Thistle — a meal service that supports your health and the health of the planet

Christa Avampato
7 min readMay 23, 2024
Delicious meals that are part of Thistle’s meal delivery service. Image by Thistle

I recently had the wonderful opportunity to get to know Thistle, a meal delivery service that is conscious of the health of its customers and the health of the planet. For me, this is a win-win value proposition. I’m always eager to learn about brands, products, and services that understand the inextricable link between human and planetary health.

I sat down with Shiri Avnery, co-founder and President of Thistle, who holds a PhD from Princeton University’s program in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy and a ScB in Geological Sciences from Brown University. Her research has focused on air pollution, agriculture, climate change, and natural resources.

Shiri and her husband, Ash, founded Thistle driven by the fact that two of the greatest challenges of our generation — our growing health crisis and current climate emergency — pointed to a common solution: eating more plants and eating less meat. Thistle aims to make eating healthy, plant-forward, and planet-friendly meals easy to do and a celebration to enjoy with irresistible meals delivered directly to your door.

Me: “Shiri, it’s such a pleasure to meet you! How did your personal and professional background and interests lead you to start Thistle with Ash?”

Shiri: “I’ve had a passion for earth and environmental science from an early age, kindled back in the 8th grade by an incredible geology teacher. This passion carried me through college, a master’s, and a PhD, where my early research focused on historical records of climate and environmental change, and later, on the intersection of agriculture and the environment — especially how they impact and are impacted by each other.

The more I learned, the more urgent the need for action became clear. Meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement is impossible without addressing our food system — especially our demand for animal products, which disproportionately drives climate change, consumes vast amounts of freshwater, and is a leading cause of pollution and species extinction through deforestation and habitat destruction.

My co-founder (who’s also my life partner!) and I frequently discussed how two of our generation’s greatest challenges — our growing health crisis and planetary emergency — could be mitigated by eating less meat and more plants.

But we found this way easier said than done! Transitioning to a plant-based diet was hard — we had little time to cook and struggled to find recipes that provided optimal nutrition, variety, and tasted great. It just felt like too much work and sacrifice. This challenge inspired us to create Thistle: a solution to make plant-forward meals as delicious and convenient as they are nutritious and sustainable. Our goal is to make plants irresistible, so that everyone finds following a plant-forward diet both simple to do and a celebration to enjoy.”

Me: “Thistle’s been around since 2013 and you’ve outlasted so many other meal delivery brands. What is your greatest hope for Thistle five years from now? Ten years from now?”

Shiri: “Because we make products that are good for people and the planet, scaling up means greater positive impact. Our hope for Thistle is to become a leading name in plant-based nutrition, known for our commitment to health, sustainability, and above all, taste — we aim to make the most delicious food out there, period. As we scale, we envision Thistle playing a pivotal role in transforming the global food landscape towards plant-forward eating. Our goal is to inspire millions of people to embrace plant-rich diets and to collaborate with other organizations and policymakers to create a more sustainable and equitable food system for all, with measurable benefits for human and environmental health.

We hope to significantly expand our reach, making our meals accessible to a broader audience across the country and even internationally, and to continue to expand and innovate our menus and product lines to meet the diverse needs of our customers, including specific dietary preferences, tastes, and nutritional requirements. We also hope to get our products into the hands of those who need it most by partnering with healthcare providers and insurance payors as part of the burgeoning food as medicine movement.”

Me: “As a mission driven business, how do you balance your business needs and the impact of your company? That is a balance many companies struggle with.”

Shiri: “Our mission to improve personal and planetary health isn’t a separate part of our business — it’s integrated into every decision we make. That means there are lines we won’t cross if doing so could compromise our mission, even if there’s a business case for it. For example, we haven’t and won’t create products that cater to meat-heavy fad diets given the overwhelming scientific evidence for a whole food, plant-based diet to promote health, longevity, and sustainability. We also never serve beef given its disproportionate negative impact on the environment, and instead emphasize planet-friendly, plant-based protein sources like tofu, legumes, nuts, and seeds (our entrees contain at least 20g of protein from plants, with the option to add lower-impact poultry or pork). We firmly believe that doing good is good business, and that upholding our ethos strengthens our brand and fosters trust and loyalty among our customers who share our values and our vision.”

Me: “I’ve been so impressed by your customer testimonials and press. What are some customer stories that most inspire you?”

Shiri: “I love hearing stories from customers about how we’re helping them improve chronic health issues, whether it’s blood pressure, cholesterol, A1C, or weight loss; it’s just incredible to hear how our products enhance our customers’ health and quality of life. Customers also regularly write in to let us know that we’ve helped them get through particularly tough times in their lives, whether it’s supporting them as new parents, an especially busy period at work, or a time of grief. Customer stories of how Thistle lightens their mental load and gives them back time and energy to focus on themselves and their families helps drive us to do what we do every single day.

It’s also incredibly inspiring to hear that we’ve helped our customers eat less meat and align more closely with their sustainability goals. One of my favorite stories is when customers tell us that their meat-and-potatoes partners, who swore off veggies as kids, start to steal their Thistle meals. This feedback is especially gratifying because it shows we’re winning on taste, which is the most important thing we can do to get more people to eat this way!”

Me: “I’m always curious to hear who inspires founders I talk to. Who are your greatest heroes who inspire your work on Thistle?”

Shiri: “I really admire those in the academic world doing the research and speaking out to policymakers trying to drive change, especially those who can take complex scientific topics and break them down into easily digestible pieces. I think Hannah Ritchie from Our World in Data is incredible at this, and her pieces on food and many other topics have inspired me since the early days. I also admire those who actively speak out when their work is ignored or worse, misrepresented. For example, likely under industry pressure, a new FAO report on transforming the food system hardly mentions the most important thing we can do — eating less meat — and is being slammed by experts like Matthew Hayek for ignoring and distorting his and others’ critical research (e.g. see here and here).”

Me: “There is so much greenwashing in sustainability and it’s made people understandably skeptical. How does sustainability play a role at Thistle?”

Shiri: “Sustainability isn’t just a box we tick; it’s woven into our DNA. We’re guided by Paul Hawken’s Principles of Regeneration, which emphasize putting life at the forefront of every decision. For us, this means first and foremost creating products that fulfill genuine human needs (not ‘manufacturing human wants’) while regenerating, not destroying, life on our planet. From our meticulously crafted, nutritious, planet-friendly recipes, our careful ingredient selection, the partners we conscientiously source from, how we treat our employees and show up for our community, and minimizing any negative impacts of our operation, our dedication to creating a better, brighter future is why we’re here in the first place.

This notion of being catalysts for positive change inspired us to choose the thistle plant as our company’s namesake and logo. The thistle is a resilient pioneer plant that sustains life around it and replenishes the earth beneath it, revitalizing the very land it grows upon. Inspired by its remarkable ability to nourish, heal, and help life to prosper, the thistle perfectly represents our company’s mission.”

Me: “Right now, what is the greatest need you have to take Thistle to the next level?”

Shiri: “One of our key priorities is to communicate our mission and purpose more powerfully across all customer touchpoints. We’re not just providing lunch or dinner solutions — many companies out there do that. Our goal is to transform individual health and the food system through the power of plants, making plant-rich foods so delicious and convenient that they replace the processed, meat-heavy options that destroy our bodies and the planet. As more people look to improve their physical and mental health, athletic performance, sleep, and longevity, and as awareness of our food system’s devastating environmental impact grows, better communicating our mission and purpose will help us build stronger relationships with our customers, resonate with their values, and differentiate ourselves from the competition to drive greater growth and impact.”

I’m so grateful for the chance to talk with Shiri, and to be introduced to Thistle. Have you given their service a try? What did you think? I’d love to know!

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Christa Avampato

Award-winning author & writer—Product Dev — Biomimicry scientist — Podcaster. Runs on curiosity & joy. twitter.com/christanyc / instagram.com/christarosenyc