Ken Cook, President and Co-Founder of the Environmental Working Group (EWG), is speaking at the third annual D.C. Food Tank Summit, Let’s Build a Better Food Policy, which will be hosted in partnership with George Washington University and the World Resources Institute on February 2, 2017.
Ken is one of the environmental community’s most prominent and influential critics of industrial agriculture, U.S. food and farm policy, and the nation’s approach to protecting families and children from toxic substances. Under Cook’s leadership, EWG has pioneered the use of digital technologies to empower American families with easy-to-use, data-driven tools to help reduce their exposure to potentially harmful ingredients in foods, drinking water, cosmetics, and other household products. Cook is also the founding chairman and board member of Food Policy Action, an organization dedicated to promoting food policy that is protective of the environment, farmers, and consumers through education and the publication of the National Food Policy Scorecard.
Food Tank had the chance to speak with Ken about his background, inspiration, and the future of the food system.
Food Tank (FT): What originally inspired you to get involved in your work?
Ken Cook (KC): My interest in the environment as a high school student in 1969 and then as college freshman during the first Earth Day of 1970, coupled with my experience on farms in the Cook family in South-Central Missouri.
FT: What makes you continue to want to be involved in this kind of work?
KC: I’m involved because I see the food system as the first place where the green economy took hold, in the form of organic agriculture and its principles. I have great hope that we can fix the food and agriculture system—and a strong conviction that we must fix it.
FT: Who inspired you as a kid?
KC: My single mom and her sister Ruth, who raised me.
FT: What do you see as the biggest opportunity to fix the food system?
KC: There are two: organizing in the political realm for power and organizing in the economic realm for market change.
FT: Can you share a story about a food hero who inspired you?
KC: I have many. My mentor, agricultural economist A. Barry Carr, taught me the importance of policy and how it is shaped. My uncles and their families who operated cow-calf operations as I grew up in Missouri. And any number of professors who encouraged critical thinking.
FT: What’s the most pressing issue in food and agriculture that you’d like to see solved?
KC: Making sure everyone, especially kids, has access to and an appetite for healthy food.
FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?
KC: Cut back on meat.
FT: What advice can you give to President Trump and the U.S. Congress on food and agriculture?
KC: Make food policy bi-partisan great again.