I'm reading
Katy Barfield hates to see good food go to waste
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
Katy Barfield hates to see good food go to waste
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
Katy Barfield hates to see good food go to waste
Pass it on
Pass it on
"We’ve got a very big food mountain to climb. I’d like people to realise that there’s no such place as "away". You don’t throw something away, you’re actually just polluting your own planet."
Conversations
7 July 2015

Katy Barfield hates to see good food go to waste

Interview by Tegan Sullivan

Katy Barfield has dedicated her career to bridging the gap between wasted food and those in need of a meal. Her journey began when she bought a little bar in Melbourne and saw firsthand the kind of waste typical to the hospitality industry. She then became involved with SecondBite, a grassroots not-for-profit organisation distributing surplus food to community food programs.

 

As CEO, Katy expanded SecondBite into a national program, distributing millions of kilos of produce. When looking into the supply chain, Katy discovered that farmers were limited from selling up to 40 percent of their crop due to slight imperfections. In response, Katy established Spade and Barrow, delivering “Nature’s Grade” produce to consumers who don’t mind wonky carrots.

Katy’s latest venture is a smartphone app called Yume which connects retailers, community food programs and the public in order to put surplus food to good use. Katy’s resume is certainly impressive, but she admits that her number one goal is to one day make herself redundant, because it will mean that we’ve solved the problem.

Katy and I arrange to meet at Kinfolk in the city, which is a hub of activity on this grey afternoon. As she leans in to greet me, I notice that Katy is sporting a black eye. She laughs and explains that sheer clumsiness on a footpath led to her injury which has been healing for weeks.

Behind extraordinary ideas, there are extraordinary people. Dumbo Feather is a magazine about these people.

TEGAN SULLIVAN: So you really are a fair food fighter.

KATY BARFIELD: Yes [laughs], I take it quite seriously.

You recently tweeted about the new laws in France, where it is now illegal for supermarkets to destroy unsold food. Does this give you hope for change in Australia?

Definitely. It was a landmark decision. In the same way that we saw their “inglorious fruit and veg” campaign in the Intermarché spread across the globe, I hope that this even more important legislation is transferred over to Australia and various other countries. It is absolutely appalling how much food we throw out every year, and we’ve got so many people in need. It just doesn’t make any sense.

You were first exposed to food waste when working in hospitality. What was that like for you when you saw it happening?

Well it just made me think, if this is how much is being thrown away in a tiny little venue, if we multiply this up, it is just a phenomenal amount of waste. It made me more aware of what I was throwing in the bin at home. The UN in 2011 came out with the figure of 1 billion tonnes of food wasted every year.

Wow.

There’s all this talk at the moment about how we’re going to feed 9 billion people by 2050. We actually have enough to feed those additional 2 million people today, 1.36 kilos each, every single day of the year.

We don’t really need to scale up production, we just need to be mindful of what we already have.

And I think what’s most confronting about that is that we’re pulling that out of the earth’s resources today, and then we bury it in landfill, in our wisdom, those trillion kilos, where they create methane which pollutes the planet and will inhibit it from growing as much as it could. So it’s a really short-sighted way of going about things.

Tell me about that first conversation with Ian Carson (co-founder of SecondBite with his wife Simone) that started you on this journey.

Well he and Simone were popping down to the Prahran Market on weekends with a handful of volunteers, picking up 30 kilos and taking it down to either Prahran Mission or Sacred Heart Mission. He said to me, do you want to come bring it all together, and I thought yeah, no worries, I might stay six months or so…

So you didn’t know where it was going to go?

No, we didn’t know. It was just volunteers in their spare time, and then I did it full time to try and get some momentum and we just gained so much support. People donated money to us so we could buy a van and St Mary’s House of Welcome gave us a little office.

It just grew, and the idea caught on, because it’s common sense.

It’s funny because people said to me back then, I can’t believe that no one’s done this before, and now they say exactly the same thing about Yume, they can’t believe that someone hasn’t done this before. Because people genuinely hate seeing good food go to waste and people genuinely hate to see people going hungry.

So how did the Yume app come about?

At SecondBite we have a program called Community Connect. We realised that we couldn’t just keep buying more vans, so I wanted to try and find a way to move food without having to send a van. Someone would ring up and say “I’ve got a box of apples” and then SecondBite would ring around community food programs in the area and see if anyone needed a box of apples. They’d then organise a volunteer to go down and pick them up. That’s really effective and works well, but technology’s moved on.

We need to continue to innovate and for me, Yume is just putting Community Connect online, but also giving businesses the opportunity to sell food. With Spade and Barrow, we brought food directly from the farm to cafes and restaurants. I realised that a lot of small businesses do it really tough. Not everybody has the luxury of donating, some people really need to see a return on their food costs. So Yume gives people the option to either sell or donate.

And everyone loves a cheap meal…

Exactly. I can’t really see a downside to it. We’ve created the tool. Now it’s over to the businesses and the public and the not-for-profits to say whether it’s a tool that they can use.

I’m curious to know more about what drives you. Do you think you’ve always been a leader?

That’s a hard one. [Long pause]. I’ve always done my own thing, I think. I wouldn’t be very good in a job where I’d have to do the same thing every day, I get bored very quickly. I’ve never felt fear about trying something out. My five-year-old son Archie reminds me of me, he’s just a bull at a gate. I’m exhausted just looking at him. [Laughs]. I’m quite impatient, I like to see things move quickly. I quite enjoy seeing where there’s a market failure and then trying to come up with a solution that’s really simple. I’m not looking for any complicated answers. It just shows that anybody could do it.

Do you think working with volunteers is a motivation in itself?

I’m very lucky that I’m constantly reminded of people’s generosity. No one makes people give. I think inside humans, there is this sort of genuine desire to contribute and be part of something. A lot of the volunteers at SecondBite were actually people who accessed the food services, there were a few people who would go have a feed at St Mary’s House of Welcome and then come to SecondBite and volunteer.

Really? That’s amazing.

Yeah, and I think there’s dignity in that. I always used to say that if we can work to a world where SecondBite doesn’t need to exist any more, that would be the ultimate goal, because it means you’ve solved the problem.

Absolutely. You’ve spent most of your career in the not-for-profit sector. What has working in this environment taught you?

That you’ve got to be entrepreneurial and resourceful. No two days are ever the same. And whatever cause you’re working for, you’ve got to find a creative way to present that to get people on board—to donate their time or their money or their services.

Who inspires you?

The people that inspire me the most are those that have been through some of the greatest challenges and still have an ability to give back. Also, anyone that’s trying to swim upstream and willing to sacrifice themselves for a cause. That’s inspirational. Selflessness inspires me.

You say that if everyone in the world lived like Australians, we could need four planets to sustain us. What habits do consumers need to change, aside from throwing away food?

Buy local. It completely baffles me how we ship oranges from California when we have amazing oranges here. It’s really important that we understand exactly where our food comes from. We saw that with the berry scare, people suddenly started looking at the labels of where their food was coming from. It’s sad that it takes that, for us to wake up and say, wow, I’m putting this in my body, I’ve got no idea where it was grown, who grew it, what it was grown using, what fertilisers were put on it… I’ve got no idea and yet I’m feeding this to my children.

Do you think the same principles should apply to buying meat?

I don’t eat meat myself, and haven’t eaten it since I was 18. I think we eat far too much meat. We’ve become so accustomed to having everything that we want, when we want it, how we want it, in the quantities that we want it. We’re literally eating ourselves to death. So I think it’s about knowing where your food comes from and knowing what’s happened to it. If you’re going to eat factory farmed chicken, go and see a factory farm, see if you still want to eat it.

I do think that we have a responsibility to not walk through life with blinkers on, choosing to only look at the things that are pretty. Listen to your instincts. Most people are intrinsically good. Most people would not want to see an animal in pain and distress, and sit there and happily watch that. I just think we need to be responsible.

You’ve got two young boys. What is the world that you envision for them as they grow up?

Ideally, we would eliminate food waste, and we would protect the amazing array of species on the planet that we’re currently destroying. I was taken to Africa when I was younger and I saw Africa as it was forty years ago. The wildlife was just abundant. I don’t think there’s any such thing as free wildlife anymore, which is really tragic. Ideally my boys will know what that’s like, but in reality they won’t. It shouldn’t get to the point where the Orangutan is under threat before we start thinking about palm oil.

Absolutely.

We need to start informing ourselves better earlier, so that we can make more informed choices, and we’re not doing that. And it’s not necessarily our fault, that is often the obscurity of industry and big business that make sure that it is very difficult to find out exactly what is going on. We’re seeing an uprising of social enterprise and ethically sustainable products, and I hope that we see more of it. I also think that we have a huge responsibility to act now because we cannot continue to wait.

It’s our generation’s responsibility, all of us here today to make change happen more effectively. We’re asleep at the wheel.

I think the trillion kilos of food show that. The reality is, unless we massively wake up and change tack, we’ll become known as a generation of wasters rather than a generation of innovators. If there’s nothing left to eat, noone’s going to give a stuff about the fact that we invented the internet. You can’t eat the internet [laughs].

Do you think we’ll ever see government taking the lead?

[Pause]. I live in hope. The more we raise awareness, the more we vocalise what we think is important, and the more we make mindful choices, the more likely government is to listen to us, and to bring in policies that align with the general public’s needs and desires. Wouldn’t it be nice if we actually led the world on something instead of being the last ones dragged over the line? I don’t understand what there is to lose. Woolworths (an Australian supermarket chain) is talking about having zero waste by the end of this year. I’d like to see evidence of that. If people make claims like that, can we audit it? The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission are doing work in these areas to make sure that there aren’t misrepresentations going on, particularly when it comes to imported fruit and vegetables.

Where do you see the food waste movement headed?

I don’t think we’re going to have much of a choice if we continue the way we’re going. I think that the French government’s decision will start the conversation. I would like every restaurant and every café to be mindful of anything that they put in the bin, because the world doesn’t actually create waste. Everything has a purpose. There’s no reason for us to be throwing perfectly edible food away. I think we’re going in the right direction. I am impatient, so I’d like it all to go there a little bit quicker. We’ve got a very big food mountain to climb. I’d like people to realise that there’s no such place as “away”. You don’t throw something away, you’re actually just polluting your own planet.

Tegan Sullivan

Tegan is a Dumbo Feather reader from way back with a love for spreadsheets and to-do lists. She looks after our subscribers and keeps the stationery cupboard well-stocked. She also writes, dabbles in photography and surrounds herself with cats.

I want more things that inspire me to...

Dumbo Feather Newsletter

Let’s be friends. We'll tell you all the good stuff.