California's Pacific Coast Highway was moonlit, a perfect 70 degrees and filled with hope for miles. As we drove our 1971 Winnebago from Ventura to Malibu with the windows open, the fresh ocean breeze kissed our skin and Perry Como serenaded us on the 8-track player. Suddenly, we heard a loud 'POP' sound from the rear axle and pulled off the road. We stepped out and saw an aggressive flame in the hindquarters of our loyal steed.
Our story begins with Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM). SAM claims more lives than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria -- combined! For those that survive its grip, SAM is a major contributor to underdeveloped brains and immune systems. It's a shockingly silent menace considering the impact it has on millions of children around the world each year. However, the most shocking part of all is that the disease has a simple and effective cure.
In the 1990's, a pediatric nutritionist and food-processing engineer, André Briend and Michel Lescanne respectively, invented a formula generally known as Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF). It is a simple formula containing peanut paste, milk and vitamins. It ships in 92 gram sachets, and just three sachets per day for up to six weeks has a cure rate of more than 90 percent. It removes the need for hospitalization, can be administered at home by the parents or caretaker of the malnourished child, and doesn't require adding water.
After learning about RUTF from our mentor Mark Moore at Mana Nutrition, my friend Mark Slagle and I were inspired to travel the country and spread the good news about this life-saving medicine made from peanut butter! To us, it seemed miraculous. Naturally, we found ourselves in the cockpit of a 1971 Winnebago, complete with shag carpet and an 8-track player. Between the open road, our house on wheels and Perry Como, we were on a quest to preach the good news about RUTF. We visited universities, charitable organizations, Waffle Houses and any other place that would accommodate our Winnebago and hear the story. We were like millennial hippies, traveling with an RV full of peace, love and a pin on the door that read "Peanut butter is better than pot."
It was groovy.
We picked up hitchhikers, learned the art of Winnebago maintenance, saw historic places and always, at the end of each day, drove off into the sunset (or broke down). We were like highway cowboys on a mission to make an impact on the world.
That is until November 11, 2011, the fateful night described at the beginning of this story.
To make a long story short, shag carpet is flammable, and propane tanks, under the perfect conditions, explode. We watched (and filmed) the Winnebago explode into a flame of glory and saw her ashes scatter across the Pacific.
Hitchhiking the remaining 3,000 miles of our planned tour seemed reasonable at the time, and most people we rode with loved the story, gave a donation and typically asked for a packet of RUTF as a memento. That last part really stood out to us. People wanted to hold something in their hands to signify their donation.
With this knowledge, Mark and I decided to crowdsource an idea for a social impact peanut butter company we called Good Spread. We started with self-serve pouches of peanut butter blended with honey to represent the sachets of RUTF. When people bought Good Spread peanut butter, we would provide RUTF to children around the world.
The response was overwhelming. Within 18 days we raised nearly $70,000.
In just a few years, Good Spread went from selling little pouches of peanut butter locally to selling jars in all Harris Teeters, Amazon.com and has a growing list of upcoming locations, including Whole Foods. More importantly, as our company has grown we've been able to provide more than 30,000 sachets of RUTF to Chad in Africa and more than 40,000 to Nicaragua in Central America. It isn't RUTF on a massive scale yet, but it's far more than two Winnebago residents could ever pull off alone.
Through it all, collaboration is the most valuable thing we've learned. The founders of Good Spread aren't heroes. The people who buy Good Spread and believe we can make a dent in SAM are the heroes. By creating a platform for others to help provide RUTF, we've started to make a real difference. The simple decision of the everyday consumers to purchase something that matters adds up fast when enough people do it. We don't live in a world that needs lone highway cowboys. This is an age of collaboration, a time to get as many people together from as many places as possible and work in unison to make positive changes that echo around the world. It is possible to eradicate SAM, and we will see it in our lifetime -- but only if we work together.
And don't get me wrong, the highway spirit journey is never a bad decision. Just make sure you buckle up and let your heart do the driving.
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