Food Tank recently had the opportunity to speak with Dana Gunders, a Senior Scientist focused on food and agriculture at the Natural Resources Defense Council, who will be speaking at the summit.
Food Tank (FT): What inspired you to get involved in food and agriculture?
Dana Gunders (DG): In 2005, I lived with a mostly subsistence-farming family in the Indian Himalayas for two months. I say “mostly” because rice and other foods they couldn’t grow there had started making their way into their lives, which caused them to need money for the first time, which caused them to seek jobs outside of their village. This short experience exposed me to how connected our global food system really is and intrigued me enough to want to work within it.
FT: What do you see as the biggest opportunity to fix the food system?
DG: To me, wasting less food is the easiest and most obvious way to minimize our growing food demand and the increased pressure on natural resources that goes with it.
FT: What innovations in agriculture and the food system are you most excited about?
DG: There are a bunch of simple technologies that are helping people in developing countries store and transport food to market without losing as much along the way—things like giant sealed plastic bags and boxes that use evaporation to keep things inside cold without electricity. Those technologies hold huge promise to help address food loss and hunger in the places we need that most.
DG: Can you share a story about a food hero that inspired you?
Doug Rauch, founder of the Daily Table and former president of Trader Joe’s, has been an inspiration and a mentor for me. He has had a steady commitment to capturing healthy excess food and using it to provide low-cost, healthy food options in a low-income neighborhood in Boston. But, he’s also been invaluable to me in understanding fundamental drivers of waste in the retail sector and legitimizing some of the ideas I’ve had. Beyond that, he’s about the nicest man you’ll ever meet.
FT: What drives you every day to fight for the bettering of our food system?
DG: I find working on food issues incredibly fun. It touches so many facets of life and environment and community.
FT: What’s the biggest problem within the food system our parents and grandparents didn’t have to deal with?
DG: Distance—both the geographical distance that food travels, which is integrally tied to the industrialization of agriculture, and the cultural distance from farm to fork that is still very present across the United States.
FT: What’s the first, most pressing issue you’d like to see solved within the food system?
DG: As I said above, I think wasting less food is an easy starting place. But beyond that, I think the enormous amounts of meat we consume are pretty crazy. We should ratchet that down a notch starting yesterday.
FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?
DG: Buy, eat, and/or waste less meat. When you throw out one hamburger (or eat one for that matter), it’s equivalent to taking a 90-minute shower in terms of the water required to produce it. Something to consider as you go about your menu choices!
FT: What’s one issue within the food system you’d like to see completely solved for the next generation?
DG: Our cultural acceptance of wasting food. If I throw a sandwich out on the sidewalk, people think I’m crazy, but if I throw a tray with four sandwiches out after a luncheon, that’s totally normal. How have we become totally okay with throwing so much food out that two hours earlier was the most exciting part of our day?
FT: What agricultural issue would you like for the next president of the U.S. to immediately address?
DG: Cover cropping—it’s really a win-win solution for improving soil health, hedging against drought, and using less fertilizer.
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