Despite research showing clear links between food insecurity and lower socio-economic status, chronic health problems, depression and reduced educational outcomes, urban food deserts persist. Myriad efforts have emerged and there are hints of promise at a neighborhood level, but these efforts are often disconnected, leaving many deeper issues out of focus and systemic factors unaddressed. And, despite frequent attention, access to fresh food is only one part of the problem.

BLK SHP founder Peter Sims and I began discussing the passion I’ve had for this issue and what we might do about it somewhere in the middle of America during the BLK SHP bus tour.  Last week, a group of BLK SHP gathered at the GOOD offices to kick off a new effort to address this problem by building collaborations between disparate nodes in the system to unlock new solutions. Operation: Eat Right will leverage the power of creativity and networks to connect unlikely partners and identify food desert solutions using design thinking and agile approaches to complexity using Los Angeles as its inspiration. Through this process, we’ll amplify the promising sparks through media and rapid prototyping to share insights with others in ways that provoke our civic imagination.

The evening included edible provocations as introductions to new perspectives on how and what we put on our tables.   Left to right: lemons from my backyard showed up as party favors epitomizing the potential of  fallen fruit ; dinner provided by Groceryships' founder, Sam Polk's latest effort,  Harvest , redefine affordable grab-n-go nutrition;  Bar and Garden  asks us to consider not just the farm-to-fork movement but what's in our glass as well; and  Fonuts  added a sweet reminder that unprocessed alternatives provide vegan and gluten-free options that still deliver.

The evening included edible provocations as introductions to new perspectives on how and what we put on our tables. Left to right: lemons from my backyard showed up as party favors epitomizing the potential of fallen fruit; dinner provided by Groceryships' founder, Sam Polk's latest effort, Harvest, redefine affordable grab-n-go nutrition; Bar and Garden asks us to consider not just the farm-to-fork movement but what's in our glass as well; and Fonuts added a sweet reminder that unprocessed alternatives provide vegan and gluten-free options that still deliver.

BLK SHP is a "loose guild" and movement of leading creative thinkers, writers, policy-makers, artists, entrepreneurs, investors, and social entrepreneurs. The mission of BLK SHP is to build and nurture ecosystems that help unlock the creativity and voices of socially conscious innovators, while providing a platform to create and disseminate cutting-edge thought leadership, art & culture, and socially influential ventures to a wider public.  Operations focus innovation efforts around some of the most pressing issues of our time, instigated bottom-up, to rally the BLK SHP network at large, so we can collectively place little bets, learn, iterate and implement.  We also aim to explore new ways of sharing insights and solutions within these complex systems. 

Each operation is led by an Entrepreneur in Residence, and I’m honored to be at the helm of Operation: Eat Right.  But, as with all things Curious Catalyst, the power is in the connections and interconnections.  The inaugural gathering was a fitting first step, engaging members of the City of Los Angeles Innovation team, bold leadership behind vibrant organizations like the Social Justice Learning Institute, Groceryships, and LA Master Gardeners, documentary filmmakers and journalists, experience designers and social change agents across media platforms, disruptors of education, entertainment, and economics systems – it was a group unabashedly tackling poverty, human rights, and environmental justice on a daily basis.

We gathered to swap stories and questions around the idea of what it might mean to “eat right” – the how and what, the past and the future, the nuance of our individual and collective rights here and abroad and the kind of nourishment we need to allow every member of our society thrive.  Our BLK SHP story foragers, Watson Hartsoe and DeKoven Ashley, helped capture some of the seeds we’ll sow, bringing together unlikely allies to support and build connective tissue and creative capacity in the community through rapid ideation sessions with citizen stakeholders, leaders and changemakers.  And Ishan Shapiro helped visualize the start of these themes using his collaborative digital mapping tools, which we’ll continue to explore as a way to share systems-level insights.

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     You can explore many more nodes from the Operation: Eat Right Kick-Off dinner at  https://metamaps.cc/maps/1931

You can explore many more nodes from the Operation: Eat Right Kick-Off dinner at https://metamaps.cc/maps/1931

We wrapped up the evening underscoring, quite literally, the critical element of improvisation and raising our voices - for how we innovate, orchestrate diversity as an ingredient for cooking up rich solution spaces, and listen deeply with empathy when designing for the world we'd like to inhabit.  One of the original BLK SHP, Harold O’Neal, treated us to the soundtrack he heard emanating from the unlikely dots being connected - wrapping up by prototyping a powerful duet with multi-hyphenate artist and social change agent, Aloe Blacc, who uses music as a force for good.  In an aptly named setting, with good food, good music, and good friends, new and old, we could not have concocted a more auspicious start.  Stay tuned for more updates and ways to get involved as Operation: Eat Right takes shape!

Posted
AuthorKaz Brecher

What am I doing here? Head spinning from an intense week during the penultimate module of the inaugural THNK Class in Vancouver, working on the Future of Capitalism, I fly home through LA and, less than 24 hours later, I find myself sitting in a cab heading into a residential stretch of Kansas City to the Start-Up Village. The taxi driver doesn’t think we can possibly be going to the right place, but there it is — a new way station for entrepreneurs and misfits, hoping to catalyst change in their city, jammed between modest homes, from a re-fabbed bungalow of another era. It’s about as incongruous a sight as the Google Fiber lawn signs sprouting from overgrown gardens in this post-industrial neighborhood.

I sneak into the back of the session and grab a spot on the floor to listen to the discussion in progress. The conversation isn’t dissimilar from the ones I’ll hear play out several times a day during the following week. A mix of accidental business owners, people passionate about their community, civil servants, activists, transplants — all seeking a support group for the thankless effort it takes to create a new American narrative, one that builds opportunity on top of ashes and an understanding that we’re all better off when we’re all better off.

This is just the first stop for me on the current BLK SHP bus tour operation. Five of the other folks I join have been camping out on the former Barbara Mandrell touring coach between most of the 15 prior stops, from Austin to New Orleans, Baltimore to Ferguson (you can see the entire trip mapped here). But it was easy to relax into the rhythm of happenstance in service of “story foraging” as our anthropologist, Watson Hartsoe, occasionally said. At THNK, where I am on the faculty, and in most design thinking practice, this discipline is known as sensing — tuning into the people and places you encounter without agenda, with a child’s eyes, as you don’t know what you’re looking for until you find it.

Read about the rest of the BLK SHP bus tour journey here.

Posted
AuthorKaz Brecher