Max Elder: Delicious Food That is Better For the People and the Environment

Max Elder

Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, who are advancing the UN SDGs.

Hi everyone! I’m Spiffy, your favorite interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs making a difference. Today I’m going to learn about responsible meat consumption and production and the ways in which we can navigate the problems of the current practices. Join me as I welcome Max Elder, the co-founder and CEO of Nowadays, joining me from San Francisco.

Spiffy: Welcome, Max! I’m curious about how Nowadays is addressing the harms of meat consumption and production. Over to you!

Max: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! Everyday I'm working on making delicious food better for people and the planet. We all love eating meat, but unfortunately meat doesn't love us back. The way we farm animals for food turns out to be pretty harmful to our planet, and those of us who live in the United States continue to eat more and more of it every year. It turns out, meat doesn't necessarily need to come from animals. At Nowadays, we make meat from plants (from yellow peas, in fact!). Our plant-based meat uses less land and water and emits less carbon than meat made from animals. This way, we can feed more and more hungry mouths with tasty food while minimizing its impact on the planet (and save some animals too).

Spiffy: Yellow peas—who would’ve thought! Tell me more. What motivated you to do it?

Max: I'm motivated by my love for food, for this planet, and for animals. I have so many meaningful memories related to food, like spending time in the kitchen with my mother cooking together. I also have felt magic when hiking through an old-growth forest or scuba diving through coral reefs. Finally, I've spent a lot of time with animals and know them to be conscious, self-aware, with rich emotional lives. I bet you've had a connection with a dog or a cat at some point? It turns out that cows, chickens, and pigs are the same! If we want to have a flourishing planet, or minimize unnecessary suffering inflicted on animals, or simply continue to express love through food, we need more healthy, humane, and sustainable food choices.

Spiffy: I’m there with you, Max! So, in your words, how are you and Nowadays working towards a more equitable world?

Max: One in five deaths globally is diet-related. It's the twenty-first century and we still cannot feed ourselves. Our food system feeds more and more people, but nourishes fewer and fewer. In order for everyone to lead flourishing lives, we all deserve access to better food choices. At Nowadays, we're focused on making delicious plant-based meats that are healthier than animal-based products, and, one day soon, at a cheaper cost. Good food choices need to be easy and affordable. That's our North Star; a future we can't wait to build.

Spiffy: Tell me about a recent company milestone or initiative, and the impact it makes on your community.

Max: Nowadays is focused on getting delicious and nutritious plant-based meat into more hearts and onto more plates. We are excited to launch our original plant-based nuggets made from seven simple ingredients in Whole Foods Markets across Southern California, Arizona, Nevada, and Hawaii this July. Our retail debut at Whole Foods will enable Nowadays to reach more people looking for healthier options for themselves and their families.

Spiffy: Yum! I’m going to need to zip into one of those Whole Foods at some point, for sure. To pivot away for a beat, can you please share an experience when you faced failure and didn't give up? What did you learn from it?

Max: The job of an entrepreneur is really a job of overcoming failures at every turn with hope and optimism. There's a reason so many people say that the best entrepreneurs are the ones with grit; the job requires you to run through brick walls every day. We hear 'no' more than 'yes’. We've had people tell us that no one cares about healthier nuggets, that plant-based meats are a fad, and that we're building the wrong business. James Baldwin once said, "the place in which I'll fit will not exist until I make it." Building an innovative company requires building a place in which you'll fit, but until success happens you constantly feel like you don't fit. The takeaway? Be comfortable not fitting in.

Spiffy: ‘Be comfortable not fitting in.’ I love it! Thanks for speaking with me today, Max—it’s been an honor!

Max Elder is the co-founder and CEO of Nowadays. He is a food systems expert and experienced consultant who has spent his career passionately advocating for food that nourishes both people and the planet. Prior to co-founding Nowadays, Max was a Research Director at the Institute for The Future, the world’s leading futures organization, where he led the Food Futures Lab and advised groups ranging from Nestlé and General Mills to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Nutrition Program and more.(Nominated by Lorenzo Thione at Gaingels. First published on the Ladderworks website on June 14, 2022.)

© 2022 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Anushree Nande. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Corner here.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.


Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and digital curriculum, with the mission to enable over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs.

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