Andreea: Welcome to the One Million Years of Joy podcast. I'm Dr Andreaa Vanacker your host and my intention is to inspire you to find more joy in your life through the stories from our guests and the science on joy and purpose.
I’m delighted to introduce to you Christoph Langwallner, who's an Austrian entrepreneur and investor. He is the CEO and co-founder of WhatIF Foods and the nutritional paradox. Christoph is also the co-founder of Mega Savory Technology and Amadeus Holdings Pte, and he currently lives in Singapore
So, Chris welcome! I'm so happy to be with you here today.
Chris: Well, thank you very much for having me. It's an absolute pleasure. I look forward to this and let's see what sort of conversation we can develop.
Andreea: Of course. So, Chris, maybe let's begin with a deeper dive into your background and the wonderful work that you're doing at WhatIF and everything that connects basically the concept of Regeneration. Can you share more about what inspired you to have such a positive impact on this world and tell us more about the ventures that you're involved in.
Chris: Well, big question. How much time have I got? [laughs] On the less joking side, well I grew up essentially in a village setting in Austria just about 20 kilometers north of Salzburg, and I've experienced my grandfather as a huge connector in the community. My grandfather was, not only from his stature and from his build a big man, but he was also looked up to by so many in the community as one that really had this opportunity and this gift to connect people, because the business that my family did essentially was a business that deeply embedded within the community and hence my grandfather was one that really looked out for his friends and vice versa. You know, a pat on the back was a human touch that always occurred. So, I grew up in such a setting. I also grew up in a business that essentially was regenerative by default because, and I think this is missing in today's world, when my grandfather spoke to his grandchildren – I'm the oldest one so I remember him vividly – he was always emphasizing on what we call the ‘generation contract’ or ‘generational agreement’ which talks about that we as humans who take over assets from our ancestors have a responsibility to leave this place a much better world than we found it and inherited from our ancestors. And that generation contract in today's business jargon or even Civil Society is not talking about it anymore and hence We have basically developed ourselves into a Humanity that is happily degrading its way along without regarding anything that is left behind them and I'm just absolutely hopeful that the new generation looks at that totally different again and probably has an ability to reflect on what I've just discussed and say you know that doesn't have to be a degradation throughout our life there can be a regeneration throughout our life if we just adopt business practices but also practices in our homes that start from a different starting point. and I think that influenced really my mental fabric my business intellect and the way I would like to see myself leaving this planet at some stage in future and hence I've built an organization that today is WhatIF Foods probably tries to honor this generation contract that I was speaking about.
Andreea: So beautiful. So, tell us more concretely about what that translates into.
Chris: As an organization, we have started to really look into the definition of regeneration overall, because today you have scholars out there that talk about regeneration in terms of a regenerative economy, like John Fullerton does or Roland starts with John Elkington talks about regeneration in a different spirit. And then you have regenerative farming activities who look basically on that side of things in more depth. And then you have Laura storm, for example, who looks at literative leaders and what sort of fabric they are made of, and I was particularly keen to kind of weave them together in order to understand that regeneration is a system and not just actions that you take. It's a system that one has to live up to, particularly as a leader and a manager in the organization. So fundamentally, what we have tried to do is really try to reflect as leaders to basically say, so regeneration for us is nothing but our strive to share our lust for life with all those who would like to regenerate for today's youth and future generations. So that is essentially the purpose underneath which the entire fabric of the organization has been woven. And then we broke it down and say so what does that really mean in action? How can you then derive a mission from there? How can you derive a goal from there? And we actually started to dig deeper into the sort of definition. We came up with three pillars of regenerative activities and oneness basically, to reconnect to communities on both ends of the spectrum- consumers as well as farming communities. So those who actually work out in labor out there, on the fields in order to grow the food that the consumers at the other end of the supply chain then ultimately consume. So, reconnecting. And I can speak to what we really mean and how we do it and what the essence of it is and why it is so important. So, reconnection is one pillar. The second pillar is restoring, in particular degraded arable lands. And I can, again spend time on why this is so important. The restoration of degraded arable land in today's day and age is massively important, not only because of climate change, but also because of these farming communities, that can't pass land and move somewhere where climate change has less impact. They need to make things work where they are, and some of them are under desperate conditions. In the meantime, because soil degradation has already happened, climate change is hitting them hard and therefore they are left without productive assets at the other end. So that is pillar number two- Restoring this degraded out of land and have a positive impact on soil health in particular. And the third one is to approach food science and food technology totally different. By redesigning the foods that we consume on a day-to-day basis, in a much more replenishing fashion rather than for our own pleasure. Taste is everything for us consumers, but taste doesn't have to come at a cost of nutrition. And I'm always gutted by the distinction between- there is food, and then there is nutrition, and there's agriculture. In reality, they are so closely interconnected with each other, that one cannot be without the other. And hence why are we having a nutritionist if we have food? Sorry, the reverse of that, is that we're manufacturing food today [that] is not nutritious. And that's absolutely wrong! That is our third pillar, which is essentially looking at designing food that replenishes the nutrients that we need on a day-to-day basis, and hence work a lot with the concept of complete crops and complete food and strive for a diverse diet. Because I don't believe that there's a superfood. There's a super diet, which is one that is rich in diversity. And hence, these are the three pillars with regards to Regeneration. And that has really been the journey over the last several years, to really think through as to how Lust For Life can be translated through a business DNA in the way we are regenerating for the days used in tomorrow's and future Generations, as well as then breaking it down into the three pillars and that is one of restoring the particular soil house. One that reconnects to farming communities as well as then start to design foods that are replenishing the nutrients we need on a day-to-day basis. Hence this is some sort of a bridge, the arc underneath which the leaders, my colleagues, are making decisions and that's a fantastic journey. That's wonderful and joyful I would say. Does that make sense?
Andreea: Absolutely and I admire that you do, and what you've said and I absolutely love this concept of lust for life, and how we can actually bring joy through a more conscious action and leadership. And I was curious to get your view on, how do we educate the younger generations, or even leaders that are more traditional let's just say, in the way they look at prioritizing certain metrics that could be detrimental for sustainability, for regeneration and so on. How can we change those mindsets of the younger generation or the existing leaders in a more positive way to create a better future and a brighter future for all of us?
Chris: Well, I guess there are tactical approaches that one can undertake. You can go out and design for a change and do all sorts of psychological tricks with humanity that actually help these folks along a different path. But I guess, I'll stay a little bit more grounded in a way in my answer, because I believe you have to be the change that you want to see in that world to come about. This is just a phrase, I'm quoting Gandhi essentially, one that has been marching all his life. If you bridge- in business, in your marketing material, that a plant-based diet is one that helps us mitigate the results of climate change, then you should adopt it. You should live up to it. You should be doing it. Otherwise, it becomes a marketing flask that is empty. So, I think that, to the essence to the core of your question- how can you educate people. I think the simplest one is just- who you would like to be, and would like to see, in this world around and just live it! Live up to what you're saying! Walk your talk! Yeah, and just do it. Do it and others will follow for sure.
Andreea: Yes, because you become an inspiration!
Chris: I hope so [laughs] but that is left to others. I don't think you can aspire to become an inspiration. That is left to others. Whether or not my path is inspiring others to follow and take that step in a similar direction. I hope I do, but it's left to others to make a judgment on that. I think, the only thing that you really can focus on is that be convinced about what you say, and what you do, and live up to it. Show the world that you can do it. And, if you can do it, others will do as well. As simple as that.
Andreea: So, when I look at everything that you have done for What-If foods and the positive change that you're bringing about, tell me about your perspective on finding joy in life. Is there a connection between, as you said, what you're doing in your professional life and in your personal life? Where do the two connect and what brings you the most joy in your life?
Chris: That's a big question, right? I consider myself, being one of the few privileged folks out there, who have this opportunity to be able to create a business, a business model, redefine it, shape it, work together with other leaders in the organization, in order to refine it. That, then in the essence, is a vehicle to live up to what we discussed a little bit earlier, and that is to walk the talk and be the change you want to see in this world to happen. Therefore, for somebody like myself and even my family, particularly my wife, who is deep in our company, embedded as well. It is not any more of a distinction as to where are the boundaries between your personal life and your company life right, it sounds horrible. Probably for those who don't really enjoy what they are doing at work. But for us, particularly for me, it is just the opposite, you know? The moment you can work on a day-to-day basis on regenerative practices, you see the impact the business makes on farming communities in West Africa, you look at the happiness on Times Square in New York that just unleashed last weekend through our Market activation activities, it just gives you tremendous energy and motivation enough to keep on going and keep on digging deeper in that rabbit hole of creating this regenerative company and therefore the Lust For Life I spoke about in our purpose before is one that translates itself into essentially that joy, that you speak about, and for me there's no distinction anymore. Between what is company and what is home and so and so forth. So, it becomes all essentially one happy place that looks at regenerating what's broken. Doing that Under the Umbrella of regenerative economy, so that we are taking care of the capital cost, we're taking care of stakeholders and shareholders. That’s always important otherwise you end up in a in a rabbit hole that is more of an NGO, that then hasn't got the ability to make Capital work for the good cause. Hence that is, I think, probably is the answer. There's a blurred boundary. Of course, sometimes you have to stay away to say, “gosh I'm feeling exhausted!” or “I really need a break now”. Particularly after long travels and probably some stressful times, you need to step away and go in the jungles, or in my case, I go on a tennis court, and I hit on a tennis ball as much as I possibly can in order to regenerate my brain and reboot it and reset it. But apart from that, there is no distinction.
Andreea: And that's beautiful actually! Because then there's so much joy in every moment during the day. Rather than saying “oh I can only find joy when I'm outside of my work”, right now, it seems like through everything that you do, from even the choices of the foods you eat to the strategies that you bring forward everything, is just a beautiful example of the lust of life that you just talked about earlier.
Chris: Well, thank you. Let me say this- we strive for that, okay, nothing is perfect. It is well, but we all have flaws. But yeah, the reflection of what we're doing brings joy and I think that is the summary, right? So, if you strive for regeneration, if you strive for reconnecting and restoring and replenishing, and if you have deeply embedded [it] in your business DNA, they last for life. Then you are able to reflect, as to what has happened and what sort of outcomes the organization has achieved. Then there's joy. There are always moments on a day-to-day basis that fill me up with- “I'm actually proud of what we're doing here” and “oh gosh! I didn't know that folks are up to this now!” Those sorts of reflective moments are really fantastic, and they help you settle down and they help you get grounded and find the energy that you need for the next day.
Andreea: I love it, and Chris you mentioned that you lived in a multitude of countries- From Austria where you were born, to the UK, Russia, India, China, and now you've been living in Singapore for the last 12 years. Tell me, to what extent has this broad international experience and living in those countries has shaped how you look at how you lead your business today, and all the concepts revolving around regeneration.
Chris: That's an interesting question. Being able to be exposed to different cultures, different geographies, living in different climatic conditions- right from very cold countries like in Russia, to Singapore on the equator in a tropical climate give, you a total different outlook on things. It really shapes the horizon of how you go and walk through the world and through your life, I think. In particular, if you have done that as an entrepreneur more so than as an employee who had expert packages and an organization, is taking care of the basic necessities for my family. We didn't have that sort of luxury when we lived in India, for example, or in China, or for the most party in Singapore and that sort of helps you dig deeper into what the societal needs are in particular places. For example, when we started the project in India, we of course were aware where we are going to. Of course, we knew the environment we go and settle into for some time, but we were not aware of how important our business strategies can become and unfold for the community in that particular location. Hence, at times it is overwhelming because you have a moral obligation. You build a moral application and a responsibility and at times. I was probably too young to be able to totally inhale that and probably even live up to that obligation that we've walked into. So, while the externalities and these different places have shaped the world view of mine, so has that journey overall. These decades of living in different countries have shaped me because I think I was, as I said before, just very young when we moved to India. Today I look at it totally different. I look at it from total different vantage points. I look back to India and I reflect on people like CV Jacob, totally different than I did when I was there and that's fascinating. So I think that the ability to reflect on so many different touch points in one's journey that is shaped by location, by climatic conditions, by cultures, by people, by all sorts of different smells and sizes, and other sensory impressions, that really helps you probably broaden the vision of what's possible out there rather than if you stay all your life in one place and try to maneuver the world's challenges through that. I think broadening the horizon through the senses is the one that helps you reflect more deeply.
Andreea: Yes, its’s so enriching, to experience the world in a new light, and particularly when you're living in those countries that it's so different. And of course, when you're traveling and so on, and I can see the impact it has had on the way you look at the world and so on. It's really beautiful to see! You were talking about earlier, about the moral obligation that you felt you had towards the communities that you were serving, and I'm thinking about the obligations. Maybe, looking forward that, maybe some people may not necessarily be taking very seriously, right, the obligation, when you're looking at the severity of climate change and all the different problems that we hear about in the news. Looking forward, if there is one specific action that companies could take to shift the needle in a positive way, what would that shift be? And what is actually missing today in other words, because when you're looking at the problems relating particularly to climate change, we've known about this for many, many years. But despite that, there's a resistance for some leaders to actually embrace that change. So, what is missing in your view and what needs to change?
Chris: I’ll take a deep breath here, because who am I to give advice to other leaders? I'm just one tiny, small wheel in a global economy that tries to come up with a Better, Better. A Better Better way of doing things, and I'm in no position to give somebody else advice. But what I'm trying to do is to live the change I want to see in that world, and I try to live it every day, every hour of the day, and probably every minute of that hour. And if that inspires others to follow, then I'm a happy man. If not, then I hope that still my actions are bringing the positive change about, that we are desperately in need of. I'm in no position to give other leaders advice and come up with a recipe, because there are thousands of recipes out there that people should adopt. Then there's this model and that model and so on and so forth. If you fail to have the understanding of biological systems and how interwoven everything is and that essentially we are all one and we are deeply connected through a few atoms in our bodies that have been smelted and casted in the universe out there over billions of years, and if we start to understand, that we are just one, we probably would start looking at key performance indicators differently. We would look at the capitalism differently. We wouldn't talk about the left and the right, we would talk about how we can move forward to live this planet a better place than we inherited it. If that would be the Mantra, the mindset that people would adopt, not only companies but gosh! Leaders! Policy makers! NGOs! You know? If we would understand that, then I'm sure we would make better decisions. We would make decisions that are based more on the generational contract that I was talking about when we started this conversation, rather than just “I have to deliver this KPI right now because, otherwise, you know...” whatever. I think that's really what it runs down to. What sums it all up. It's that we need to understand, that we are just so interconnected, and we all want, and that is not just Humanity, it's the biological systems out there- it's the ecosystem, the flora and the fauna. That, basically, the privilege that we have to live on a planet where, as Sagan said, “Atoms contemplate Atoms”. We are in such a privileged position to do that, and we never talk about it. Hardly talk about it! And that actually says that Humanity hasn't reached an evolutionary level yet, that has profoundly embedded that thinking throughout Humanity. If you can do it, and I would love to see us go into it.
Andreea: Same here! [laughs] Same here, definitely. So, Chris, as you think about some of the actions you've taken to date, and you look back on your life, if there would be one thing that you could change, would you change anything?
Chris: Well, you got me on this one. What would I change? I’ve made many mistakes in my life. I probably would change, that I should fail faster. Cut off earlier, if things don't work. If they're not up to your own standards. Do away with them. Things like that. But I am not really a person that is so deep in, or I'm not really living in a in a world that is one of the past. I am I'm a keen lifelong learner. I think I do reflect quite deeply and frequently on what's happening around me in all sorts of things of life, and I always try to look at what can be done better in future and what is it that moves the needle faster towards the right direction- tomorrow. How can I be a better version tomorrow than I am today, is the core Mantra that I kind of utter on a frequent basis to myself. But, yes of course I could point that ‘oh I've made this mistake over here’ or ‘I didn't listen to my wife over there and she was right’ or you know? Things like that I could say, but at the end of the day they're just dragging you down and they're just holding you back. They're holding you back from deeply exploring your own or my own lust for life. And the way I would like to translate that into a regeneration and to come up with a business that strives to be a better version tomorrow than we are today. Hence, reflection is good learning. It is important. But why live in the past if you have a future in front of you? So just go forward.
Andreea: And talking about going forward actually, what are some of the things that you have on your bucket list or some of your aspirations that you would envision to achieve, to have no regrets?
Chris: My colleagues and I are creating a business. And that has, I think, the potential to really do good on that scale. I could go into telling you what it would mean if we are 1.7 percent of today's alternative products. Alternative milk, slash alternative meat products. What would happen, and what we would unfold. And so on and so forth. These are fascinating numbers. These are fascinating numbers because we would touch, for example, 20 thousand hectares of restoration of soil, which would touch about 15 to 20 thousand farmers. In communities that we are working with, one farm is responsible for a family containing about 10 members. We're talking about 180 thousand, 200 thousand people together, we will talk about bringing carbon into those particular degraded soils. We will talk about nitrogen fixing. We'll talk about replenishing the body with plant protein. We will talk about reconnecting all of that stuff are KPIs that we're striving for in the next, sort of step, for certain organization. But if you ask me personally as to what my goal is and what I would love to achieve through all of this, as well very simple at the end of my life, if there is somewhere a graveyard and the tombstone and it says- This bugger had a good go about doing the right thing. If that is engraved on it, then I am the happiest man leaving this planet, and that's what I'm striving for. As simple as that.
Andreea: How beautiful. So beautiful! Chris, you see, I've lost my train of thoughts just listening to you now. So, maybe just ask one final question, what are you most grateful for to date and that brings you immense joy?
Chris: I'm super grateful of my family. Without my family I couldn't do what we're doing or without them bearing this ‘nonsense of Chris’ that he comes up every now and then, and try to push our ourselves, I couldn't do what we're doing. So, I'm super grateful for that. I'm also grateful of the journey we have walked on, because when I grew up as a young boy in in Salzburg I was going into the primary school and was diagnosed with dyslexia, and I had a horrible time learning. So, nothing was really clear for me, as to how my professional path looks like. And I'm super grateful of having this opportunity to explore the world in the way we have done, my family and I. And then probably, the biggest one of it all, is actually to live in a pivotal moment in time on this planet, consciously that allows us to contemplate new solutions and new beings for this youth generation as well as future generations to come. I think we are absolutely privileged to live in this moment in time where we finally have recognized that unintended consequences are those that are destroying an environment around us that makes future generations living a hell on this planet, potentially. And being able to be on that planet right now in this moment is an absolute privilege. To contribute to that change, I think, a once in a lifetime opportunity. It sounds a bit cheeky in that context, but I I think you get what I want to say. It is that we're living in a world today where we have disruption everywhere. We have left and right, and the trenches are being dug deeper than they were rather than building bridges over them. We're living in the 21st century with nonsense wars, and we are living in a world where food prices explode, and communities are being left behind. We're living in a world where migration is happening, climate change is making people move away from their homes, and the list goes on and on and on. One can look at that as an absolute disaster and stay away and look at that from two complex of an issue to resolve. But I don't do that. I consider this an absolute blessing to be on this planet right now. To be able to come up with solutions, in order to create a future that is one of regeneration, I think this is what really matters. It is about that positivity. It's this Ethiopian worldview that I would like to be able to help shape, rather than look at how everything is lost, and therefore classes have empty. No, it is not. We have a fantastic opportunity to create something that is much more exciting, much more colorful, driven by scent and flavors, textures that we are unaware of yet, and let them come about. Let us unfold it. Let us see what's behind that corner.
Andreea: I love that, and it's so poetic and it connects to what you mentioned earlier. That we need to become one. We need to really join forces to be able to tackle a lot of the problems that we currently have out there as you mentioned. So, it's been such an honor and pleasure to talk to you Chris, and to discover your world and the positive contributions you're making and at least in my eyes and I hope in the eyes of the listeners as well your true inspiration for current generations, for future Generations. It's been an advanced pleasure to speak with you today. Any final thoughts that you'd like to share with the audience?
Chris: First of all, thank you very much for giving me your platform, to be able to share a little bit about my thoughts and what we are doing. I walked into this podcast today with you without much expectation. But the conversation around Joy, you know it opens up a box. That is so different from other podcasts that I've done in the past. I think this one really goes emotionally much deeper than the others that I've done, and I really really enjoy that. I enjoy being able to speak about our lust for life. I really enjoy making sure that people understand what lust of life can actually mean in a business dealing and, how it can translate into regeneration, and what these pillars are that we are striving to build. Therefore, I thank you very much, and I hope your listeners and viewers can take away one or two seeds that they can take away with them and plant somewhere and hopefully something beautiful sprouts from there. If that happens, if we succeed in one or two seeds do that, then I'm absolutely grateful! And I'm looking forward to meet that person sometime in the future. So, thank you very much.
Andreea: Thank you Chris, it's been a great pleasure.
Chris: Thank you.
Please listen to the full conversation here.