these essential nutrients. And let me tell you where chicken is on this list. Chicken was 1103. You had to eat 1103 calories of chicken to get the same nutrition that you get from eating 11 calories of liver. So we’re talking about a 100-fold difference.

Robby Sansom:  Critical nutrition.

Chris Kresser:  Critical nutrition that many women, and men, for that matter, but particularly women we’re talking about here, are suffering from a deficiency of. And then if you look at lamb and mutton, and goat, beef, and eggs, they’re like 200, 250. So that’s still like a four-, five-fold, over five-fold difference in the level of nutrition from beef muscle meat and chicken. So this is just one way of looking at it. But it’s a really important way, especially because I spent 15 years treating women in this age group, and I can honestly count on one hand the number of women who [were] not suffering from some nutrient deficiency, even women who [were] on a pretty healthy diet and very often, not always, but very often, those were women who were affected by this messaging of red meat is bad for you; you should eat chicken, maybe some fish, and that’s your healthy diet template. And they were nutrient deficient, and they were suffering from problems like infertility or so-called, I’m doing air quotes here because they weren’t really infertile; they were just undernourished. And as soon as we corrected that malnutrition, they were able to conceive and get pregnant. So it’s a huge problem.

Robby Sansom:  That’s remarkable. I’m glad you elaborated on that.

Chris Kresser:  Yeah, we could go down that rabbit hole for quite a long time.

Robby Sansom:  This is such a rabbit hole, and it’s an important one, but yeah, again, I think chicken and the true cost of food thing, too. You walk into certain large grocery chains, and you can find a fully rotisserie-cooked chicken. It’s like walking by a Cinnabon. You walk by this bay of rotisserie-cooked chickens, and they’re like $4.99 for a whole bird. It’s hot. You can take it home to your family. I mean, God, talk about appealing to our primal senses. It’s easy, it smells good. I mean, all the things. But it is not what it seems. It is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Chris Kresser:  And even historically, I mean, you know this, and I’ve mentioned this before, but historically, chicken was the special dinner, like Sunday dinner, because it was a rare thing. It was expensive and time consuming and not much yield or return on an investment. So it was a rare thing, and red meat was really the staple in the diet.

Robby Sansom:  But the whole chicken in every pot was a slogan that came back from centuries ago. And that was a sign of abundance and a sign of a healthy functioning society.

Chris Kresser:  Wealth and abundance, right.

Robby Sansom:  We celebrate Thanksgiving and historically Christmas with turkeys, and all of these things that are easily lost and forgotten in our modern society. Again, we’ve removed values from our food and replaced it with cheapness.

Chris Kresser:  Yeah. All right. So we’ve had our chicken tangent, which is, I think, a very useful one. And you touched briefly on pork as another monogastric and a more difficult meat to raise sustainably in our current ecosystem. And I know I’ve talked to a few different regenerative farmers on this podcast who even started out trying to raise pork and then switched over to beef because of the challenges in doing it in a truly regenerative way. Do you want to talk to us briefly about that before we move on?

Robby Sansom:  Yeah, and I want to be careful, too, because I don’t want to come across as attacking pork and poultry producers. I mean, these are good people trying to do good things. And there are opportunities to improve those systems, and there’s a role for those systems. I’m always thinking about an ecological or ecosystem-based view on things, and pigs and animals that perform the behaviors that pigs perform exist in natural ecosystems, as do birds. But from a historical perspective, I’m not aware of any pig or any bird that entire populations of humans revolved and evolved, migrating alongside with, pursuing for food and nutrition. We chased herds of bison on this continent for thousands of years as a staple that our livelihoods revolved around. That isn’t the case for pork, and it isn’t the case for poultry. And we shouldn’t be eating them. We eat more poultry in this country now than we eat beef. That is an imbalance from a historical [perspective, and] from an evolutionary perspective, as well. But the inverse of that is I think there is a role for pork and a role for poultry, much like there’s a role for ruminants. Ruminants should be keystone to our diet, just like they are keystone to ecosystems. But in healthy multifunction, multispecies regenerative operations, you often see all three of those animals, or two of those animals in harmony. And again, each performing the key ecosystem services that they’re designed to perform in healthy ecosystems. But from a scaled perspective, the volume of meat that we should be producing and relying on and consuming should be significantly greater and weighted toward ruminants. And ruminants, again, are the multi-chambered stomachs—beef, bison, these animals that can take grass and upcycle phytochemicals and protein, and make those into a bioavailable form, as you noted, for our consumption when we couldn’t do that on our own. Monogastrics have a single-chambered stomach like us. They’re more omnivores. And again, they play key roles. Those roles should be celebrated, but we can’t turn them into something they’re not, and they are not the staple of our diet. They are not the staple of any ecosystem.

Chris Kresser:  Yeah, exactly. Let’s talk a little bit about Force of Nature because I love what you guys are doing. I’ve always been a huge fan, and [I’d] love to hear how you are bridging these gaps that we’ve talked about to create regenerative supply chains. I know the Shangri-La here is just [a] supply chain that customers understand with transparency and they can just trust. If they go to the market, they walk in there, and they see a Force of Nature product, they know that they are getting the real deal when it comes to state-of-the-art regenerative practices, supporting holistic systems that include ranchers and producers and consumers supporting local ecosystems and communities. All of the things that are important about the regenerative model. So how have you approached this in setting up Force of Nature?

Robby Sansom:  I think what we’ve tried to do is, again, create awareness. And I think another term for awareness is transparency. And that’s something that hasn’t typically been a pillar of the meat industry. But it has been a key and fundamental tenet of the food revolution that’s been going on for a few decades, in terms of pulling the curtains back on what went into such processed food, and then, “Okay, wait a minute; we’ve lost our bearing[s] here. Let’s re-instill some value.” And here’s a set of claims or a set of attributes that we know consumers are looking for, so we’re going to market that. We call it the center store food revolution. [It’s] brands coming forward [and] standing for movements and passion projects, whether it’s sustainability or health or social issues. And starting to market more than just, “This is cheap and convenient.” There is something more important here; there is something that you care about beyond just those things. And it’s not to say that it being cost-effective and it being usable for you aren’t important. They are. But I know there are other things consumers care about. I think that’s permeated into, [we’ve] seen it in dairy, we’ve seen it in yogurt, [and] we’ve seen it in eggs. We just haven’t seen that in meat. So I think we are trying to help champion that and be a part of the elevation of awareness and importance of those factors in our commodity sector that is meat.

I think some of the ways we do that and create awareness through content [is] we aspire to tell stories and reach consumers and mobilize and engage them by reaching them with the messages they already care about. I think if my job was to say, “Hey, I have to go teach people what regenerative is and get them to care about it,” it would be a really difficult endeavor, and maybe impossible. It’s really difficult to change people’s behavior or to make them care about something because you care about them. But I think I’m very lucky because I don’t have to do that. All I have to do is go to consumers and say, “Hey, among all of those things that you value and already care about, what you think that you are purchasing to deliver on those [are] not what [they] seem. And the true manifestation of what you are already looking for and desire is available to you in the form of these regenerative products. That’s it. So I think it’s just helping to make consumers understand that they’re not wrong for wanting food that’s healthy and that doesn’t poison them. And that the people who are producing that food aren’t committing suicide or unable to sustain their way of life and their sense of worth and purpose. And the land that is offering us that bounty isn’t being completely destroyed. I don’t think those are unrealistic desires for consumers to have. And I think, if you only look [for] natural or you only look [for] organic, or you only look [for] the prettiest label, and you just simply believe what the marketing is telling you, then you may be paying a premium for something that significantly falls short of your expectations.

And, like I said, I don’t want consumers to be taken advantage of. I take issue with that. I want them to understand that this is what you’re getting [and] this is what other options you have. And whatever values you have, you should pursue that. You don’t have to buy my products if you don’t believe that what I’m saying is relevant to you or [that] it’s not important to you. Buy whatever you want. But you should at least have truth and access to that information and an understanding of that system that you’re incumbent in when you support it.

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Chris Kresser:  Yeah. That’s what’s been missing. We started with that in the beginning. People really don’t have a clear understanding through no fault of their own. It’s, like you said, intentional deception, in many cases, and misleading consumers so that they are not informed because that works to the advantage of the larger big food companies that are not following best practices.

Robby Sansom:  When we’re not thinking critically and we’re not standing up for ourselves, and we have blinders on and we’re just doing what’s convenient, we are every bit the cogs in their machine that are predictable and necessary to keep that mechanism going as those chickens we just talked about. They want us dumb, uninformed, and following instructions. Eat cheaper chicken. Don’t question it.

Chris Kresser:  Boneless, skinless, preferably.

Robby Sansom:  Yeah. Oh, man, we’re never going to.

Chris Kresser:  Chicken liver is a good source of folate. Anyhow, what are you working on right now? Any particular new products or combinations? I love so many of the Force of Nature blends and so much of what you’re doing. I’m just curious what irons you have in the fire.

Robby Sansom:  Yeah, the blends you’re talking about, for the folks [who] don’t know, we have a line of products that we coined the term ancestral blend. That came out of, as you well know, when they started producing reports that said our life expectancy was going down now for children, and we know our health span has been going down already, [so] we came up with the ancestral blend because it was sort of this frustrated response to us being the least healthy we’ve been in generations at the time that we’ve most distanced ourselves from the diet that we would have had historically, which would have selected for those organs. So we put hearts and livers and some organs back into those ground meat blends. We did it in ratios that were closer to ratios that you would see on a carcass and certainly with sensitivity to the modern palate. How do we convince people to eat organs without offending them, so they can get all those benefits that you talked about? So those are wildly popular items. I think we’d like to see more ancestral blends across some of our other product lines, or sausages and stuff, as examples. Maybe hamburgers, who knows.

We launched a lot of proteins. Again, for us, it’s about, how do we make this, how do we address that access? So, more forms, more platforms, more meal occasions. We’ve launched breakfast items, and we just launched hot dogs, Chris. We want to make sure that we can feed kids the product we’re proud of. We do those caseless, meaning there’s no synthetic or pork casing on the outside of our sausages or our hot dogs. We couldn’t find a supply of natural casings that would meet our standards because they would have come from very commodity conventional animals, and I don’t really want to put synthetic food in our products, all the way down to the seasoning and spice blends that we use. They’re not irradiated, [and] they don’t have pesticides in them. I can’t believe I have to say that. I didn’t know that was a thing, that in order to prevent biology from occurring in these dried products that go into so much of our foods, they are irradiated or they are filled with pesticides. Now, there’s a level at which you can do that [and] you don’t have to put it on the label, and that’s what commonly is done. So I’m excited to be able to launch food that I can feed my daughter without grimacing.

Chris Kresser:  Yeah, amazing.

Robby Sansom:  We’re looking at some other more convenient platforms and stuff, to the more prepared foods that you find in the freezer so it can be all the things that we’re talking about and maybe a little quicker to prepare and a little easier for folks. [A] handful of things like that.

Chris Kresser:  Exciting. And the hot dogs, are those the regenerative bison hot dogs?

Robby Sansom:  Regenerative beef and regenerative bison.

Chris Kresser:  Bison and beef combined. Yeah, exciting.

Robby Sansom:  No, no, no. We have a beef hot dog and separately we have a bison hot dog.

Chris Kresser:  Oh, okay. Nice. That’s so cool. All right, Robby, it’s been a pleasure to chat with you again. [I’m] such a huge fan of Force of Nature and what you guys are doing. These products are a regular part of our rotation. I love that when I go into grocery stores, I’m seeing them more and more in the freezer case, and I always smile when I see someone reach in there and grab something. I’m like, “A-ha, smart person. They know what they’re doing.” So you guys are making an impact, and it’s exciting to see how that’s unfolding and starting to reach more people. So, tell people where they can learn more about your products and order them online if they’re not available locally, and then what stores you guys are in. I think you have a “find a store” button on your website to help people out with that.

Robby Sansom:  Yeah, [the] website is ForceOfNature.com. Instagram is @ForceOfNatureMeats. [Our] podcast is Where Hope Grows. I think we’re available in a variety of restaurants like Hopdoddy and True Food Kitchen. [They’ve] got a pretty wide footprint, both of those. We just rolled out nationally in Whole Foods and Sprouts, and natural grocers. Many other regional grocery chains carry us. And like you mentioned, you can order our full selection of products direct[ly] delivered to your door if you go to our website. So I hope folks come and visit us. We’d love for you to support us and buy our products. But go visit our social pages, come to our web page, and don’t buy something, too. That’s fine. Learn, educate yourselves, and go buy something from somebody in your community, a local producer that’s following these practices and is having a hard time and needs your support. Or somebody else that you know and believe in and have a relationship with. Do what’s right for you, but do it knowing what you’re a part of.

Chris Kresser:  Yeah, there [are] so many great options now. They’re in various places. We recently moved to Bend, Oregon, and when I go to the farmers market, there’s not just one booth or staff with pasture-raised regenerative meat; there’s four, including one that has ostrich and elk and venison and some of the game meat, which I know, I want to at least mention that you guys also don’t just sell beef and bison; you also have venison and elk and actual pasture-raised chicken and lots of other options there. And I think, for folks who are listening to this, [going to] the farmers market and just poking around and checking out what’s available locally, it’s great. There [are] so many more people, fortunately, who are starting to do this and do it in a good way. So I appreciate you mentioning that, Robby.

Robby Sansom:  Yeah, I still go to the farmers market and support a couple of local farmers to buy some meat. And when you said you were moving to Bend, the first thing I did was say, “Hey, there’s a great rancher up there. Let me introduce you [two].” So I’m not blowing smoke when I say, “Support your community.”

Chris Kresser:  Absolutely, yeah. And we did connect with her. So yeah, it’s an exciting time to be interested in all this stuff. Because if you somehow got interested in this stuff 30 or 40 years ago, it was a lot harder to find people [who] were doing this kind of work. So we’re all fortunate in that regard. And thank you, Robby, for blazing a trail and making all this stuff available. So the website is ForceOfNature.com, everybody. And you can find a local store, or you can order directly. I will say I have a few personal favorites. One is the regenerative beef blend. Do you want to just briefly mention how you came up with the ratio of organs to beef there? Because I think it’s cool and different [from] some of the other blends and much more palatable for a lot of people.

Robby Sansom:  Well, I touched on it a second ago. The driving factors were honoring the animal, honoring our ancestral health and wisdom, and trying to be sensitive to the modern palate. Without getting too complicated, you have to think every animal has a heart and has a liver. And so we have blends that don’t produce those; it’s just a regular ground meat blend. And then we have the blends that we do. So effectively, we take our hearts and livers from all the animals in our supply chain, and we put those into the ancestral blend, which comes out to less than 10 percent. But you’ve got to think, that’s 1.6 ounces per one pound package, right? So it’s a really good ratio in terms of balancing all of those variables. And as you noted, it takes a very small amount of those organs to do a whole lot of good.

Chris Kresser:  Yeah.  I love that. I love both the wild boar products, so the ground wild boar and then the wild boar chorizo. Definite favorite for me. And I will say that my daughter [is a] big fan of the hot dogs. I mean, she eats all of it. She’ll eat everything that I just mentioned, happily. But kids love hot dogs. That’s just the reality. And adults actually love them, too.

Robby Sansom:  How old is she?

Chris Kresser:  She’s almost 12, in three days, actually. So lots of birthday talk around the house. Well, thanks again, Robby. [I] really appreciate it. Great to catch up with you. Thanks, everyone, for listening. Keep sending your questions to ChrisKresser.com/podcastquestion, and we’ll talk to you next time.

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