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Entrepreneurs Have A Vital Role In Food Security

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SUPERFOODS
Denny Thurston
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Stacy Bestard is an entrepreneur. Like a true entrepreneur, she is disrupting her industry by finding new and innovative ways to provide goods and services to her clients. The twist? Her clients don't pay.

At Kiwassa Neighbourhood House, a community house in East Vancouver, Stacy runs the kitchen, which provides about 250 children and seniors with breakfast Monday through Friday during the school year. Faced with inadequate government funding (less than 60 per cent comes from government sources), Stacy "recovers" food otherwise not pretty enough for produce stores. She turns free ingredients like scarred cabbage (often the good stuff is just a layer down!) and overripe limes (which make incredible limeade) from generous distributors like VanWhole Produce -- into creative meals for her regulars.

"Recovered food" is getting lots of attention these days: from mainstream stories like the Cannes award-winning campaign for French supermarket chain Intermarché's Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables and independent films such as "Just Eat It" to the more fringe freeganism movement. And the attention is for good reason; in these heady days of waste reduction and sustainable food production, food recovery tackles our most bourgeois societal needs for perfect looking produce.

For decades, North Americans have been turning their noses up at apple wormholes and rusty romaine lettuce, and produce retailers have caught on. The Intermarché campaign states that 300 million tons of fruit and vegetables are thrown away each year worldwide. As the "Just Eat It" filmmakers point out, almost 50 per cent of produce in North America is discarded. This is difficult to reconcile with some very serious food security issues here at home.

The term food security is used in a variety of ways but essentially describes access to food needed for survival. At large it may address a region's inability to feed its inhabitants for internal and external reasons: political instability, poor economic health and natural forces. We may read that a war or drought threatens food security in Africa. Closer to home, we know that some four million Canadians, including 1.15 million children, experienced food insecurity at home last year -- that's one in 11 households.

Whatever the lens, we know that 842 million people worldwide suffered from chronic hunger last year.

My family's experience with food security

In the early 1950s, our family experienced issues with food security. My grandfather was a successful businessman who lived and worked in the Hastings Sunrise area of Vancouver's Eastside, the neighbourhood that Kiwassa House serves. A stone's throw from where we operate a business today, he owned a general store in the 2500 block East Hastings. Further north at New Brighton Beach, he also ran his ship-chandler business, running supplies out to the commercial boats anchored in Burrard Inlet.

My father recalls, at a very early age, riding in the skiff that delivered goods to the boat crews, who, having been at sea for long periods without the novelty of children around, would give him special treatment and show him around the ships -- a thrill for him I sense to this day.

The family lore is that my grandfather was building a back stairway at one of the family homes (he owned two) when it fell on him and knocked him out. Whatever the result, his behaviour changed dramatically; he became very religious, eventually leaving his business and family to preach to the homeless and passersby downtown.

After enough time, the businesses had to be closed and the homes were sold for taxes. With the family broken, his mother took his two older sisters to an apartment; my father was entrusted to his absent father and older brother (at the time 13).

The two brothers remained in the house alone, long after the lights had gone out and the heat turned off. My dad describes a variety of survival tactics he and his brother used to find food -- early forms of "food recovery" to be sure -- but the situation came to a head when he fainted in class due to hunger.

Food security affects us all

Kiwassa House was formed in 1949, and has been serving the neighbourhood's at-risk for more than 60 years. So Stacy is a bit of a personal hero. And here's what she's taught me.

Firstly, government alone is not going to solve all our social issues. PROOF's 2012 report on household food security found 70 per cent of Canadian households that required social assistance were classified as food insecure. Non-profits, like Kiwassa will do the heavy lifting, but for-profit businesses are going to have to play a part.

If they can't do it directly -- as we've done with Stacy (see the "Recovered Taco" from her Sustenance Festival) -- then at least through CSR programs that re-allocate a percentage of profits back into the communities that support those businesses.

At our corporate food concierge company, we are partnering with Potluck in Vancouver and Foodshare in Toronto, not just to grow their business into corporate catering, but also to build their relationships with corporate clients seeking to expand their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs in the communities they serve and do business in.

Secondly, food security affects us all. There are a variety of reasons why someone shows up at Stacy's kitchen and none of them are laziness or lack of desire for something better. In my first couple of hours at Kiwassa House, I saw seniors, children and people with mental and physical challenges who have nowhere else to go for a square meal.

For my own part, we now think my grandfather's head injury resulted in damage to his temporal lobe, an area often associated with hyper-religiosity. But because we didn't understand, we had no relationship with him even until he died in 2001. So that non-diagnosis altered my family history.

My grandfather's head injury was a random happening and it illustrates how all of us, no matter how secure we might feel, are just a turn away from facing the same food security issues my father did.

So in the end, Stacy employs a kind of social capitalism. Not the in-vogue social entrepreneurship that leverages technology or crowd-sourcing platforms, but her own unique brand that focuses on under-exploited resources to quietly attack social issues, like food security, head-on.

Ultimately, for-profit businesses are also made up of individuals. And everyone has something they are passionate about. So get involved at work. If you work at a big company, investigate the CSR programs and help out. If there aren't any, start the conversation and get the ball rolling. Whether it's CSR or personal volunteerism, there are ample resources and creative ways out there to solve big problems.

Ryan Spong is CEO of Food.ee and co-owner of Tacofino Cantina. To learn more about Kiwassa Neighbourhood House, Potluck Catering or Foodshare, follow the hyperlinks in the text. To donate on behalf of mental health, visit my page at: http://ca.movember.com/team/1791617

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