Dr. Prasanta Kalita, Professor and Associate Dean at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, will be speaking at the inaugural New York City Food Tank Summit, “Focusing on Food Loss and Food Waste,” which will be held in partnership with Rethink Food Waste Through Economics and Data (ReFED) and with support from The Rockefeller Foundation and The Fink Family Foundation on September 13, 2017.
Dr. Kalita is a Fellow of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers and The Indian Society of Agricultural Engineering. His areas of research include food security, water management, and environmental sustainability. He has worked extensively in educational development, capacity building, and on food security issues around the world.
From 2014 to 2017, Dr. Kalita served as the Director of the ADM Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Loss at the University of Illinois, where he worked extensively on reducing postharvest losses and food loss/food waste reduction issues. Dr. Kalita has published more than 150 research articles and served as Editor-in-Chief and Associate Editor for three international journals. He has received more than 40 honors and awards recognizing teaching excellence, research excellence, and outstanding service and leadership.
Food Tank had the opportunity to talk to Dr. Kalita about his work on food security and sustainability.
Food Tank (FT): What originally inspired you to get involved in your work?
Dr. Prasanta Kalita (PK): With my training in agricultural engineering, I got involved with international projects on food and water in developing countries at a very early stage of my career. I traveled around the world and realized the needs for more food, education, water, health, and awareness. I wanted to be a part of the ‘solution’ and looked for opportunities to contribute to as many efforts as I could.
FT: What makes you continue to want to be involved in this kind of work?
PK: With the growing population, our needs for food and water have grown and will continue to grow. There are a lot of hungry people everywhere—men, women, children, and even college students in the United States. We need to find sustainable solutions and then implement strategies for solving hunger problems. This is a huge task and the issues are complex. But when you see that communities are benefitting from your work and you notice signs of enhanced livelihood, you get encouraged. It becomes your passion. I have this passion to enhance the lives and livelihood of people in whatever way possible. The first and foremost needs for every human being are food and water. A hungry stomach can’t think much of anything. I have been working in this area and I like to work where there is a challenge—challenge in meeting the demand for food, water, education, and health. Everybody deserves food, nutrition, and water, and it is inspiring to continue to work in this line.
FT: Who inspired you as a kid?
PK: As a child, I always read and followed Mother Teresa’s dedicated work. My father always instilled in us Mahatma Gandhi’s principles. I would say my father was my main source of inspiration. He worked three full-time jobs (don’t know how)—a high school math teacher, a farmer, and a soccer coach. He always inspired us to help the underprivileged in whatever way possible.
FT: What do you see as the biggest opportunity to fix the food system?
PK: The food system is complex and there is no one silver bullet to fix it. Producing more nutritious food with fewer resources (water, land, labor, other input), linking the supply chain in real-time (from pre-production to consumption), reducing food loss and waste, and making all people understand the complexities of the food system are some of the emerging topics. The unfortunate thing is that we use all these resources to produce food and then have 30 percent lost or wasted. One of the biggest opportunities we have is to reduce/eliminate the waste/lost component from the food supply chain. There are a lot of benefits to that. There are some low risk/high gain and high risk/high gain potential measures to achieve this goal.
FT: Can you share a story about a food hero who inspired you?
PK: My food hero is Dr. Noman Borlaug, who pioneered the efforts for hunger mitigation in India and many other parts of the world.
FT: What’s the most pressing issue in food and agriculture that you’d like to see solved?
PK: Food is a basic necessity for life, and there is no food without agriculture. An agricultural production system that is sustainable with respect to food demand, profitability, and environmental quality is the most pressing issue.
FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?
PK: Not eating excessively and not wasting any food. Some of our preliminary works show that students in college campus dining halls waste an average of one pound of food every day. If we are mindful and intentionally think of not wasting food, we will get there. I saw in Brazil that some restaurants need their customers to weigh their food plate and pay accordingly. I noticed minimum waste. There can be other strategies.
The NYC Food Tank Summit is now sold out. Register HERE to watch the livestream on Facebook. A few tickets remain for the Summit Dinner at Blue Hill Restaurant with a special menu from Chef Dan Barber. Apply to attend HERE. If you live in New York City, join us on September 14 for our FREE outdoor dance workout led by Broadway performers called Garjana featuring many great speakers raising awareness about food waste issues. Register HERE.