A Food System for Samantha
Today in our country, Feeding America reports, there are more than 42 million people (1 in 8) including 13 million children (1 in 6) who experience food insecurity. And when we look at the most insecure populations, there are entire geographic regions and groups of people who make up an unfortunate majority of the hungriest and underserved.
Across the globe, the world wastes more than 1 billion tons of food every year. Here in the U.S., we waste 108 billion pounds of food each year. Think how many people could have benefited from those meals, and how much greenhouse gas could have been eliminated from the atmosphere if our food systems were more efficient. Almost 40% of all food in America is wasted, and this fact, seems just plain foolish and irresponsible.
We celebrate that we are the land of milk and honey here in the U.S., yet only 1 in 8 of us have access to it, and we waste 40% of it. We can do better, which is why in addition to spending the majority of my career studying food and agriculture, for the past two years at UpField, we have spent a significant amount of time studying sustainable food systems, system theory, and talking to food system stakeholders about the current food system, and what the future of food looks like in our country.
There is no single solution to the complex hunger issue we face, however I believe there is a case to be made that it begins with the foundation and infrastructure. Just like building a house, a food system begins and will not be sustainable without a strong foundation.
• Assume farmers will continue to do what they do every day. Farmers are often overlooked or unfairly blamed for their on-farm practices. However, the fact is without them, none of us would eat or be able to do what we do for a living every day. So, let’s assume farmers continue to produce all the food in the world. And maybe even be thankful for them.
• Believe and prioritize that all people in all neighborhoods deserve access to fresh and healthy food. Right now, there are roughly 65,000 food pantries in the U.S., of which less than 10% of have adequate refrigeration and infrastructure capabilities. It is impossible to provide access to healthy food to all people, when the infrastructure isn’t there. We empirically see this in the amount of food we waste, and it was glaringly on display during the recent pandemic. We must believe that a better infrastructure, and strong foundation to the system is part of the solution if we want it to change.
• Believe nutrition is a fundamental basic human need. Not just food, but healthy food. Food that doesn’t make us obese or increase our rate for heart disease and diabetes. Not the food that typically sits on food pantry shelves. It has been proven for generations that healthy food nourishes us and we develop as a society more holistically and equitably, when we are all nourished. When we provide the most basic human needs to our people, Abraham Maslov believed this to be the path to reaching our full potential; what he referred to as self-actualization. If we truly care about equality, it’s my opinion that it begins with breaking bread.
Finally, a story about a little girl named Samantha. After I hung up my football cleats, I spent a year employed as a teacher’s aide in a behavioral classroom, while taking some time to figure out what would be next. Kids in this particular classroom were all over the spectrum, struggled with all kinds of psychological disorders, and many were very violent. Which is why I was there. I was certainly not qualified to teach, but a recently retired NFL tight end was the kind of presence needed in that classroom.
In many ways, that experience has led me to where I am today. I will never forget Samantha… She was so very sweet. She was also the only little girl in the class of a bunch of rowdy and often violent boys. It was an unspoken understanding with the other teachers in the classroom that we always protected Samantha from the outbursts and occasional flying chair.
One day I noticed Samantha had forgotten her jacket as she was going to the bus line at the end of the day, so I grabbed it and went to try to catch her before the bus left. As I was rushing, I noticed her pockets will filled with various crumbs and had pieces of random food in them. Both hand pockets as well as an inside pocket, all with food in them. I was able to catch Samantha before her bus left, and she was crying when I got to her. She was so thankful that she had her coat and she just hugged me and cried… I later found out that Samantha and her mom lived in their car, and Sam kept all of her food, in her coat pockets.
With UpField Group’s latest acquisition of Cooler Management, LLC, we are continuing to take a stand in the fight against hunger throughout America. By partnering and collaborating with organizations like Feeding America, Feed-A Billion, the Innovation Center for U.S. Sustainability Alliance, and several other federal and state agencies, we are actively working to introduce and implement our latest innovation, Park it Market. Park it Market is a refrigerated mobile pantry designed to bring fresh and healthy food to communities in which fresh dairy, deli and produce is scare or obsolete.
Park it Market was designed and developed specifically to bring a dignity-conscious experience to community members and to help close the gap on nutrient inequality in food deserts, while at the same time reducing food waste in the supply chain. It has been nearly two years in the making since we started the Park it Market project, and we are excited to be just weeks away from delivering our first model to Feeding Orange County in California.
Follow UpField Group, Mark Inkrott (Co-Founder), and Cooler Management for up-to-date news on Park it Market and its partners.
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