For several years, the ReFED team has been working to educate ourselves on how efforts to reduce food waste intersect with inequities within the food system – and like many others, we felt an urgency to sharpen our focus and escalate our efforts in reaction to the racial reckoning marked by the murder of George Floyd in 2020. Since then, we have taken time as a team, and as individuals, to learn more about the issues and to determine how ReFED’s role in the food waste space and the larger food ecosystem can be leveraged to advance those issues that we believe we have a responsibility to address. Creating a sustainable food system that also prioritizes inclusivity requires the input and efforts of all stakeholders, and we began this process with more questions than answers – but we also felt strongly that inaction was not an option.
That belief drove a number of internal and external actions that are outlined in this post, including the development of a landscape assessment detailing how the food system’s current integration with principles of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ) could be leading to increases and decreases in food waste along a variety of factors. Our hope is that this work will identify areas for improvement, both within ReFED and among the broader food waste community, and serve as a source for inspiration and ideas as we collectively work to enhance equity and make room for voices that have historically been marginalized.
In December of 2021, ReFED received our first grant exclusively earmarked for DEIJ work from The Betsy & Jesse Fink Family Foundation. A portion of this grant was used to engage Carmen Phelps, lead consultant at Project 986 Consulting, to help us audit our internal policies and practices through a lens of equity, as well as educate the staff on key topics within the DEIJ space, from creating an organization-wide DEIJ vision to understanding white-dominant culture.
The grant also helped us bring on our first-ever full-time DEIJ Fellow, Nyree Hall, to develop a Landscape Assessment to examine the intersection of DEIJ and the food waste sector that provides insights into what work is currently happening, who is involved, where there are gaps, where there are opportunities, and where there are potential inadvertent consequences. Initial research results were introduced at the 2022 Food Waste Solutions Summit this past May, and a full report will be shared in the next couple of months for public feedback before the final report is released.
We laid out two primary objectives to guide our work:
- Expand knowledge of DEIJ within the food waste space: Using secondary and primary research, we aim to gain (and share) insights about how DEIJ and food waste intersect and impact one another.
- Support adjustments to ReFED’s program strategies and execution to bolster equity and justice in the food system: The data collected from the research should inform how ReFED can more strategically and positively impact DEIJ through existing and future programs – both internally and to support the work of stakeholders.
To address our objectives, our research methodology included:
We conducted a literature review and gleaned information from a variety of peer-reviewed journal articles focused on the intersection of food waste, food systems, and DEIJ.
We also conducted more than 20 stakeholder interviews with individuals across the food system and other industries to leverage their insights and expertise on DEIJ issues. (We spoke with individuals working in urban planning, municipal government, transportation and logistics, food rescue and donation, food waste funders, and more.)
This primary and secondary research elicited a plethora of valuable information, which we have organized into five “Food Waste x DEIJ Insight Verticals,” thematic groupings that helped us structure our research findings into more cohesive insights – currently these are Food Access & Food Security, Treatment of Workers in the Food System, Lack of Representation in the Food System Workforce, Consumer Education, and Capital Flows. At the same time, we recognize the limitations of these Verticals being able to comprehensively capture all of the potential hypotheses around this research intersection. As such, we plan to share a list of research gaps for future consideration when the full Assessment is released, and we are excited about the opportunity to collaborate on further research and to continue to collect robust insights beyond this.