I want to explore the idea of rescue as an approach to changemaking, and why some aspects of the ‘rescue industry’ have hidden ethical challenges. This is a follow on from my post on how to rescue a racehorse, which explored a new rescue-based idea to tackle problems in the horse-racing industry.

Rescuing others is not a new concept in the changemaking world. We are familiar with animal rescue organisations that play a role in protecting the rights of animals, and providing support and shelter when at their most vulnerable. Although often not referred to in this way, rescue work also happens with people who are in vulnerable positions (like children). I am not here to lay any judgement on these organisations; I do want to explore the nature of rescue and other ways of creating change.

A more recent field in which this meme has entered is that of ‘food rescue’. Food rescue is the process whereby wasted food is ‘rescued’ from restaurants to be given a ‘second life’ by distributing to those who could use it. In both the US and Australia (and beyond), food rescue organisations have attracted an enormous amount of support and public acclaim. The social entrepreneurs behind these ventures in both countries have been heralded as visionary leaders doing important work.

Rescuing food seems somewhat different to rescuing animals or vulnerable people. In one sense, the food itself does not experience vulnerability in the same way. Environmentally of course, the wastage of food in the hospitality industry is a massive problem. The excessive waste is a consequence of possibly numerous potential causes in that industry. Interestingly though, the rescuing of food does not do anything to actually tackle or solve problems in this industry. Rescue of food simply provides a second life for that food.

Recently I was speaking to someone who works with people experiencing homelessness and families in financial trouble in an inner-city Sydney suburb. She explained to me that the food being provided by one food rescue organisation was actually causing other problems in that suburb. She was finding that families were becoming reliant on the food packages that they received from this organisation. She was observing that the parents were becoming so reliant that they had stopped shopping, stocking food in their home and cooking for their children.

In what was seemingly an ethical solution to an environmental challenge in one industry, became a hidden problem for the second recipients. Food distribution became a new form of welfare that trapped the recipients in a new cycle of dependance. In this case, the community worker I was speaking to had made a request for the organisation to limit the amount of times in a month that they distributed food in that area.

There is a psychological element to rescuing. The Drama Triangle model outlined initially by Stephen Karpman, showed three roles playing out in human interactions – the victim, the persecutor and the rescuer. I am not making any slurs on the people involved in these organisations; they are most often engaged with very good intentions. The Drama Triangle model does however provide an interesting lens on the role of rescuing in this interaction. Typically the ‘rescuer’ responds out of a desire to help in a situation and often to support someone in a vulnerable position. It is an often hidden dynamic because on the surface they are being supportive and acting with good intent.

According to this psychological theory though, this dependance is actually desired by the person taking the role of rescuer. A dynamic can develop whereby the rescuer actually doesn’t want the problem to be resolved. Being needed becomes a desired experience that further fuels the ego.

An alternative model shared to the Drama Triangle as shared by a colleague and friend Peter Lightbody, is that of the Circle of Personal Leadership. The rescuer has the ability to shift the dynamic out of the ego state from ‘rescuer’ to become an ‘enabler’. This is an entirely different approach to changemaking, and I wonder what food rescue could look like, it an ‘enabling’ approach was taken to the new problems in may be creating.

* click here for resources on the Drama Triangle and other psychological elements explored here

5 thoughts on “The ethics of rescuing food

  1. Good post, Benny.
    I have often said that rescuers (those who “help others” in a way that fosters dependency) perpetuate a state of learned helplessness among those they help, and learned helplessness is “shark bait” for bullies who then attack those they perceive as weaker than they, which then allows the rescuer to step in & save the helpless …

    The key phrase to stopping this vicious triangle is to teach self-responsibility for all three roles, the bully, (to own responsibility for their own behavior), the victim (who must learn how to take care of themselves), and the rescuer who learns to take responsibility for their own well-being rather than sacrifice themselves for others). Thanks for your thoughtful posting. 🙂

    1. Thanks for your comments Lynne, and your work also. I have seen these role play out extensively through the community sector, and am keen to understand it further. A colleague who I referred to in the post talks of the Circle of Personal Leadership, whereby the Victim can become the Learner, the Persecutor becomes the Teacher, and the Rescuer becomes the Enabler. This has been powerful with the people I work with in helping them see beyond the three roles of the triangle. We don’t need to be trapped in the vicious cycle, we can consciously move into new spaces of experience. Awareness is key though. I like your exploration around moving from learned helplessness to self-responsibility. That adds a beautiful dimension.

      Thank you.

      1. Thank you Benny. I love to dialog about this triangle – I believe that every dysfunctional interaction takes place on it … Interesting, the alternative roles your friend has developed to counter the three roles of victim. I’d like to see more about that … is there a website that tells more?

        I have also come up with alternative, more positive roles on what I call the “Observer Triangle” – the Observer is the positive reversal of the victim who, by assuming personal self-responsibility, chooses whether to respond as an “Asserter” (instead of the persecutor) who has clear boundaries, and knows what is their business and what is not, or to respond as the “Nurturer” (instead of Rescuer) who sees the other through a lens of compassion, rather than pity or guilt, and responds in a way that truly helps instead of disables. Based on the idea that we each are born with a soul code, or “holy trinity” that is the reverse of the victim triangle. (http://www.lynneforrest.com/?p=6716 )

  2. From what I am aware, nothing has been written on this, although I have explored this at some length with colleagues. I will see what I can track down.
    I am interested in your Asserter position, which brings in the whole matter of boundaries, which would be good for me to explore here too.

    1. Thanks for your response, Benny. I read your post, “Rescuing a Racehorse” (love that title!). Yes, I too have found that many times our best attempts to save the world simply creates more chaos. It is important that we get clear, as potential rescuers, whether our “help” will empower the other, or disable them to the point of creating greater dependency, and bigger issues all round.

      You might be interested in an article I wrote paralleling the holy trinity as the inborn “tri-cell” of divinity within each of us that is the golden shadow (using Jungian verbage) and exact opposite of the victim triangle: http://www.lynneforrest.com/?p=6716

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