Food Tank recently had the opportunity to speak with Jenn Yates, Campaign and Advocacy Manager, Food and Environment Program, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, who was one of the speakers at the 2015 Food Tank Summit in partnership with The George Washington University.
Food Tank (FT): What will your message be at the Food Tank Summit?
Jenn Yates (JY): Modern agricultural technologies, together with federal farm policies, have led to ever-increasing production of commodities like corn and soybeans. As a result, their byproducts—like meat and unhealthy processed foods—are relatively cheap. But what if efficiency and cheap food comes at a high cost? From the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico to skyrocketing costs of diet-related diseases to workers unable to afford the nutritious food they help harvest, our food and agricultural system is rife with hidden costs. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Forward-thinking policies can help create a level playing field for agricultural enterprises with fewer externalized costs—and can even create benefits for the environment, human health, rural economies, and workers—while saving taxpayer dollars.
(FT): How are you contributing to building a better food system?
(JY): At UCS, we analyze the best available evidence regarding the impacts of various agricultural practices, primarily on human health and the environment. We also trace investments of taxpayer dollars in the food and agricultural system, and advocate for change where these investments lead to harmful unintended consequences. We believe that government leaders should craft policies that represent a public good, and we shine a light on undue industry influence. We are calling for the creation of a National Food Policy that will establish clear goals for human health, environmental protection, fair working conditions, and economic opportunity. A National Food Policy will bring cohesion to food and agriculture policies that are currently fragmented and frequently at odds with each other.
On a personal level, I combine a love of strategy and goals-driven execution with my passion for social change. My favorite motto is, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” We all want to change the world, but we have to be smart and strategic to overcome all the obstacles that we will face along the way.
(FT): What are the biggest obstacles or challenges you face in achieving your organization’s goals?
(JY): The agricultural system is so big and the challenges are so complex, it can be difficult to know where to begin. And obviously, UCS cannot do this work alone. We reach out to partner with a diverse set of allies in order to get the job done.
(FT): Who is your food hero and why?
(JY): Wendell Berry. My brain can read and understand the hard facts and figures about the challenges we face, but Mr. Berry’s words speak to me on another level. He has given me inspiration to fight to protect our planet, our appreciation of our time on earth, and our social compact to future generations.
(FT): In 140 characters or less what is the most important thing we can all do to help change the food system?
(JY): Tell your elected officials that you are watching how they vote on food/ag policy, and will hold them accountable.