Robb Fraley, Ph.D., chief technology officer, Monsanto.
Robb Fraley, Ph.D., chief technology officer, Monsanto.

Sometimes, wisdom shows up in unexpected places.

The other day I saw a Chipotle bag featuring part of an essay by Harvard Professor Steven Pinker. In "A Two Minute Case for Optimism," Pinker says that despite all the awful news headlines we see every day, the numbers actually tell a different story: worldwide, he points out, violence is down, infant mortality is down, more people live longer, more children attend school and so on.

Too many people still suffer from these challenges, he notes, and new ones like climate change lie ahead. But "...problems that look hopeless may not be; human ingenuity can chip away at them. We will never have a perfect world, but it's not romantic or naive to work toward a better one."

Dr. Pinker reminds us how progress in the past can embolden us to strive for more in the future.

I thought about this case for optimism in the context of my role at Monsanto.

Now, some of you reading this may know Chipotle and Monsanto have had our fair share of differences. But when I look at many of Chipotle's values - sustainable food production, respect for the environment, support for farmers and so on - I see common ground between our companies.

Other companies like Whole Foods, Stonyfield and Ben & Jerry's are also committed to challenges such as addressing climate change, making agriculture more sustainable and reducing environmental impact through soil preservation and water conservation. Monsanto shares these same goals. We work hand-in-hand with farmers, non-profits, universities and many others to find solutions to these very challenges.

It's too easy for some observers to focus on the differences among us. It makes for catchier news headlines, but it is not a great way to solve problems.

The fact is nearly everyone in the food industry is talking about the same issues today. We all are committed to feeding the world, protecting the environment and other challenges. Talking openly about these issues is a great first step to meeting these monumental challenges. I am glad so many companies today are making commitments to work toward a better world. That's the beginning of a path forward.

So as a new year gets underway, let's all of us who are concerned about food and the environment step back for a moment and consider the big picture, the way Steven Pinker does. Let's recognize we share the same challenges. We all want to eat nutritious food and live on a healthy planet. And, while we have disagreements, our areas of agreement are much larger.

Maybe it's romantic or naive, but to me, that's progress.