Food Tank recently had the opportunity to speak with Simran Sethi, the author of Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love, who will be speaking at the summit.
Food Tank (FT): What inspired you to get involved in food and agriculture?
Simran Sethi (SS): My work in environmental journalism and my personal love of food inspired me to talk more and more about global challenges through the lenses of food and agriculture.
FT: What do you see as the biggest opportunity to fix the food system?
SS: Engaging consumers through the plate by providing enough information for people make informed decisions about how their choices impact and shape agriculture—and inspiring them to recognize their own power in reshaping this system.
FT: What innovations in agriculture and the food system are you most excited about?
SS: I’m greatly inspired by efforts to bring people together around food, be it collaborative meals, such as Feastly, entrepreneurial ventures, such as Hot Bread Kitchen, or meals that introduce people to the diversity of our world.
FT: Can you share a story about a food hero that inspired you?
SS: My food heroes are farmers who are stewards of biodiversity. For example, when traveling in Ethiopia doing research for my book, Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love, I spent time in the coffee forests. Forests are home to at least 80 percent of the world’s remaining biodiversity. While the rainforest once covered 40 percent of the surface area of Ethiopia, by the early 1990s, this area had dwindled to less than 3 percent. According to the United Nations, Ethiopia could be “completely deforested by 2020.”
The farmers who collect wild forest coffee deserve a lot more attention. If they stop picking coffee from these forests, those areas lose their greatest economic value, which puts them at increased risk of being cut down and replaced with other crops or developed in other ways. The place where coffee was born—the area with the greatest biodiversity of coffee anywhere in the world—could disappear.
No forest, no coffee. No coffee, no forest. What we lose isn’t specific to Ethiopia; it impacts us all.
FT: What drives you every day to fight for the bettering of our food system?
SS: All the farmers, laborers, truck drivers, small food purveyors, chefs, restaurant workers…the myriad hands that allow food to reach my plate.
FT: What’s the biggest problem within the food system our parents and grandparents didn’t have to deal with?
SS: Treaties that prohibit or create barriers to the saving and sharing of seeds.
FT: What’s the first, most pressing issue you’d like to see solved within the food system?
SS: Hunger, because it is solvable. For the past 20 years, the rate of global food production has increased faster than the rate of global population growth. The world produces more than one and a half times enough food to feed everyone on the planet, which is also enough to feed the population of 9.6 billion that we anticipate by 2050.
This matters because a lot of the changes we see in food and agriculture have been made in the name of feeding hungry people. But the challenge isn’t simply an issue of availability; it’s one of access. Food and the resources required to buy food aren’t efficiently or equally distributed. That’s why the hungriest people in the world are smallholder farmers—the over 500 million people responsible for feeding the majority of the world’s population. The people who grow food are too poor to buy it.
FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?
SS: Be a member of the “Clean Plate Club.” The fact that 40 percent of food becomes waste in the United States (and 30 percent becomes waste globally) is challenging on so many levels and partially solvable by the decisions each and every eater makes.
FT: What’s one issue within the food system you’d like to see completely solved for the next generation?
FT: What agricultural issue would you like for the next president of the United States to immediately address?
SS: Reformation of agricultural subsidies and global trade policies that favor large-scale producers over smallholder farmers.
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