"Food is the field in which we daily explore our harming of the world." - Gary Snyder, poet; as quoted by Woody Tasch
Two Wednesdays ago, Woody Tasch - an experienced VC and financier - spoke in New York on the concept of "Slow Money", and the connections between the current financial collapse and the way we eat.
Woody is the chairman and founder of Investor's Circle, a Boston-based network of socially responsible investors. The Circle recently launched the Slow Money Fund, which aims to invest in local and sustainable food systems. I was pleased to play a small part in helping organize and promote the event, which was put on by Pure Projects, a social enterprise incubator. (I also met with the two lead managers of the fund up in Boston, yesterday, to learn more about their strategy.)
I discovered that Woody Tasch is a true rabble rouser and activist-intellectual-financier, and I found some of his ideas to be truly profound. Most stirring was his ability to articulate an underlying systems-based failure of consciousness that has simultaneously created crises in both our financial markets, and our food economy. This is summarized is the fund's motto: "Bringing money back down to earth".
The idea is that every security, and every derivative, is fundamentally connected to the natural world. However, the astronomical acceleration of degrees of derivation, leverage, and turnover in these assets has dangerously removed us from the true source of value and from the relationships of good business. The result is a degradation that results not in only global environmental meltdown, but in such terrible ironies as starving farmers, the obese poor, and tasteless toxic food. The ultimate potential threat is the observation that the "collapse of every major civilization can arguably be linked to a decline in soil fertility".
Woody argues that this problem is not fundamentally one of technology, but of finance. Despite the recent growth in food consciousness, CSA's, organics, etc., fantastically immense private investment and government monies continue to flow to industrial agriculture. The aggregate size of investment, tax revenues, and philanthropy that currently flows to sustainable agriculture is negligable enough to be considered zero. Financiers therefore have a crucial role to play. Thus, the creation of Slow Money, and the categorization of a new asset class: SFE's - small food enterprises.
Several great direct and indirect quotations from Woody's talk:
"From the dawn of human history until 1900, the world economy grew to $600 billion in global output. Today, the world economy grows by this amount every two years."
"In 2006, the measured economic output of the entire world was about 47 trillion. The total domestic and international market capitalization of the stock market was $51 trillion. . . The amount of derivatives outstanding, was, $473 trillion. . . Planet Finance is beginning to dwarf Planet Earth." - Nyle Ferguson (world-famous economist and historian), The Ascent of Money
"The collapse we're going through right now is just the most extreme manifestation of a system that is designed to cut the relationships involved in industry and substitute them with transactions."
Below is the video from Woody's talk. It is extensive. Yet I highly recommend you at least drag the cursor to 18:40min and watch Woody read two fabulous quotes from his new book, Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered. This five-minute segment builds to a passionate and inspiring crescendo on food, and finance.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tt3J-N4XBkg