Contributing Author: Jared Kaufman
Season two of “Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg” is in full swing. The podcast continues to highlight stories of people working to build a more environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable food system.
In this selection of 11 episodes from this season of the podcast, Nierenberg and journalists and advocates from across the food system discuss indigenous foodways, explore the relationships between biodiversity and democracy and sustainability, and think about the future of technology and data in agriculture and production.
1. Ann Tutwiler, chair of Bioversity International USA, on the need for a more biodiverse food system
The growing loss of biodiversity in the food system is not only jeopardizing the health of our planet and climate — it’s making us sicker, too. Biodiversity, or the variety of living beings coexisting in a particular ecosystem, is a key part of maintaining a healthy climate and nutritious diets, says Ann Tutwiler, who has been working to build better food and agriculture policy on a global scale for three decades. To help restore biodiversity to our food system, she says, agriculture policy needs to prioritize health over business interests, and we need to support women farmers. “Women are the protectors of biodiversity because they are growing different sets of crops than what the men are growing…they are custodians, in a way, of that biodiversity,” says Tutwiler.
2. David Moscow, actor and host of “From Scratch,” on tracing sustainable food to its roots
On the TV show “From Scratch,” chefs provide actor David Moscow with a recipe to replicate, with one condition: Moscow has to source all his ingredients from scratch. He hunts, harvests, forages, and processes each item — from spear-hunting an octopus, to harvesting wheat, to milking a water buffalo for mozzarella cheese to top a pizza. “From Scratch” is about reinfusing cooking and eating with a sense of respect and global adventure, but it’s more than that, too: Moscow wants to draw attention to the undervalued and often disparaged communities that power our food system. “The people who make our food and bring us our food need to be paid so much more. It is a tough, sweaty, dirty job, and they do an amazing job with it,” he says.
3. Denisa Livingston of the Diné Community Advocacy Alliance on how Indigenous communities are regaining food sovereignty
In a conversation with journalist Bianca Bosker at Food Tank’s New York City Summit, Denisa Livingston of the Diné Community Advocacy Alliance explains how Indigenous communities are working to regain sovereignty over their food systems. For example, through a tax on unhealthy foods, the Navajo nation has raised over $4.5 million to fund health initiatives for Diné people. “Food is something that is holy to us, it is our identity,” says Livingston. “When you strip that, how are we supposed to have agency? How are we supposed to have the power of the food that makes us powerful? The food is medicine, the food is healing to us.”
4. Frances Moore Lappé of the Small Planet Institute on why fighting for food is fighting for democracy
“I can be in the food movement and I can be in the democracy movement. We don’t have to make a choice—we can’t make a choice. Everything is connected,” says Frances Moore Lappé the author of more than 19 books, including the influential Diet for a Small Planet. People who are empowered to lead their own communities can make bigger strides on issues like hunger, which Lappé saw firsthand when she met with women in India who came together and used agroecology to overcome abuse and food insecurity. But if agribusinesses are able to use money to influence who is in politics and what issues they discuss, Lappé says, democracy and the food system are simultaneously threatened.
5. Kathleen Merrigan, director of the ASU Swette Center, on the wisdom of indigenous foodways
Often, conversations about disparities in health outcomes and food access among Native American communities overshadow the success stories of Indigenous agriculture. Kathleen Merrigan, the executive director of the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Arizona State University (ASU), spoke with Nierenberg in advance of Food Tank’s summit, “The Wisdom of Indigenous Foodways,” which both confronted the food system’s exclusion of Indigenous voices and agricultural practices and highlighted hopeful stories from activists and entrepreneurs from Native communities. Indigenous people, Merrigan says, haven’t always been invited to the table, so to speak, but they “should be, because they’re innovators: they’re people who understand resilience over thousands of years in their cultures. There’s a lot to learn.”
6. Matt Swenson of Chameleon Cold Brew on a roadmap for the future of sustainable coffee
Many coffee companies don’t pay farmers sustainably. But Matt Swenson, the director of coffee for Chameleon Cold Brew, tells Amelia Nierenberg of the New York Times how a coffee company can both support rural growers and be financially successful. Chameleon Cold Brew not only pays their producers voluntary premiums for organically grown coffee, but also invests in the communities themselves by connecting farmers with tools to fight pests, combat climate change, and remain food-secure. “We’re not just focusing on producing more coffee to buy more coffee; we’re taking a look at the health of the coffee producers in a holistic vision to create a more healthy landscape for them,” Swenson says.
7. Mike Spindler, CEO of Fulton Fish Market, on using technology to support sustainable family fishers
“Seafood is the only protein that has a shot of supporting the protein needs of population growth,” says Mike Spindler of FultonFishMarket.com, which aims to connect consumers with fresh, sustainable seafood. Spindler’s company is based around the Hunts Point Fulton Fish Market in New York City, which was founded in 1822 and relies on multi-generational fishing families, just as the seafood business has for thousands of years. “Coming down to our end of the business, all of these orders are assembled digitally and tracked digitally. It transfers from 2000 B.C. to a modern e-commerce factory and processing system,” he says. Thanks to Spindler’s technology, every piece of fish sold on FultonFishMarket.com is tagged with details all the way from weight down to the specific place and person who caught it — and it can arrive to consumers within hours.
8. Sara Bleich, Public Health Policy Professor at Harvard, on how to realistically improve nutrition policy
Public health policymakers can address population-level concerns in an equitable way by focusing on at-risk communities, Dr. Sara Bleich, a professor of public health policy at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, tells Sarah Blackburn of Edible Boston. From Bleich’s perspective, focusing on sustainability by working together across disciplines can truly make changes. “One of the biggest policy problems is that nutrition policy is siloed, economic policy is siloed, and agricultural policy is siloed,” she says. “I think where nutrition policy might actually have the biggest advances is by partnering with the environmentalists and making a lot of changes in regards to sustainability.”
9. Tina May of Land O’Lakes and Dan Sonke of Campbell Soup Company, on the value of data for sustainability
In this episode, Dani Nierenberg talks with Tina May, Senior Director of Sustainability at Land O’Lakes, and Dan Sonke, Director of Sustainable Agriculture at Campbell Soup Company, about the creation and impacts of the TruTerra Insights Engine (TTIE), which helps track and quantify the climate implications of farming practices. TTIE gives farmers tools to make more precise agricultural decisions and helps companies strengthen partnerships with growers committed to sustainability. “We can’t make sustainability advances just by asking the growers to give our company information,” Sonke says. “That doesn’t change anything. They need the tools that will help them make even better decisions.”
10. Todd White, founder of Dry Farm Winery, on what the wine industry doesn’t want you to know
At Dry Farm Winery, founder Todd White’s commitment to sustainability is in the name — all his wines are farmed dry, or grown without irrigation. “[Irrigation is] bad for the planet, bad for the vine, and bad for your health,” White tells Danielle Nierenberg. The fact that many people aren’t aware of this, he says, is due to a pervasive lack of transparency in the wine industry. Wine producers in the U.S. do not have to label their bottles with any details about the growing process or additives in the wine, but White holds Dry Farm’s wines to a higher standard. “We believe the consumer should know what they’re drinking,” he says.
11. Walter Willet, of EAT-Lancet and Harvard University, on eating within our planet’s boundaries
“If we continued to produce food the way we do and eat food the way we do, waste food the way we do, we couldn’t stay within planetary boundaries,” says Walter Willet, EAT-Lancet Commission primary author and a professor at both the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School. In a discussion with journalist Alex Sammon, Willet explains how staying off-course could be devastating for the planet, but says we can use our diets to come back from the brink: We need to double our consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes, he says, and some cultures need to reduce their animal-source food consumption by up to half.