SAN FRANCISCO — Rachel Dreskin came to the Plant Based Foods Association about a year and a half ago with a background in animal welfare, having served as executive director for Compassion in World Farming. After spending time with PBFA members, she noticed how they showed interest in other areas like animal welfare and sustainable agriculture.
“I was really struck by how much the community of plant-based foods brands was also united by a sense of purpose to more broadly contribute to food system change,” said Ms. Dreskin, the chief executive officer of the San Francisco-based PBFA.
That observance led to the creation this year of the Plant Based Foods Institute, a sister organization to the PBFA, with Ms. Dreskin leading both groups as CEO.
“There was a really unique opportunity to form a group that had its own concerted focus on driving that food system’s change more broadly than what the association is focused on, which is really creating value for our members and elevating the plant-based foods industry,” she said.
Companies may belong to both the PBFI and the PBFA. Three of the PBFI’s seven board members also are associated with the PBFA.
The institute, like the association, will focus on policy issues and marketing. Whereas issues like labeling concern the association, the institute will tackle broader issues, including sustainable agriculture and animal welfare.
The PBFI was one of more than 150 organizations that sent a letter dated Sept. 13 to President Joe Biden calling for the next farm bill to address economic inequality, racial divides, hunger, climate change, nutrition and food safety while supporting farmers, workers and communities. The institute also will campaign to include sustainability issues and plant-based diets in the upcoming 2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
The PBFI will partner with farmers who supply plant-based food brands and work with them to practice regenerative agriculture. Pilot projects are underway.
“We’re looking at what are the environmental benefits?” Ms. Dreskin said. “What are the economic benefits of the farmers growing these crops and supplying them into the plant-based foods industry?’
The institute also plans to develop life cycle assessments and survey US consumers. The PBFI will collaborate with the International Plant Based Foods Working Group, a coalition of eight international plant-based food trade associations, including the PBFA, Plant-Based Foods of Canada, the European Alliance for Plant Based Foods, the European Plant-based Foods Association, the Plant-Based Food Alliance UK, the Plant Based Foods Industry Association in India, the Mexican Association of Vegan Entrepreneurs and the China Plant Based Foods Association.
“The focus for us is not to expand PBFI internationally but to help foster a global community of trade organizations and groups that are also driving toward a similar change in our food system,” Ms. Dreskin said.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in science from Northeastern University in Boston, Ms. Dreskin entered the food industry, initially working in marketing for consumer packaged goods companies. She then ran her own farm-to-table restaurant before joining Compassion in World Farming, where she worked with food companies to create corporate policy change such as switching to eggs from cage-free chickens.Other board members on the PBFI include Jaime Athos, PhD, CEO of The Tofurky Co.; Matt Dunaj, chief financial officer and vice president of operations for Follow Your Heart; Liz Ross, founder and executive director of Rethink Your Food; Audrey Tran Lam, environmental health program manager for the Center for Energy; Tyler Whitley, director of the “Transfarmation Project” at Mercy for Animals; and Garrett Broad, PhD, associate professor of communication studies, catalysts for sustainability program at Rowan University.