Dancing on the Head of a Pin

How what happens next will shape the future of food in Seattle

supermarket, shelf, blur

Chef Tom French is a long-time food activist and the principal consultant at Northwest Food Alliance. His blog series addresses systemic issues related to food insecurity, food waste and food recovery.

Contact: [email protected]


On Sunday September 6, 2020, a NY Times special report noted that “1 in 8 U.S. adults say their households don’t have enough to eat”. In Seattle, the Covid-19 pandemic is exacting a heavy toll on the food industry while food banks and meal programs are struggling to pivot and adapt to an unpredictable situation. The demand for food assistance has increased dramatically and is forecasted to grow even greater in the coming months. In short, someone you know is or will be hungry, and we need everyone’s help.

It should not come as a total surprise that we now find ourselves in this quagmire, given our reliance on out-dated models for food recovery, food access, and food distribution. Our dilemma now rests on a bedrock of decades old ideas about food distribution that may not withstand the “fracking” it is about to receive. We continue to waste food at a record rate while our food recovery efforts are stymied by a lack of adequate infrastructure and poor communications, leading to even more waste.

The complex constellation of issues that surround food insecurity are a virtual milky way of social ills. They are deeply rooted in the lack of equitable access to wholesome, quality food, a safe place to prepare and eat it, and a livable wage to afford it. A holistic view of food insecurity includes understanding multiple intersecting barriers to quality education, healthcare, employment, and affordable housing. To add to this complexity, many will now be experiencing food insecurity and accessing community services for the first time.

Simultaneously, Seattle is resource rich in culinary talent with many commercial kitchen spaces available now sitting idle. Chefs in this city have historically shown leadership on a plethora of social causes while weaving a rich tapestry of food culture that is uniquely Seattle. Surely, we all want to support a vibrant food community and bolster our food local businesses who have given freely to so many initiatives over the years. Seattle is a city of innovators, and it stands to reason that we can harness some of that propensity for innovation that has led to iconic breakthroughs in technology, medicine, research, agriculture, aerospace, and don’t forget Grunge!

We do not need to solve every issue to get a grip on what’s happening now in our community, nor do we need to fully understand the complexity in order to act.  So, let’s ask ourselves: how can we best take advantage of this moment in time? What is required of us and where are we compelled to take bold, innovative actions to make sure that no individual or family in our community goes hungry?

It is incumbent on all of us to contribute to our “what’s next”. It will demand a level of collaboration previously unknown and a commitment to solving the right problems.  It will require a unique alliance of public, private and civic leaders to recognize the need to step up and refuse to stand back. Yes, it is a bit like dancing on the head of a pin but what happens next will shape the future of food in Seattle.