I had the pleasure of interviewing Jola Sonkin, CEO & Co-Founder of GoMacro, who is on a mission to spread awareness for a balanced, plant-based lifestyle with products that have positive effects on the world. Through the sourcing of high-quality, organic ingredients and promotion of sustainable farming techniques and fair-trade practices, she leads the vegan nutrition brand to remain environmentally responsible on all levels, backed by the brand’s five founding principles: Live Long, Go Vegan, Give Back, Tread Lightly and Be Well.
What is your “backstory”?
In my previous life, I worked in a totally different industry as a Latin teacher at a school in Chicago. Once my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, everything changed. Rather than opt to undergo the doctor-recommended five-year regimen on Tamoxifen, my mother switched to a macrobiotic diet, incorporating healthier whole foods grown mostly on her Wisconsin farm. I also adopted the diet and joined her in support and eventually, the diet helped my mother achieve recovery.
After that, we found that there wasn’t a healthy dessert alternative on the market that fit our nutritional needs and satisfied our sweet tooth. That’s when my mother started experimenting with special, macrobiotic cookies and bars — and GoMacro was born. I went to our local natural foods store to sell the cookies, and that became our very first retail customer.
Why did you found your company?
A macrobiotic diet helped me focus more on the ingredients that promote a healthy lifestyle. Because of the impact clean eating had on my life and my mother’s life, I wanted to make healthy, clean foods accessible to others, and help people experience the transformative power of a balanced, plant-based lifestyle on a daily basis.
Today, that emphasis on a plant-based lifestyle enables me to understand that ingredients are more than nutrition facts. By taking the focus off of caloric value and onto nutritional importance, I have achieved a better physical and mental balance in all aspects of my life and am passionate about sharing that with the world.
What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
We’re introducing the concept that healthy, clean food can still taste good. We’re finding that people assume that you have to choose accessibility and speed over clean ingredients and vice versa, but we’ve broken those barriers. You don’t expect to go into a convenience store and find a healthy snack that’s readily available and delicious, but GoMacro has made that possible.
We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?
My mom has been a mentor to me throughout this journey. I was in such awe of her strength throughout her battle with cancer, and she’s been a mentor to me as my co-founder and partner at every step of the way.
I learned that we have the power to take control of our own health and life. I was so impressed about how she did her own research instead of just listening to doctors. That’s the lesson I’ve taken from her and have applied to my personal life in raising my kids, and building GoMacro.
How are you going to shake things up next?
Consumer feedback and desires have always been at the forefront of GoMacro’s innovations. We’re working on creating more nut-free options that are just as tasty and satiating as our nut-butter based bars. We’re also working hard to stay on top of the trends and hot flavors.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey?
Stand behind what you advocate and back up your product. Right when we started GoMacro, the buyer at one of our early retailers in California wouldn’t bring in the product because we weren’t certified organic, despite all of our ingredients being organic. From that moment on, it really taught me the importance of being certified in something and backing up your product, and we realized that we needed to prove our worth by having label certifications. That’s the reason why we’ve pursued all of our certifications — certified vegan, gluten-free, organic, R.A.W., C.L.E.A.N., kosher and non-GMO project certified — and put a tremendous amount of research and development into having those certifications.
Live a healthy, balanced life. Our company mission is to spread awareness for a balanced, plant-based lifestyle with products that have positive effects on the world. But to actually promote a balanced life means you need to truly live it on a daily basis. It’s our goal to inspire you to have a healthy body, sharp mind and bold spirit.
Family comes first. It’s innate for any mom to know this, but it’s nice to be reminded of. When you truly love what you do and believe in your mission, you become so passionate about the work you’re doing and want to put all you have into it. Sometimes, you need those reminders that family comes before work.
What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking?
About two years after we started GoMacro as a result of my mother’s diagnosis of breast cancer, Michael Pollan wrote “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” in which he critiqued agribusiness and factory farming. His discussion on the importance of eating organic food, real food that you can pick for yourself and ingredients that your grandmother would recognize, was in tune with the way that my mother and I were eating.
Everything he said reinforced our vision for GoMacro — simple organic ingredients, non-GMO, minimal processing. Validation from a well-known New York Times writer at that time was very important to us. He then wrote another book “In Defense of Food” in which he stated that most of what we buy in stores is not food, coining his well-known phrase “Eat Food, Not too much, Mostly plants.”
The plant-based diet has been the cornerstone of our company, our products and our lifestyle from the start and his insights gave us confidence and support.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
I’ve always thought Hilary Swank was a fascinating person. She doesn’t follow the crowd, but really thinks about the issues. Her love for animals and depth as a person are very admirable. I think we’d really bond over our shared desire to live a healthy, clean life.
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Originally published at medium.com