Setup Email Reminder
In this week’s interview, Chief Correspondent Steve Scher talked with Northwest Harvest CEO Thomas Reynolds about food security in WA. Reynolds outlines the complexities in approaching and unpacking issues of food justice in our region, breaking the issue down past policies and programs and asserting that solutions to food inequality aren’t technical alone. Scher and Reynolds look at the future of food in WA, exploring the growing efforts of local farmers, free community markets, and food pantries. Reynolds highlights food sustainability models at work around the globe, and encourages large action through small scale change in our region. Get an insider’s look and stay in the know about what’s going on in this moment at Town Hall Seattle.
This transcription was performed automatically by a computer. Please excuse typos and inaccurate information. If you’re interested in helping us transcribe events and podcasts, email email@example.com.
Hello, Welcome to town hall Seattle’s podcast. In the moment, every episode, a local correspondent interview, somebody coming to our town hall stages and gives you a glimpse into their topic, personality and interests. I’m your host, Jini Palmer. Well, November is upon us and as we approach Thanksgiving and think about gathering around the table with family and friends, it behooves us to consider those that are food insecure. The United nations defines food insecurity as a situation that exists when people lack secure access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food for normal growth and development and an active and healthy life. Northwest harvest reports that one in 10 in the world and in Washington state struggle with hunger and are food insecure. The majority of working age Washingtonians living in poverty or working or actively looking for work and many work more than one job. Northwest harvest is a nonprofit operating statewide in Washington, distributing food to 375 food banks as well as meal programs and high needs schools. They provide nearly 2 million meals every month. At 7:30 PM on November 11th, Thomas Reynolds, the CEO of Northwest harvest, will be moderating a discussion on reducing hunger on our great hall stage. Just food. A conversation about food as a right in Washington state will also feature us representative Kim Schrier. Thomas Reynolds sat down within the moment, chief correspondent Steve Scher to talk about why hunger persists in the U S and worldwide and about creating grassroots systems to reduce it.
I’ve done a lot of work with FAO. I spent many years working in international setting with Karen and national and I’ve seen extreme poverty and extreme hunger in so many places. I think a lot of people think about Bangladesh in the seventies and eighties and Ethiopia people have of a certain age have images and blazoned upon them about what hunger might look like. I think here in the United States, hunger has a different type of face. People assume that hunger and homelessness or cinnamon synonymous hunger actually impacts most of us in our own neighborhoods. 94% of people who go to food banks and food pantries here in Washington state. Half homes are housed. And so I think we need to expand our notion of what it means to be food insecure and what it means to be hungry. Our policies falling short, or is it just that that’s a lot of people and so it takes time.
I think so much is done towards finding the technical fixes to the issues. In fact, in the United States, there’s this premise that there’s a lot of wasted food and there’s a lot of hungry people. So if we just give the wasted food to hungry people, the problems solved there in lies the problem. This is not a technical issue. There’s plenty of food in the world. There’s, there’s enough food and there’s enough production to feed every single person on the planet. And yet there are still so many hungry people. It’s because of the not the technical issues. It’s the institutional racism, the cultural racism, the injustices that people groups face that creates the symptoms of that sort of injustice. We see that here in Washington state. We see it in the United States, it seemed around the world. And so we’ve got to stop relying on technical fixes new programs new policies, new systems alone. I think we need to be addressing what’s at the heart of the issue. And that is the way that we as people see and tolerate hunger around the world.
A Trump administration, this is October force changes to slice 4.5 billion over the what used to be called food stamps snap now over five years, trimming as much as $75 for one in five. Struggling families on nutrition assistance, institutional blindness, institutional racism, or just dismissing of the concerns of anybody who’s, you know, not wealthy.
Perhaps it’s just a financial exercise on a spreadsheet and people haven’t considered the real impact of what the $75.
Do you really think that that’s all they do is, I mean, cause you just said it’s institutional racism, institutional inequity. You think that all they’re doing is just looking at a spreadsheet.
I think there’s almost no more analysis behind that for some of the people who propose these cuts. You know, it’s, it’s about you know, finding numbers that satisfy certain constituencies instead of realizing the real impact on the real people who needed that $75. There’s also these imaginary strategies that say let’s make government smaller and let’s have nonprofits pick up the pace. In fact, if the snap cuts went through, it would be a 20% reduction in the plan to snap spend over the next course of years impacting nonprofits as well. It would impact nonprofits, it would impact communities, but the idea is nonprofits would pick it up. We’ve done the analysis. If that 20% cut was done for government funds, every single food pantry across the country would immediately have to quadruple their output. That’s simply impossible.
You said there’s enough food, food pantries, just get all the guilty feeling people and all the noble people that step up.
There’s, you know, this is all couched in the idea of food waste, but instead we need new types of solutions. We need, we need to address this at the issues level. We need to understand the inherent, cultural and institutional racism of the fact that people, some people have more than enough and some people don’t have enough. You know, as I was talking to a friend of mine an Abdullah, him and Dan, he’s Sudanese, he said in Sudan, one of the worst insults that you can give someone is he eats by himself. And I said, I’m gonna unpack that for me. He said, it’s the idea that a family could sit down to a meal together knowing that their neighbors, you know, just down the street are not sitting down to a meal and being okay with it. I think at a fundamental level we need to Pierce the consciousness of every American household so that people no longer feel comfortable about sitting down at that meal when they know people in their own community or not. Alright. How come you focus on institutional racism? How many, let’s just say in King County, how many who are food insecure or people of color
In King County, in every County across Washington state people of color experience disproportionate amount of food insecurity. I don’t have the exact number for you, right?
The reason I’m harping to, yes they do. Right, but in raw numbers, what does it look like? I mean disproportionately, yes, it’s, it’s people of color, but in round numbers isn’t it white people who are experiencing food insecurity, why doesn’t that register with the very snap cutters we were just talking about
Also racism and institutional racism isn’t necessarily conscious or the United States has had three centuries and longer to perfect its racism. It is embedded into our culture, institutional practices and by these policies that could look equal, applied equally to each person cutting snap across the board for example. Is that what you mean by these policies? Educational opportunities job opportunities who, which resumes get screened in and get screened out based on the name. All of these things are aspects of cultural and institutional racism and not any one policy by itself can explain why there is this disparity. But the preponderance of all of these policies, all of these practices, all of this shared DNA of who we are in America contributes to this disparity.
How does that manifest for you when you go before, so you said you worked with FAO, you probably have testified before, some of the very people or their aunt, they’re the predecessors who were making changes, making calls. How does that manifest when you sit down and talk with them? What do you hear?
Again, it’s really focused on technical fixes. I mean literally down to how calories does each person need per day based on the temperature. You know, if it’s colder, people need more calories and to try to do the math by calculating the right number of calories that need to be distributed to the right number of communities on the right number of days based on the weather. We could do these calculations forever and never solved the promises, the conversation you have with them. These are the kinds of things that you talk about when you’re sitting down with them. You hear this and it’s published in reports. It’s, it is a very technical approach to a fundamental issue that will never be solved through technical approach. And when you bring that up and you bring up the fact of, well, if you do have institutional racism, when you confront them with it, their responses, I think there’s lament over the fact that things are so complicated and so challenging and so difficult to unpack.
And in fact in the morass of the complications and the complexities of the issues, maybe people take a breath and say it’s just too difficult to solve. That’s why I think it’s so important to focus on for justice. You know, Northwest harvest is focused on the equitable access to nutritious food for all here in Washington state. And that’s our contribution to food justice. We really think that the conversation can be had about what does that look like? What does that look like in South King County? What does that look like in rural parts of the state? States where still you have mostly white people who are elected to positions in which communities are, for instance, 75% Spanish speaking. You know, these are issues that we want to bring attention to. It’s not going to be about a solution set that says if grocery stores would simply identify things that are about to expire and give it away, we’re going to solve the problem.
That’s, that is a supply chain issue that probably has some level of importance, but it’s not problem solving. Northwest harvest has existed for more than 50 years and almost every single year of its existence we have distributed more food and I think better food, but we’ll be distributing more food and better food food for another 50 years if we just keep focusing on the supply chain issues. So what is food justice in South King County look like now? And three years from now and five years from now? You know, in the magic wand world, I have a lot of respect for local leaders and local community organizers. I think food justice in our food system means more people who are in their own community are making decisions, are representing the ideas and perspectives and desires of that local community block block by block, each neighborhood contributing to a solution set that makes sense for those families.
Literally you’re talking about you, you think we could have like that at block by block? I don’t know if the policy needs to describe a block by block approach, but our process needs to be, wow, give me, give me an example how, I mean, where do you live? What I would like to do, instead of starting with my block, I’d like to start with a high concentrations of Somali communities of Ethiopian communities, of African American communities of migrant farm worker communities and really understand their perspectives, their ideas, what who do they trust, what are the resources that they’re looking for? How would they describe the menu at home? And then begin to understand how would they construct a food system. I think those are the voices that are missing from a lot of the policy conversations. And if we could recenter the conversation on the people who experienced food insecurity, then we have the chance to start building back a better system.
Does Northwest harvest has some, have some, have some experience in doing that with those communities? I mean, what are they telling you when you sit down with them? I think we could be doing so much more. I feel like we are at the very beginning of a journey to be more focused on equity in our systems. We do focus for, you mean we, you mean your Northwest harvest? Northwest harvest is that organization. Yeah. I would not describe us as leaders. I’ve described us as learners. I would not describe us as pace setters. I’d describe us as people who are looking to join and participate in the ideas of other people who’ve been thinking about this a lot longer than we have. Who are the leaders that you’re looking at in those communities? We respect the indigenous people here.
I went and spent time with the [inaudible] people last year. Powerful, beautiful ideas about returning to using historical food practices. Lamenting the fact that the environmental degradation of the sound is reducing food supply. A deep respect for the foods that we eat in the meals that we prepare and the number of people who sit together at those meals. I think we have a lot to learn from the indigenous people of our area. I think we have a lot to learn from newly arrived immigrant communities. I think about living well, Kent in the Kent area who work with immigrant communities from lots of different communities. They are, you know, they are thinking about how do we grow more carrots? How do we grow more cabbage? How do we grow more onions? Why? Because SpaghettiOs worked for part of the community, but a carrot is utilized in almost every table that I have visited and I, you know, and I’ve been to more than 70 countries. So I think it’s the people who are challenged by the economics of our neighborhoods and our communities, especially in Western Washington and have already began to put solutions into place at the local level. I guess they’re the most exciting people that people that I want to hear from. With this work.
I want to hear about the solutions. So go, let’s go to the Lumey for a minute. [inaudible] And when you were there talking to them, do they have people that they say, yes, we have food insecurity in our, in our neighborhoods, in our, in our region. They, among the tribe, tremendous food insecurity. What, so they, they laid out the problems for you. What were their thoughts about solving some of those problems with, with your help or with the help of, you know, all the different leaders and conveners you’re talking about?
Yeah. First of all, I would not position us ourselves as the helpers. I think we’re joiners. We can offer connections to other parts of the state. I’d like to see us as helping to move places where there’s abundance to places where there’s food constraints. What do you think that means? What does that look like? It, it looks like, for instance, the Anaba farms and WAPA Wapato fourth generation Japanese farmers a farming family that was displaced a number of times because of racist policies, including internment during world war II. They are resilient. It’s a resilient family in a family that now farms more than a thousand acres and often finds that they’re a class B. Fruits and vegetables aren’t saleable in the market. So they distribute it through Northwest harvest more than a million pounds of fruits and vegetables every year. They do it because they believe in, in a, in a more equitable and better society. So Northwest harvest is in a position where we can work with farmers like that. We can work with growers, we can work with ranchers and we can utilize those fruits and vegetables to link with the groups in our network that do have retail fronts, if you will, food pantries or health clinics that have a convening that are convening people who experienced food insecurity.
So what do you guys offer them facilitating the actual movement through trucks, through trucking, through movement from Yakima Valley to the Lumey
Nation? Literally, yes, we do that as well. We also offer our voice in terms of policy, you know, identifying fundamentally unjust policy and identifying ways that policy can be implemented in a more equal sort of way. We, we also offer, you know, direct access to food. We just started the soda community market here in Seattle, which is not a food pantry. It’s a grocery store that you don’t pay a, it’s a, it’s an opportunity for people to come in, pick through our watermelons or our apples or our fresh milk and you know, have a shopping and take that home. So there’s a number of ways that we participate in the systems. Who comes to that? And what’s your hope for who comes? Like how big a popular population
The soda community market is open to anyone who is hungry or as concerned about being hungry. On any given day. There are no restrictions there. You don’t have to be from a certain zip code. You don’t have to be in a certain housing status. You don’t have to be any sort of label. If you identify for yourself that you need some fresh healthy food, you can come to the Soto community market and people have been coming, you know, we see more than 3000 people a week and those people are often taking food back to home, whatever home means at tent government supported housing or something else. And you know, I would say our impact probably is about 7,000 people a week that we’re providing food for. So is that a scalable solution? Do you guys see that as something you could do around the region?
I deeply believe in it. In fact, I think it’s scalable, but maybe not in a way that you were thinking one of the issues around food pantries are, it’s stigmatizing to go. It looks, it oftentimes looks and feels like an institution, right? There’s people lined up, they’re way down. Get a Brown bag. Yeah. That’s no discount on the love and care that people who run food pantries have and the Greek guard they have for the people who approach. But still there’s a stigma for, I’d like to flip that around. I’d like to introduce the idea to Washington state residents that it should be stigmatizing. If you go to a grocery store that doesn’t have a free option. And if we could get that to move, then it’s infinitely scalable. That’s a huge concept. How do you get that? That’s like that sound. I was giving you some waiver.
The one thing that sounds pretty pie in the sky, these are businesses that weren’t gonna do that, aren’t they? What happens when you sit down with them? I think it makes Safeway, I think it makes wonderful business sense for them to do it. In fact, most grocery stores do have food waste. They have things that don’t sell. They have they have the logistical issues of ridding themselves for the things that didn’t, didn’t work out. You know, the promotion didn’t work. They bought too much. You know, the inclement weather meant that less people bought less things.
Why not eliminate the whole supply chain headaches of moving food out that didn’t work and just simply offer it to people who need it for that day. I think it’s easier. I think it makes good business sense. Got it. Got anybody to go with you on that yet in the industry?
I think it’s just about starting the conversation right now. You know, we’re going to start on the other direction. You know, we’re looking at ideas about at our free grocery store. Maybe we’ll put a cash box and you can pay. You want to I wa what I think is incredibly important is that we don’t perpetuate this idea and this is not my idea, but I think it’s beautiful that there’s two different doors. Some people go through the grocery store door, some people go through the food bank door. I’d like to have just one wider door. So we’ll start on one end. You know, we, right now we have a free grocery store. Maybe eventually we’ll introduce the idea if that, if you want to pay, which could literally mean, you know, a couple of coins and some pocket lint or you know, a a hundred dollar bill because you believe in the concept that you could come through our free grocery store and participate on the other end.
I’d just like to invite a grocery stores and grocery chains to think about, you know, what if, what could be possible, what could be possible for our brand, what could be possible for enthusiasm for future consumers that are not currently frequenting our store? If we had a free option, what would that mean for our community living? Well, Kent, so you said that they were talking to you about more carrots. What are they doing now and what would be something that that could happen in the future? I love living well Kent Schempp. So Isaac is the executive director and they’re doing a couple of things. I think really smart things, things that I’ve seen done in other countries and I haven’t seen done so much here in the United States. One is they’re mapping unused or underused farmable land here in King County. Literally mapping it going acre by acre saying this is available, this is and designated for use at this point.
And they’re looking to create the opportunity for farmers, probably newly arrived immigrant farmers to farm that land. They are also doing what I think might be the only no cost to the farmer farmer’s market and East Hill Kent, which creates the opportunity for farmers to come and sell their product. Fresh vegetables, fresh fruits in a neighborhood that doesn’t have a lot of fresh fruit and vegetable options at a, at a no cost for them to sell their goods, which means they can pass on the savings and the reduced risk of the free farm booth to the residents of that community. So people are literally taking home cabbage and radishes and, and zucchini and whatever’s a ripe and fresh at that period of time from late spring to early fall. I think that’s a wonderful idea. And, and it really accomplishes a number of things.
Better use of public lands, better opportunities for farmers who have tremendous skills but not, not necessarily the skills that for instance, technology companies are looking for right now. And then better, healthier fruits and vegetables for families need it in, in a location where there’s not a lot of options. So are there policies, state or County policies that keep that you earlier talked about unjust policy. So with that in mind, either policies that keeps something like that from happening there are land use issues but not insurmountable. In fact, I think this is a really ripe area for us to be looking at. How do we utilize public lands? We, again, we Northwest harvest, are we the people who are thinking about food justice? We, the residents of Washington state. I see, I see. When I think about unjust policy, I think about the lunch shaming that used to occur in this state, which literally was when families who were benefiting from reduced lunches, maybe a mom or dad or a caregiver hadn’t topped up their account.
And so the child goes to school and they’re stamped on their body with a stamp that says my account is delinquent that used to happen in the United States. I’m not talking about a hundred years ago. I’m talking about last year. That’s a policy that we changed last year. You know, there are fundamentally unjust policies that really are medieval in their construction that still exists in Washington state. And I think we need to address those issues too. Again, it’s not just the technical issue of how do we get the food to the people who need food. It’s the, it’s the it’s the intentional or unintentional stigmatizing of people who are experiencing challenges either economically or in terms of food security. If I’m not mistaken, the Trump administration’s plans do call for a little bit of re stigmatizing of the people who want to use lunches around the country if they go through by December after the public comment period.
Well, what are the other medieval practices that you, that you know next year, so you had a success last year. What’s next year? And this is again, back to the legislature or by County? By County, yeah. We’re still forming our policy agenda. There’s, there’s a number of areas that we’re interested in. I think most residents, Washington state recognized that we have the most regressive tax environment of just about any state in the country. We’d like to see better opportunities for people who are you know, at the, you know, the bottom fifth in terms of economic prowess here in Washington state. We’d like to find some ways for them to get some some more tax benefits. There are some things that are onerous for instance the deductability of medical benefits. Why not just have some sort of standard benefit that low income people could benefit from instead of having to keep track of all their medical receipts and turn those in and deduct them.
You know, there’s probably some easy wins that could be put into place that would just make things easier for people who are really struggling. But does that spell one, is that a state policy or is that gonna be a federal issue? It’s something that we can address within the state. It’s probably a, it’s a, it’s probably a federal environment, but each state has an ability to, to pass policy that can be difference making. So you could have a, this is what you’ve spent, this is your deduction. And that goes towards, it’s not an income tax of what’s it going towards. It could be something like in the form of a credit, a credit that could be turned into cash or turned into healthcare that could be turned into a, that could be turned into a, an offset for, for taxes out.
Trace your path for me. You said you worked with FAO, you’ve been in other countries. How’d you end up here? Yeah, I grew up in the Seattle area and I, after school I moved to San Francisco and I, I told my mom I would never move back cause it was your hometown or because, yeah, cause I was just excited to see other things. See the rest of the world. I had a, in San Francisco I participated in starting social enterprises. Even before social entrepreneurship was really a thing that was talked about. Like what? We started restaurants. We started a S a city of San Francisco surplus store for things like street signs and parking meters. We started a screen printing company all in support of getting jobs for formerly incarcerated, formerly homeless, formerly drug addicted youth. So why was that important to you?
How’d you end up doing that? Because you want to tell your mom, I’m leaving Seattle, I’m going here. What was important? I just fundamentally believed it was right. I wanted to, I wanted to participate. I mean, we had really grandiose ideas. We really, our, our little group believed we could actually disrupt the way capital worked in the United States where you’d like just college graduates to the college graduate. In fact, a book was written about our organization and as the author was writing the book, she continually asked me how old I was and I, I said, I don’t, I don’t want to answer. So in the book she writes, Thomas Reynolds, who is so young, he declines to answer the question of his age. Yeah, I just, I just really believed in that I thought business could be used for a better purpose and that instead of this idea of the ultimate and only purpose of business is to return shareholder value, felt that there was a social component that was essential to the health and really the vitality of humanity.
Sure. The hard to sell, the hard to sell the businesses who say shareholder is the only thing that matters. So less hard to sell now than it used to be. I’m sure. I’m sure. So you did what? Then? I went to business school. I felt like I had understood the social dimensions, but I wanted to learn the language of business. So I went to business school and in business school it was an international program, spent time in Paris and Tokyo and in Philadelphia. And most of my business school cohort were from other countries. And one woman, an accountant who were worked for a consulting group from Kenya said, you shouldn’t do this social entrepreneurial stuff in the United States. You should do it internationally cause it’s needed elsewhere. I thought, Oh, that’s an interesting idea. I ended up going to work for care international and I spent 15 years with Karen and national and I worked in Asia, I worked in the middle East, I worked in the South Caucasus.
And then ultimately I moved back to the U S with care to run programming for the entire care world, which was 95 countries. The kind of programming that looked at entrepreneurship. We did a variety of things. But our cares, main focus is gender equality. And so we were interested in the economic development, education, health care water systems, but specifically as interventions that could enable greater gender equality between men and women and people of all genders. So early on before you were in charge, when you’re going into these countries, what were your, what were some successes? I think one of the most gratifying moments was in the South Caucasus when we were, I was living in the country of Georgia. And more than half the population were subsistence farmers and together, you know, I think it’s never one organization alone, but I think it’s people working together together with more than 50 other organizations.
We worked with the European union to change the national policy of Georgia. And this was Georgian led. It was not international led, but local people who are passionate about making change. We introduced new financing options for farmers to be able to cooperate and to build businesses that were the next step in the slow supply chain beyond production. We, we changed tax law to create an incentive for growing rural businesses. And then we then there was a financing facility to help capitalize new rural businesses to start. And that was incredibly gratifying. It was gratifying to see the development of the Georgian economy to see the numbers of Georgian farmers who are lifted out of poverty. The creation of the Georgian farmers association, which last time I checked had more than 20,000 members. And what I really took away from that experience was, it’s not technical fixes alone. It’s not projects alone. It’s not policy alone. It’s not one organization or the private sector or government working alone. It’s when we mix these things all together and we pursue an end and be agnostic about the ways to get there so that we could identify policy changes. We could then identify new resources and we could identify new relationships that could help pursue that end.
By the way, just on Georgia, what w what was changed fundamentally, what was it a top down system before and when it was a, it was a Soviet States, did they, is that what the issue was?
So many issues? Was there a fundamental change that you just had to come from the bottom instead of the top? That the fundamental difference was that the, the tech structure unintentionally prevented the development of small businesses beyond a certain point. Because if you are informal, you are untaxed and once you became formal, no matter how small you were, there was a pretty substantial tax that was both complicated to track. And then you know, significantly deterred farmers from becoming formal in participating in the economy.
Right. So is there a farmer or an entrepreneur in that beginning supply chain who jumps out at you as somebody who was
A leader at their level to make these sort of changes occur in Georgia? Are we talking about Georgia? Yes. Yes, absolutely. There were a number of them. Nino’s advocates at an extraordinary farmer from the [inaudible] area, her organization and care work together to start a cheese factory because there were a lot of cows and not a lot of cold storage. And if you can get seven liters of milk and a little bit of time, you can produce cheese that almost everyone in Georgia likes to eat. And so we started with the cheese production facility, but her ambitions were bigger. She wanted to see fundamental change and she recognized that the people around her, she was benefiting from the cheese factory. And the farmers who brought their milk were also benefiting, but she, she could only just impact this one little area.
And so it was with Nino and with another, a number of other farmers. And with the agricultural attache of the European union that the idea of the Georgian farmers association was created. There was a lot of research and, and respect for the cooperatives that are substantial, you know, powerfully substantial and economically substantial all across Europe. You know, in America generally. Our belief is that farming needs to be large scale farming and you know, single crop or you know, a couple of crops. And in Europe it’s a smaller groups of farmers who come together and cooperate to produce you know, just as much productivity, even more actually than just large scale farming. And so the country of Georgia had nothing like that. And the idea was to just take best practices from other parts of Western Europe to increase productivity per Hector and do it by cooperating based on the premise that if there’s more cooperation than the supply chain can be further developed, cold storage, transportation, marketing, export.
And that if the technical support could be identified and the skills could be built, that it would have an exponential effect, not only on Nino’s community but farming across the country. And that was probably seven years or so ago. And I’m amazed at the growth and I’m amazed at what’s happened since then. I was in Moscow three years ago and the people who took me around were most excited to take me to Georgian restaurants with the incredible Georgian cuisine and wines. Yes. Is that the sort of things that you think grew out of the ability to be agnostic about, about approaches? Well, I think the Georgian table has been established as it was, it was a Soviet favorite for decades upon decades. Sure. A Georgian wine has increased production and there’s you know, many multiples more being extorted now than there was before.
I think it’s difficult to tie the Georgia wine exports to those specific interventions. What I think about is the reemergence of some of the industries. For instance, like Hazel nuts the re there I think soon to be re-emergence of the tea industry. Georgian tea was something that was very much respected during Soviet times and then fell into almost complete disrepair. Almost no exports at all. And now some of those industries like the tea industry are being revived. Hmm, okay, I’m going to skip over the U then you start running all of care. Those, not health care, but yes. Programs. What was attractive about Northwest harvest that brought you back to a place you said, Hey, I’m out of here for six years. I was not in the same time zone for more than three weeks in a row.
I was traveling all the time and I was meeting with governments. I was raising money and I really missed that connection with people and ideas local people who are passionate about substantive change. I just felt disconnected to that. And what I recognized was I had, you know, hundreds of millions of dollars a year to allocate to different projects and different ideas. And I, and I began to recognize the pattern. And myself, I liked to find local people who are committed to longterm change, who are interested in doing something more than just a technical solution. And I found myself drawn to moving investments to people like that. And then I realized I wanted to do that myself. And so I want to do it in my own home community. And it just felt like the right time I had, I had done enough traveling. I had done enough, you know workshops in capitals and hotels.
I had done enough airport lounges and I wanted to come home and I wanted to see if I could make just a tiny bit of difference in my own home community. And so that’s why I moved to Northwest harvest. So you bring agnostic concepts to Northwest harvest. What are your, what do you see unfolding in the, in the short term with that in mind me, where, where do you take some of these ideas right away? Well, what’s exciting is when I started it was one in eight Washingtonians experience food insecurity, they’re not sure where their meal’s going to come at some point throughout the month or year. That number is now one in 10. And we attribute nothing to Northwest harvest work. We think the economy has been better. You know, maybe a little bit of work in terms of policy change, but we think the hard work is ahead.
We’d like to see hunger cut in half between now and 20, 28. And we’re agnostic at how that happens. But we have a set of beliefs. We think if a broad set of actors can be identified and mobilized and joined together to address the underlying causes of food insecurity, that’s gonna be difference-making. We believe that if we can create equitable access to nutritious food for people across Washington state, that’s going to be difference making. And we believe that if we can identify investments in scalable, effective hunger fighting initiatives, those three things together we think will transform the hunger landscape here in Washington state. And again, we don’t see this as our way work. We see this as the work that needs to be done by all of us. The underlying factors. What are some that you think can be addressed them? What’d you, what’d you say?
- 2028. 2028 so, okay. Nine years. Yeah. Yeah. Been used to reduce hunger by half a, there needs to be a more equitable access to jobs and employment across the state of Washington. There needs to be for those who are challenged by transportation, we need to identify ways that affordably food can reach households or hubs in which people can easily go and pick up food. I’d like to see food as a right codified into law here in Washington state and that we would identify practical ways to implement that policy so that government agencies you know, local County and state level are thinking about how do we enact that concept of food as a right for every individual. Many people in communities across the state still view food as a privilege that’s actually out of touch with the way the rest of the world is moving in terms of food. So I think those are some of the things that are truly we need to get there. We must get there in order to see substantive change. And virtually none of them are technical fixes. This is really about changing the perception of people in society so that people say it’s intolerable, that community members just down the street or in the next neighborhood aren’t doing well. I want people, each person here in Washington state to identify way that they can get involved, get engaged and be a difference maker in, in a more equitable state.
What’s that look like? All of us being involved. What does that look like other than telling our elected representatives? What does that look like? I do think that’s important. I wasn’t in a denigrating I’ve seen but, but you know, you know, just one very practical way.
Most all of us have at least a window sill, but we could have a window sale. We’re gonna have a backyard. We could have a suburban farm, we could have a, you know, a hundred acres and we could just grow something and share it with our local food pantry. I think that would be a tremendous difference for two reasons. One is it, it connects people to the the, the, the reality that we all need to be contributors because we are consumers in this state. The second is because it’ll help us think about and appreciate the role of food and that food is so much more than just fuel. Food is a connector. It brings people together. It tells stories it promotes hope in many ways. And then the third is it would enable us to be thinking about what’s the type of society that will want to live in and to recognize that next week, next year next decade, maybe it’s unimaginable that we could be hungry, but it is possible and that we could imagine that there’d be a society waiting for us in that future period when we were in need.
That’s going to welcome us and help us get the food that we need. All right.
Business school. So you know all about deliverables. What do you want to come out of this town hall event that’s a deliverable, not just to people living there, but to the policy leaders that you’re listening to.
I would like people to be leaning forward in their chairs thinking about why is it that it’s okay to go home and have a meal and not think about the people who aren’t. I would like a, the people who participate in the town hall too have a sense on what policies should they be supporting and helping advocate for going forward. And I would like people who attend the town hall to be thinking about what are the injustices that are sitting in plain view that they just haven’t been thinking about or have been tolerating because no one’s confronted them on it. So in your deliverables, okay, who are the people that are going to be that you’re relying on on the panel? I’m going to have the privilege to talk to wonderful set of powerful women. Representative Schrier, Melanie Cunningham from PLU and Taylor Wong, who’s a restaurant here here in the Seattle area.
What I like about the way the panel is constructed is we have a representative from government, a representative from business, and a representative from higher education who all bring their own perspectives to why food justice is important. I’m just excited about asking the questions and seeing what sort of ideas they have, what examples they bring. You’ve got you know, Taylor is a first generation immigrant to Washington state and she relied on food assistance when she was young and now runs a restaurant empire. Melanie Cunningham is a powerhouse in the areas of equity and diversity and inclusion. And I think she will provoke us all to think about what is happening in our communities. Why are we okay with it? And what could we be doing differently? And I think representative Schrier has brought fresh perspective to Congress and I think it’s because of her background as a pediatrician, as a business leader and as a person who truly cares about food justice issues here in Washington state. All right, sir. Thank you. Thanks Steve.
Thomas Reynolds, CEO of Northwest harvest will moderate a panel discussion on food justice, just food, a conversation about food as a right in Washington state. It’ll be November 11th at 7:30 PM on our great hall stage. There’s still tickets available, so get yourself a seat and join in the conversation.
Thank you for listening to our 46th episode of in the moment, our theme music comes from the Seattle based band, EBU and Seattle’s own bar Souk records. You can listen to our town hall produced events on our arts and culture, civics and science series, podcasts, and watch a ton of great events on our Townhall Seattle YouTube channel to support town hall. See our calendar of events or access our media library head to our website at town hall, seattle.org next week, our chief correspondent Steve share, we’ll be talking with HW brands about the history of the American West till then. Thanks for joining us right here in the moment. [inaudible].