Sara Burnett, Director of Wellness and Food Policy at Panera, is speaking at the inaugural Boston Food Tank Summit, “Investing in Discovery,” which will be held in collaboration with Tufts University and Oxfam America on April 1, 2017.
Sara is responsible for the policies that shape Panera’s perspective and commitments on food issues, overseeing the development and execution of programs such as the Clean Food initiative and the Raised Without Antibiotic program. She also manages the key relationships with suppliers, industry representatives, and academic and NGO stakeholders to support their efforts and gain knowledge about key issues.
Food Tank spoke with Sara about her inspiration and hope for the future of the food system.
Food Tank (FT): What originally inspired you to get involved in your work?
Sara Burnett (SB): It began as I worked on Panera’s project to launch Raised without Antibiotic Chicken nationwide. While we were originally inspired by product quality, in learning about and growing this supply chain I found my inspiration from the animal welfare and public health implications of our commitment.
FT: What makes you continue to want to be involved in this kind of work?
SB: I’m motivated by the positive progress we’ve seen across our industry, from new technologies and practices to make farming more sustainable to a redefinition of what it means to eat well. In addition, I see consumers who are more informed than ever about the impact of their food choices and tax dollars. I truly believe we have a huge opportunity to shift demand and make a positive impact on the global food system.
FT: Who inspired you as a kid?
SB: My parents are both part of the broader food system, with my father as a restaurant operator and my mother as a grocer. They showed me not only how hard it is to get food to the table but also how to make a difference with your everyday actions. You can make a daily impact—from how you choose to treat an employee to the product you choose to sell and promote.
FT: What do you see as the biggest opportunity to fix the food system?
SB: As part of a big brand, I have seen firsthand the power that we have to influence food culture and consumers food choices. I believe with our voice, we can move faster than any legislation to educate and inform consumers which in turn creates demand for products that nourish our bodies and the earth.
FT: Can you share a story about a food hero who inspired you?
SB: I had the pleasure of working with Dr. David Eisenberg, the founder of Healthy Kitchens Healthy Lives, for the past year. He has channeled his passion for cooking and expertise in complementary medicine into a powerful program that helps inspire healthier habits.
FT: What’s the most pressing issue in food and agriculture that you’d like to see solved?
SB: Pervasive monoculture and lack of biodiversity within our food and agriculture system.
FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?
SB: Be mindful. Whether you’re grocery shopping, at the local coffee shop, or running through the airport, make a conscious decision about what you consume and how it aligns with your personal values.
FT: What advice can you give to President Trump and the U.S. Congress on food and agriculture?
SB: Short term “profits” aren’t what will serve our country, our consumers or our earth in 10, 20, 50, or 100 years. Use a True Cost Accounting model when evaluating food and environmental policy.
Click here to purchase tickets to Food Tank’s inaugural Boston Summit.