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        by C. Jeanette Tyson

     

     I want Betsy Fosterís job. That would be VP of Purchasing and Distribution for Whole Foods Market, which, from humble one-store origins right here in Austin, has become the worldís largest retailer of natural and organic foods. Betsy is responsible, with help from buying teams across North America, for 146 stores full of things both good and good-for-you.    
     I like to think sheís out there reading labels so I donít have to.      
     I also like to think of her traipsing through the olive groves of Tuscany, herding goats in the shadow of the mountains of Sonoma County, climbing the small, winding path to the Croatian fig grower who makes that fabulous spread. (To clarify, Betsy hasnít actually been to Croatia. Yet.) It would require sacrifice, yes, but I think I could do it.


    
Oddly enough, this is close to something Betsy once said to herself. She was living in California, working in the petroleum industry, when she began to re-evaluate.
     "I had one of those life checks. What do I really want to do?" she said.
     The answers were: something with food; something integral to the community; and, oh yeah, make the world a better place for children. Just a matter of opening up the classifieds, right?

     Betsy will be the first to admit the stars lined up for her nicely: her husband, Jay, was transferred to Austin, there was an ad in the paper, booming economic times encouraged her move from IT to purchasing.
     Now, ten years later, Betsy finds herself in a unique position. Instead of struggling to give equal time to the different parts of life, as so many of us do, she takes home to work and work to home and never the tíwain separate.
     Elizabeth, her seven-year-old, has been called on to evaluate sugar cookies (big-time thumbs-up). Sheís already been to London on business and has been invited to working dinners. Griffin, at three, has reported being less than impressed with a new toothpaste. Jay is learning how to compare labels though Betsy still fields the occasional calls from Aisle Five. Snack time at school becomes both a laboratory for Betsy and a chance to educate both children and teachers.
     "Iím always telling vendors what I want to see them do for kids or not do for kids. My vendors hear about Elizabeth and Griffin even if they havenít met."
     Betsy is also involved in the ongoing development of the Whole Kids line, started in 1994. As you may suspect, itís as much for moms as kids.
     So, ahem, why does the Whole Kids peanut butter have sugar in it?
     Betsy quickly pointed thereís only three grams of sugar and no hydrogenated oils or fats and itís organic, but went on to remind me that Rome wasnít built in a day. "The goal was for moms to be able to get kids to eat this, to convert kids that currently eat other stuff. In order to get them to make that shift, they needed sugar. The kids have already been trained on that."
     Imagine Betsy crusading for the creation of turkey lunchables with no preservatives or artificial flavorings. (Elizabethís idea, actually.) Or charging down the hall waving a box of frozen enchiladas and ranting about the fat content.
    "Itís important to me. Thatís where Iím going to make a difference is on the kidsí side because thatís where we still have an opportunity to change the way the world eats." You have only to look at the obesity statistics to see how many of us are deep in ruts dug with our own forks.
     A little work, a little motherhood, I like the sound of that. Then Betsy tells me a story.
     "We own a coffee company called Allegro. I went there on what we call an origin trip, actually going to the farm, the single estate that produces coffee. We were in Costa Rica. I had been struggling with whether to keep this company or to sell this company."
     Once there, Betsy was struck by the commitment of the farmers to their crop, their workers and the environment. She saw the workersí children sitting in the school that Whole Foods had helped build. (Soon there will be computers and internet access.) She saw their pride in a good harvest, the emotional investment of the people. And she saw less fortunate farmers all around them, bulldozing farms they couldnít afford to keep running.
     Betsy decided not to sell.
     "Youíre making a difference. Proceeds on those sales that we give back make sure this is sustainable, the family farming, great coffee, but the environment, all those pieces, helping build another level of quality of life for the next generation. That is really changing the world."
     Ok, now thatís what I call a good day at the office.
     Then she quietly added, "then you really go back and question everything else youíre doing."
     Maybe I want Betsyís job because she can so easily see how her intelligence and passion and motherhood are brought to bear in big and definitive changes. Nothing is parsed out, all is of a whole. Whole Food, Whole People, Whole Planet. The circle of life.
Or maybe thatís just me being lazy. I bet thereís a way to work for this without working for them. Itís just hard. Not that Iím telling you anything new.
(So Betsy, if you still need someone in the deliÖ)
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C. Jeanette Tyson is AustinMama's beloved foodie-in-the-field. Got a tip, suggestion, idea or feedback for A Little More on Your Plate? Send it to Jeanette at: foodie@austinmama.com

       

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