The Chicago Food Tank Summit explores the benefits of 'Unlikely Alliances in the Food System.'
By Janice Hoppe-Spiers
Having courageous and often uncomfortable conversations to find common ground among unlikely alliances may be just what the world needs to better the current food system. At least, that’s what Cargill Chairman and CEO David MacLennan emphasized last week during the first annual Chicago Food Tank Summit.
“How do we make the world better for food and build unlikely alliances?” he asked. “Find common ground. We are in a world and country today with divisiveness and we need to start finding more about what we have in common than different. We need to scale up interesting and smart solutions.”
In the early 2000s, advocacy groups alerted the public that soybean production was contributing to the deforestation of the Amazon Basin. “We are buying soybeans in the Amazon and we found ourselves in the midst of a public and highly publicized battle,” MacLennan recalled. “That was a turning point; a moment of reckoning. By doing business in Brazil and buying soybeans from farmers, what was our role in deforestation and what could we do to help stop it?”
Cargill formed unlikely alliances with Greenpeace, consumers and its competitors to impose a voluntary ban on buying soybeans from newly deforested land. “We worked close with the Brazilian government to involve more satellite surveillance,” MacLennan says. “We knew who was deforesting and who wasn’t. That contributed to an 80 percent decline in deforestation. It was awkward and uncomfortable, but the Brazilian Amazon is better and it will get better because of courageous unlikely alliances.”
Aligned for the Greater Good
Amp Your Good is a for profit company doing work in what is traditionally thought of as a nonprofit system. It formed unlikely alliances with food drives to address the limitations of only accepting non-perishable food items. The company developed Crowd-Feeding, which it describes as a new kind of food drive. It allows groups to easily organize food drive campaigns and raise healthy food that people can easily donate to, and people facing hunger can get the fresh fruits and vegetables they need.
“The nonprofit side wonders what the motivation is for the for-profit company, and that requires work to overcome,” Amp Your Good CEO Patrick O’Neill said. “We focused on what we could agree upon were the problems. Organizations that sponsor food drives can use the platform to run a food drive. They get a page and people who want to donate to the drive pick out and purchase foods that the drive supports. It functions like a wedding registry.”
Amp Your Good and hunger organizations formed an unlikely alliance to try and solve the problem that people who are food insecure suffer from diet-related health issues. “People who are food insecure are going to hunger organizations, so they quality of the food becomes important,” O’Neill explained. “I think once you cross the bridge and can agree on a common goal makes an unlikely alliance work.”
To combat the issue of food waste, Amp Your Good partnered with Emeryville, Calif.-based Imperfect Produce so the food people purchased on Crowd-Feeding is sourced from companies that aggregate “ugly” fruits and vegetables. “Would people conducting a charitable act that supports a variety of causes – hunger and reduction of food waste – change donor behavior?” O’Neill asked. “It very much did that.”