Disruptive Brand Builder Glen Burrows Joins New Foundation Farms

How did I end up here?

New Foundation Farms appoints disruptive brand builder Glen Burrows as Head of Brand & Marketing

New Foundation Farms appoints disruptive brand builder Glen Burrows as Head of Brand & Marketing

All of us have a back story that weaves the threads of life together to bring us to the point where we are today. This is my back story. It is the road that has led me to New Foundation Farms. I share it in the knowledge that it will have different reactions amongst different readers. For some it will resonate with your own journey, and maybe for others it could provide some new perspectives. Either way, I hope you will enjoy it from the perspective that, perhaps, our lives are stories. Stories to be told by ourselves, by our loved ones, and sometimes by other people we meet on the journey of life.

My story is chaptered with a few key moments, milestones of understanding that have provided the building blocks for the next revelation.

The first important learning came from my time at university.

Part 1. The BSE Crisis

Towards the end of the first year of my university degree in food science, we started to see scientific papers warning about the cross mutation of a disease from sheep to cows and the fear that this disease could make the jump to us. The disease was mad cow disease and what we learned was that it had jumped species because abattoir remains which included ground-up spinal columns were being fed back to grazing animals as a part of their feed. I had no idea that practices such as this occurred in the industry I was training to be a part of, and it shocked me to the core.

The revelation about this process called ‘mechanically reclaimed protein’ was symptomatic of a purely reductionist approach to our food system and it was enough to cause me to not just stop eating meat but to fall out of love with the idea of working in this industry. At that time, there was no plant based alternative; being a veggie meant being ‘weird.’

Fast forward 25 years and I had followed a different career path as a commercial photographer and was in my early 40s. I was training hard and had achieved black belt level in two martial arts and had a very strong yoga practice across a few disciplines. I was a vegetarian and I’d created a strong belief system about my way of eating which I considered to be healthier and superior to the standard omnivorous diet.

Yet, I found myself confronted by a reality that I wasn’t as well as I thought I should be.

Part 2. Letting go of a belief system and identity by experiencing deep nutrition

The truth was I was hungry all the time. I had to make sure I had snack bars in my camera bags in case the tunnel vision started. I’d started to develop some autoimmune problems. My digestion was as terrible as was my sleep. I suffered from low mood and poor recovery from exercise, and the most debilitating symptom was bouts of brain fog that left me feeling utterly brain dead.

A friend who was also a long term vegetarian called me to tell me she had started to eat meat again and she felt amazing as a result. This rocked my belief system to the core. I agreed to read a book she lent to me called The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet by Robb Wolf.

Reading this book formed a major milestone in my life. It’s a simple, well-written and unemotional book that details how metabolism works in relation to the foods we commonly eat now compared to those we evolved eating. After that book, I immersed myself in reading and learning until the evidence was overwhelming and I felt I could let go of my vegetarianism which was so much more than a diet. It was an identity and belief system.

I made the decision to change my eating to see if it could help me to feel better. Not wanting to do things half baked, I’d found in the various nutrition books that the most nutrient dense food we can eat is liver. Armed with this, I went to the side of the farmers market that was unfamiliar, bought lambs liver and looked up a recipe.

Eating that liver remains one of the most profound experiences of my life. I started to vibrate with life force, it was the same energy I’d had glimpses of during my yogic and martial arts practice. Yet, this experience was simply on another level of intensity and I remember feeling a deep pure sense of gratitude. I realised that I had never in my life experienced nutrition as a sensation.

My world was both enlightened and destroyed at the same time: being ‘the vegetarian’ had been an important part of my identity for exactly 25 years to that point and I’d enjoyed the smug superiority of thinking that my stance on what to eat and not eat was better for me.

As these early days of changing my diet unfolded my life changed completely. It felt like my brain rebooted and I was able to think clearly, my memory improved, my sleep improved, my digestion was better and I was recovering from exercise like never before. But the most liberating thing was that I could easily miss meals as I’d become adapted to fats. I was no longer a slave to the granola bars in my camera bag.

Having my brain back gave me a thirst for knowledge and I started to read again, especially philosophy, quantum and cosmic physics, mysticism and how these tied together as well as nutrition, ecology and biology. My new brain started in some very basic way to connect dots that were certainly unconnected previously.

As a ‘meat eater’, about 5 years ago, I was introduced to Farshad Kazemian by a mutual friend. The introduction was made as a work connection. He needed a film making for a crowdfunding campaign to launch a new meat business. This meeting changed the course of my life. The idea for his business expansion was to set up a processing unit and have a base for his operations and this would allow the business to also supply the public via an online and mail order service.

Part 3. Solutions to complex problems are never simple: Exploring a new narrative

Before the business was trading, I was fully immersed in the world of ethical meat and was spending a lot of time learning and researching about how our food is produced. One day, I was in central London just after Christmas and I saw posters everywhere for the Veganuary campaign. I’d seen this campaign before, but armed with my new knowledge it hit me differently.

One particular poster advertising the campaign was from KFC and this made my blood boil. As an omnivore, I wouldn’t eat from KFC on principle because of how they farm their chickens. But here they were, a brand making a fake chicken burger for the month of January so that people being vegan for a month could still eat there. To me this summed up everything that is wrong with our food system.

I got home and, after a glass of wine, wrote a scathing Facebook post with my thoughts on the matter. I saw horrendous greenwash on both sides. How could a campaign that was supposedly helping save animals and the planet allow KFC to participate? How dare KFC make a vegan burger until it improved the welfare for the chickens it sells?

The image of the post was the word Veganuary crossed out and replaced with the word Regenuary and the text suggested that, by going vegan for a month in January in the UK, a participant would likely be doing more harm than good, especially when the option of simply eating locally produced animal or vegetable regenerative food was considered.

I hit send and went to bed not thinking too much about it, but by the morning it was clear that this post had rattled a lot of people.

Over the next month that one Facebook post was seen by over a million people. The original version racked up a staggering 17,500 comments, and what was more shocking than the numbers, was the polarisation it caused. The post received probably equal numbers of support and criticism, but the critics were way louder and way more aggressive. Over that month I lost track of the death threats I received from vegan activists. They came thick and fast in the form of direct messages and comments and were no holes barred. I was truly shocked, especially because the death threats come from vegans who were taking the moral high ground.

This experience truly shocked me as again I understood how moral absolutism could lead to someone behaving like a terrorist, albeit a keyboard terrorist. If ever there was a lesson in the importance of a holistic mindset, this was it and this lesson hit hard.

I understand the problem as coming from the need we all have for a ‘simplified’ belief system. Our brains like simplification in our belief systems because they make life easy. We like to know that X is right and Y is wrong. There is a biological logic behind this. The brain is a very energy hungry organ and a simple belief system means less energy used thinking about something because we already have a stance. The problem with this is absolutism which can lead to extremism.

The experience of my first ‘Regenuary’ helped me to understand a conflict which exists, for example, in veganism which is the challenge of the principle of ‘least harm’: in theory this simply means that, as an individual, I can make choices about my impact on other beings and the planet at large. Does the principle of ‘least harm’ imply that we should never kill deliberately?

Throughout the last few years of being involved with a business, The Ethical Butcher, that attracts a lot of vegan criticism, mainly because of the name, I seem to be immersed in this dichotomy without resolution; well, at least no resolution for the people I’ve been debating with.

Part 4. The lightbulb moment – Holism versus reductionism

Probably the greatest lesson I received in ‘holism’ came from a farm visit in the early days of setting up The Ethical Butcher. I drove to Shropshire to visit a PFLA farmer called Neil Harley. Neil explained to me on the phone that he had taken over a farm that had been conventionally farmed as arable for many decades and he was converting it to pasture. At the time, while this sounded positive, I had no real understanding of what it really meant.

I arrived at the farm on a baking hot summer day, met Neil and he took me for a walk. We walked through a wheat field that was a part of the conventional farm. It was to me a field, a lovely golden field of wheat. We walked down one of the tramlines (as I now know they’re called) and stopped in the middle. What he said to me next flipped my brain:

“You’re now standing in a desert, there is nothing living in this field because we’ve killed it all, including this wheat. This is conventional farming.”

He encouraged me to listen to what was happening in that field. It was completely silent. He also asked me to pick up a handful of soil. I did and it was beige, hot and sandy. It crumbled and fell through my fingers, it was inert and dead and we were sweating.

He then took me into the field opposite, literally on the other side of a single track road. He had converted this one to pasture – just 3 years before it was the same as the wheat field.

The first thing that struck me was the difference in temperature. This pasture was a good ten degrees cooler than the wheat field. I took twenty minutes or so and sat quietly with my camera and sensitive microphone to record some background audio for my film.

As I sat in this field with my headphones on I was struck by the noise. Through my camera lens unfolded a vast variety of insects that were visiting the complex system of plants I was sitting on. The place was literally buzzing. There were bees, wasps and butterflies. I glimpsed a stoat (or weasel, I wasn’t sure); there was a large frog by my feet; in the air swallows were diving, and hawks were higher overhead.

Neil asked me to grab a handful of soil as we had done in the wheat field and it took me a moment to push my arm up to the elbow in vegetation to even get to the soil. When I did manage to grab some, it was dark brown, cool and looked like christmas cake. It also smelled like soil. That’s when it hit me. To quote from one of my favourite films: “And then I realised, like I was shot… like I was shot with a diamond… a diamond bullet right through my forehead.” (from the film “Apocalypse Now” by Francis Ford Coppola)

At that moment, I looked up and saw a cow, gently chewing pasture next to me and I understood that life is connected to life, it does not exist in isolation. I understood the interaction, I understood the role that animals played in feeding and contributing to the complexity, the holistic vision of what we need to do and how we need to change our mindset. The wheat field on the other side of the road represented a Cartesian pure science reductionist approach to food production that I’d accepted as normal. But this side of the road was something else. It was life; it had been regenerated.

Talking to Neil the farmer, he explained to me that the wheat field now cannot grow without industrial chemical inputs. It needs fertiliser, it needs insecticides and pesticides, the soil has become not much more than an inert growth medium not dissimilar to a hydroponic system. The only inputs from nature there were sunlight and rainwater.

The pasture field by contrast had no industrial chemical input, just sunlight and rainwater. Yet, it was teeming with life on all levels, from microbes to red kites, and we humans also took a role in this system as one of the apex predators. We control the numbers of the grazing ruminants whose role it is to rapidly recycle nutrients to accelerate the growth of all other parts. In this system, we are not separate from nature, whereas in the other system, the arable field, we are destroying nature.

Part 5: Finding my ikigai at New Foundation Farms

After three years at Ethical Butcher, it’s now time to move on. I’ve visited the farms and filmed at them, I’ve written about all aspects of the business and have reached a point where the business doesn’t need me full-time. This led me to Mark Drewell and Marcus Link and to New Foundation Farms.

Hopefully, this backstory explains why I’m here but also gives an insight into where I am today. The Japanese have a concept called ‘ikigai’ which has no exact translation but sort of means ‘reason for being’. It is very often explained by a Venn diagram that shows interlocking circles that represent what you are good at, what’s good for the world, what can pay you a living and what you enjoy. It brings together vocation, passion, mission and profession.

I can’t help thinking that I’ve found it here, and, the best part is, that there is still so much to learn.