Jessica Fanzo, PhD, Director of the Global Food Ethics and Policy Program at Johns Hopkins University, 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.
Dr. Fanzo has an extensive background in nutrition education and policy development through her work as an Assistant Professor of Nutrition in the Institute of Human Nutrition and Department of Pediatrics and as the Senior Advisor of Nutrition Policy at the Center on Globalization and Sustainable Development at Columbia University. Before her transition to academia, Jessica held positions in the United Nations World Food Programme and Bioversity International, both in Rome, Italy. Prior to her time in Rome, she was the Senior Nutrition Advisor to the Millennium Development Goal Centre at the World Agroforestry Center in Kenya. She was the first laureate of the Carasso Foundation’s Sustainable Diets Prize in 2012 for her work on sustainable food and diets for long-term human health. Jessica has a PhD in nutrition from the University of Arizona.
Food Tank had the chance to speak with Dr. Fanzo about her expertise in the linkages between agriculture, nutrition, health, and the environment in the context of sustainable and equitable diets and livelihoods.
Food Tank (FT): What originally inspired you to get involved with your work?
Dr. Jessica Fanzo (JF): I did all my training in nutrition—my bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD. I moved away from from nutrition and then came back to it when I started to work in Africa on food systems. I came back to nutrition to better understand the integration of agriculture, nutrition and health. So, my inspiration for doing the work is how to make food systems healthier in low-income settings.
FT: What makes you continue to want to be involved in this kind of work?
JF: I think the food system and the plethora of food environments that we are exposed to every day are incredibly complex, and largely unhealthy and inequitable at the moment. It is a complex problem that requires a complex set of solutions. It is not an easy road to take, but I think it keeps me very engaged. There are so many different actors and players that you come across when working in food systems which makes this work fascinating.
FT: Who inspired you as a kid?
JF: My parents were incredibly influential. Coming from an Italian-American working class family, food served as a central point of socializing and gathering together.
FT: What do you see as the biggest opportunity to fix the food system?
JF: A lot is happening in the area of local solutions to improve food systems. There is a lot of innovative work coming out of low-income countries that we, in high-income countries, can learn from. There is a lot of young thought leaders residing in many low income/middle-income countries who are shaping not only the food system but how their countries are governed. We are seeing this resurgence of young people wanting to disrupt the system and we need to harness the intelligence and energy that they bring to food system issues. We need to find a way to give young people the opportunity to contribute to real change. I hope we don’t miss it.
FT: Can you share a story about a food hero who inspired you?
JF: There are so many in my immediate life, and there are so many that I worked with. I have to say Danielle is amazing. She is helping to create a movement in the United States. Her ability to share information and create networks, and again, reaching a younger generation. Marion Nestle is in the prime of her career and has been a great on the ethics side – calling out conflicts of interest. I work a lot in East Timor, and there is this amazing young woman named Alda Lim. She has started this restaurant in the capital city Dili, and she only employs Timorese youth. She is teaching them all about the indigenous foods of Timor-Leste. She teaches them how to cook it, how to make excellent cuisine out of it, how to run a restaurant. She has maybe about 15 employees, of young people, who didn’t have jobs. She is spreading the word about local foods in Timor and bringing back this whole culture of Timorese taking pride in their local cuisine. It’s very cool, so she is one of my heroes too.
FT: What is the most pressing issue in food and agriculture that you would like to see solved?
JF: I think we need more accountability across the food system. Who owns the food system, or who should be the stewards of food systems? If we don’t have someone who owns it or a steward that looks after it, we have no accountability in the food system. The other huge issue that I grapple with is, do people have the right to eat wrongly? The impacts of what we eat impact climate change, and those living in low-income countries will suffer more from the decisions that we make. We all need to hold ourselves accountable at this point; we are living in a very interconnected, globalized world.
FT: What is one small change everyone can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?
JF: In high-income countries, people need to stop consuming so much. Not just food, it’s everything. We consume on a massive scale.
FT: What advice would you give to President Trump and the U.S. Congress on food and agriculture?
JF: I would advise him and the U.S. Congress to participate in the Conference of the Parties (COP) and take the science around climate change seriously. The U.S. should stay the course and not back out on the agreements made during COP21, for the future of ourselves and the planet.
Click here to purchase tickets to Food Tank’s inaugural Boston Summit.