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I know it’s not even September, but I’m already excited about something that’s happening in March. The 2023 South By Southwest festival will be held from March 10–19, and it’s a really exciting time for Food Tank to partner with amazing collaborators including Little Herds, The Cook’s Nook, and many others. Last year, we were able to join forces with Huston-Tillotson University for a summit on their campus, and we screened films like The Ants and the Grasshopper, Gather, and Man in the Field, plus some amazing speakers.
Today, I want to share with you a bunch of panel discussions that are being organized for South By Southwest, some by Food Tank and some by other groups we love. And the way the festival selects which panel discussions to feature is through community voting. Voting is open through this Sunday, August 21, so you can select all the panels you’re interested in—not just Food Tank’s panels.
But I’m not telling you about these panels just so you’ll vote for them. The topics I’m sharing with you here are some of the most pressing issues facing our food system, and the experts and advocates speaking about them are the ones truly leading the charge. Even if you’ve never even heard of South By Southwest—keep reading. Bookmark this note and go back to it. Use today’s newsletter as a go-to guide to the food system challenges, innovations, and opportunities we all need to pay attention to.
Here we go:
The separation of food from health. For such a long time, food was an integral part of medical practice—but throughout the modernization of health care, food has been separated. So, the big question is: How can we use food to heal ourselves? Speakers include: Charles Platkin, the executive director of the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center; Mark Hyman, a physician and the founder/director of The UltraWellness Center; and Rupa Marya, who’s an associate professor of medicine at University of California, San Francisco. She’s also so cool—and recently wrote a book with Raj Patel called “Inflamed,” that talks about the overlaps between our health crises and the climate crisis. (Vote for this panel here.)
How legislation can fight food waste. This panel is centered around the Food Donation Improvement Act, which I know you’ve heard me talk a lot about—because it’ll really help incentivize farmers, businesses, and individuals to donate perfectly good food, which would otherwise go to waste, without fear of liability. Speakers include: Folks from WW International, Keep Austin Fed, and Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic; as well as chef Tom Colicchio, who’s a food waste warrior and the owner of Crafted Hospitality. (Vote for this panel here.)
Indigenous knowledge has been regenerative all along. When it comes to our environment, we’ve had the answers all along—or, at least, Indigenous communities have. So how can the regenerative movement honor and support practices that Indigenous folks have been using for millennia without co-opting them? Speakers include: The amazing A-dae Romero-Briones, from the First Nations Development Institute; and Alexis Racelis, an assistant professor of agroecology and resilient food systems at the University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley. (Vote for this panel here.)
Food workers organizing for change. We’ve seen employees at Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, and more take on public unionization efforts recently, and they’ve faced significant challenges. From coercion to threats of being fired, union-busting strategies are also on the rise. Speakers include: Jose Oliva, the campaigns director at HEAL Food Alliance, who has worked on this issue for so long; and Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union. (Vote for this panel here.)
What’s wrong with food tech? So much money is going into the agritech sector, but is it really going to problems that need solving? Awesome speakers include: Riana Lynn, who’s the CEO of Journey Foods and has such a great background in nutrition, biology, and serial entrepreneurship; and Emily Ma, who’s doing cool work as the head of Food for Good at Google. (Vote for this panel here.)
Are businesses “greenwishing”? Consumers aren’t just looking for foods with a story behind them; we’re looking for foods that are good for people and the planet. But as companies try to respond to this demand, they’re making wishful climate and environmental commitments that won’t go into effect for decades, which makes them functionally meaningless. While businesses have this wishful thinking around their supposed green goals by 2050, the world will be on fire. It’ll be an interesting panel to suss out how businesses can make real change if they actually act now. Speakers include: Kai Nortey, the founder of plant-based ice cream company Kubé; Kerri McClimen, vice president of communications at Niman Ranch; and Megan Morikawa, global sustainability office director at Iberostar. (Vote for this panel here.)
Race, womanhood, and food. This panel will discuss how women chefs are shaping the hospitality industry. Speakers include: Adrian Lipscombe, who’s not only a chef but also a city planner, the founder of 40 Acres and a Mule, and just an amazing thinker (I’m so glad I’ll get to see her!); and Tonya Holland, an award-winning chef, author, and restaurateur who’s also incredibly cool. (Vote for this panel here.)
Targeting the next generation. Fast food companies are becoming experts at using advertisements and marketing strategies aimed at children. Speakers include: Marion Nestle, my heroine, who’s a professor emerita at New York University; Sonya Grier, from American University; and Anna Lappé, from the Small Planet Institute. (Vote for this panel here.)
How philanthropy must act. For so long, philanthropists and institutions have invested in things communities don’t actually want or need, and I think it’s time for philanthropy to change. To truly help transform global food systems, I think it’s time they work in a more participatory way with communities, farmers, and more to actually address problems that need to be solved. Speakers include: Folks from Global Alliance for the Future of Food and the organization Transformational Investing in Food Systems. (Vote for this panel here.)
“Who’s At The Table: Food Policy and the Black Lives Matter Movement.” For a long time, discriminatory practices at the U.S. Department of Agriculture have kept Black people from fully participating in food systems and gaining access to resources and land. Entrenched racism has blocked significant changes that need to take place. Speakers include: Tambra Raye Stevenson, the CEO and founder of WANDA; and Leah Penniman, the co-director and farm manager at Soul Fire Farm. (Vote for this panel here.)
“Beyond the Ivory Tower: Centering Communities in Food System Research.” Again, this is really the idea of including farmers and other folks in participatory research on agriculture, food systems, and more so academics, researchers, and scientists are working directly with communities. Speakers include: Kimberly Jackson, the food studies director at Spelman College; and Erin Lentz, an assistant professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs in Austin. (Vote for this panel here.)
Cultivating a Regenerative Food Revolution. I’ll get to be on this panel, so I’m excited about it for that reason, but it’s an important topic: Consumers have long been removed from the spaces where their food is grown. But progressive brands and farmers are really trying to connect their fields and places of business to consumers, and they see the power of links between eaters and the sources of our food. Speakers include: Julia Collins, the CEO and founder of Planet FWD; Tim Nuss of Nuss Farms and The Modern Acre; and Lara Dickinson, the cofounding executive director of One Step Closer. (Vote for this panel here.)
Plant Power to the People. The plant-based food movement has been pretty good at reaching consumers in more affluent urban areas, but it hasn’t always been as accessible and affordable to folks elsewhere. This panel will talk about how to make the plant-based food industry more equitable, accessible, and approachable to more of us. Speakers include: Josh Tetrick, founder and CEO of Eat Just; Nil Zacharias, founder and CEO of Plantega; and Pinky Cole, the founder and owner of Slutty Vegan. (Vote for this panel here.)
Futuring Food Systems: A Seat at the Chef’s Table. No one knows food and personal culture like those in the kitchen, and in this discussion, chefs will come together to discuss the systemic challenges, opportunities, and innovations we face as we look toward the future of food. From historical roots of food to the kitchens of tomorrow, the hospitality industry is at the center of it all. Speakers include: Kwame Onwuachi, the owner of 5th Floor Hospitality; Adrian Lipscombe of 40 Acres and a Mule; Tavel Bristol-Joseph, the co-owner of Emmer and Rye Hospitality Group; and Food Tank’s great friend Tiffany Derry, of Tiffany Derry Concepts and Top Chef. (Vote for this panel here.)
Stay tuned for more info about the panels and speakers we’ll have at both South By Southwest headquarters and Huston-Tillotson University when the festival kicks off in March—and you can vote on the SXSW website if you’re interested in any of these panels.
Again, these are some of the most important questions and most inspiring luminaries in today’s food system. I encourage you to use this list of topics and experts as a starting point for your own food system exploration and research this season. And if you’re not sure where to start, we have plenty of resources here at Food Tank, from interviews to book lists.
Please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with big questions, stories of folks fighting the good fight, transformative initiatives you learn about, and more. I look forward to continuing the conversation!
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Photo courtesy of Markus Spiske, Unsplash