“Don’t let today’s solution be tomorrow’s problem.” That sentiment — spoken to me by Niaz Dorry, Coordinating Director of the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, when I first met her at the 2016 Food Tank Summit in Washington, D.C. — has barely left my mind since the event occurred in mid-April. Niaz happened to be talking to me about how all too often, when we try to divert attention away from fish that are being over-consumed, we place attention on other fish with bigger populations to give the over-consumed fish a break to repopulate. What happens, she said, is that eventually those fish become over-consumed, too. So while we’re still waiting for the first group of fish to repopulate, we now have a second group of fish facing the exact issue for which we were trying to solve. We essentially kick the can down the road; with this method, we cause more harm than good.
I derive solace from the knowledge that groups like Niaz’s exists and they, like many of the organizations represented at this year’s 2016 Food Tank Summit, are there to think more intentionally about our practices around food so that our solutions today don’t cause further problems tomorrow.
I was able to tell people about Imperfect Produce, the business Ben Simon, co-founder and former executive director of FRN, started that ensures “ugly” produce that would have been left in the field is now purchased by consumers. At the same time, we heard from Jeremiah Lowery, Political Appointee to the D.C. Food Policy Council, and Lauren Shweder Biel, Executive Director of DC Greens, who demand that the voices of those living in poverty are heard – that they too need a place at the table to proffer solutions to feeding more people. There were additional panels dedicated to “Uncommon Collaborations,” facilitating finding solutions through a variety of partnerships. From “ugly” produce to partnerships, dialogue at the summit focused on intentional, viable solutions.
And for me, the proudest moment came when I was able to tell the hundreds in the audience and the hundreds more watching the livestream across the country about Food Recovery Network. About the will of college students from coast to coast who year after year, despite busy schedules, finals, and social demands, are consistently on the front line to support their colleges and universities in reducing waste at the source. I was asked, “Well, when the dining halls make adjustments in ordering so there is less waste at the source, what do your students do then?” I said we are not here to generate surplus food in order to provide food to those in need — we want to see surpluses decreases. To advocate otherwise would be solving a problem for today that would not move the needle for tomorrow. Luckily for us, however, humans have a tendency of creating surplus despite best efforts. The beauty of FRN is that we are there to ensure that surplus goes to those in need. I was able to tell the audience of how we have sought new places to recover food, including additional dining halls on campus and restaurants and stores in campus communities. Events, too – the audience cheered and clapped when I informed them that the surplus food from the summit was being recovered by FRN staff and our Carleton College chapter.
Remember when I blogged back in November about FRN being the standard from which food recovery solutions are measured? It’s true. Our movement is about making food recovery as commonplace as recycling, and when our dining halls and our restaurants don’t recover their surplus food, it’s as cringe-worthy as seeing someone intentionally litter. Recycling and not littering are mores of our nation, and our movement is ensuring that we add throwing out food to that list. As I was happy to share at the summit, recovering our surplus food is the next frontier – and we’re already there.