Making Healthy Food Choices for Yourself and the Planet; with Galen Karlan-Mason
Grocery shopping can be an overwhelming task, especially if you have special dietary needs, or want to make sustainable choices. Galen Karlan-Mason founded GreenChoice out of these same frustrations that he felt. GreenChoice is a mobile app that gives you the tools you need to make the best food choices for you and your family.
In the interview below Galen shares his story and what led him to create GreenChoice. He provides insight into what it means to pursue your passion, and how to find balance in your business to create a more well-rounded, successful product.
Tell me more about your company and the work that you do.
GreenChoice is a food discovery and insights app. We help you find and buy the best food for you and the planet based on your dietary preferences and values.
What I found was that, as somebody who has allergies, as somebody who wanted to live a healthy life and try and align my purchases with the things I cared about most, I was often at a loss when it came to grocery shopping. There’s so many options. The average grocery store has over 20,000 products, all of which are making certain claims, some of which are more honest than others. There’s really no good way to sort through that noise to find the products that you’re looking for except for this generic product label that we’ve been using for decades.
One day I was in the grocery store feeling frustrated, feeling overwhelmed, trying to make good choices for myself and the planet and said, someone should really help me. I wish there was something to distill all this information, something to shine the light on the products that met my needs and goals. That was the catalyst for GreenChoice.
Was it always an idea to be an app, or did you go through different ideas to bring this to life?
From the beginning, a mobile app was always part of the vision. We recently passed a really pivotal tipping point as a nation where the large majority of Americans have a smartphone. This is tremendous potential. Yet, often I think we are sucked into our smartphones for maybe less than ideal reasons. The question I started with was, can we leverage this incredibly powerful device for good to really empower us to make the choices that we want to make for ourselves?
Blend that with the fact that it’s really handy to have a tool in the grocery store. Many shoppers are actually already using their phones in the store. They’re maybe comparing prices, or they’re referencing a shopping list, or maybe they’re actually Googling claims. I know I was. We can consolidate that whole experience, let you build your shopping list on the phone using GreenChoice in a very informed way, use it to differentiate products in the store and save you the time Googling.
I think we’ve come to a place now where we’re recognizing the need and opportunity to also be available via desktop and online because of the growing demand for online grocery shopping and online food discovery.
What was your background originally?
A different world. As an undergrad at Brandeis University, I was a dual major in international global studies and business, concentrating in real estate and environmental studies. The plan was to ultimately go into sustainable real estate development. I was excited by the role that real estate development has in building community and the potential it has to effectively improve socioeconomic equality and, quite frankly, set our society up to be more sustainable.
I studied abroad when I was a junior in college. I was living in Lima, Peru, playing soccer, studying. I fell in love with the experience. It was an experience that I wasn’t ready to give up come the end of my study abroad semester, so I decided to stay there. I ended up living in Lima for a year. The latter half of my time I was playing for a semi professional soccer team and starting a nonprofit focused on youth empowerment through a soccer based curriculum.
The idea was, let’s reach kids where they’re at with soccer. Let’s deliver a curriculum that isn’t being addressed in traditional school, focusing on issues of equality, gender relations, healthy living, and goal setting. This way the parents would be on board, the kids would be on board and you disguise this curriculum in the form of soccer practice.
I came back after that year to finish up school and very quickly the program that we had created fell apart. It was pretty humbling for me. It was pretty frustrating as well, but I think it really inspired me to go back to school and study business. I had been a decent student, but had never been that serious of a student. I think that failure must’ve flipped a switch for me. I wanted to seize the opportunity to study, and I was fortunate enough to get into the MBA program at Brandeis International Business School. It was while I was there that I started GreenChoice.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far, throughout this whole journey and your career?
The pursuit is not linear. It’s been a zig zagging journey for me to bring me to where I am today and to bring GreenChoice to where it is today. I find that there’s a lot of ways to get where you want to go. For me, I’ve never known exactly what the place that I was going looked like, but I knew what it would feel like. I’ve learned through the ups and downs of this journey that it’s incredibly exciting to just keep pursuing while recognizing there will inevitably be setbacks. The more flexible or pliable you can be, I think the better off you’ll be.
I’m a firm believer that this idea, the pursuit of happiness, is flawed. I think the pursuit is happiness. I’ve found that personally I am just much better at things that I love. If you have the opportunity to pursue something that you love, or something that excites you, it’s worth it. That may sound oversimplified, but it really is that simple. Whatever way you can find mechanisms for pursuing that interest, I think it’s to your best interest and, quite frankly, to the best interest of everybody around you and to society if you pursue it. It doesn’t have to be your life calling, it just has to be something that excites you in that moment for that time. That is reason enough to chase it.
What advice would you give to other social entrepreneurs?
Be less altruistic, but never forget why you’re doing what you’re doing. If you want to raise money, and if you’re competing in a capitalist society, I think you need to train yourself to make decisions or think about the business and what you’re building less altruistically. With that said, if you lose touch with that deep purpose and mission that you started with, I think you’ll very quickly become lost.
By no means have I totally figured this out. It’s playing that line. When I start to feel lost, it’s usually because I’ve diverted from this purpose which we started with, which is to empower people to create a healthy, just, and sustainable world through their food choices. Usually, coming back to that is very, very centering for me.
With that said, I think it’s been to the benefit of GreenChoice that investors, or stakeholders, or mentors of mine have pulled me to think less altruistically about the business. It has ultimately resulted in us having a more well rounded product, service, and vision. Playing that line is a hard one, but I think to whatever degree you can, it will better serve your business. It will also help you achieve the impact that you aspire to have.
What’s your vision for the future, either for your business, or for the world, or for both?
I’ll start with the world and then I’ll comment on how GreenChoice fits into that. I see a day where everyone has the information and inspiration they need to make healthy choices for themselves, for society and for the planet. We live in a world where our day to day choices have a profound impact on the world we’ll see later in our life and in which future generations will live. My hope is that society will very quickly move in a direction to embracing the agency that we have, to foster and create the world we want to leave behind for our kids and grandkids. I think critical to achieving that is that everyone has access to health. This climate crisis jeopardizes not only the planet’s health, but our health.
The world that I hope GreenChoice can help create is one where it doesn’t matter how much you make. It doesn’t matter the color of your skin. It doesn’t matter the religion you practice. It doesn’t matter where you’re born — you are able to eat healthy food, you are able to care for your family and you are able to make day to day decisions that reflect your values. I think if we can achieve that at scale, then the sky is the limit. I think we hold the key to our future, but everybody needs to be on that ship.
Right now, there is tremendous inequality that perpetuates the health and environmental challenges that we have as a nation and as a planet. I think our future depends on us democratizing access to the education and inspiration we need in order to live our best lives and create a future that we all want.
What action do you want readers to take?
I’d love for them to check out GreenChoice. Download the app, it’s free to use. See what it’s like to do your grocery shopping with us and make food choices with us. Learn about your food and learn how to improve your family’s well being in the process.
I’m always really interested to hear from our users, and I dedicate time every week to talking to new users as they join. I welcome them into our community and love to hear from them. Any way that we can improve GreenChoice to better serve your readers, we’re very interested to hear their thoughts.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I would argue that what we eat is one of the single most impactful decisions we make in our lives. There are very few things that rest at the nexus of so many complex local and global issues as food does…
There is a strong case to be made that our diet is the single greatest determinant in our personal health. 70% of the US is overweight. Seven of the top 10 causes of death are diet related. One out of every three American kids today will have Type 2 Diabetes by 2050. These are realities we should not and can not afford to accept.
75% of global deforestation is tied to agriculture and 20–30% of global greenhouse gas emissions are tied to our food system. This makes our diet the single largest contributor to climate change in many respects.
Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, Dean of Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, argues that based on those two arguments, very fairly one can make the case that food should be treated as the number one economic issue for society to address. Our diet has tremendous power to unlock our personal health and our planet’s health. I urge everyone that reads this to consider this, and at the very least, lean in to your food choices. Start to ask the questions, what’s in my food? How will it affect me? Where did it come from? Who made it? If you just start there, I think you’re headed in the right direction, and we’ll all be better for it.
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