Change Food Fest Speaker Spotlight: Sophia Mendelsohn

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We’re excited to introduce you to our speakers for the 2016 Change Food Fest through a series of personal Q&A’s. Today we are talking with Sophia Mendelsohn of JetBlue.

Sophia MendelsohnSophia Mendelsohn is the Head of Sustainability at JetBlue. She is responsible for shaping policies and practices that enhance JetBlue’s competitive advantages and reduce environmental impacts. We are very excited to have her participate in the Change Food Fest this year.

What’s one thing anyone can do to help the good food movement?

The one thing people can do is tell the companies the purchase food from that they want responsibly produced products. As a company that sources and sells food from the airport terminal to 30,000 feet in the air, we listen to what our Customers want. As a result, we have introduced 15 more sustainable and diverse food products inflight. Our EatUp boxes provide vegetarian, kosher, gluten-free and allergen-friendly options. We also support food producers in New York State by partnering with nonprofits, farms and businesses to provide local food and beverage options in the air.

Why is JetBlue taking sustainability so seriously? (And, thank you!)

At JetBlue we perceive sustainability as synonymous with long term business planning — knowing that we operate in a changing environment and it is in our best interest to continuously adapt. As an airline, we depend on natural resources and a healthy environment to keep our business running smoothly. Natural resources are essential for us to fly, and tourism relies on having beautiful, natural and preserved destinations for our customers to visit. We also understand that having lean, efficient operations has a significant benefit to our bottom line.

It’s a very powerful concept to think that some of the most significant change in our food system coming from outside the food industry.  What other non-food sustainability leaders do you think are doing valuable work in this area?

Many likely do not realize that the company who makes many of our aircraft engines — United Technologies, the parent company of Pratt and Whitney— also creates refrigeration systems that touch a huge portion of our global food supply. From their unique vantage point of our global food system, they have focused on calling attention to the ‘stunning’ amount of food wasted. Their Chief Sustainability Officer wrote a book highlighting the hidden connection between food waste, hunger, and climate change — pointing out the inefficiencies of our system where one-third or more of the food we produce is not eaten, and yet over 800 million people are chronically hungry.

As a marketer by training, you have a very strong awareness of how powerful marketing can be in support of social causes. What are your recommendations for the food movement in terms of upping our game in this area?

We have found some of our greatest marketing success via shock value and doing the unexpected. For example, last year we launched the T5 Farm at our hometown JFK airport — an innovative experiment in urban farming and airport sustainability. The 24,000 square foot farm on site at the airport features 3,000 crates of potato plants, herbs and other produce. The average person does not think of natural, fresh foods when they think about the flying experience. We aimed to break that stereotype, and assert our brand as one that emphasizes local, responsibly produced food products. It has been massively successful, and the media coverage blew our estimates out of the water.


Photo by JetBlue


Photo by JetBlue

What has your experience and understanding of the Chinese economy and culture taught you about sustainability, and are there any lessons there for us to apply in the West?

The most important lesson I learned from years of working in China is the power people get from taking purchasing control over their own health. For example, overall you could generalize to say that modern Chinese culture has a higher tolerance for opaque behavior of companies. This has been misinterpreted by some business leaders in the US and Europe as an acceptance of unsustainable solutions or an ambivalence to sustainability. However, these same consumers have almost zero tolerance for anything but full transparency when it comes to their personal health, like tainted food for example. Again to generalize, you can say some Chinese consumers who have a choice express their consumer concern through personal health choices rather than protests, for example.

Your blog celebrates some of your favorite environmental game changers – including spots by celebs and social activism efforts.  Which do you find to be the most compelling examples for the food movement?   

My current favorite is Organic Valley, the food company, which has a new campaign ‘Real Morning Report.’ This campaign openly mocks products and their advertising which tell women to be perfect. The video laughs at the idea that working women make their bed, do yoga, and journal – all before their early morning meeting. What the video does do is tell women who cut corners on being traditionally feminine that they are not alone, making it a cause-marketing message for working women. At the same time, it shows how Organic Valley’s breakfast products can ease stress for those same women.

How can we learn more about your work?

We believe in transparently communicating our total environmental impact, as well as detailing the actions JetBlue is taking to reduce it. A summary of our environmental performance for 2007 through 2015 can be found here. Specifically our food-focused initiatives can be found at

Blog author Stephanie Miller is a food tech and digital marketing consultant who grows the market opportunity for sustainable food economy brands and products. She is a volunteer supporting the Change Food Fest.

The Change Food Fest “Growing the Good Food Movement”  will take place in New York City on November 12th and 13th, 2016. We will explore and celebrate change happening in the food system. Rather than simply talk about problems, we will actively look at solutions that are leading us to the sustainable food system we wish to see. Our focus will be on both real and visionary change and will include an exploration into seafood, plant based vs meat diets, possible impacts of new businesses and investment money coming into the food space – and much more. You can purchase a ticket or host a viewing party of the live webcast in your local community. Follow the action at #CFFest2016!

Change Food® works toward a healthier food system for people, animals & the planet.  Learn more about Plant Eat Share – planting food in public spaces. For free.