On Circular Economy
I have to recognize and honor the fact we are on ground that does not belong to anybody. The First Nations did not get that recognition. I think that’s really important and where I want to start.
With a circular economy I am thinking about how we are understanding our relationships, surface then deep. An exchange means words, it means thoughts, it means an ask of something. An economy is an ask of something. You have something, we are engaged, and we are talking and so I am thinking about that a bit too. When I think about economy—things flowing to and fro—none of it is static. And it’s not actually circular—where you go 360 degrees and come back to where you started—but a lot of times too what it asks of us is that we are going up. I don’t want to be too overly bound by directionality but I do want to say circular means movement and it's not necessarily back to where you started.
An example I can put into words is: when we think about a circular economy and we think about what is trash, and what was once trash comes back through. And that thing that was trash is no longer trash, or that thing that was bad is no longer bad. When we think about the environment, we know that it is better to restore old buildings than it is to create new ones. But it is more profitable for developers to create new ones. But it is better for our history, our place, our space, to allow for some structures to remain. Not too far away in Virginia, there is a building that used to be where slaves were sold. That was a building that people would come for that marketplace. Now, do we want to tear down that building? Or do we want to keep it, as Bryan Stevenson would say, to allow for others to understand what happened in this place and this space? And it is actually better for the environment to keep that building there because that building could have other uses. So when you think about circular economy and what we are keeping, what was once trash or what was once thought of as a good thing and now is considered a bad thing, how are we reusing that in a way that helps build our culture?
What is happening during COVID-19, 17 million more people were thrust into food insecurity. Now do we know if those people have ever faced food insecurity before? We don’t know. I will tell you this. It is pretty constant, before the pandemic, how many people were food insecure: about 37 million people. It is disgusting. Now bring it back to the food. 10 million tons of food is basically tilled under every year. Cabbage, green beans, potatoes, strawberries. This means that in the farm field, after the growing season has stopped, there is still food. Cucumbers. Peaches. For a variety of reasons, that food does not go to market—it is not donated—it goes back into the soil. So farmers took all this time to grow it, to care for it, and there is this abundance of food that doesn’t go anywhere. 10 million tons. 2,000 lb. in a ton. And so what this pandemic has shown is that there are too many people who are hungry and what our food chain has illuminated for a lot of people is that we are hemorrhaging food all over the place.
So when you think about a circular economy, what Food Recovery Network is trying to think about is how are we working around workforce development to create jobs that are rethinking our food system and the hemorrhaging that is happening to capture that food, to ensure people today are getting fed, because there are always going to be people today who need to get fed. There have always been people who need support and help. But what are we doing to actually lower that number of—right now—54 million people who are food insecure? What are we doing to change our economy, our culture, our cycle, to say we want to do things differently to support people getting fed, and to support people having jobs and doing that work? And I know that is a big, bold idea, but there are a thousand ways. I am really interested in that and am also excited by how many people are doing this work, where the exchange is not necessarily monetary. There are other relationships and the exchange is in the relationship.