Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy hosted a phenomenal food summit on Saturday April 1st. No joke – it was a conference worth attending.
The energy and impetus behind this year’s Food Tank Summit comes from Danielle Nierenberg, the President of Food Tank, who brought together strong voices, ground-breaking innovators, policy makers and story tellers. She created a forum of discussion that allowed people to question policy and encouraged uncomfortable conversations. Debates were not the result, but the various panels invoked thought.
Throughout the conference, several themes emerged. The most prominent was the importance of integrating culture into food: if food reflects the culture and nutrition mirrors the community in which we live, then people pick up healthy eating habits, and value the origin of the food they eat. This gives a different definition of “eating local”. Valuing the farmer was another focal point. The power of politics in the affordability and accessibility of fresh produce was another recurring theme. As Doug Rauch’s stressed in his panel “Food is the cheapest form of healthcare.”
We first heard from the Dean of the Friedman School, Dariush Mozaffarian, who talked about the impact of poor nutrition on our society. Chronic illness, often attributed to a poor diet, accounts for 20% of dollars spent on health care in this country. Poor nutrition is a national crisis.
How do we tackle this issue locally? Catalina Lopez-Ospina from the Office of Food Initiative, stressed that Boston’s Mayor, Marty Walsh, is committed to talking about food insecurity, increasing accessibility and maintaining diversity. The focus: create an inclusive food culture that is reflective of the multiple cultures in Boston.
PANEL 1: FARMING DIFFERENTLY
Message: Value the farmer
1. Improve economic opportunity for farmers. To value the farmer, we need to promote:
– Better access to Land
– Creative contracts that support farmers for the long-term
– Expanded access to Medicaid
– Better education for consumers on what “local” and “organic” food means
2. Push countries to a decentralized model.
– Debunk myth that US feeds the world, which creates weak economic policy. Africa feeds Europe; Pakistan exports to US; and other examples illustrate countries’ independence.
– Create regionally adapted seed for local production of grains, sweet corns, etc.
PANEL 2: TRUE VALUE OF FOOD
Message: Do not leave it up to the individual to change how we eat. We should covet good governance, healthier environments, and industrial change to produce healthier foods. If we value the farmer and give credit to farming, then they become impervious to radical political change.
1. Micro-level Solution: A simple way to value the farming and encourage individuals to look at the origin of food: Add names of the farms and stories of the farmers to restaurant menus.
2. Macro-level Solution: Prices are punishingly low. We need to work on generating income stabilizing prices that enable farmers to sustain a living and the poor to purchase produce.
PANEL 3: ARE WE BECOMING NUTRIENT DENSE?
Message: As low-income neighbors are faced with a lack of accessibility and affordability to healthy, nutrient-rich food, we have to be creative in addressing this issue from both local and national levels.
1. Macro-level Solution: Farm Bill needs to be sustained at a federal level to improve the nutrition and health status of households.
2. Micro-level Solutions:
– Involve the chefs. Decisions on where chefs purchase the food have consequences. We are moving in the direction of choosing healthier sources even when feeding thousands of people.
– Improve individual’s motivation through education, cooking demos, story-telling and other tangible methods that help people connect with the food they are eating.
– De-stigmatize SNAP
– Watch documentary A Place at the Table, which shows how hunger poses serious economic, social, and cultural implications for the United States, and that the problem can be solved if the American public decides that making healthy food available and affordable is in everyone’s best interest (synopsis taken from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Place_at_the_Table)
PANEL 4: CREATING BETTER FOOD ACCESS
Message: Make positive change that leads to more affordable nutrition
To reduce food waste, we must change our discourse around the food system, which will help improve the consumer’s perception of food and in turn, their behavior.
– Displays always kept full: Why do grocers and market vendors feel compelled to keep the produce displays full? This is a fundamental problem of the consumer, both at the retail level and within the restaurant hospitality business. The consumer is trained to believe that if there are only a few apples left, then there must be something fundamentally wrong with their taste. Displays overflowing with produce encourages purchasing.
– Discouraging vocabulary: We need to stop using the term “ugly food” to describe produce that has bruises or indentations. This specific term negatively influences the consumers regard for these foods.
– Farmers do not harvest bruised fruit: Luckily we have pro-active organizations like the Boston Area Gleaners that glean vegetables left on the field, because farmers do not waste their energy picking misshapen fruit and vegetables.
PANEL 5: FARM & FOOD INNOVATIONS
Message: Entrepreneurs are taking the stigma out of “health is death to the restaurant” and encouraging chefs to be disciplined in what they offer.
Keynote Speaker and James Beard Award Winning Chef Jody Adams underscored this point with the importance of “bringing hand-grown food into the kitchen.” Her new restaurants Porto and Saloniki offer a casual dining experience. When it comes to discipline, Jody Adams quoted NYC Chef and restaurateur Gabrielle Hamilton who has compared a recipe for a dish to a marriage: “Staying faithful to a dish for seventeen years is like a commitment to marriage. One must stay true to your vision!”
The capstone to this summit were comments from the formidable and undeterred Congressman McGovern, who tackles the political stumbling blocks related to improving food policy on a federal level. He encourages everyone to view food insecurity as a challenge to the freedom and health of all Americans. Three Squares New England admires the tireless and fearless efforts of McGovern and strives to achieve his goal on a local level through collaboration, fundraising events and community engagement.
In terms of the efficacy of the event, I thought the Food Summit was worth attending and met its goal of focusing on agriculture, food and health. However, in a room full of students, professor, farming & agricultural representatives, industry experts and food-focused startups, we missed out on controversial discussions. It was Danielle Nierenberg’s intent to encourage uncomfortable discussions was only met when a food stamp recipient spoke to the challenge of purchasing nutritious food on a low budget. It was important to hear from an actual user and representation from our low-income community was lacking from the five panels. Additionally, more evidence-based research to the discussion on nutrition would have been helpful. I often felt that the panel could have supported the advocacy and advising on healthy food intake through science. But again, all in all, it was a worth-while event and Three Squares New England applauds the wonderful organizers and speakers at the 2017 Boston Food Tank Summit.