By Katharine Gammon
Around the world, 5 million children per year die from issues and complications arising from malnutrition, that's more kids than are killed by malaria, AIDS, and TB combined. For years, therapeutic foods--cheap items that need no preparation and have high nutritional value in a small package--have been the best weapon against those unnecessary deaths.
Mark Slagle was hired by MANA, one of the companies making therapeutic food--what he calls "peanut butter on steroids" to increase the social profile of the movement. He and another recent college grad bought a Winnebago on eBay (calling it the Manabego), and hit the road to visit college campuses.
In November of last year, that happy enterprise stopped on the side of the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, near Pepperdine University and the van exploded, along with all the T-shirts, peanut butter samples, and the plans for the roadtrip.
"After the Manabego caught fire, two propane tanks in the back lit up and the whole thing blew 20-30 feet of fire and smoke. In about 20 minutes, it had burned the entire thing to ashes," recalls Slagle. "It was our home and our story and everything was gone in an instant. But I gotta say, it was pretty magical way to go, having its ashes scattered over the Pacific Ocean.
Slagle and his colleague Alex Cox finished their 12,000-mile road trip--sans Manabego--by hitchhiking the final 2,500 miles. By the end of it, the two had an idea to make something more sustainable out of their mission.
That idea quickly became Good Spread. Produced in Georgia, the all-natural peanut butter comes in packets and uses a buy-one-give-one model to donate one package of therapeutic food for every sale generated by the peanut butter.
Unlike the packing-a-punch food that goes to the developing world, Good Spread is simple peanuts, sea salt, and organic honey and it comes in iPhone-sized packets. The team's Indiegogo campaign recently raised nearly $70,000 and their first production is ramping up in a few weeks.
Slagle says that he wants to make a top-notch product, and also do something tangible to help malnourished kids. "Water, schools, education all incredibly important, but if these kids aren't starting out nourished it doesn't matter if you build schools because these kids are handicapped by hunger," he says, adding that development in many parts of the world would be simpler if the children had enough to eat.
When therapeutic food was invented a few years back, it solved many problems in quick nourishment: in the past, local water was needed to mix with a formula to feed kids, and the water wasn't always clean. "When peanut butter came into the mix, the moms could feed the kids themselves," says Slagle.
With three servings of MANA's peanut butter based therapeutic food each day, a child on the brink of death can be totally revived in four to six weeks. "The food is a treatment, so after a number of weeks they're off it, and there's a 95% rate that they never fall back into a severe malnourished state," says Slagle.
Copyright 2012 by Fast Company. Reprinted with permission.