Around here, we’re all pretty into food. Though there’s one guy who may be more into it than any of us, and that’s saying something. His name is Jeff Johnson, but everyone calls him The Food Dude. That’s because his job is to select all the ingredients for our foods. And to people as into food as we are, that makes him a pretty big deal.
We get to work alongside Jeff every day, though we don’t often get the chance to ask him about the details of his process and his personal views on nutrition. And trust us, we’ve been dying to know. So we sat down with Jeff to get the whole scoop.
Around here, you’re known as The Food Dude. How did you get that title?
I was raised in Southern California, have been surfing all my life, and I’ve been working with healthy food and cooking nearly as long. I’ve always tried to weave those two passions together in my work, and so the title just came easy. That and I’ve never been a fan of corporate titles and lingo, so it works pretty well for me.
We get to see what you do every day. But could you sum it up for our readers?
I lead all of our food innovation for the Kashi Company. That means that I’m responsible for making sure we have plenty of new ideas that express our food values. It also means that I get to work with an awesome team to help make those ideas a reality for people to enjoy, which also helps achieve our purpose.
I was lucky to get turned on to the power of plant-based eating at an early age.
So, what do you look for when choosing ingredients?
I look for a variety of things – I’m not easy to please on this front! Typically I look for ingredients that are high on food love, provide awesome nutrition, don’t require a lot of processing and can be sustainably sourced. Oh, and it helps if they are fun to say, like quinoa – I’ve heard that pronounced a hundred different ways! I also look for ingredients that go together with others. Do they fit well from a culinary perspective? Does a certain combination improve the nutrition? I think about these relationships a lot when it comes to food.
What’s your favorite ingredient you’ve ever chosen here at Kashi?
One of my favorites would have to be hemp seeds. They have a distinct flavor, a unique nutritional profile and obviously have a lot of misinformation associated with them. To me that sets up an important opportunity to help educate.
What’s the craziest ingredient you’ve ever chosen?
Probably the red beans we put in a cereal. I love our rolled red beans because they allow us to give people a different way to tap into the powerful nutrition of legumes. They’re simple, crispy and colorful. And yep, we put them in a cereal.
Has anyone here called your ideas … nuts?
All the time. That’s how I know I’m on the right track.
We know you’re passionate about plant-powered nutrition. What sparked this passion?
I was lucky to get turned on to the power of plant-based eating at an early age. When I was in high school I learned about the positive impact I could have on the environment and rainforests simply by eating a different way. That was powerful and I opted out of the standard American diet immediately. Then I dove deep into understanding the nutritional benefits of eating plant-based foods, which helped me realize that this was the best way I could make a positive impact on people and planet health.
How does your nutrition power your own life?
I’ve been an ocean freak my whole life. It doesn’t matter if it’s surfing, bodysurfing or doing water photography, I just need to feel the ocean running through my gills regularly to feel alive and healthy. In the last couple years, I’ve become obsessed with water photography, which is basically shooting photos of waves from the water point of view. For that and for all my outdoor activities, food and nutrition play a major role. I’m always looking for ways to find something tasty that helps me feel good before, during or after a session.
When it comes to nutrition, what gives you inspiration?
I get inspired by new ideas and progressive approaches to food, health and sustainability. A new culinary mashup, a new recipe, a new combination that amps up the nutrition or a progressive approach to sustainable farming. I also read a lot of books, blogs, articles and watch documentaries about the food system, which I’ve always found highly inspirational.
Is there anything you wish people thought more about when it comes to their nutrition?
Don’t freak out and obsess too much over all the numbers. That’s only one aspect of nutrition. The foundational truths about nutrition have always been pretty consistent and I think Michael Pollan summed it up pretty well when he said “Eat food, mostly plants, not too much.” The only thing I would humbly add is “Enjoy!”