Radical Self-Reliance

Written by Brooke Newberry

Living in the land of the plenty comes with the perils of choice. Choices that shape our day, our influence, and our future. Such baggage of bounty! What do we do when the oldest and largest industry on the planet doesn’t sustainably manage its production — or its waste? 

Along with preexisting conditions, COVID-19 has upended the food supply chain, and studies have found that 30 % – 40 % of the food we produce in the United States is ultimately thrown away. 1https://foodforward.org/2017/09/how-much-food-is-wasted-in-america/ Many feel overwhelmed with the visible acts of injustice happening in front of us — on our timelines and television screens, in our grocery stores, and conceivably in our own homes.

There’s currently no treatment for eco-depression or activism fatigue.

Being a changemaker can be deeply draining. Some may feel an acute burnout, others stunned on where to begin.  The unnecessary waste of food weighs on our conscience, too, as 73 percent of respondents say they feel guilty when they waste food. 2https://www.foxnews.com/food-drink/americans-waste-103-pounds-food  Conveniently — a slowing down within times of disruption often leads to valuable lessons and the adoption of new behaviors. The food industry is primed and prepped for huge transformation.

The messaging around fighting food waste is often led and spread by statistics attached to apocalyptic theories. Such high-stakes messaging can unintentionally detach us from our true capabilities in being a part of the solution. For many, fear-based communications from brands and organizations have created barriers to solutionizing the need for sustainable food, confining responses to specialized groups versus delivering the problem to the mainstream in an approachable way. Many consumers want to make “green” choices and purchases, but feel like they lack the education, support, accessibility to do so. Even facts don’t change habits, but statistics translated via the vehicle of a brand that connects better eating with more modernized necessities (healthy habits, curiosity, community as currency) could spark change and restore our expectations and goals. Basically, food activism could use a rebrand. 

[I’m] sitting in this classroom learning about these global issues and it feels really intense. It starts to feel intangible. What can I even do? It’s not empowering. It was really dis-empowering and I think it’s important to learn about the issues. It’s important to inspire activism as well, even in small ways, just to keep morale there. Hope is such a big thing. So you need that.

— Kaitlin Mogentale

An explorer and pioneer in this space is Kaitlin Mogentale, a maker of sustainable snacks,  devoted upcycler, and CEO of Pulp Pantry, and whose personal ethos is reflected in her brand. Pulp Chips, the brand’s keystone, are made of upcycled vegetables. She proposes countering eco-depression not by a measured heroic action, but by taking a more dharmic action and simply living with a plan. Mogentale’s personal advice on beating activism fatigue mimics her brand’s mission: use creative constraint as an unexpected tool for your activism process. You can start small and humbly — i.e. snacks — by exploring viable alternatives in new spaces. Counter lofty, universalist solutions by engaging with building blocks within your control that can lead to lasting results.

I think that the whole concept of turning pulp into added value is a rebellious act because it’s something that no one’s doing. No one was thinking about it cause it’s difficult to do. It’s not the easy thing to do. I think that the mindset of doing things that are a little more difficult is changing the way that our system works. [Our system works] in that linear model and thinking more circularly is what the whole brand is about, and that’s really the ethos that I want to instill. With the products and with the packaging.

– Kaitlin Mogentale

Think of upcycling (turning an old thing into a useful item) your long term goals as a way to create solutions that live within our control. Our passions coexisting in a symbiotic relationship with a potential solution is enlightenment in the first degree. Mogentale’s pragmatism takes sweat equity at face value — living by a plan of taking action within ourselves and hoping the byproduct subscribes to healing an unjust food system. Mogentale has woven her personal choices into a cohesive value system that drives her brand. She’s also not stopping at Pulp Chips but she does see the snacks as a billboard to inspire a bigger message.

Listen to Kaitlin interviewed by Ivy Joeva on Future of Food.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash