Food Tank recently had the opportunity to speak with Jeff Dunn, the President of Campbell Fresh (a division of Campbell Soup Company).
Food Tank (FT): What inspired you to get involved in food and agriculture?
Jeff Dunn (JD): My father worked for Coca-Cola as I was growing up, so it was part of my life from the earliest days. We would sit around the dinner table and talk about brands, products, and customers. I was fascinated by it—Coke was a renowned brand that was part of everyone’s life. Branding was my original inspiration, but over time, I became much more impacted by innovation and new product development, especially better-for-you products that helped begin to solve some of the issues affecting our diet and lifestyle today.
FT: What do you see as the biggest opportunity to fix the food system?
JD: The biggest opportunity to reinvent the food system is to focus disruptive technology and business strategy on challenges like food safety, food security, and health—starting with obesity. Many of the problems with the food system have been created in the past fifty years, and they can be fixed with a more focused and collaborative approach across the public and private sectors. As more financial and intellectual capital is deployed to solve these problems, we should start to build momentum for a more transparent and responsive food system guided by health and sustainability.
FT: What innovations in agriculture and the food system are you most excited about?
JD: There is incredible innovation with big data to understand better, and ultimately address, our most pressing challenges. Whether in agriculture, food production, or even distribution, data and better data analytics can begin to help us target very specific opportunities to drive change. Our “one size fits all” approach is becoming much more refined and unique to these areas, especially in agriculture. Data can optimize both conventional and covered growing conditions by using less water, amendments, and other inputs. In the end, it provides us with a more sustainable result and better nutritional profiles.
FT: Can you share a story about a food hero that inspired you?
JD: Many people influenced me over the years, and each was critical in creating the conditions for change we’re experiencing now. One of the most influential was Alice Waters and her seminal work at Chez Panisse. She inspired me, creating a fascination with real food that came from the bounty of nature that surrounds us. My first meal there changed my perceptions of what was possible, and I remember it like it was yesterday. The colors, the smells, the menu, and ultimately, the love that went into creating that meal. I grew up in California, so in some ways, it brought everything that I loved about this unique place in the world and turned it into a breathtaking culinary experience well beyond a simple meal. I want the opportunity to bring that experience to everyone.
FT: What drives you every day to fight for the bettering of our food system?
JD: Transforming our food system for better health, more transparency, and a sustainable approach is my personal mission. I want people to have more vibrant and impactful lives, especially those friends and family that I am blessed to call my own.
I’ve seen how a healthier approach to diet and living can energize people. As we continue our journey to health, I believe that people can be empowered and invigorated to improve the lives of those around them. We have many issues facing the human race, and we need to work together to solve them; we can only be present and accounted for if we have the energy and clarity to see these issues and act on them.
FT: What’s the biggest problem within the food system our parents and grandparents didn’t have to deal with?
JD: The biggest problem we face that our grandparents didn’t is the pervasive availability of delicious, low-cost food that has little or suboptimal nutritional value.
In the past, lifestyle made it necessary to spend time at home and cook your food. Fast food and convenience stores weren’t an option, so mealtime was more predictable and functional. Since then, food has become a source of entertainment with availability at the touch of a button. We are just now understanding and acknowledging the unintended consequences of that universal availability of cheap calories. The good news is we’re starting to do something about making nutrition more available and affordable.
FT: What’s the first, most pressing issue you’d like to see solved within the food system?
JD: Ironically, two different issues are impacting one another in unpredictable ways. Negative health effects associated with Western diet, coupled with climate change and its impact on agriculture, are quickly rising to a critical mass. There’s a global health epidemic, and the costs of that crisis are now being felt. We also see climate change affect our ability to grow enough food to feed the growing population across the globe. Our agricultural capacity will become even more pressurized as the ever-expanding middle class looks to add more meat and dairy to their diets.
The solution to both these problems lies in a global movement to more plant-based diets and to new technology that can provide meat and dairy substitutes that provide a similar taste and textural experience without the environmental impact.
FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?
JD: Eat more plants and less meat!
FT: What’s one issue within the food system you’d like to see completely solved for the next generation?
JD: If we worked together and prioritized building a more efficient food system that focused on delivering basic nutrition to the people that need it, we could change the face of hunger. We would see improved economies and more vibrant populations. With more pressure on food production and distribution, we need to make much more conscious choices about what we grow, how we grow, and how we distribute. Even more, food production that is driven to create low-nutrition “fun” options will need to be scrutinized to determine if we can afford it in the future.
FT: What agricultural issue would you like for the next president of the United States to immediately address?
JD: The next United States president needs to focus on building a comprehensive food policy. The fragmented, politicized, and many times contradictory approach has dominated our food system for too long. The U.S. has one of the strongest food systems in the world and it’s a true advantage to us, but to effectively address the pressing issues, we need it to evolve along with the policies that impact it.
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