Why the Produce Industry Needs To Practice What We Preach When it Comes to Plant-Based Eating

Originally printed in the March 2020 issue of Produce Business.

Viva Fresh Expo has always had an eye to health and wellness and made it a priority to cover important health trends or issues. Each year, planning starts with brainstorming about the latest and greatest ideas in health and how fresh produce plays an important role in wellness. This year was no different, and as the ideas flowed, “clean eating” was brought up as a central theme — and a colorful discussion quickly turned into a real debate about what clean eating really means.

By definition, Clean Eating is a diet that includes fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, healthy fats, while limiting processed foods and sweets. As the debate continued, questions came up about is it keto — is it vegetarian — and who’s driving this movement and what are the health factors? The growers, shippers and importers who sat around the table realized they had a limited understanding of the latest consumer trend and were somewhat removed from the decisions of the “clean eaters,” who purchase fruits and vegetables, and their motivations for doing so.

With the global rise in specialty diets, clean eating is the fundamental principle motivating many consumers to explore and even embrace a shift to more plant-based choices.

An “Aha!” moment occurred with the realization that not only do they not understand these trends, many did not practice what they preach. This was especially poignant because from the beginning, the Viva Fresh committee has focused on a mission to empower the produce industry to educate consumers on the health benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables. And the reality is that with the global rise in specialty diets, clean eating is the fundamental principle motivating many consumers to explore and even embrace a shift to more plant-based choices.


And that’s how the decision was made to have four Tex-Mex produce professionals embrace a healthier, plant-centric diet with the Clean Eating Challenge. Best-selling author, TV personality and physician, Dr. Ian Smith, was brought in to coach the group and tailor a plan for each participant based on age, physical limitations, health challenges and medical evaluations, and they were given six months to make diet and lifestyle modifications.


Each participant has achieved amazing results in a relatively short period despite the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday seasons. Here’s what they learned:

1. Healthy eating is not as difficult as it seems.The participants shared that making sacrifices in reducing sugar, eliminating process foods and even soda was not as hard as they thought it would be. Because this is a lifestyle change and not a diet, they learned to replace fast foods with much healthier options and they noticed a difference in their mood and energy level as a result.

2. Set realistic goals: Dr. Smith counseled each participant to set goals that were realistic based on their health challenges, age and physicals. As Tommy Wilkens, director of sales for Grow Farms Texas, remarked, “This is a journey and not a sprint. It seems crazy to change 59 years of bad habits, but now I see that it’s not only possible but happening.”

3. You don’t have to sacrifice flavor: In his videos, Jed Murray, partner of M&O Produce/Tenaza Organics, often spoke about using fresh herbs, spices and salsa to make flavorful meals.

4. Lost weight without starving yourself: Not feeling hungry was a repeated theme in the participant’s testimonials. Each has lost a signif- icant amount of weight ranging from 30 to 40+ pounds. As Ed Bertaud, director of retail sales at IFCO RPC North America, noted: “I’m making good choices and eating real food. I’m feeling so good that I just want to get better and better.”

5. Exercise is an important component: In addition to clean eating, each participant became much more active and implemented daily exer- cise routines. Michelle Cortez, sales manager of Empacadora GAB (Mr. Lucky), reflected, “Now that I’ve lost 40 pounds and met my goals, I’m going to continue with strength training and cardio every day. I love it and feel great.”

Although the 2020 Viva Fresh Expo has been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, the results will be revealed in May 2020 and shared throughout the industry.

This Challenge provided a real opportunity for produce industry members to not only practice what they preach but realize the powerful, life-changing benefits of eating a more plant-based diet. Cortez summed up the challenge best: “This is a health challenge, not a weight-loss competition. The prize is a healthier me and being able to live a long, healthy lifestyle, and be a positive role model for my kids.”

Dante Galeazzi is President & CEO of Texas International Produce Association (TIPA), which represents the business, economic, and political interests of Texas-grown fruits and vegetables as well as the importation and marketing of foreign grown produce that is shipped through Texas ports. TIPA produces the annual conference and expo, Viva Fresh Expo.