Arturo Elizondo named 2019 NHI Person of the Year
Arturo Elizondo, a National Hispanic Institute alumnus from Laredo who may change the future of food as we know it, has been named 2019 NHI Person of the Year by NHI President and Founder Ernesto Nieto.
Elizondo is the co-founder of Clara Foods, a San Francisco-based biotech food company driven to, according to the company’s website, “solve the problems of our current food ecosystem.” The company, launched in 2015, has embarked on extensive research and development since then, ramping up to what should be an eventful 2020 in which it goes to market with its alternatives to animal proteins.
Elizondo, who is now a practicing vegan, became aware of what he sees as the unsustainability and dangers of the food industry, while on a government leadership track that included high-profile internships with Congressman Henry Cuellar, President Barack Obama, and United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. He then bravely switched career tracks, seeking to lead the world through changing how we feed the world.
“Arturo Elizondo is a great example of what an NHI leader can be,” Nieto said of his selection for this year’s honors. “NHI encourages innovation, collaboration, and dreaming about what’s possible to create a better future. His work with Clara Foods imagines a better future and strives to make that future happen, in a way that exemplifies the assets we as Latinos bring. It’s innovation that comes from the heart as well as the mind.”
Elizondo, who attended United High School in Laredo, arrived at NHI unconventionally. He only attended the Collegiate World Series program—specifically, the 2009 Texas CWS at the University of Incarnate Word in San Antonio. And he wasn’t recruited: He found NHI on his own, investigating potential summer programs to help in the college application process, and applied on his own. He then found more than he’d expected upon arriving at the UIW campus to embark on his sole NHI program.
“I found this incredibly motivated group of Latinos,” he recalls. “It was a community where we were told we could do anything. And that was very empowering. It was heartening to be around so many other students who also wanted to get great educations, to leave their comfort zones, to be someone in the world. And I found that to be very inspiring.” Elizondo recalls, in particular, the mentors from top-flight institutions like Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — which helped him make the leap from high school to Harvard.
Elizondo’s innovative work, which includes a fermentation process that creates egg proteins without involving chickens, is getting notice. Earlier this year, Forbes honored Elizondo as one of its 30 Under 30 honorees advancing science and, in the magazine’s words, “upending decades of ideas, research and methods in their respective fields.” That’s part of media attention, also including articles in the Guardian and Fortune, that bode well for Clara Foods’ entry into the market.
Elizondo’s sense of purpose in creating Clara Foods and committing to food sustainability came from the understanding of comida’s significance in Mexican-American life.
“Especially as a Latino, meat, milk and eggs such a central part of our culture,” he reflected. “I needed to find a better way to make food delicious, but also healthy and sustainable. And I became so obsessed with that, with that problem, that in some ways, it didn’t feel like a choice.”
To learn more about Elizondo and his vision, here’s video from his Forbes 30 Under 30 article:
And here’s video from a TEDxYouth@Laredo talk he gave in 2014: