Elizabeth Bennett is the founder of Fruitcycle. Fruitcycle’s mission is “to do good – for its suppliers, its employees, its customers, its community, and its planet” through locally sourced and healthy snacks. Bennett has previously worked for the U.S. Healthful Food Council as the Director of Outreach and Communications, as well as at Slow Food United Kingdom, while pursuing a Master’s degree in Anthropology of Food from the University of London.
Food Tank (FT): What is Fruitcycle?
Elizabeth Bennett (EB): Fruitcycle is a social enterprise that makes delicious, healthy, locally sourced snacks. We focus on using produce that would otherwise go to waste. We aim to provide jobs for women who have been formerly incarcerated, homeless, or are otherwise disadvantaged.
FT: What inspired you to create Fruitcycle?
EB: Every day in the United States we waste 263 million pounds of food – enough to fill the Rose Bowl – while one in six Americans go hungry. I have a Master’s degree in Food Anthropology, which taught me to think critically about our food system, including issues like food waste and hunger.
However, it’s one thing to conceptually understand these issues, and another to see them firsthand. The enormity of the situation really hit home about a year ago when I was visiting a local orchard and saw thousands of pounds of beautiful, perfect, nutritious food going to waste right in front of me. It was heartbreaking.
While there are a number of gleaning organizations nationally doing great work, they generally rely on volunteers and donate the end product to local non-profits. While this is an incredibly important channel, both the time constraints of volunteers and the capacity constraints of the non-profits mean that there is always more food to be recovered. I wanted to find a way to use this opportunity to create jobs.
FT: How will Fruitcycle help the disadvantaged women it’s targeting?
EB: It’s really about empowering women. I’ve volunteered with organizations like DC Central Kitchen, N St Village and Together We Bake and have been inspired by their missions, their work and their clients. Some of these women have never been told that they’re smart and capable. And it’s obviously very hard to believe that (let alone turn your life around as a returning citizen) if no one will hire you.
Furthermore, I don’t have any research on this, but I personally find both gleaning and cooking therapeutic. Focusing on a specific task requires concentration that almost becomes meditative. There’s also something soothing about escaping the city and connecting with nature in a peaceful, beautiful setting. And with respect to the kitchen, creating something people enjoy that’s both delicious and nourishing can be a great source of pride and satisfaction.
FT: What are your plans for the future?
EB: I hope to be on retailers’ shelves in the DC area within the next month and a half. I already have retailers who are willing to sell our apple chips, and [I just] need to finalize details like packaging design. Beyond expanding within the DC-Baltimore region, the longer-term future involves local processing hubs in other areas.
It’s also really important to me to collaborate with other organizations to both recover more food and raise awareness about food waste and food security.
FT: How can people find out more and get involved in Fruitcycle?
EB: You can visit our website, engage with us on Twitter @thefruitcycle and Facebook, and email me at email@example.com. If you’re in the DC area, you’ll be able to buy our apple chips soon!
And no matter where you live, I would encourage everyone to get involved with and/or support the work of a local food recovery organization, such as Ample Harvest, the Food Recovery Network, Food Shift and the Society of St. Andrew.