These in-their-own-words pieces are told to Patricia Lane and co-edited with input from the interviewee for the purpose of brevity.
Taylor Quinn feeds millions in the Global South while redesigning food systems.
This 30-year-old North Vancouverite started and runs Tailored Food with a goal of ending hunger by 2030 by supporting local entrepreneurs to provide nutritious, delicious, affordable food from local producers.
Tell us about your work.
We support small entrepreneurs in their communities in Liberia, Congo, Mozambique, Cameroon and Ethiopia to identify foods people want to eat, source them locally and enhance their nutritional content. For example, Congolese grandmothers shared a 100-year-old recipe for protein-rich snack bars that had never before been commercially produced. In partnership with the United Nations World Food Program, we enhanced its nutritional profile and sourced the ingredients from small farmers. Hip-hop artists, football players and other influencers promoted it as “cool food.” Today, 16 different women-run worker co-operatives distribute 70,000 bars a month to some of the lowest-income people.
In Mozambique, peanut butter is wildly popular but a luxury. We helped set up a manufacturing facility and entrepreneurs now sell locally sourced and affordable peanut butter to families struggling with malnutrition.
We also provide consulting and other kinds of support in other countries and I helped set up a department in the United Nations World Food Program to scale up our ideas.
How did you get started?
Taylor Quinn is the CEO of Tailored Food, a social enterprise consultancy that partners with food entrepreneurs, farmers and market vendors to ensure nutritious and delicious low-cost food is available to families suffering from malnutrition.
In 2016, I was in Liberia working on another project, but I was always curious. I often met with others to learn more about how I could be helpful in other ways. Dr. Jude, a pediatrician, told me he was frustrated that while he could feed the long lines of starving children outside his office with the resources provided by the United Nations and the Red Cross, they would go home to starve again. Could I address the problem at its source?
I began asking people what they wanted to eat, what their ideas were about nutrition and what were their biggest challenges in finding nutritious food. We started in Liberia, where in partnership with Kawadah Farms, we developed a recipe for cassava porridge and have distributed over one million meals. The lessons we learned are now applied with great effect in many other places.
How do you do your research?
One of my main ways is just to start running through the country and talking with people I meet on the way. It is not wise or indeed possible to find the answers to these questions through official channels because the people we are trying to feed live outside the mainstream economy. Official data on food industry trends is difficult to come by. We talk to people.
How does your work support you financially?
I could make much more doing other things, but I can support myself and my family and pay our small team from grants and consulting. Our long-term funding model is to ask entrepreneurs we support to pay us a percentage of their income once they are on their feet. We make more if they are doing better.
What makes your work hard?
The unfairness. A mom in Cameroon should have just as much right to feed her children well as my mom. We work best in countries where the informal economy dominates and where larger food and agriculture businesses struggle to operate. It is challenging for us to compete in more formal economies when, for example, Kellogg's 3,000 sales representatives in Nigeria tell mothers Cocoa Puffs are nutritious. The food system works well for the companies that are experiencing record-setting profits. It is broken for the families unable to access affordable, nourishing food.
What do you see if we get this right?
The Global North’s corporate domination does not govern the more complex economies where we work. We hope to expand the idea that locally grown and produced, nutritious, delicious, culturally appropriate food can be available to everyone, everywhere.
Tell us about your background
I grew up in an ethnically and economically diverse neighbourhood. I knew other kids who struggled with English and whose ideas about food, culture and religion were different from mine. That seemed normal to me. My best friend in high school was an Ismaili from Kenya and we went to meet her family and do some volunteering there when I was 16. I had been a bit of a hustler — buying more chips and pop than I wanted at the local store and reselling them at a higher price to my friends or providing loans and making a bit of interest in return. After that trip, I turned that energy to working for fairness in the world, but my entrepreneurial spirit stayed with me.
Do you have any advice for other young people?
It can be powerful to be outside demanding change, but at some point, the door will open. Learn how to step in to build a better world.
What would you like to say to older readers?
How can you use your money, your time, your conversations, your vote, your voice, your decisions about what to buy, how to remodel your home or where you will travel to disrupt business as usual?