Welcome to a fresh new perspective for the Narratives of Purpose Podcast. In today’s episode, I invite you to our short three-part series on Exploring Sustainable Food Systems that will conclude this season of the podcast.
Over the following three episodes you will be hearing from multiple voices that represent who I like to call, ‘agents of change’ in their field, and for this series we will be shining a spotlight on the sustainable food movement.
This episode is an introduction to what is to come as we wrap up this powerful and thought-provoking season.
Be sure to visit our Guests page for the detailed list of guests featured in this series.
This short series on Exploring Sustainable Food Systems is supported by Fructify Network.
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Hello dear listeners. Welcome to Narratives of Purpose, you are now tuned into a new episode showcasing unique stories of changemakers, stories of people who are contributing to make a difference in society. This show was created to amplify social impact by sharing individual journeys of ordinary people who I believe are making extraordinary impact within their communities and around the world. My name is Claire Murigande, I am your host on this podcast. If you want to be inspired to take action, then look no further, you are in the right place, get comfortable, and listen to my conversations.
Today's episode is a special one, because I am introducing our short series that will conclude Season Four of our podcast. What does that mean? Well, through February and March, I will explore sustainable food systems in a three part episode. This is a new format, different from the episodes we have produced up until now, where you could learn from individual purpose driven founders and social entrepreneurs about their impact ventures in every single episode. This time, we feature various organisations and companies that all have the same mission, which is to contribute to what I like to call a more sustainable, healthier food ecosystem. And they address this question from different angles. In the first part, you will hear from those fighting food waste and social vulnerabilities not only by saving surplus food from being thrown away, but also by ensuring solidarity and dignity for people in need. The second part will take you on a journey to regenerative agriculture and reviving ancient grains. Finally, the third part will bring you closer to those who focus on building networks around food either locally by supporting organic and holistic food cycles, or internationally by cultivating diversity in aquaculture.
In this trailer, you get to know what sustainable nutrition or sustainable food production means for all the people I hosted on this series. So let me introduce you to these changemakers:
At the beginning of this exploration, I started off wondering who were 'agents of change' here in Switzerland, who would be willing to talk about their efforts in transforming how we consume food, how food is produced, or even the societal impact of the food industry. As you can imagine, there were quite broad questions. So I narrowed it down to three points: Number one; the ingredients on my plate. I needed to find out about restaurants doing things differently. Number two; food as a commodity. I had to learn about new movements in agriculture. And number three; the social component of food. I wanted to reach out to nonprofit organisations and businesses that either combat food waste or build ties within communities around food. This led me to speak to people beyond Switzerland, all the way to the US and the UK. The ones that got me started on this journey were Romain Oeggerli and Yohann Pellaux, the cofounders of Gemüse Kebab based in Geneva. So Gemüse means vegetables in German, and both Romain and Yohann's ambition is to revolutionise fast food, essentially, to make it healthier and more sustainable. Here's their definition of sustainable nutrition with a special focus on their restaurant activities. First Yohann explains this:
So there are three axes in my opinion, and it's important that they go together. There's the environment, the social aspect, and also the economic aspect, the local economy. For everything that is environmental, I think there are several things to take into account. There's a supply chain, but there's also the operations in the context of a restaurant, for instance. So the waste that we produce when we make our kebab, for example. And then I think it's also important to always take the environment with a social aspect, it goes hand in hand. So there's the whole job creation side; Jobs with interesting framework conditions for the employees. Also everything that pertains to professional inclusion, giving a chance to people who may have more difficulty finding a job in Geneva, or in Switzerland. And then there is the economy; I think it is also important to promote the local economy. This can obviously be done through the supply chain, also through collaborations with all the local players and there are often many more than we imagine the collaborators
And then Romain adds a bit more of the bigger picture with his perspective:
More on a global aspect, it is to have a minimised negative impact, and to tend towards the neutral impact, meaning that the activities of the restaurant do not deteriorate again, those three axes. So whether it is the environment, very important, the social and the economic. For example, for the social aspect, it would simply be to keep employees over a period of time to have values related to personal development, related to exchange, and to change the model that we see with the hierarchy with objectives that are too economic, to the detriment of the social. So finding a balance in this, the economic one, to simply have a viability in the long term, to avoid bankruptcy, and the environment to preserve our ecosystem to act in favour of global warming. So basically, neutral co2 impact.
Oh, yes. That's the other new thing about this short series, you'll hear a lot of French and German spoken by my guests. I did start off in Switzerland after all, didn't I?
Still in Geneva, the city where I grew up, I was introduced to Refettorio and two of their team members, Charlotte Hennessy, and Patrick Dupuis. The concept of this restaurant is a zero waste philosophy behind every meal, while providing essential meals with radical hospitality to those who are isolated, who are experiencing homelessness and food insecurity. Listen to Charlotte's definition of a sustainable food system, you will notice some background noise because we recorded the interview at the Refettorio restaurant,
For me, the most sustainable thing is to eat locally sourced food. But I think you hear that a lot lately. I think it would be more of consuming less and thinking a bit more about what you eat and not buying in advance if you can. But in general, budget wise, you find out that buying large quantities in advance is not what reduces your budget, because you waste a lot. So I'm really thinking about going back to basics, avoiding large supermarket stores. And in the end, you see that there isn't a great price difference to work like that, to really buy what you need.
And here is Patrick's definition, It is quite complementary to Charlotte's, and his emphasis is on transformation.
I would definitely say transformation. Why? Because I have many friends and acquaintances who when they have finished eating in the evening or at lunch, the leftovers for them are leftovers, but in a negative sense. But for me, leftovers are the definition of a new beginning. So with the leftovers, you can make something different. And for me, transformation is a wonderful word. I am a passionate cook, and I love cooking with leftovers. It's wonderful. And I can't imagine throwing something away for a second. I live in the countryside. So I throw everything in the fields. So it's transformed again. And I just can't imagine how something that has been created, grown, processed, and finally offered to us on our plates can go into the garbage. It's awful. So I think the transformation has to be part of our culture and of our learnings, because food that we don't eat once we can eat it a second time differently.
Now, you might have already heard of a food bank. Basically it serves as an intermediary between grocery stores and social services beneficiaries by collecting and sorting unsold food items, then redistributing them for free. This food bank is called Partage, which means sharing in French, and they are also based in Geneva. I caught up with their Innovation Product Lead, Margaux Mégevand, and this is what sustainable nutrition means for her:
So for me, a sustainable nutrition or sustainable food production would be a system where every step of the process is optimised and each actor is paid fairly and treated equally. Because today, about 33% of the food that is harvested that's actually going to waste. So we need to limit the waste at this step, but also, at every single step to get to an incompressible level of voice basically. In terms of nutrition, I think we can definitely see a shift, where people tend to go more toward the plant based diet, which is really good but also more sustainable for the planet. I mean, in developed countries, like Switzerland, people eat a lot of meat. And this is definitely not sustainable, if the whole world were to eat like this I don't know how long it would last but probably not very long. So I think we need to rethink about eating local and just to get a more purposeful system.
We have more coming up from our guests featured in this short series on sustainable food systems. Stay with us. We'll be back after the break.
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Welcome back to Narratives of Purpose. This is a trailer episode of our short series, exploring sustainable food systems. You were just being introduced to some of our guests before the break, and they shared what sustainable nutrition means for them.
One term I came across a multitude of times when working on this series was regenerative. There is regenerative agriculture. There are also regenerative food systems. My understanding is that it's all about soil regeneration, and ecosystem regeneration to enable nutrient rich food production. I spoke with Sarah Day Levesque, Managing Director of Regenerative Food Systems Investments based in Colorado, we spoke about mobilising more capital for regenerative food and agricultural projects. This is Sarah's definition of sustainable food systems.
Yeah, it's a really interesting question that we get in our space a lot because there is no actual definition for regenerative agriculture. But with that question, I'll start with this idea that we focus on regenerative systems when we talk about the food system. And the reason for that is because in order to want to perpetuate sustainable systems, you want to have a healthy, thriving system to start with. And right now our food system and our agricultural systems are very extractive and degenerative and so we focus on building systems that regenerate ecology, livelihoods, communities, and human nutrition through regenerative agriculture. So we like to say that regenerative food systems start with healthy living soil, but also require a transformation in mindset about the way we do things on the farm, throughout the supply chain, and even our political and financial systems.
Now, coming back to nutrient rich food, I have the privilege to discuss with the chef Pierre Thiam, a restaurateur and social entrepreneur based in New York, who is the co-founder of Yolélé Foods. Yolélé is introducing West Africa's oldest grain fonio to the world, all while creating economic opportunity for smallholder farmers to support their biodiverse, regenerative and climate resilient farming systems. Listen to Chef Thiam's definition of a sustainable food system.
A sustainable food system is a system I think, that has, as principle, the community as a deliverable. It has to be about the community and at the smaller scale, at a smaller level the community is the unit, the family unit and then it comes to the village and then it comes to the region. And the community means the individuals but also the environment. If the environment is ignored in your planning or for food, you miss the biggest thing, 95% of what we eat comes from the soil. I mean, if you're going to be aggressive to the soil, if you're going to put chemicals in the soil, this is not self sustainable, this is going to be a short term vision, it's not going anywhere. So it's going to affect the soil, it's going to affect the water, it's going to affect the people who are consuming it. And we know that. But when you think of the community as a deliverable, you take all of those into consideration, all those factors and each decision that you make when you produce your food is going to be either right or wrong, considering the impact it has on the community. All the way up from the farming from the growing it all the way to the consumer, every single one: from Kigali to Stockholm, you can make a choice when you decide to eat. Anything you decide to eat for breakfast, dinner, or your snacks, where you invest your money. If you invest your money in something that's grown with that same mindset, the community, what is the impact it's having on the environment "it's supporting small farmers", "it's really good for my health" - all of that, that's when we can really make a difference and support the sustainable food system.
Still in the regenerative realm, I had a conversation with Snacktivist Foods founder, Joni Kindwal Moore who is based in Idaho. The mission of Snacktivist is: conscientious indulgence, and their passion is to drive a new grain economy. Here’s what sustainable nutrition means for Joni.
It’s really a tough thing for me to define because sustainable food systems are so relative to the context in which they exist. So, a sustainable food system in Malawi is going to be very different than in Idaho, which is going to be very different in western Australia, which will be entirely different in China because of the context of culture, environment, weather and all those different factors that come together. So, for me it’s been really really tough to define what a sustainable food system is except by the basic principles, I always look at it through what I call the three ‘B’s of regenerative which are just like lenses to vet something by. And my three ‘B’s there are : does this food system honour Biodiversity? Because biodiversity is a driver to sustainable systems and we know that throughout nature. That’s lens number one. Does this food system also value Biologicals as the foundation of how they operate? Rather than synthetics or whatever. Is our biologicals and nurturing the biological systems central to how the system operates? And then the third is the lens of Biomimicry: does the system work within the context of where it exists? Like growing water loving crops is fantastic if you’re in Northern England where it’s cool and rainy all the time. But growing those same crops irrigated on the side of the Colorado river in Arizona where it might grow, it defies the principles of biomimicry and therefore creates some problems in the long-term systems view which we’re experiencing now in the desert West of the United States where our agricultural sector is based on artificial watering from irrigation from those dams, but now because of drought those dams are drying up as a resource, so we have an issue now. That’s how I look at sustainable food systems, it’s through those lenses of the three ‘B’s.
Moving from soil to water, I connected with Imani Black, the founder of Minorities in Aquaculture. She talked about her organisation's effort to create a more diverse and inclusive seafood industry by educating minority women about the environmental benefits provided by aquaculture. This is Imani's definition of sustainability in regards to food systems.
Sustainability means that we have enough resources for the longevity of wherever our world goes to and whatever our food systems kind of go to, that people are able to have the resources and the nutrition that they need. Sustainability is having clean water, it's not living in a food desert, it's having food sovereignty, it's all these different things. Sustainability is, are most, if not all, of the different groups in our population supported the way that they need to be supported, and have the resources that they need to have a viable, healthy life. And once that happens on a general scale, I think that we're continuing to move towards sustainability in that way. But that education part comes into play. People's perception of something doesn't change based on information, it changes based on experience, which is why with MIA we're all, with our different programmes and things like that, we're all about the experience. Let's change the initial experience, and then we can move onto the knowledge piece.
Back in Switzerland, I also connected with Bastiaan Frich, one of the leading members of Urban Agriculture Basel. This network organisation promotes projects, raises awareness about the need to make food supply more sustainable, and enables inhabitants of Basel and its surroundings to get involved in the network in a variety of ways. Listen to what sustainable nutrition means to Bastiaan:
I think my definition is not set in stone. It changes again and again, depending on the situation or phase of life. And I think that my commitment to Urban Agriculture Basel over the last 15 years has crystallised into something that for me, is peace work in the broadest sense. And when we actually have a plate of food in front of us, then we shape the landscape here and elsewhere. Every plate, every field is growing somewhere. And I think for me sustainable nutrition is actually eating in a way that promotes peace here and elsewhere for people, animals, plants and other beings.
I finally had the chance to discuss with one of the co-founders of Too Good To Go. Jamie Crummie, who is based in London. Too Good To Go is a social impact company fighting food waste. Their app connects people to shops and restaurants so that unsold food waste can be avoided. Here's Jamie's definition of a sustainable food system
It really is quite a complex topic. There are so many different elements and components into this question . When I explore this topic I often focus on upcycling, I talk about how we should reduce our food waste. It has to be a food system, which is not destroying our planet, which is giving back more than it is taking away because currently, we have a fundamentally broken food system.
Jamie went on to explain that 10% of the global population goes hungry, around 25% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions is due to the food industry, and that 40% of the food produced globally ends up in waste. This is highlighting how big of an environmental and social issue our current food system is. So for him, a sustainable food system has to be one that fights food waste, not just the food on our plates, but rather the resources that have gone into producing that food. A waste of the land converted to grow the food, a waste of the labour used to harvest it, the fertilisers used at an industrial scale on our soils, a waste of the water to grow the food, a waste of the fuel to transport it, a waste of the electricity to store it - all of which is used in vain. So it's about eliminating all this unnecessary wastage.
This short series is by no means an exhaustive exploration of sustainable food systems. Let me put it this way, it's a start. A start by asking questions to gain more knowledge, a start for you to make new considerations, perhaps even initiate some changes in your habits. On this note, all my guests will also share their one recommendation for everyone to contribute to a more sustainable and healthier food ecosystem. So stay tuned for those insights. For this episode, and ultimately for our sustainable food series to reach more people, I invite you to take a moment and share your feedback by giving us a review on Apple Podcasts, or directly on our website at narratives-of-purpose.podcastpage.io Then simply click on the review page. This will help other listeners find our show and further amplify the stories we bring on the Narratives of Purpose. Remember that you can also share this episode with your network, with your friends or family and of course, we would love to get your five star rating on Spotify. Thank you so much to those of you who took the time to submit your rating. We appreciate you.
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Until the next episode, take care of yourselves, stay well and as always stay inspired!
This podcast was edited and produced by Tom Evan-Hughes at Rustic Studios
This episode was written, translated, edited and hosted by Claire Murigande.