Who is investing in mission-oriented food ventures? Who is receiving these investments — and more importantly, who isn’t — and why? If we accept that the answers to these questions are not doing enough to change structures of inequality and marginalization in our food system, how are we going to break the pattern?
I think the strength of the “Investing in Food” podcast series I hosted on Lunch Agenda this spring derived from the breadth of guests who joined us throughout the four episodes. They offered depth and conversational dynamics that wouldn’t have been possible without the convening power of the Bainum Family Foundation, who I collaborated with as a co-producing sponsor for the series. Bainum’s Food Security Initiative aims to be part of the solution to our inequitable food system by investing to fill critical system gaps and, in collaboration with many partners, creating new affordable food options. With just a few years under their belt in the food justice space, they were ready to get the word out about their work and mission and joining larger food-related conversations.
Together, the guests shared a variety of approaches — ranging from Radha Muthiah of the Capital Area Food Bank, who brought a macro perspective of best practices in international partnerships, to Chris Bradshaw of Dreaming Out Loud, who specializes in the micro-communities of D.C., where he attended college and has now created countless job opportunities in food. I particularly appreciated the back and forth between Dennis Derryck and Olivia Rebanal from Capital Impact Partners in the final episode. Olivia acknowledged her power as a funder, while noting that, as a Filipina woman, she is personally able to feel outside of the very power structures that Dennis challenges in our financial system, which led him to join other organizations forging alternate economies.
A few quotes from the series that stuck out:
Tom McDougall on his struggles to secure investment for 4P Foods:
“It costs, on average in America, about $38,000 to launch a successful startup. The average white family’s net worth is $117,000 and the average black family’s is $11,000. So, if the message to underserved entrepreneurs is ‘just go call your rich uncle,’ what happens if you can’t even make that call? The system is rigged to protect the wealth of those who already have it.”
Pamela Hess on Arcadia’s work to connect all D.C. residents to fresh, healthy food:
“We [society broadly] cannot be bothered to fix this disconnect between people’s need and desire to serve healthy food to their families, and the fact that they cannot command the capitalist structures to serve them directly. So, Arcadia is a bridge between what everybody else in D.C. gets to have and what folks in the neighborhoods we’re serving [with Mobile Markets] get to have. We are the bridge proving that people want this food and [are] asking [for] someone to come in with a solution that can work for everyone.”
Radha Muthiah on emerging hope for bolder investment in domestic food access solutions:
“We’ve spoken to social impact entrepreneurs who are eyeing this space, saying there may be something interesting here. There has been more impact investment going to address food security in other parts of the world, and increasingly funders are now paying closer attention to their backyards.”
Miss the series or want to listen to it again? Check out the links to each episode below.
Here’s what Katie Jones, Bainum’s Food Security Initiative Director, had to say about our collaboration:
Since its launch in January 2018, Kiko’s “Lunch Agenda” podcast has explored many topics that align with the Foundation’s mission — including regional food system development, racial equity in the food system, building access to good food in D.C., and sustainable and organic food products. Additionally, several of our partners have been on the show, including Dalila Boclin (from Community Foodworks), Morgan Maloney (formerly with Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture and a consultant who helped us develop the Food Learning Locator) and Philip Sambol (from Oasis Community Partners). We saw co-sponsoring this series as a multifaceted opportunity to spotlight different types of financing and investment in D.C.’s food system and to also bring diverse voices around the table to talk about what’s working, what challenges remain, and what models of equity-focused food solutions are working in other regions.