If there was one word to encompass all of 2020, it would be disruption. From businesses to governments, to families, celebrations and holidays, it all falls to the wayside when COVID-19 struck. While the pandemic certainly thrust some equality issues to the forefront, they were actually just exacerbated by the pandemic. Not created by it.
Disruption can also be a good thing. And judging by Ran Goel’s quest for a new grocery shopping experience at Fresh City Farms, he’s beyond just passionate about setting course for Canadian shoppers, but also his staff.
We spoke with Ran about his corporate mission at Fresh City Farms, and his recent TEDxToronto talk debut, to get the scoop on equality, and much more.
Libby Roach- Inequality has proven a common thread for 2020. How can Canadians accept this call to action and what can they do about it if financially they are under strain?
Ran Goel- At the core of my message is that we each need to harness our power as citizens. That means challenging power wherever it resides, be it your local grocery store, your school trustee, your MP. All these people make decisions each day that impact how food gets made and who gets to eat it. This is where my call to action dovetails with broader calls for address inequality through policies like a universal basic income, higher minimum wages, wealth taxes and so forth. The reality is that the food system is playing an outsize role in driving inequality by creating low-wage, low-security jobs. We need to tackle that.
LR- Cheap food- you talk about the true cost of food- how do you set prices when produce and food fluctuate daily?
RG- We live in a market reality. So much of our pricing is really driven by market forces outside of our control, whether it’s what farms and other suppliers charge us or what our competitors charge. Produce and fresh products in general are subject to almost daily changes in pricing which we have to grapple with.
LR- Fresh City Farms has set to disrupt the monarchy of grocers that Canada is famous for (we all know who we’re talking about here!), what advice can you give to food pioneers who are struggling or entrepreneurs just starting up?
RG- I do not see myself as being able to give other entrepreneurs advice on this front. The reality is that Canada has one of the most consolidated grocery markets in the developed world. They are the main show and Fresh City and the rest of the independents are to a considerable extent, a bit of a free laboratory for the larger players who either mimic what smaller players have done successfully or outright acquire them. As an entrepreneur in the food space, whether you are a producer, processor or retailer, you cannot escape their market power, so you have to learn to live with it as best you can. For us, it has meant a laser focus on our core customer and making sure we have a differentiated product.
LR- How can we encourage actual change for animal welfare? We can’t all be vegans…how do you toe the line to be inclusive and how can Canadians enact change within their lives/government?
RG- From a big picture perspective, the first step is to eat less meat and animal products even you can’t commit to being vegan or vegetarian. The best way to reduce cruelty to animals is to rear less animals for human consumption. The second step is to take a series of policy actions that ultimately result in the end of animal factory farming as it is currently practised. Restrictions around how far an animal can be transported and under what conditions. Better standards for how animal manure is dealt with. Limiting the use of antibiotics. It is a lot of small changes, and the industry is going to kick and scream about it, but there are economically feasible models that we can follow both from within Canada and other countries.
Photos courtesy Fresh City Farms. Interview may be edited for clarity and/or length.
TEDxToronto is Canada’s largest TEDx community, a platform for exceptional ideas, and a catalyst for profound change since 2009. In its 12th year serving the GTHA, the volunteer-run organization has recently reimagined its annual event into four digestible, interactive digital experiences under the theme of UNCHARTED – with the next event landing on November 26th.
Don’t miss out on hearing speakers like Ran share their insights with a community of curious souls – tickets can be found at https://uncharted.tedxtoronto.com/. Season passes that include access to the entire digital event series are $40, and individual event tickets are $15.
A limited number of student and subsidized tickets are also available for those who qualify, supported by a Pay TEDx Forward program that the organization is launching this year. Proceeds from ticket sales go towards helping fund TEDxToronto’s 100% volunteer-run work in the GTHA community.