Why We're Proudly Incrementalist
There’s a Chinese proverb for everything, but we’re choosing to share this one as context:
It is better to take many small steps in the right direction than to make a great leap forward only to stumble backward.
How do we chart a course to destinations unknown? We believe in a post-food waste future, but the world in which it exists is only just beginning to take shape. There is no roadmap.
The critical issues of climate change and food waste weren’t always critical. They grew out of small decisions made over generations. The weight they've placed on society has accrued. There is no going back, but we believe a cultural evolution that dissentagles the mess and sets us on a more sustainable trajectory is possible. In fact, we’re making a series of small bets on it.
Back to that proverb. Why small steps if it’s all so urgent? When we take small steps, we have the opportunity to assess the impact of our choices, make sure our assumptions still hold, check that we’re still going in the right direction and adjust to build a more viable pathway if we determine we’re off course. With this approach, we can adapt in order to make changes that stick. This incremental momentum is (and should be) infinite.
If it’s infinite, then what solution are we aiming for? I’d go so far as to say that we don’t believe in “solutions.” We’re not revolutionizing in a vacuum. What works today may not work tomorrow. It’s important that we give ourselves the room to recalibrate along the way because we are constantly discovering things we didn’t know we didn’t know. The Earth turns, a cloud moves and we realize the North Star is actually way over to the left. Or, to put in the context of our SPARE values: incrementalism asks us to be continually open to see the unseen and to think more holistically and systemically. It's a process, one that will always depend on factors we can’t control. Adam learned this cooking on the farm for almost two decades, when a crop that was expected in the kitchen was delayed by a cold front, or had a different flavor due to excess rain. With small steps, the culinary team could pivot the menu and even create in ways unexpected.
On this incremental path we cannot afford to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I learned this first-hand early in my career at Patagonia when we were working to make the conversion to organically grown cotton in an industry tied to large-scale, pesticide-dependent cotton growers. Patagonia was a fraction of the size it is today and there was no way we were going to be able to affect change at scale alone. In a spirit of cooperation (rather than ongoing competition) we reached out to a much larger apparel company and asked if they’d agree to introduce a minimal amount of organically grown cotton into just one of their tee shirt lines to support the larger transition to a more sustainable future. They graciously did and we were able to create a blueprint for a more sustainable industry in the process.
The analog at The Spare Food Co. was our intention to launch Spare Tonic with 100% organic ingredients. We learned that to make this product at scale, it simply wouldn’t be possible (initially) based on the percentage of strained yogurt manufactured from organic milk produced in our region. We were faced with making the best choice we could at that point. We built a values hierarchy that puts preventing food waste at #1, non-gmo ingredients at #2 and organic ingredients whenever possible at #3. Can we do better? In time. And when we can, we will.
Incrementalism is both a philosophy and a necessity. The change we seek to make in the world is new--reversing the effects of climate change by finding more ways to use more of what’s already grown and produced. It requires the acceptance of new ways of making food choices, and that takes time. Since we don’t have a lot of time, it’s even more important that we don’t waste it by making short-sighted, big decisions with big consequences we can hardly predict. Are we going to stumble? Sure. But we’ll get up more quickly if we trip up on the little things.