Pundit Interviews

Pundit Letters

Perishable Pundit
P.O. Box 810425
Boca Raton FL 33481

Ph: 561-994-1118
Fax: 561-994-1610



Produce Business

Deli Business

American Food & Ag Exporter

Cheese Connoisseur

Public Health Or Power To Destroy?

We ran a piece, Perishable Thoughts — Produce Industry On Trial, that portrayed the Kafkaesque nature of the dilemma the produce industry finds itself in when a food safety issue arises. An authority appears and declares the industry or a company guilty and is not obligated to produce ANY EVIDENCE at all to support these claims. The accused do not get an opportunity to cross-examine any experts or to review the charges against them for accuracy or to suggest alternative interpretations of the evidence.

Most recently, we profiled this type of situation in our piece, Disputed Link To Aunt Mid’s Cut Lettuce Reveals Need For Industry firms To have Easy Access To Top Epidemiologists, in which Aunt Mid’s was accused of causing a food safety outbreak, but ABSOLUTELY NO evidence has been promulgated by the public health authorities.

To us this seems so obviously unacceptable, so positively un-American, that we find it hard to believe this state of affairs is allowed to continue. To see if we could learn more about why more information isn’t being released, at least in the Aunt Mid’s case, we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to probe deeper:

James McCurtis
Michigan Department of Community Health

Q: Why is the Michigan Department of Community Health holding back on releasing the epidemiology report linking the E. coli 0157 outbreak to iceberg lettuce distributed by Aunt Mid’s?

A: Aunt Mid’s can file a Freedom of Information Act with our FIA coordinator with legal affairs.

Q: How long will that process take before the report is in the company’s hands?

A: We can’t share any documents when we have an open case. It’s still an ongoing investigation. It’s our policy and the law that anytime there is an ongoing case, the files and documents related to that case can’t be released. Aunt Mid’s will have to wait till the case is closed.

This is the policy with anything our department deals with — in the same way a doctor or hospital is being investigated, it all falls under the same law. If the case is still open, all relevant documents remain internal.

Q: What if the case is never solved? What if there is never a definitive conclusion to the source of the outbreak. This is not an unlikely scenario due to the perishable nature and short production and distribution lifecycle of fresh fruits and vegetables. In many instances, where produce is linked to an outbreak, the investigation into the exact cause comes up short.

A: It falls under the discretion of our public health coordinator. If our director of communicable diseases makes a determination this case is complete, we’ve done everything we can do — then it’s complete. If we cease any other type of investigation, we say we’re done with this case. Sometimes we might never find out the source of contamination.

Q: When will that determination be made?

A: We are close in this investigation only because A) no newer cases are coming in, and B) the California Department of Public Health is working on analyzing some samples from growers in California. They’re zeroing in on this issue as well.

Q: Is it acceptable to say the outbreak is linked to Aunt Mid’s or lettuce, or California, incriminating companies, entire commodities or states, without providing the epidemiology or other supporting evidence, so people can make independent evaluations?

Couldn’t industry experts analyzing the reports provide additional perspective and quite possibly uncover a clue to expedite the investigation into the source of the problem? In the name of public health, why not use all avenues available to crack the case?

A: We’re confident in our epidemiological work we’re doing here. We were very careful not to say it was lettuce and later learn it turned out it wasn’t. We wanted to avoid the situation that occurred with the Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak and tomatoes. We are very confident in this case it was lettuce, relying on our case/control studies and various tests we ran; not only the epidemiology but the work done by the Michigan Department of Agriculture doing the food testing.

Q: I don’t understand how the testing done by the Michigan Department of Agriculture bolsters your confidence in determining it was lettuce from Aunt Mid’s. Didn’t all the testing, both product and environmental, come back negative?

A: When Aunt Mid’s put out a release that testing came back negative, some media outlets picked up on the news, reporting that Aunt Mid’s was vindicated. We didn’t clear Aunt Mid’s, and want to set the record straight on that.

Q: Jennifer Holton, spokesperson at the Michigan Department of Health, emphasized that the negative tests were on current products, not products from the outbreak timeframe. Of course, testing that comes up negative will never prove anything. If Aunt Mid’s had retained samples of product related to the outbreak that could be tested, would that give a better indication?

A: Possibly. I don’t know what policies we have on sample retention from each batch that goes out into the market. I don’t think we have regulations that different companies must keep certain product in commercial refrigeration for certain amounts of time. We’re doing the best we can under the laws we have set in Michigan.

The reason we know it is linked to Aunt Mid’s is from our case control studies. We had a total of 38 cases in Michigan. In terms of clusters, we had 9 cases at Michigan State University and 5 cases at the Lenawee County Jail. The rest are outside these locations, some restaurants and one was a nursing home. It’s easier to do a case/control study in a cluster and environment where everyone is in the same place. That’s what led us to conduct the case/control study at Michigan State University. In terms of the cases at the county jail, a study was done by the local health department. Because they only get Aunt Mid’s iceberg lettuce, it was determined it was Aunt Mid’s. The same scenario occurred in Illinois. At the Ponderosa Restaurant, where there were six cases, the restaurant got all its iceberg lettuce from Aunt Mid’s.

Q: Melanie Arnold, a spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Public Health, said, “Our case/control study implicated a lettuce mix supplied by Aunt Mid’s, and combined with information from Michigan, it supports the hypothesis that illness is associated with eating the mixed lettuce from Aunt Mid’s.” She wouldn’t elaborate any further.

A: Michigan is saying the source is iceberg lettuce in big industrialized packaging from Aunt Mid’s. In plain black and white, this is strictly iceberg, no other lettuce varieties or produce items. From the limited communication I had with Illinois, they conducted their own case studies and came to the same conclusion.

We’re still trying to find the origin of the contamination. We’re expecting more answers. We don’t know if contamination occurred at Aunt Mid’s or California.

Q: How do you know it isn’t someplace in between or further along in the distribution process, maybe cross contamination, etc.?

A: Lettuce comes straight from farms on to growers’ trucks to Michigan and directly to Aunt Mid’s. There is not much middle room from I-80 highway California to Michigan. Produce gets contaminated from E. coli in places like the field water source or other things like animal intrusion at the grower level, or at the processing stages. It could be cross-contamination, but our studies showed the common source was lettuce.

Q: Why identify and implicate product from California when you don’t know the origin of contamination?

A: This is the complexity of this whole problem. It’s a mystery, especially when dealing with produce. We’ll always have loose ends until we find an answer. In our profession alerting the public is a mandate. There will always be an upset party; we can’t control that. All we can say is it came from this product.

Q: Ken August, spokesperson at the California Department of Public Health, said, “The source of the contamination is unknown at this point. The specific product and where it may have come from have not been determined. There is no conclusion that it is iceberg lettuce as of yet.”

A: After we did our trace-back work, we traced it back to California. All we’re trying to do is peel an onion here, layer after layer. If we feel we have information that is valuable for public knowledge, then we’re going to put it out there. California is investigating four different growers. That gives us enough to say this lettuce came from California. Now we have to narrow down where from California.

[Editors note: In a separate interview, Ken August said, “I can’t speak to Michigan’s threshold of releasing information. All I can do is share information we feel comfortable releasing, and we don’t have any more information to report at this time. It’s an active, ongoing investigation. We receive information at one stage that leads us in one direction, and then new information may lead us in another direction. It does seem like there was a rush to judgment in news reports linking the E. coli contamination to California lettuce. As of this moment, I have nothing additional to share.”]

Q: How is the information that lettuce is from California valuable to the public from a food safety standpoint?

A: The public wants to know where it comes from. Lettuce comes from many different places. Aunt Mid’s got their lettuce from California. We’ve been asked time and time again from the media, restaurants, and people from the general public, where did Aunt Mid’s get their lettuce from. That question has to be answered. If we know the answer we need to say. We’re not going to lie and pretend we don’t know.

Q: But you hold back on sharing your knowledge related to the epidemiology, where industry experts could actually help in cracking the case. This logic seems hypocritical at the very least.

A: There are some things you talk about for public consumption, and some where you don’t want to hurt the investigation. If we released the epidemiology and the questions asked, it could spoil the potential answers in other related case studies being conducted. Some information if released could prejudice the results of the investigation.

When we have a problem, we have to be as transparent as possible in terms of providing answers to the problem, but we have to do this without messing up an ongoing investigation. But meanwhile we have to let consumers know where the problem is coming from. If not, we wouldn’t be doing our job protecting consumers from poisoning associated with this outbreak.

Q: It seems like the system is broken when potentially innocent companies and industries can be destroyed in the process. And if the investigation inadvertently heads down the wrong path, it could actually slow down or muddle discovery of the real problem.

A: No industry, no public health department, no physician and certainly no consumers want a problem to occur. When it does, we have to be as open as possible. Say we sit on the information; we know lettuce is infecting people and then someone dies from it. Then we do a real disservice. We can’t sit on this information because lives are at stake.

Tax-payer dollars are put towards insuring we are doing our best to protect public health.

Before we released information that it was iceberg lettuce from Aunt Mid’s, we wanted to be absolutely sure. Do we say iceberg lettuce in general? Do we name Aunt Mid’s? Saying it you know there will be some backlash. Do you want to mess things up for the entire iceberg lettuce industry or get as specific as you can? We believe we’re taking the best protocol.

We appreciate that James McCurtis and the Michigan Department of Community Health took the time to help explain their position and the constraints within which they work to the industry. We also appreciate that Jennifer Holton, spokesperson at the Michigan Department of Health, Melanie Arnold, a spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Public Health and Ken August, spokesperson at the California Department of Public Health, were so generous with their time in helping the industry to analyze this important matter.

We read all this and it comes down to ten assertions:

  1. That giving out the epidemiology is not necessary because a company can file a Freedom of Information Act request.

    This is almost useless as an alternative, though, as it can take weeks, months, sometimes years to get responses and require high legal expenses, even court orders if the Department or agency is not forthcoming. None of this will happen quickly enough to save the reputation or business of a company or industry unjustly accused.
  2. Things can only be released after the case is closed.

    Once again, this is obviously unacceptable. By that time, a business or an industry could be destroyed.
  3. That a law and/or a policy requires this secrecy.

    Fair enough, we need to know the number of the statute that requires such secrecy so we can approach the Michigan Legislature with an alternative. If it is an administrative policy, we need to know which policy, made by whom, so that we can propose a change.
  4. That many things are done at the “discretion” of an administrator such as public health coordinator.

    This sounds like a recipe for abuse. What is the check on the discretion of that administrator?
  5. Quote: “We’re confident in our epidemiological work we’re doing here. We were very careful not to say it was lettuce and later learn it turned out it wasn’t. We wanted to avoid the situation that occurred with the Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak and tomatoes.”

    Is it possible that the authorities in Michigan don’t realize what a ridiculous thing this is to say — and how insulting to the Centers for Disease Control. Surely all the executives at the Michigan Department of Public Health would acknowledge that the CDC is also “very careful” and “confident” in its public pronouncements.

    This does not, of course, guarantee that a mistake wasn’t made. The reason we have checks and balances in our system is precisely because errors can happen.

    The issue is not if the executives at the Department believe it is “careful” or “confident” or not — the issue is the right of others to determine the accuracy of the department’s determination for themselves.li>
  6. Quote: “I don’t know what policies we have on sample retention from each batch that goes out into the market. … We’re doing the best we can under the laws we have set in Michigan.”

    We don’t doubt that, but our interest here is how the laws of the State of Michigan — and by reference other jurisdictions — can be improved.

    One of the problems here is that a completely predictable situation: Public Health accusing a company or an industry and the company or the industry claiming innocence is left without any possible solution. Public Health won’t reveal its epidemiology so that can’t be challenged. All the negative testing in the world won’t exonerate a company because those tests are being done weeks after the problem.

    We do think Good Manufacturing Practices should require sample retentions from every lot. Once again, you really can’t prove a negative, so even negative test results won’t exonerate a produce company, but at least sample retention allows a test on something relevant.
  7. Quote: “Lettuce comes straight from farms on to growers’ trucks to Michigan and directly to Aunt Mid’s. There is not much middle room from I80 highway California to Michigan.”

    Actually this makes us think that a lack of industry knowledge may contribute to errors made by Public Health. We doubt “growers’ trucks” are bringing in all the lettuce and, even if they were, that doesn’t preclude a problem either in the truck or during the time the truck was stopped. What if a terrorist wanted to do something at a truck stop or motel? We also wonder if it is true that all of Aunt Mid’s lettuce comes directly from the farm. Not one box ever was bought in from a terminal market? Nobody ever used a packing house? What about pre-cooling? What about warehousing product until it is shipped?

    A lack of understanding of the industry can easily lead to an unjustified assumption as to what the problem is.
  8. Quote: “In our profession alerting the public is a mandate. There will always be an upset party; we can’t control that. All we can say is it came from this product.”

    This is an evasion of the issue. We know that there have been occasions in which public health authorities walked into companies and demanded a recall, yet when their epidemiology was analyzed by world-class experts, the public health authorities backed off. We later learned that the public health authorities had been in error.

    Nobody is arguing that public health authorities should try to avoid upsetting interested parties. The argument is that the power to bankrupt a company or an industry is too great to allow it to be wielded in a discretionary manner.
  9. Quote: “The public wants to know where it comes from. Lettuce comes from many different places. Aunt Mid’s got their lettuce from California. We’ve been asked time and time again from the media, restaurants, and people from the general public, where did Aunt Mid’s get their lettuce from. That question has to be answered. If we know the answer we need to say. We’re not going to lie and pretend we don’t know. “

    The problem here is that when the State speaks, the assumption is that what is says is relevant and meaningful. If, for example, the state issued a truthful statement pointing out that the truck that brought the lettuce was driven by a card-carrying member of Al-Quaeda, the assumption of the public would be that the public health authorities are not just announcing things to play to the prurient interests of the public, but are announcing things because such information is relevant and meaningful.

    So when public health authorities announce that the lettuce came from California, the presumption is that this is meaningful and important information for consumers. Yet nobody has made a finding that lettuce that was contaminated in California has caused a problem.
  10. Quote: “There are some things you talk about for public consumption, and some where you don’t want to hurt the investigation. If we released the epidemiology and the questions asked, it could spoil the potential answers in other related case studies being conducted. Some information if released could prejudice the results of the investigation.”

    This is a red herring. There are so many options. Just to name one: The information could be shared on a confidential basis with an epidemiologist retained by the company or industry, no public announcement of questions need be made.

We can certainly debate what a reasonable standard of evidence is for implicating a company or crop in a food safety outbreak. But whatever that standard is, basic American principles of fairness compel us to demand a right to challenge the evidence gathered against oneself, one’s company or one’s industry.

Errors in analysis are made, test results suffer from lab contamination, individuals can become corrupt — so simply saying “trust us” is not an option. So what might be some options:

Uncontroversially, the first step could be public health authorities announcing publicly what they have done to protect against errors. For example, we suggested here a Team B approach in which each public health agency would give an internal group, which had complete access to all information, the job of arguing the strongest possible case against the assessment that a particular company or industry was implicated. Then a panel of internal “judges” would have to hear both sides before allowing a public announcement.

A more controversial approach would be to require public health authorities to go to some outside organization to make a case, in much the way a police detective has to persuade a district attorney to pursue a case. Another model would be police persuading a judge to grant a warrant. Some kind of outside check has to be made to reassure the public that decisions were not made in an arbitrary or capricious or corrupt manner.

A third option would be to make the case directly to the company or industry about to be implicated and give them an opportunity to point out mistakes, errors in judgment, alternative explanations.

We recognize that laws and regulations may have to be changed to facilitate these approaches. So be it. We will fight hard to make sure public health gets the authority and resources it needs to do an effective job, but the power to regulate should not be the power to destroy — at least not while this Pundit writes.

Pundit’s Mailbag — Sustainability
In Bad Economic Times

I want to respond to your October 17 piece, Oil Price Decline Dampens Alternative-Energy Fervor, and, specifically, your comments on the recent decline in the price of oil and its potential impact on sustainability initiatives. You stated:

“…that great sucking sound you hear is sustainability going out the window. As the economy got softer, retailers started redefining sustainability to only focus on those initiatives that clearly generated a positive financial return — as opposed to those efforts pursued for environmental or social reasons. With oil prices down 50%, a lot of this so-called “low hanging fruit” is now hanging higher. So meaningful sustainability initiatives have become much rarer. Many are now just “green washing”.

While agreeing with many of your comments, I believe some added perspective is helpful. The key words in your statement that drew my attention were “as opposed to”… This represents what I believe is a false choice.

Many organizations have mistakenly taken the view that profitable business and sustainability efforts force them to make a choice — that environmental efforts will only add costs. While that is certainly true at those times in a free market where ‘externalities’ need to be addressed, there is significant financial and competitive advantage to pursuing many initiatives that create an environmental or social benefit. Identifying and pursuing changes in doing business that also create profit is a high priority for our generation of business leaders.

Any successful approach to this important issue embraces the hard work of integrating business profit and social good, altering how we approach business goals. I believe the most successful companies in our industry and beyond are learning how to do this. Thinking this way and being able to implement such efforts is rapidly turning into a strategic advantage.

I would also submit that any company that pursues significant environmental efforts that don’t save money or drive additional revenue will not be able to “sustain” those efforts. In short, sustainability efforts in the business community both support and have to be driven by long-term profitability.

Most of our current projects and initiatives within Four Seasons’ family of companies achieve both business and sustainability goals. In fact, as a produce distributor seeking to be a leader in this area, we have discovered far more of these exist than we can effectively pursue. Many times the limits we face are ones of creativity and time, not financial constraints.

While your point is valid that lower oil prices reduce the payback of efficiency or alternative energy projects, many quick payback projects exist even at lower energy prices. The results of implementing such projects have been significant. We have achieved more than a 25% reduction in electric costs in the past three years, and have realized significant savings on our disposal costs by reaching an 85% diversion rate on waste materials.

Also, through implementing appropriate technology and collaborating with our customers, we have improved truck efficiencies and routing — reducing our fleet miles to achieve over 10,000 gallons per month in fuel savings year to date.

We have accomplished this through a commitment to “implement innovative yet proven cost-saving methods to reduce our energy use, conserve resources, and improve the environment.” The keys to this strategy include:

  • Regularly monitoring available methods, tools, technologies, and trends to identify potential improvement options.

  • Joining partnerships and achieving certifications to drive continuous improvement in energy use and sustainability.

  • Using environmental thinking and careful analysis to select energy and sustainability initiatives in order of financial feasibility and economic return.

  • Implementing chosen projects through solution providers and suppliers who share our environmental commitment and core values.

  • Sharing our efforts and results with customers, associates, and suppliers. Sharing information and benchmarking against others to learn what works best.

I would encourage you to visit our website for more information on these efforts at http://www.fsproduce.com/sustainability.aspx

I have also attached our company’s guiding document on “Energy & Sustainability Strategy” below.

— Nelson Longenecker
Vice President — Business Innovation
Four Seasons Produce, Inc.
Ephrata, Pa

We very much appreciate Nelson’s letter as it gives us an opportunity to get to the heart of the quandary that surrounds sustainability. We agree with Nelson that sustainability has to make financial sense; it is hardly sustainable for a business to go bankrupt or achieve sub-par returns and thus be unable to attract capital to grow and expand.

In fact this necessity to make financial sense is the crucial element that balances environmentalism and socially beneficial activities to create the sustainability whole.

Yet, having acknowledged this and written about it both here at the Pundit and many pieces elsewhere, such as this cover story in DELI BUSINESS, given dozens of talks on the subject from PMA to the Society of American Florists, we still find this a rather troubling definition of sustainability.

We, of course, laud the efforts that Four Seasons has made under this rubric. They are real accomplishments worthy of note and of praise.

Yet here is where we can’t quite define things in a way that is fully satisfying. Imagine that Nelson, with this incredibly positive attitude and a record of accomplishment, was brought in as a consultant to two separate organizations. Now imagine that the CEO of one organization was enamored of sustainability and excited to pursue such a program though, of course, considered financial feasibility an important aspect of sustainability. Imagine that the other CEO hated the very thought of sustainability and only wanted to pursue things that made good business sense.

What would Nelson propose that each organization do differently in light of these different values?

Here we hit an iron law. Every single thing that is proposed is either expected to be profitable and earn an adequate return on investment or not expected to.

If it is expected to earn a good return, then both of our hypothetical CEOs will want to pursue the project — regardless of their attitudes towards sustainability. If the projects will lose money or earn inadequate returns, both of our CEOs will reject the projects.

Yet if both a CEO who believes deeply in sustainability and one who hates the thought will do the exact same thing, in what sense can we say that sustainability is an intellectually coherent concept?

One way to look at it is to argue that sustainability is about avoiding inadvertent activities and waste and that the focus is really on that word “inadvertent” — so sustainability is really a kind of business management system that makes an organization periodically assess things so it doesn’t work on automatic pilot.

This is appealing but doesn’t really answer our critique. Either it is an adequately profitable venture to periodically reassess one’s operation looking for inefficiencies and possible improvements — or it is not. If it is, then, once again, both our sustainability-loving and our sustainability-hating CEOs will want to pursue the process. If it is not profitable, neither will want to pursue it.

We’ve been working on this a long time and the best we can do to square the circle is to define two key ways our CEOs might differ:

  1. Time Horizon
    Many times executives impose artificial time horizons. For example, frequently when a private equity group buys a company it intends to exit in a set period of time, say, five years. Very frequently they are not interested in any expenditure which will not pay off within five years. As they get closer to their exit point, the private equity folks may lose interest in investments that won’t pay off in even less time.

    We would maintain that such short-term focus, certainly when motivated by an exit strategy, is inherently non-sustainable. If Nelson can walk in and make the case that installing solar panels on the roof will provide a return on investment that meets the corporate hurdle rate, then refusing to do so because of one’s extraneous issues is not a sustainable attitude.

    Of course even this is a tricky wicket. If the CEO is opposing even profitable spending — say replacing light bulbs with energy-efficient ones that will pay off in 12 months — because the company has a note payment due in six months and will go bankrupt if it doesn’t pay down the note, one could argue that sustainability requires that the company focus on the task at hand. Maybe, however, there is an argument that a company under such stress simply can’t be sustainable.
  2. Reputational Capital
    Perhaps the biggest distinction we have observed in how organizations consider sustainability is the way different organizations perceive the value of reputational capital.

    Whether a given activity is adequately profitable for a business is not always easy to judge. To use a small and simple example… if a local retailer decides to sponsor a little league team, a strict analysis of known facts will say this is an expense that generates no return and, as such, a loser.

    Yet a different management team will claim that the sponsoring of a local little league team is actually profitable because it will produce many reputational advantages that will ultimately pay off in hard cash. These can be direct — the parents of the children on the team are more likely to shop our store. They can also be indirect — the City Council will like us better and be more likely to approve our request for a variance to expand the store if we have a reputation for giving back to the community.

    Looked at in this light, the difference between our two hypothetical CEOs is that when presented with equal ROIs as figured by accounting, one CEO accepts those numbers while the other is more inclined, when the investments have social or environmental implications, to add a value related to this reputational capital. It functions as a kind of “fudge factor” that enables sustainability-minded CEOs to lean in that direction.

    We don’t have the numbers but when, for example, Tesco decided to open in America, it built the largest rooftop solar array in the country on the top of its El Segundo, California, headquarters. We suspect the ROI was at best marginal but somebody decided that doing this would help frame the way Tesco was perceived in America and that this “perception” could be the source of good returns. Put another way the reputational bonus boosted the ROI to acceptable levels.

    There is no doubt that reputational capital — having the reputation as a good employer, supplier, customer, and neighbor — can be beneficial to a company. The problem is that each specific decision is very much in doubt.

    Will sponsoring this particular Little League team right now help boost business? Did Tesco’s solar array help it with zoning authorities, customers, vendors? There is no easy or definitive answer so our bet is that sustainability efforts depend on excellent executive teams.

    It is easy to use reputational capital as a justification for anything; however the best business leaders will know how to spend money on sustainability where it will realize a return for the business that the accountants will have trouble tracking.

So, properly deployed, sustainability makes companies more competitive and effective; done poorly sustainability efforts can weaken a company.

We thank Nelson Longenecker and Four Seasons Produce for sharing their efforts on this important subject and for giving us a kick-off to discuss such a vital industry issue.

Perishable Thoughts — Building
The Future Of Our Industry

Tim York, President of the Markon Cooperative, Salinas, California, is really quite an exceptional industry leader. He not only rose to become Chairman of the Produce Marketing Association but, after that chairmanship, has remained an important contributor to the industry, seizing opportunities to establish the buyer-led food safety initiative, for which he was awarded a Perishable Pundit Single Step Award, and, currently, serves as Chairman of the Center for Produce Safety.

He also serves on the board of directors of what was known as the PMA Education Foundation and has now been christened the PMA Foundation for Industry Talent.

It is in this latter capacity that we give a hat tip to Tim York for sending along this quote:

We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt
Address at University of Pennsylvania
September 20, 1940
Web Full Transcript

This quote can be viewed in this book:

The Gigantic Book of Teachers’ Wisdom
By Erin Gruwell, Frank McCourt
Contributor Erin Gruwell, Frank McCourt
Published by Skyhorse Publishing Inc., 2007
Pg. 176

FDR was President when he gave this address, and the occasion for the speech was the bicentennial of the founding of the University of Pennsylvania.

With financial markets imploding, the quote seemed particularly apropos. After all, we actually don’t know what kind of future we are building for our youth.

But the notion that we can build up our youth to face any future is one President Roosevelt was enthusiastic about. FDR was a strong supporter of the Boy Scouts of America. He was president of the New York City Boy Scout Foundation, spearheaded the project to develop Ten Mile River Boy Scout Camp, a 12,000-acre wooded camp serving the Boy Scouts of New York City and, later, much of New York State.

FDR was awarded the Scouts highest honor given to adults, the Silver Buffalo award for this work and, as President of the United States, FDR was named honorary chairman of the Boy Scouts of America and attended the very first National Boy Scout Jamboree in 1937.

PMA has also become deeply involved in the idea of attracting and retaining talent in the produce industry and an attentive visitor to Fresh Summit in Orlando will note the rapid growth of these efforts.

The parturient source of this focus can be found in the generosity of Jay and Ruthie Pack.

The Pundit was fortunate to serve on the steering committee for this program from its start, and so we are proud to see the Pack Career Pathways Program going strong in its fifth year now bringing 38 students plus faculty advisors from 12 colleges and universities across the globe to experience Fresh Summit as an introduction to the produce industry. The success of this program led to the establishment of a twin program, The Nucci Scholarship for Culinary Innovation, to bring culinary students to the PMA Foodservice Conference each year.

Now the efforts will include a career fair, student outreach program, an educational workshop, a networking event, a new scholarship program we will discuss later this week and, for the second year in the row, the Fresh Perspectives: Women’s Leadership Event, which will be held this year on Friday morning, October 24, at the PMA Fresh Summit convention.

This year they have introduced a Silent Auction at the event to help raise money for the foundation. Because this is a limited-attendance event, and auction items are mostly business-related, not personal items, the success of the auction depends crucially on CEOs and owners instructing their executives in attendance to bid on these business items.

To help the enterprise succeed, we donated a “Power Lunch with the Pundit” — here is the description as per the official catalog:

This is the opportunity of a lifetime to experience “up close and personal” the one-and-only Jim Prevor, also known as the “Perishable Pundit.” As founder of both PRODUCE BUSINESS and PerishablePundit.com, Jim is read in over 100 countries each week and has lectured on every continent save Antarctica.

His insights into the future of the produce, fresh foods and retailing industries and how these industries intersect with broad societal trends such as food safety, sustainability, demography, etc., have led CNN, Fox, the BBC and dozens of newspapers and magazines to seek out his perspective.

Jim will dine and discuss with the winning bidder and up to seven friends or teammates at a mutually agreeable place and time. The cost of lunch and travel expenses are included and Jim’s schedule generally allows for travel to most major cities, such as New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas etc., as well as most major produce centers, such as Salinas, Fresno, Yakima, Vidalia, etc.

Food for your brain and your belly!

We confess that we blush a bit when we read that nice write-up, but we suppose that in trying to raise money this is no time for modesty.

In any case we would like to come visit, buy you and your team a fine lunch and have a nice chat. If you are going to be there, we hope you will bid. If you are not, we hope you will ask someone in your company who is attending to bid for you; and if you can’t make the event and would like us to enter a bid on your behalf, please feel free to let us know right here.

Just the other day, we were writing about J.P. Morgan and his insistence that character, rather than property, was the prerequisite for credit — well we were thinking about that reference when Tim York sent in this quote.

Personal integrity is crucial, and Tim is a strong example for the youth the industry is trying to attract. When the list came out of those who had committed to the industry traceability initiative, which we had written about here, it was notable that Tim’s name and that of his Markon Cooperative were not on it. That is not a decision many of the most influential leaders of the industry would agree with. We are not sure if we agree with it. But Tim felt it wasn’t really going to happen, not in the current economic climate where foodservice distributors are under strain.

The easiest thing in the world would have been to sign the document and then make excuses if it didn’t happen. An unwillingness to do that is a sign of great personal integrity and is admirable completely aside from the substance of the issue.

We wonder if Tim knows that the motto of the University of Pennsylvania, drawn from Horace’s III.24 (Book 3, Ode 24) is Leges Sine Moribus Vanae,or Laws Without Morals are Useless.

Perhaps what President Roosevelt was implying is that whatever the future might bring, it is our responsibility and our opportunity to give the next generation the tools necessary to make a constructive contribution.

This involves more than technical skills. It involves at the core an approach to life built around personal integrity. We think that is what PMA FIT should really be all about.

Many thanks to Tim York for sending along this quote.


Perishable Thoughts is a regular section of the Perishable Pundit. If you have a favorite quote that you would like to share with the industry, please send it on. You can do so right here.

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