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All We Can Eat
Posted at 12:30 PM ET, 04/05/2012

Buy olive oil, help empower women

Do you care whether the food you buy comes with a conscience? Australian olive oil producer Jeremy Meltzer’s has reason to believe you do.

According to the 2011 results of an 18-year study involving 10,000 consumers in 10 countries (the United States, Canada, Brazil, the United Kingdom, China, India, Russia, Japan, Germany, France), 94 percent of consumers are likely to switch brands to one associated with a good cause; 93 percent of them think companies ought to analyze and
Jeremy Meltzer, Australian olive oil producer and social entrepreneur. (Bonnie S. Benwick/The Washington Post)
change their business practices in order to have as positive an impact as possible.

Further, 76 percent of those surveyed had purchased a product within the past year that had a positive environmental impact, and 65 percent had bought a product or service associated with a cause.

The last time we checked in with Meltzer, he and his father, Howard, had begun exporting their small-estate, varietal Yellingbo Gold Extra-Virgin Olive Oil in recyclable cardboard casks as well as bottles. From the start, the family business donated a portion of its profits to Indonesian children in distress from the 2004 tsunami.

Now Meltzer, 36, considers himself a social entrepreneur. He spends about four months of the year on the road to promote 2+U=Change, his online platform that underwrites programs aiding the health and safety of women and children worldwide.

Sometimes the journey means he has to sell some oil, of course, and so he’s worked his way into a few dozen lifestyle magazines. He’s cooked with Martha Stewart on the small screen, as you can watch above.

Girls in a school in an ethnic Burmese refu­gee camp in Maesot, Thailand. (Jeremy Meltzer)
But I’d say he’s even more effective in delivering his message up close and personal, with an iPad in hand. In town last week, he finger-swiped through a stream of images that depicted life in an ethnic refu­gee camp on the border of Thailand and Burma, where Meltzer was able to visit in January.

“Some of these people have been there for more than 20 years,” he says, “living in houses with paper walls. The women are victims of a systematic rape and ethnic cleansing. It’s heartbreaking to see.” As many as 90,000 are in the camps, he says, and dozens of NGOs are on hand to help.

Meltzer and Yellingbo, which packages 6,000 liters of olive oil annually, help support a number of empowerment projects for women, including the Girl Effect, Women for Women International and the White Ribbon Campaign. “I want to make people aware of these issues,” he says. “Selling olive oil isn’t a bad way to go about it. The 2+U campaign turns every customer of ours into a philanthropist — whether they like it or not.”

He designed a system to work just that way. Order Yellingbo olive oil through the company’s Web site and a prompt will ask which of a half-dozen causes you wish to direct the built-in donation toward, and there’s an opportunity to give extra. His olive oil, which is used by top chefs in his home country, does not come cheap; the 2-liter cardboard cask is now priced at $89 in Williams-Sonoma stores (a “huge get” after much negotiation, he says) but $49.50 online.

Yellingbo’s harvest is in May instead of the fall, when much of the rest of the world’s olive growers gather, sort, crush and press. A blend of corregiola, frantoio, leccino, barnea and manzanilla olives makes the Meltzers’ product complex and a little fruity, with a peppery finish. Perhaps with the upcoming holiday on his mind, the nice Jewish boy in Jeremy obligates him to mention that his oil is certified kosher as well as kosher for Passover. If you’re looking for a feel-good gift for your Seder host, this could well be the ticket.

Through Saturday, April 7, readers of All We Can Eat can receive a 10-percent discount on orders through Yellingbo’s Web site. Use the promotion code GIVE10.

By  |  12:30 PM ET, 04/05/2012

Tags:  Bonnie S. Benwick

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