Pete Pearson, Director of Food Waste at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), will be speaking at the inaugural New York City Food Tank Summit, “Focusing on Food Loss and Food Waste,” which will be held in partnership with Rethink Food Waste Through Economics and Data (ReFED) and with support from The Rockefeller Foundation and The Fink Family Foundation on September 13, 2017.
Pearson leads work at WWF on food waste prevention and food recovery, helping businesses understand the vital intersection of agriculture and wildlife conservation. Pearson has led local and national sustainability programs within the retail grocery industry; has more than 10 years of technology experience with companies including Hewlett-Packard, Accenture, and Albertsons; has worked with public schools and hospitals as an independent sustainability consultant; co-founded a sustainable agriculture nonprofit; and co-produced a documentary film on local and regenerative agriculture.
Food Tank talked with Pearson about his work on the intersection of agriculture and wildlife conservation.
Food Tank (FT): What originally inspired you to get involved in your work?
Pete Pearson (PP): I worked as an IT professional for 10 years after graduating from college and wanted to realign my career with my personal passions. In 2007, I enrolled in a Sustainable Business MBA program, while also working for a large national food retailer, SUPERVALU. This catalyzed my interest in sustainable food and it’s something I’ve been pursuing ever since. For the last 10 years, I’ve been leading zero-waste programs and trying to understand how we create a food system that is efficient and balanced with nature. My work at WWF is a dream job.
FT: What makes you continue to want to be involved in this kind of work?
PP: Food is vital, both as a human necessity and culturally, yet most people don’t understand food’s linkage to our environmental challenges. Helping to educate the world on this linkage and trying to figure out how to eliminate waste in the food system (in addition to producing food sustainably in balance with nature) is an amazing profession. If we can change food, we can change the world.
FT: Who inspired you as a kid?
PP: My grandfather, Pete Pearson. He taught me the ethic of hard work. He spent 50 years working at a sugar factory and as a sheep shearer, arguably one of the toughest jobs in the world. He never complained and was content with living simply.
FT: What do you see as the biggest opportunity to fix the food system?
PP: Eliminating waste is essential. What we waste determines what we value. Current waste estimates show that we don’t value food. If we begin to value food and no longer tolerate waste, it puts us on a path to recognizing that where and how we produce food is vital to our future on this planet.
FT: Can you share a story about a food hero who inspired you?
PP: I’m a huge fan of Gabe Brown. Gabe is a cattle rancher on the Northern Great Plains in North Dakota and is showing the world that growing food in balance with nature can be profitable and can regenerate healthy landscapes, soil, and biodiversity. I was part of a team that invited Gabe to speak at a sustainable agriculture event in Idaho, and he gave an amazing presentation and led a very productive field day with local farmers.
FT: What’s the most pressing issue in food and agriculture that you’d like to see solved?
PP: Food waste and sustainable beef/feed production.
FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?
PP: Compost and work to reduce the amount of compost you generate. Make it a daily chore, preferably, a chore for your kids. The next generation must understand that ‘waste’ is a human concept and does not exist in nature. I’m a huge fan of Cradle to Cradle thinking. Food Waste = Food for some other biological process. And we don’t grow food to compost it.
The NYC Food Tank Summit is now sold out. Register HERE to watch the livestream on Facebook. A few tickets remain for the Summit Dinner at Blue Hill Restaurant with a special menu from Chef Dan Barber. Apply to attend HERE. If you live in New York City, join us on September 14 for our FREE outdoor dance workout led by Broadway performers called Garjana featuring many great speakers raising awareness about food waste issues. Register HERE.