The Five Big Things We Learned At Food Tank

Student Voice: Working The Summit

It only made sense for my 2015 Food Tank Summit experience to start with food. The night before the first day of the Summit, about 50 volunteers and I followed the smell of pizza into a tiny conference room. It was our first time meeting, but we all had something in common: we care about food.

As a George Washington University student, I found out about the conference while sifting through my daily barrage of emails. I expected the room to be filled with GW students, but was surprised when I met unfamiliar faces. Volunteers hailed from all over, and they weren’t just students either. One student from James Madison University traveled to DC just to volunteer for two days at the conference. Another volunteer was on a break from her Peace Corp assignment in Botswana and decided to participate.

I was assigned to the speaker registration booth where I checked moderators and speakers in. During the panels, there wasn’t much registering to do, so I huddled around an iPad with another volunteer and watched the conference through the livestream. I was appreciative just to be in an atmosphere where so much productive dialogue was occurring. As Food Tank President Danielle Nierenberg had said to the volunteers during our orientation, new questions were being formed out of each conversation.

What impressed me most out of my entire experience was how the Food Tank Summit set the tone of the talks. The vegetarian meals were all donated, leftovers were recovered and waste composted. Even the jars of organic jam given to speakers as gifts were from a local Maryland farm. It was refreshing to see the summit walked the walk  and that an event as large as this one could follow the ideas that everyone was sharing. 

My Food Tank experience came to an end during the reception at Farmers Fishers Bakers when volunteers, attendees and speakers gathered together to extend the conversation. Chef José Andrés was the last to speak and challenged everyone to action. He announced that even though we were all going back to our homes and our lives, the conversation did not stop there.

Each speaker, volunteer, attendee or livestream viewer was there because in some way, we all care about food. However, we have to make good on our words and keep working for more solutions to fix our global food system. This was just the start.

- Alyssa Bruns

By Anna Sumi and Diana Wilkinson

The Planet Forward team livetweeted the 2015 Food Tank summit in January, which featured two days of discussion of the essential issues around food security and production that face our world. After all the panels, keynotes, discussions and innovations, we interviewed the key experts, compared notes and decided on the five most important things we heard at the summit:

1) We need to stop wasting food!   

Producing more food may not be necessary to combat food insecurity. We currently generate enough food for every person to have about 3,000 calories a day, yet one third of the world’s food is wasted and nearly 1 billion people go hungry. It’s time to become conscious of the food we waste.

2) Women could hold the key to sustainable agriculture.  

Women play an enormous role in food production around the world, but still face enormous obstacles. In many countries, cultural norms prevent women from owning land, even where it is legal. Empowering women would make a huge difference in the world food system.

3) Every link in the food system needs attention.

Most of us don’t think about our food past the grocery store or dinner table, but those growing, harvesting, and serving our food are crucial. Often the workers hired by food corporations are not paid fair wages in order to keep the price of goods low. Paying agricultural workers over ten dollars an hour, however, would have minimal effects on consumer, costing them only an extra ten cents per day. Consumers can make a difference in the food system – we express our opinion every time we shop.

4) Healthy food needs to be more accessible and inexpensive.

It’s hard for people to choose to eat healthy when healthy options are not available to begin with, or are far too expensive for the average person. We need to figure out why healthy food is so expensive in order to have a healthier population and planet.

5) Younger generations need to be engaged, and storytelling is the key.

Powerful storytelling may be the secret ingredient to engaging millennials on the issues of food and food security. An appreciation for healthy and sustainable food doesn’t have to start later in life - by implementing healthy food options (especially in school lunches) children can learn the importance of eating well and start healthy habits.

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