Building Equity into the Food Waste Movement

Building Equity into the Food Waste Movement

Written by: Lily Herd

July 1, 2022

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.

Overview:

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

Desk Research

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.

Stakeholder Interviews

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.

Fig 1. Graphic Notes Illustration by Lisa Troutman of Drawnwell on May 11, 2022 ©

Food Waste Summit Fishbowl Discussions:

To share these initial insights with our network for responses and feedback, we hosted two Fishbowl Discussion sessions at the 2022 Food Waste Solutions Summit in Minneapolis. Overall, there was an inspiring amount of energy and discussion around this topic at the Summit, and we felt deep gratitude to those who were present during these sessions for sharing their truths and feedback with us. 

Having learned that an important part of DEIJ work is to “pass the mic,” we are presenting the live graphic notes illustrating the points made and the perspectives shared by Summit Fishbowl Discussion attendees:

Fig 2/3. Graphic Notes Illustration by Lisa Troutman of Drawnwell on May 11, 2022 ©

Public Comment Period

We are so grateful to the individuals and communities that have shared their time with us to date, and over the next several months, we will pull our learnings into a draft report to be shared for public comment. Our hope is to provide everyone who is interested with a chance to have their voices heard before this first iteration of the Landscape Assessment report is released later this year.

We feel privileged to have learned as much as we have thus far, and we are looking forward to deepening our understanding on these important intersections so that we can continue to act intentionally to foster equity and justice into the food waste space. Our hope is that the upcoming report will be used to improve our food system and reduce wasted food in a way that aligns with DEIJ principles wherever possible.

Upon the report’s release, ReFED will also be hosting a series of roundtable discussions to explore opportunities for creating working groups to help put the report’s recommendations into practice wherever appropriate.

If you have any questions or comments in the meantime, please reach out to Lily Herd at Lily.herd@refed.org

ReFED is a national nonprofit working to end food loss and waste across the food system by advancing data-driven solutions to the problem. ReFED leverages data and insights to highlight supply chain inefficiencies and economic opportunities; mobilizes and connects people to take targeted action; and catalyzes capital to spur innovation and scale high-impact initiatives. ReFED’s goal is a sustainable, resilient, and inclusive food system that optimizes environmental resources, minimizes climate impacts, and makes the best use of the food we grow.

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