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April 19, 2021

A World Without Food Waste: Ertharin Cousin

Ertharin Cousin, President and Co-Founder of Food Systems for the Future, shares what it will take to create a world without hunger or waste.

For Earth Day 2021, we're highlighting leaders who believe in a world with zero hunger and zero waste and currently serve as advisory committee members for The Kroger Co. Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Foundation Innovation Fund. In collaboration with Village Capital, the Innovation Fund has developed an investment-readiness program for startups working to prevent, recover and recycle food waste in the U.S. Learn more about the program here.

What do you think it will take to create a world without hunger or food waste? 

It may sound simplistic and naïve but I believe to create a world without hunger or food waste will require sustained global public, private sector, community and individual will…will to support the financial capital investment and cross sector behavior action necessary to achieve durable change. Because creating the food system we need, one which supports human, environmental and economic health, demands nothing less.

Why is this work important to you, personally and professionally?

I do this work because ensuring every mother, everywhere has the access to affordable, nutritious food is my “dharma”. It’s how I earn my place in this humanity. I personally believe no family should go hungry while 30% of the food produced is lost or wasted. My personal commitment is to help fix this broken food system. I am blessed because my personal passion coincides with my professional activities. In fact, with the support of many partners I recently launched a nutrition impact investment fund. Our mission is to support companies, in the U.S. particularly Black and LatinX owners, with the capacity to deliver nutrition impact as well as a financial return.

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What are you most proud of? What did you learn along the way?

I am often asked what is my greatest accomplishment. My response doesn’t change, “when the rains didn’t come yet poor vulnerable mothers were able to feed their children even without humanitarian assistance”. I learned no mother wants to stand in a food line to feed her child, but she will when necessary. I learned access to affordable nutritious food is a human right. I learned that too often philanthropy and humanitarians create well intentioned programs addressing the symptoms or present manifestations (hunger) of systemic problems-specifically food and nutrition insecurity, as well as poverty . We don’t invest in the game changing actions that will overcome these systemic problems. Too many believe making systemic change costs too much and takes too long. Overcoming short-term thinking and investing in addressing the structural challenges creating hunger in communities and households will build the resilience that will ensure “when the rains don’t come” families can still feed themselves.

What excites you most about the role of innovation in reshaping our food system?

I get excited because innovation will help us overcome problems across the food system previously deemed too difficult to address. There is an old adage which says, “If you do what you have always done, you will get what you always got”. Innovation in the food system provides us with new tools to do things differently. Whether its extending the life of a leafy green, creating more shelf stable dairy or producing plant-based protein products from produce otherwise headed to the dumpster, innovation makes ideas once thought impossible a reality potentially making nutritious food more available. Our challenge with these innovative new tools is to ensure the products coming on line benefit more than just the affluent.

Are you working on any relevant projects that we should highlight?

My colleagues and I at the Food System for the Future Institute (FSF) are on a mission to make good nutritious food affordable and available for all. We work with ambitious talented revenue generating entrepreneurs operating across the food and agriculture value chain. We create the  enabling environment by delivering the necessary wrap around services including business operation support, nutrition policy and regulatory support, partnership development, as well as the capital.

Our landscape research found food and agriculture businesses, particularly those founded by Black and Latinx entrepreneurs lack access to capital in the messy middle or valley of death the phase after startup, though generating revenue but not enough profit to meet the hurdle rates for commercial lenders or traditional VC firms. We are now in the planning phase for the fundraise of our first fund: the Good Food Opportunity Fund. The fund will target talented revenue generating Black and Latinx entrepreneurs with the potential for delivering financial return and nutrition impact.

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